Home to jagged mountain peaks, vibrant blue lakes, and hundreds of glaciers, the North Cascades National Park is one of Washington’s best kept secrets. It’s also the perfect elopement location for couples seeking adventure and stunning natural beauty for their wedding experience. 

This guide is going to walk you through everything you need to start planning your adventurous wedding in the North Cascades National Park and the surrounding mountains.

North Cascades Elopement Photographer Tiana Olivia Smiling
Before we dive in…

Hey, I’m Tiana! Elopement Photographer born and Raised in Washington State

The North Cascades are absolutely stunning and a perfect elopement location! I was born in Washington and called the state home for over 21 years. I wrote this guide to provide couples like you with everything you need to plan an amazing elopement here. If you find yourself in need of a little extra help planning your elopement, I would love to help you by providing you with planning assistance as well as document your day in beautiful images! Reach out and let’s work together!

Frequently Asked Questions about Eloping in the North Cascades

Where is the North Cascade Range?

The Cascade Mountains start in northwest Washington and go all the way through Washington, Oregon, and northern California. The North Cascades are the northern portion of the mountains in Washington State. The North Cascade National Park is part of a complex that includes the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and the Ross Lake National Recreation area.

Can you get married in North Cascades National Park?

Yes! The North Cascades National Park has several dedicated locations for weddings and elopements. A special permit is required for weddings within the National Park (more on that further on, so keep reading!)

How much does it cost to get married in North Cascades National Park?

You will need to apply for a Special Use Permit for your wedding inside of the North Cascades National Park. This application costs $50 and is non-refundable. Keep reading to learn more about obtaining this permit!

Learn more about Special Use Permits at the North Cascades National Park.

Is there an entrance fee to the North Cascades National Park?

No, the North Cascades National Park does not have an entrance fee.

A groom looking back as he leads his bride through a forest on their elopement day.

How to get to the North Cascades

No matter where you’re coming from for your North Cascades elopement, this area is very easy to access.

Flying

If you’re coming from out of state or out of the country, the best airport to fly into is the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Located 130 miles from the park, the North Cascades can be accessed in about 2.5 hours by car from this airport.

Driving

The main road through the park is the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20). It’s a little over 2 hour drive to the park from Seattle and a 3 hour drive from Vancouver, B.C.

There is an E.V. charging station inside the park at Rockport, as well as gas stations just outside the park in Marblemount and Mazama.

Best time of year to get married in the North Cascades

While the North Cascades are accessible year round, the best time to visit is late Spring or early Autumn. These will be the best seasons to access the park without snow covering trails while also avoiding heat and crowds. If you love playing in the snow, then coming in the Winter is a great option!

Seasons

Spring

The higher elevations will still be covered in snow this time of year, but snow will be melting at the lower elevations, revealing lush green foothills, fields of wildflowers, and raging waterfalls from the fresh snowmelt. Washington Pass on the North Cascades Highway opens, making the entire park accessible by car. The average high is 33 degrees with an average low of 16 degrees at night.

Summer

The park is open with over 400 miles of hiking trails and over 100 backcountry campsites accessible. The snow is mostly, if not completely, melted at higher elevations, meaning this is the best time of year for exploring high in the mountains. The average high is 68 degrees with an average low of 47 degrees at night.

Autumn

Early Autumn is a great time of year with still relatively warm temperatures before the snow hits, meaning most of the park is still accessible. This is also when the Larch trees turn golden-yellow and draw hikers from all over for their vibrant colors. Larch season is typically at its peak from late September to early October. The average temperature this time of year is a high of 68 degrees with an average low of 32 degrees at night.

Winter

The North Cascades National Park is open year round, however, road access is weather dependent. This is a great time of year to visit if you enjoy snowshoeing, skiing, or winter camping. The average high is 25 degrees with an average low of 17 degrees at night.

A snowy mountain pass in the North Cascades.
Believe it or not, this photo was taken in the North Cascades in mid July!

