Shenandoah National Park Elopement Guide

Shenandoah Elopement

You love the great outdoors, and want to get eloped with your sweetheart in Shenandoah National Park. 

I am an Elopement Photographer and Videographer who has travelled through the park hundreds of times, to be your expert and guide for an awesome elopement.

This guide is for you to learn everything you could possibly need to know for getting eloped in Shenandoah.

This guide covers:

Top Locations to Get Eloped in the Park

Permits in the Park

Ideas for a Perfect Day

Having a Backup Plan

Why Having an AirBNB is Important

Legalizing the Marriage


Top Locations to get eloped in The Park

There are so many options for where you can get eloped in the park. You can pick an overlook on Skyline Drive or a trail and spot that you love.

I have featured my top 4 picks here, based off of accessibility, and the backdrop for your photos and videos.

In Fall 2023, I went through the park taking photos and videos of each location, I think is great for your ceremony. At Ethan Film and Photo, I pride myself in going above and beyond for my couples to make planning a breeze, and the elopement day spectacular.

Below these 4 top locations is a link to a more in depth location guide. This way you can see what each area looks like without having to trek the park yourself to figure it out.

Hawksbill Summit Trail

With some of the best 360 views in the park, and an easy hike, this is my favorite spot for elopements.

Once you are at the top, there are TONS of options and pockets for epic photos and videos. This trail is also very close to Dark Hollow Falls, which is another top pick. The proximity of both locations allows you to get more variety of images and experiences in the park.

Located at Mile Marker 45.5 this location is 26 minutes southbound on Skyline from the Thornton Gap Entrance, and a 2.9 mile circuit hike.

Hawksbill Summit Trail

Dark Hollow Falls

The best waterfall to get eloped at, in the park!

This waterfall hike is a short one, making it ideal for elopements.  There are also lots of little nooks and crannies to have the ceremony and do cool photos, including 2 waterfall spots, a bridge and some cool spots along the way.

Located at Mile Marker 50.7 this location is right by Hawksbill summit, which makes it a great choice for doing an array of photos and scenery, if you want a waterfall and peak views!

Watch the Video on Eloping at Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls

Mary’s Rock

One of the most epic hikes in the park!

Although the views are beautiful, this hike will take 3.5 hours round trip. So be prepared for a long hike to the top for your ceremony.

Is it worth it? Hell yeah! 

There is so much room at the top for beautiful portraits of you and your loved ones.

This hike is located right at the Thornton Gap Entrance, so you don’t have to go far on Skyline Drive. There is also a big parking areas with other areas for photos and activities.

Mary's Rock

Bearfence Trail

The Best 360 Degrees in the park, with a small rock scramble!

If you want to involve a rock scamble and more sense of adventure on your hike to your ceremony, then Bearfence Trail might be great for you!

Just north of the Swift Run Gap Entrance, this is a short hike from the carpark. Once you’ve finished the rock scarmble and hiked 25 minutes to the peak, youll have the best views of Shenandoah National Park.

This hike can be done at sunrise or sunset, but sunrise is advised because of the amount of foot traffic. This is a better option for a very small elopement, since there isn’t a ton of flat space to stand on at the peak.

Hawksbill Summit Trail

Permits in the park

Permit Basics: If you’ve got more than 15 participants, you’ll need a special use permit. Weddings or elopements with setups (chairs, music, decorations) always need one, regardless of size. For a simple, no-setup ceremony under 16 participants, no permit is needed. But, consider flexibility, as the park monitors and processing takes 6 weeks.

Timing Matters: Fall weekends in Oct & Nov, ceremonies at overlooks end by 10 AM due to park traffic.

Know the Rules: No visitor center ceremonies. In Big Meadows, limited space below Tanner’s Ridge Overlook. Review the NPS permit page for specifics.

For all other weddings or ceremonies in the Park, contact the permits office by emailing :




Ideas for a perfect day

Your Shenandoah elopement offers endless opportunities for adventure and memorable experiences. Consider these unique activities to enhance your special day:

1. Rent a Cabin: There’s limited cabins in the park, so getting an air bnb nearby is usually best. Plus this means we can even do a cozy, romantic cabin photoshoot if you’d like.

2. Visit a Local Brewery, Winery, or Distillery: Shenandoah valley has lots of great brewery and winery options for entertaining your guests. Hiring an elopement photographer all day also allows you to capture all parts of your day and give you more of an array of imagery.

3. Picnic in the Park: Pack a picnic basket and head to one of Shenandoah’s picturesque spots for a romantic meal before or after your ceremony. Share a quiet moment together in the heart of nature. Photos of a private meal in nature could be a great addition to your elopement images.

4. Explore the Trails: Embrace the adventurer in you and embark on a hike. Get some plastic lanterns and do some cool photos and videos on the trail.

5. Canoe or Kayak: As an expert on the water, and lover of adventure, I would love to follow you on a journey on the Shenandoah River with your partner and document that for you. 

