Did you know I got married in the North Cascades?! I know, I’m obsessed with my home state of Oregon, but I absolutely LOVE North Cascades National Park and think it’s sooo underrated. After having such an amazing elopement experience myself in the park, I want to make sure all couples know how epic of an option it is for elopements. So I put together this guide to how to elope in the North Cascades – hope you love it!!
First let’s learn a little about North Cascades National Park, since it’s usually the park in Washington that people know the least about!
North Cascades National Park is different from Washington’s other national parks in that it spans across an entire mountain range, not just one specific area of the state. The park encompasses over 500,000 acres running through the northern part of Washington and a variety of cute little towns. Some of the larger towns in the North Cascades include Concrete, Rockport, Mazama, Winthrop, & Twisp.
Traveling through the North Cascades is super easy – just stay on the North Cascades Highway (aka Highway 20/State Route 20)! If you’re coming from the west, SR 20 connects with I-5 at exit 230 (Burlington), and if you’re coming from the east, it intersects with U.S. Route 97 at Okanogan & State Route 153 at Twisp.
State Route 20, the highway you drive through the North Cascades, closes down for the winter at milepost 134 (the Ross Dam Trailhead), so in the winter you won’t be able to access a good chunk of the highway. Even if the highway is open when the weather starts to warm up, certain rest stops along the highway might be closed still (such as the Washington Pass Overlook). Most of the park’s visitor & service centers also close for the season and reopen around late May.
You can monitor road closures and alerts in real-time via the WSDOT site!
Nope, there’s no fee to enter North Cascades National Park! You’ll only need to pay a fee if you want to go car camping, backcountry camping, or to hike at US Forest Service trailheads within the park.
Yes, you can absolutely get married in North Cascades National Park, as long as you follow the park rules and get the appropriate Special Use Permit.
Because there are specific locations in the park where elopements/weddings/group gatherings are NOT permitted, you’ll want to ask the park’s Commercial Service Office about which locations in the park would be appropriate for the size of your group. Some popular spots that used to be permitted photo & wedding locations are now off-limits due to overuse or land damage, so it’s important to follow what the office says so that you don’t disrupt the land or other visitors!
You’ll need a Special Use Permit to have your wedding or elopement in North Cascades National Park. This permit requires a non-refundable $50 application fee, and you need to contact the park’s Commercial Service Office via email or phone (360-854-7213) to receive application materials.
It costs a minimum of $50 to elope in North Cascades National Park. There’s no entry fee to visit the park, and the application for your permit will cost $50. Keep in mind there may be additional fees later on depending on the size & location of your elopement!
There are sooo many incredible locations in the North Cascades that deserve a spot on your itinerary, but I did my best & narrowed down 6 of the most incredible places to elope in the North Cascades (either to have your ceremony/vow exchange or just to take some elopement portraits)!
Diablo Lake is probably the most iconic spot in the North Cascades, famous for its bright blue water and absolutely epic mountain views! You’ve probably seen it on a postcard at some point because the scenery is absolutely unreal, and it’s such an easy location to access, too. You can simply drive to the Diablo Lake Overlook, walk up to the fence, and bam – your jaw will be on the FLOOR. If you want to hike in the area and get more exercise, you can check out the Thunder Knob Trail, which will take you up some switchbacks to another amazing viewpoint.
Disclaimer: most of the photos you’ll see of Diablo Lake (including my own wedding photos that are included in this blog post) are at a spot that’s now off-limits for photos. So while we won’t be able to shoot at the same overlook, we can get just as great of views from Thunder Knob Trail, and we can also shoot at the base of the lake to get a different perspective of the gorgeous scenery!
Blue Lake is yet another one of the most picturesque spots in all of Washington that you’ve probably seen on a postcard, thanks to its iridescent blue water & gorgeous subalpine forest setting. I know, who could’ve guessed that Blue Lake was super blue?
To get to the absolutely breathtaking mountain lake, you’ll take a 4.4-mile round trip trail with around 1,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s a very doable hike for most people and won’t take you all day, so I highly recommend either having your vow exchange here or at least stopping for some elopement portraits as you drive along Highway 20! Blue Lake is especially breathtaking in the spring, when the wildflowers are blooming & the meadows are recovering from the cold winter.