Crowds

Despite its stunning views, the North Cascades National Park is one of the country’s least visited parks. This is great if seclusion is a high priority for your elopement day! If you want to take extra measures to have the most privacy, you’ll want to avoid the peak months, which are July and August,  choose a weekday for your elopement instead of a weekend, and/or choose a ceremony location that requires a little hiking to access.

Wildfire Season

Wildfires are not uncommon in the Western U.S., and the North Cascades are no exception. Wildfires are most likely to occur in Summer when it’s hot and dry, and can last through October. It’s important to be aware of the possibilities and to check the current conditions before heading out. Even if there isn’t an active wildfire where you are going, smoke from other fires can travel hundreds of miles in the right conditions.

It’s best to have a backup plan for your elopement in case a wildfire occurs near your chosen location. The best way to avoid the possibility of a wildfire changing your plans is to choose a date in the late Spring.

The Best North Cascades Elopement Locations

Diablo Lake

One of the most iconic landmarks of the North Cascades are the bright blue waters of Diablo Lake. Surrounded by jagged mountains, this gorgeous lake is a reservoir created by the Diablo Dam. Views of this lake can be easily accessed via viewpoints along the highway with little to no hiking required, making it an excellent choice for couples looking for epic views without wanting to physically exert themselves.

Trail Distance: n/a

Elevation Gain: n/a

Closest Town with Amenities: Concrete, WA

Best Time of Year: Summer

Best Time of Day: Sunrise or Sunset

The bright blue waters of Diablo Lake in the North Cascades.

Washington Pass Overlook

Home to some of the most recognizable views along the North Cascade Highway, this overlook is a short 0.5 mile walk on pavement to some epic mountain views! Even if you don’t have your actual ceremony here, you’ll want to stop here to soak in the jagged mountains and take some stunning photos.

Trail Distance: 0.5 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 61 ft.

Closest Town with Amenities: Winthrop, WA

Best Time of Year: Late Spring, Summer, or early Autumn

Best Time of Day: Sunrise or Sunset

Washington Pass in the North Cascade Mountains.
A jagged mountain peak in the North Cascades National Park.

Rainy Lake

Located just outside of the park in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, this paved, 2 mile out and back trail leads to a beautiful mountain lake for a beautiful elopement backdrop. This is a beautiful area while still being easily accessible.

Trail Distance: 2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 131 ft.

Closest Town with Amenities: Winthrop, WA

Best Time of Year: Summer and early Autumn

Best Time of Day: Sunrise

Maple Pass Loop

Another stunning lake located just outside of the North Cascades National Park, and possibly the most iconic trail in the region, this trail will take you to stunning views overlooking Ann Lake and the surrounding mountains. This hike is a bit of a challenge, but the views are well worth the effort! This area is one of the most picturesque places to elope in the North Cascades!

Trail Distance: 6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,162 ft.

Closest Town with Amenities: Winthrop, WA

Best Time of Year: Summer and early Autumn

Best Time of Day: Sunrise

A trail in the North Cascades Mountains on a sunny day.

Blue Lake

Another lake on the outskirts of the North Cascades National Park, Blue Lake is a beautiful mountain lake. Surrounded by jagged peaks, this lake is serenely beautiful.

Trail Distance: 4.6 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 915 ft. 

Closest Town with Amenities: Winthrop, WA

Best Time of Year: Summer

Best Time of Day: Sunrise

Picture Lake

Located on the nearby Mt. Baker, Picture Lake is a beautiful lake easily accessed via car and a short walk. This is a wonderful option for couples looking for a beautiful elopement location without any hiking required!

Trail Distance: 0.4 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 6 ft.

Closest Town with Amenities: Bellingham, WA

Best Time of Year: Summer and early Autumn

Best Time of Day: Sunrise

Artists Point

Another easily accessible location on Mt. Baker with stunning views is Artist Point. This viewpoint is accessed by car, but there are several trailheads here if you want to go the extra mile for even more epic views for your elopement!

Trail Distance: n/a

Elevation Gain: n/a

Closest Town with Amenities: Bellingham, WA

Best Time of Year: Summer

Best Time of Day: Sunrise

North Cascades Wedding Venues

If you’re looking for something a little more traditional for your ceremony, I’ve got you covered! These are some of the best wedding venues in the North Cascades so you can include your family and friends in your day.