6. Barbecue Feast: If you enjoy cooking together, consider a barbecue or cooking your meal as a couple. Bond over the grill and savor a delicious meal prepared with love.

7. Campfire Celebration: Extend the magic of your day with a campfire. Whether at your cabin, campsite, or by the river, gather around the fire, strum your instruments, and enjoy a night of music and storytelling.

8. Bring Your Instruments: If music is close to your hearts, bring your instruments along. Encourage guests to join in, creating a unique and harmonious atmosphere.

These are just a few ideas to spark your imagination. Your Shenandoah elopement is a canvas waiting for your creative touch. Together, we can tailor your day to reflect your passions and create unforgettable moments that celebrate your love and unique personalities.

Having a backup Plan

Shit Happens! But let’s be prepare for it. We can’t choose the weather on your wedding day, and there’s always other factors that we can’t control. But planning ahead, and having backup plans for your elopement in Shenandoah, is key to having a successful day.

  • Carpooling: Due to limited parking at many overlooks, encourage your guests to carpool for smoother transportation.
  • Unreliable Cell Service: Prepare for unreliable cell phone service within the park by downloading maps and directions in advance. Clearly communicate meeting locations with your guests.
  • Cost Considerations: Budget for various expenses, including the $30 park entrance fee (if no special permit is needed), a marriage license ($30), officiant fees ($100-$700), photographer costs ($2,000-$7,000), flowers ($75-$1,000+), and other vendor, attire, lodging, food, and travel expenses.
  • Pet-Friendly Park: Shenandoah National Park welcomes dogs, allowing them at overlooks and most trails.
  • Weather Contingency: Embrace flexibility and have a backup plan in case of bad weather or unexpected closures. Consider items like clear bubble umbrellas, warm layers, or a cozy Airbnb as alternatives. Adjusting your timeline can make the most of good weather.
  • Stay Informed: Stay updated on park conditions by regularly checking the Shenandoah National Park website for weather-related closures or cancellations. Follow the park on social media or sign up for text alerts for real-time information.
  • Adaptability: Be prepared for unexpected interruptions, such as crowded overlooks. Having multiple location options allows for seamless pivoting and ensures an amazing experience.
  • Focus on Your Love: Remember, your elopement day is all about marrying your best friend and celebrating your love amidst the breathtaking beauty of Shenandoah National Park. Embrace the adventure and create unforgettable memories.

Why Having an AirBNB is important

Selecting the right accommodation is a pivotal decision when planning your Shenandoah elopement, and opting for an Airbnb or rental property nearby offers numerous advantages. This choice seamlessly integrates with the overall location selection, providing a comfortable and convenient base for your celebration. Here’s why it’s crucial:

Convenience for Getting Ready: Having a rental property nearby allows you to prepare for your special day with ease. Rather than embarking on a long day trip, you can book a rental house close to your chosen elopement locations. This proximity enables you to relax and take your time getting ready, eliminating the need for a stressful rush.

Weather Backup Plan: Shenandoah’s weather can be unpredictable, making a backup plan essential. An Airbnb provides peace of mind, serving as a refuge in case of unexpected rain, thunderstorms, or other adverse conditions. You can continue your celebration indoors, ensuring that the weather won’t dampen your spirits.

Private Celebration Space: While some couples opt for restaurant receptions in nearby towns, others prefer the intimacy of a private venue. Booking an Airbnb allows you to create your own unique reception experience, complete with amenities like outdoor fire pits for a cozy and memorable campfire celebration.

Legalizing Your Marriage

Planning an elopement in the stunning Shenandoah National Park? Ensuring your marriage is legally recognized is a crucial part of your celebration. Here’s a comprehensive guide to obtaining your marriage license in Virginia, the state where Shenandoah National Park is located.

1. Plan Your Visit: To start the process, you’ll need to visit a county clerk’s office in Virginia. Most clerk’s offices are open on weekdays. Be sure to plan your visit accordingly, keeping in mind that the cost of a marriage license in Virginia is $30.

2. Convenient Locations: Shenandoah National Park spans a vast area, and there are several nearby towns where you can pick up your marriage license. Some of the closest locations to the park include Luray, Culpeper, Waynesboro, Woodstock, and Harrisonburg. Choosing a convenient location will save you travel time on your wedding day.

3. Same-Day Marriage: Virginia doesn’t have a waiting period for marriage licenses. This means you can obtain your license and get married on the same day, offering flexibility for your elopement plans.

4. Officiant Selection: Virginia has specific rules regarding who can officiate weddings. While online ordinations are not recognized in the state, there are several options for choosing an officiant:

  • Hire a recognized officiant who meets Virginia’s legal requirements.
  • Opt for an officiant who offers a “marriage license signing” package, where they handle the legal paperwork but don’t perform the ceremony.
  • Arrange a legal marriage at the courthouse with a commissioner or Justice of the Peace.
  • If you have a friend or family member in Virginia whom you’d like to officiate your ceremony, they can petition their local court for a one-time civil celebrant authorization by posting a $500 bond.