Rainy Lake is an amazing, wheelchair-accessible spot in the North Cascades that’s super easy to get to and has, of course, incredible views. The paved rail to get to Rainy Lake is just one mile each way with only 70 feet of elevation gain, and is accessible for wheelchairs. So this is a great option if you’re looking for a quick & easy trail for you and your guests but you don’t want to sacrifice anything when it comes to beautiful scenery – believe me, you’ll be shocked at how gorgeous this lake is after such an easy “hike!”
If you’re looking for more of an adventurous elopement location, check out Heather-Maple Pass Loop – a 7.2-mile round trip loop hike through the stunning peaks & meadows of the North Cascades. This is a moderately challenging hike with just over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but every step is so freaking worth it for the epic views you get of the North Cascades. You’ll get views of lakes that, in the fall, are surrounded by beautiful golden larches, ridgelines covered in wildflowers in the spring, and second-growth forests that cover the hillsides. This is one of the best places to elope in the North Cascades for more adventurous couples!
Stehekin is a beautiful, remote mountain community nestled in the North Cascades that makes for an amazing place to stay for your elopement or a great way to spend a day during your time in the area. You can only get to Stehekin via slow ferry or express boat, and there’s basically no cell service or internet – so it’s a really magical place to be if you’re looking for a real getaway where you can just explore & enjoy the beauty surrounding you!
Lastly, Washington Pass Overlook is a must-stop as you take the scenic drive along Highway 20. Yes, there’s a restroom and picnic tables here so you can take a little rest from your drive, but there’s also a short, 0.3-mile round trip trail that takes you to one of the most incredible viewpoints in all of the North Cascades. Literally just park in the parking lot, walk a couple of minutes through the trees, and you’ll find yourself in front of spectacular views of the jagged peaks of the North Cascades & the windy highway.
Like I mentioned above, you’ll need to get a Special Use Permit to get married in North Cascades National Park. Unfortunately, the park website doesn’t have a ton of info readily available, but here are the basics that you need to know about getting your North Cascades elopement permit!
To apply for the permit, you’ll need to pay a $50 non-refundable application fee before you can get your permit approved. This can be paid via credit or debit via Pay.gov at the time of your application!
You need to reach out to the Commercial Service Office via email or phone (360-854-7213) to get the appropriate application materials, and from there, they’ll walk you through the process for getting your permit as well as rules & restrictions for your desired location(s). Typically, if your request is approved, you’ll receive a permit that will need to be signed & returned to the office for final approval!
Because so much of State Route 20 closes off during the winter and most trails + rest stops are also closed for the season, the best time of year to elope in the North Cascades is between June-September. Most of the snow is melted by mid-June except for the highest trails, which may not be accessible until sometime in July, and the snow usually starts up again in late September. Every year is different, obviously, depending on the weather conditions, so you should monitor weather conditions & alerts once your elopement gets closer and make backup plans just in case!
If you elope in the North Cascades, I recommend spending as MUCH time driving through the park as you can and stopping in more than one of the adorable little towns as you go. You could start on the west side of the mountains & stay in Deming or Concrete, then drive east and spend a few nights in the Mazama/Winthrop area. There are TONS of amazing places to camp if you’d rather sleep under the stars than in an Airbnb or resort, too!
Here are some of the best places to stay for your elopement, depending on what towns you want to spend the most time in.
Fun fact: I actually got married to my hubby in the North Cascades!! Dusty and I knew we wanted somewhere with water, mountains, and plenty of room to explore. So we said our vows at the gorgeous Diablo Lake and spent the entire weekend with our closest friends + family at Glacier Peak Resort, enjoying the hot tubs, the cute cabins, and overall the stunning scenery around us. It was seriously a dream come true! If you want to see photos from our day exploring, check out this blog!
Y’all know by now that I’m freaking obsessed with the North Cascades and I wish I could go back and do my own elopement over & over! If you’re looking for an adventure-seeking elopement photographer who knows the area well and can help you plan an epic North Cascades adventure elopement, I’m your gal! You can click the link below to find info about my North Cascades elopement packages + pricing and contact me here if you want to talk about booking me for your big day 🙂
If you loved this elopement guide, I’ve got sooo many more that I know you’ll love just as much – check out a few of my most popular Washington elopement guides below!
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