Getting married at a state or national park in the Pacific Northwest is a dream for a lot of couples. Gorgeous landscapes, native foliage, and mountain, forest, and water views, Washington’s state and national parks set a stunning natural backdrop for your wedding day.
As a wedding photographer in Washington, I’ve photographed several weddings at state and national parks; each time, I learn something new. To give you the best information about planning your Washington state or national park wedding, I sat down with an expert – Erika Hernandez, owner of The Greatest Adventure Weddings & Elopements. She’s a Seattle wedding planner with a passion for park weddings. In Erika’s opinion, a Washington state or national park wedding is an ideal choice for, “Couples who want something more casual, less traditional.”
Here are some of my favorite take-aways from my talk with Erika:
Leave No Trace (LNT) is a set of outdoor ethics guidelines to promote nature conservation. Erika strongly encourages couples to only hire vendors who are thoroughly educated in LNT, and who diligently practice the guidelines.
Everyone who attends the wedding should also be aware of LNT. It’s vital to the health and conservation of our forests that the wedding party, guests, and vendors pack in and pack out their trash, taking nothing and leaving nothing behind.
Here are a few common (less-obvious) wedding examples that break the LNT ethics:
Unlike traditional wedding venues that are stocked with an emergency first-aid kit and are easily accessible to emergency vehicles, Pacific Northwest park weddings require forethought and preparation. Erika urges couples to stay safe by bringing the following:
Event permits: Every park has different rules, so make sure you call the specific park and ask them about their event regulations and required wedding permits. Erika says, “The park rangers are super helpful because they want people to ask and know the rules.” She urges couples to “Go through the process of making yourself aware.”
Parking passes: Many of Washington’s parks require a Discover Pass or a Northwest Forest Pass, make sure that you have the parking and access passes you need ahead of time.
The most common mistakes couples make when planning a park wedding, according to Erika, are, “Not checking the weather or having a weather plan. Not researching the rules. Not calling a specific park to check on the rules, regulations, and permits.” Erika urges couples to do their homework and plan for everything.
Timing: Erika recommends scheduling your wedding for a weekday and choosing a less popular spot to reduce non-wedding-related foot traffic.
Transportation: Know how long it takes to get from your lodging to your location, the likelihood and severity of traffic during the time of your wedding, and the time of sunset. If you plan your wedding during a holiday, expect higher traffic than normal.
Lodging: Book somewhere to stay that is no more than 30 minutes to 1 hour away, and account for travel time to and from your lodging (with a lot of buffer room). Travel and set-up time can be a lot more challenging when you have to bring everything in and everything out, so give yourself plenty of time. In Erika’s experience, many state and national parks also offer great, affordable overnight lodging options that allow you more quality time with your loved ones.
Infrastructure: State Parks are generally better than National Parks for larger weddings. There are more facilities and infrastructure. State parks often have lodging, a dining hall, and conference center. They are often a really affordable choice.
Furniture and decor: If you are bringing tables and chairs and other large items, make sure you have a plan in place for carrying them. Enlist a crew that is ready to help. Everything you bring should be grounded, or unable to blow away in the wind. Bring clips, tape, and zip ties to help tether your décor, and opt out of paper products that could easily blow away in the wind. She continues by mentioning that when you have a state or national park wedding, your environment itself is the décor, so you save a lot of money on decorations.
In Erika’s opinion, the most important thing is this: “Be flexible, get creative, get out of the mindset that there’s a certain way to have a wedding.”
When I asked Erika about some of her favorite Pacific Northwest park wedding locations, she had no shortage of recommendations:
About Erika P. Hernandez
Erika has been an event planner for 7 years and a wedding planner for 5 years. She is a true Pacific Northwest local who grew in the outdoors and even spent time as a kid volunteering at Mount Rainier. Erika specializes in elopements and intimate adventure weddings.
For more information on Erika, check out her business, The Greatest Adventure Weddings.
A big THANK YOU to Erika for offering her sage advice on planning a state or national park wedding. If you are planning a Washington park wedding, I encourage you to book her as your wedding planner!
If you want a little inspiration for your own park wedding, check out this dreamy Mt. Rainier wedding; it’s one of my favorites!