Sun Mountain Lodge

This lodge in Winthrop is the perfect blend of rustic charm and modern comfort. Not only does this lodge offer overnight accommodations, but they also offer indoor and outdoor wedding sites!

Freestone Inn at Wilson Ranch

Located on the East end of the North Cascades in Mazama, this cozy mountain inn offers a warm and cozy option for lodging and dining, as well as weddings. They have a capacity of 50-150 guests for weddings, depending on the time of year, with options for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies.

Permits and Licenses for your North Cascades Elopement

Once you’ve decided on a location for your elopement, you’ll need to find out if you need any permits for that location. If your ceremony will take place within the North Cascades National Park you will need to apply for a Special Use Permit. Other locations may or may not need a permit.

Did you know that when you hire me as your elopement photographer I will also help you with researching and obtaining permits? Yep! That’s just one of the ways I can help you while planning your elopement. Contact me and I’ll share with you all the ways I can help you throughout your elopement planning.

How to get a wedding permit for your North Cascades Elopement

If you decide on a ceremony location within the North Cascades National Park, you will need to apply for a Special Use Permit. Some locations within the park may have group size limitations.

To apply for your permit, you will need to submit an application to the Commercial Service Office or call 360-854-7213. You will need to pay a $50 non-refundable Application Fee when submitting your permit application.

Special Use Permit information for elopements taking place in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Special Use Permit information for elopements taking place at Washington Pass.

How to get a marriage license in Washington

To obtain your Washington marriage license, you and your partner will need to complete a marriage application either in person or through the mail. You will need to bring your government issued identification with you as well as the processing fee of approximately $72.

Once your application has been approved, you will be issued a marriage license and it will have a 3 day waiting period. It will expire after 60 days.

Check out my full guide to eloping in Washington for more details.

Bride and groom sharing a moment on their elopement day.

Other Permits for Your North Cascades Elopement

If your elopement takes place outside of the National Park, a permit may or may not be required. You’ll need to research the requirements for your location to know what is needed. If you’re not sure where to start when researching permits, check with your elopement photographer, they should be able to help you with this process.

Still looking for an elopement photographer? I can help you plan your day as well as document it. Contact me to learn how I can help you!

Where to stay for your North Cascades elopement

Hotels & Lodges

North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin

Located on the north end of Lake Chelan, this lodge is an authorized concierge with the National Park Service. This resort on the edge of the lake includes a lodge, cabins, a restaurant, a small grocery store, and water equipment rentals. The only way to access the lodge is by boat or a very long hike, making it a secluded and peaceful spot to getaway.

Sun Mountain Lodge

This luxury mountain lodge is situated in Winthrop on the outskirts of the North Cascades. The lodge offers rooms with beautiful views of the mountains as well as private cabins you can stay in. On the property you’ll find two outdoor heated swimming pools as well as two hot tubs, two restaurants, tennis courts, trailheads, and private lake access.

Freestone Inn

This rustic and cozy inn is perfectly located in Mazama. The Freestone Inn rooms and cabins for overnight accommodations. They also have an outdoor swimming pool, an ice-rink that is open year round, a bike rental shop, and an onsite restaurant.

Wedding cake with the words "To Love's Eternal Glory" written in frosting on it.

Camping in the North Cascades

If you want to fully embrace nature and adventure during your elopement, the North Cascades are home to some spectacular campgrounds!

There are 6 front country campgrounds within the North Cascades National Park open from mid-May through early September and many options around Mt. Baker to choose from.

Campsites for both the North Cascades and Mt. Baker can be reserved through Recreation.gov.

Airbnb’s for Your North Cascades Elopement

Staying at an Airbnb can be a great option for unique and cozy accommodations! They are an especially great option if you plan on bringing family along with you, as they are more affordable and allow you to spend more time together during your experience.

Here are a few of the Top Airbnb’s Near the North Cascades:

What to pack for Your North Cascades Elopement

Once it’s time to start packing for your elopement, there are a few things that are specific to the North Cascades that you will want to pack in addition to what you are probably already planning. 

For a complete list of what to bring, check out my ultimate elopement packing list!

  1. Bear Spray
  2. The Cascade Mountains are home to all kinds of wildlife, including black bears, grizzly bears, and cougars. You’ll want to carry bear spray with you while on your elopement in the North Cascades and know how to use it, just in case of an encounter.
  3. Micro Spikes If you’ll be eloping high in the mountains, you may need some sort of traction for hiking. There can be snow at high elevations even in the middle of summer, so if you will be including a high elevation hike in your day, you’ll want to bring some microspikes or yaktrax with you.
  4. Bug Spray Don’t forget to pack some bug spray! The North Cascades can have plenty of mosquitos and other bugs flying around in the summertime, and bug spray is a definite must.
  5. Your Marriage License (and a pen) Make sure you have your marriage license, along with a pen to sign it.
  6. Snacks/Food for your day Make sure to have a food plan for your day, and that includes bringing snacks or maybe even a picnic meal with you.
  7. Headlamp plus extra batteries Even if you don’t plan on being out after dark, it’s always a good idea to have a headlamp (along with some extra batteries) with you just in case. 
  8. Clothing layers The weather in Washington can be unpredictable, and that’s especially true when in the mountains. Make sure to bring clothing layers for wet, dry, warm, and cold.
Wedding couple holding hands as they stand on a bridge.

Elopement activities

Your elopement day can be filled with so much more than just your ceremony. This day is all about the two of you, and you can celebrate by including your favorite activities in your day. Here are some activities you can include in your North Cascades elopement experience.

Go on a scenic Hike

The North Cascades is home to hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and there’s no shortage of beautiful hikes for all levels of nature lovers! Here are a few of the top hikes in the area:

A moss covered forest in the North Cascades National Park

Maple Pass Trail

Distance: 6.5 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 2,162 ft.

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead Location: Trailhead is located just off of the North Cascades Highway, just east of the North Cascades National Park

Highlights: The stunning views of Ann Lake and the surrounding mountains.

View on AllTrails

Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk

Distance: 0.6 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 26 ft.

Difficulty: Easy

Trailhead Location: Newhalem

Highlights: The bridge of the Skagit River is spectacular!

View on AllTrails

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail

Distance: 11.6 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 3,963 ft.

Difficulty: Hard

Trailhead Location: Trailhead is at the end of the Cascade River Rd, about an hour east of Marblemount.

Highlights: Stunning views of the Cascade Mountains and views of the Sahale Glacier.

View on AllTrails

Happy Creek Falls

Distance: 2.7 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 656 ft.

Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Trailhead Location: Trailhead is located off of the North Cascades Highway just south of Ross Lake.

Highlights: The cascading waterfall and the moss covered forest.

View on AllTrails

Get out on the water

The North Cascades are home to some spectacular lakes and rivers!

Some water activities to consider adding into your day include:

  • Paddle Boarding on Diablo Lake
  • Swimming in Ross Lake or Diablo Lake
  • Rent a boat, kayak, or canoe from the Ross Lake Resort
  • Whitewater Rafting on the Skagit River

Go Rock Climbing

The North Cascades are well known for their rugged climbing terrain. If you and your partner are avid climbers, why not include it in your elopement day?

You can find more about climbing in the North Cascades National Park on their website.

Camping and Backpacking

If you want to really add some adventure to your elopement experience, you can include camping! Whether it’s in the front country or the backcountry, camping is a fun way to personalize your elopement by doing something you love.

Take a scenic drive on the North Cascades Highway

One thing you can’t miss while in the North Cascades is driving along the North Cascades Highway. This scenic stretch of road takes you straight through the mountains with view points of lakes, jagged peaks, and waterfalls. The road is typically snow free by April or early May and is usually open until late October until the snow hits.

Check out this list of 50+ elopement day activities for more ideas to inspire you!

Leave No Trace

It’s important when recreating outdoors that you protect the places you visit. This is what Leave No Trace is all about. It’s a set of outdoor ethics for preserving nature and it’s important that you be aware of them when planning your adventure elopement.

Learn more about Leave No Trace here.

Leave No Trace Principals:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Come with a plan to make sure you have any necessary permits and that you are able to follow the rules.

Stick to Established Trails and Campsites

Make sure the location you choose for your ceremony and portraits falls within the parks rules and regulations. This will protect the vegetation, the wildlife, and you.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Pack it in. Pack it out. It really is that simple. Whatever you bring with you for your elopement, make sure you take it back home with you or properly dispose of it before leaving.

Leave What You Find

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. I know those rocks are pretty, but you need to leave them where you found them. Besides, what are you really going to do with a handful of rocks once you get home?

Minimize Campfire Impact

If you plan on including a campfire in any part of your elopement experience, make sure to have it in a designated fire ring and follow any burn restrictions in the area. And always put your fire out completely before leaving.

Respect Wildlife

As the National Park Service likes to say, “give wildlife room, use a zoom”. Never approach wildlife, no matter how cute and huggable that bear looks. Give them space to keep both them and you safe.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Be respectful of other visitors nearby and remember that even though this is your wedding day, this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them too.

Check out my full guide to planning a Leave No Trace elopement!

How much time do you need for your North Cascades Elopement?

How much time your need for your elopement will depend on what you want your day to include. Some things to factor in when deciding how much coverage you need include:

  • If you will be bringing guests along with you.
  • The activities you want to include in your day.
  • How far you will need to drive from your getting ready location to your ceremony and any other spots you want to visit on your day.

Below are a few elopement timeline examples to help you get a better vision for what your elopement experience in the North Cascades could look like and how much time you may need.

Couple walking around big rocks while holding lanterns on their wedding day.

North Cascades Elopement Timeline examples

8 Hour Sunrise Elopement Example

3:30am – Meet at trailhead and start hiking to lake.

4:30am – Arrive at the lake. Scout out the perfect ceremony location.

4:45am – Change into wedding attire.

5:15am – Sunrise first look.

5:45am – Wedding ceremony.

6:15am – Celebrate being married! Pop some champagne, take some “just married” portraits, watch the rest of the sunrise together and grab a breakfast snack.

7:30am – Hike back to cars.

8:30am – Arrive back at cars. Drive to Diablo Lake overlook.

9:15am – Take some photos at the overlook of the lake.

9:45am – Drive to Picnic Area.

10:15am – Set up picnic lunch by the river.

10:45am – Exchange wedding gifts, have your first dance as husband and wife, and read letters from family and friends.

11:30am – Photography coverage ends.

12 Hour Elopement Example

10:00am – Meet at the campsite. Capture wedding details and getting ready photos.

12:00am – Change into wedding attire.

12:30am – Have your first look.

1:00pm – Drive to the ceremony location on Diablo Lake.

1:30pm – Arrive at ceremony location. Explore to find the perfect spot and set up.

2:00pm – Wedding ceremony.

2:30pm – Celebrate being married! Take some “just married” portraits and enjoy the moment.

3:15pm – Drive to Washington Pass Overlook

4:00pm – Arrive at the overlook. Walk around, explore, and take some pictures.

5:30pm – Drive back to the campsite.

6:30pm – Arrive back at camp. Build a campfire and cook dinner together.

8:00pm – Have your first dance as husband and wife.

8:30pm – Roast marshmallows over the fire and enjoy your first evening as husband and wife.

10:00pm – Photography coverage ends

North Cascades Elopement Packages

If you’re looking for an elopement package that also includes planning assistance, you’re in the right place! As a Washington elopement photographer, I can help you plan your day on top of documenting your memories! Every single one of my packages includes unlimited planning assistance to help you find the perfect ceremony location, create a timeline for your day, researching activities, and more, all on top of capturing your day in beautiful photographs for you to keep forever.

Wedding rings on moss.

I hope you found this guide helpful for planning your elopement in the North Cascades. These mountains are truly stunning, and they will make for a beautiful backdrop for your adventure elopement!

If you’re looking for some help planning your adventurous wedding in Washington, please reach out to me! I would love to help you plan an epic elopement experience and document the day for you!

Happy Eloping!

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