Ultimate Guide to Eloping in Montana: Tips to Make Planning Effortless
Updated December 2021
Whether you’re toying around with the idea of a Montana elopement or are already set on buying plane tickets and eloping in Montana, this guide will get you well on your way to beginning to plan your epic day. Don’t miss the 6 steps at the end to help give you a checklist to guide you through the planning process!
Table of Contents for this guide:
Section 1: Frequently Asked Questions About Eloping in Montana
Section 2: Things to Look for in a Montana Elopement Photographer
Section 3: Checklist for Planning Your Elopement in Montana
Montana Elopement Frequently Asked Questions
When should we elope in Montana?
Although we could make the most of any season in Montana, the winter and spring can be absolutely miserable statewide (think blistering winds, negative temps, and way too much snow) if you aren’t used to chilly temperatures. My absolute favorite seasons to capture elopements in Montana are fall and summer, but below is a breakdown of each season and some ideas of what your day could look like during that time!
Summer in Montana
Summer is the most popular time for visitors and locals alike to make the most of all that Montana has to offer! The days are long, it stays light for what feels like forever after the sun sets, there is little-to-no-humidity, and don’t even get me started on all of the wildflowers!
Your summer elopement in Montana could look like…
- Staying in a renovated, vintage camper at Rockin Retros at Rock Creek, hiking around the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, driving a motorcycle up the Beartooth Highway, and even satisfy your sweet tooth at Montana Candy Emporium.
- Reserving one of the many fire lookouts in Montana and having a unique experience with a view as far as the eye can see, making meals and instant coffee with a jet boil, snuggling up together under the Milkyway, and having an unbeatable view of the sunrise in the morning.
Winter in Montana
If you aren’t afraid of layers and bundling up and want to see what it truly feels like to elope in a winter wonderland, eloping during the winter in Montana is 100% right for you. From hikes to frozen waterfalls to snowmobile tours and dog-sledding, you aren’t limited to visiting ski-resorts to have a memorable experience!
If you’re dreaming of a Montana elopement during the winter, you could…
- Head to my favorite place to go skiing at Showdown Montana in Neihart and then venture to White Sulphur Springs to grab some Montana beer at 2 Basset Brewery, eat a bite at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and then rest your muscles in the natural hot springs.
- Visit Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park, and book a snow coach tour to experience the park in a way not many visitors are able to. Whether you take a tour to Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon, be sure to bring some binoculars so you can lookout for snow-covered bison and other wildlife!
Fall in Montana
In my opinion, there is no better time of year to soak in all that Montana has to offer than the fall. I tend to guide couples towards the last week of September and the first week of October to give us as much luck as possible avoiding an early snowfall and make the most of the beautiful fall colors!
Something to know about fall in Montana – the weather can be beyond moody (rain, snow in higher elevations, cloudy skies) but there is nothing more beautiful than how amazing these mountains look with clouds dancing around their peaks and rain puddles on the ground reflecting fall colors.
Eloping in Montana during the fall could look like…
- Spending the morning watching the sunrise at Bowman Lake with hot chocolate in one hand and a bear-claw from the Polebridge Merchantile in the other and regrouping in the evening as you head to Logan Pass to exchange your vows with snow-kissed mountain peaks as your witnesses and then watch the sunset along the shore of Lake McDonald
- Camping in a renovated Airstream near Missoula and start your day slow snuggling together with a warm cup of coffee before experiencing the mystery of Garnet Ghost Town, soaking in hot springs off the beaten path, or going horseback riding in the mountains!
(Late) Spring in Montana
Something I learned early when we moved to Montana is that spring in the mid-west and mountains looks a lot different than the flower-blooming springtime you think of in other areas of the country! Early Spring is more of a shoulder season where things could be muddy or Montana could be getting yet another snowfall (yep, even in the month of May), so I’d definitely recommend late May to early June!
Some experiences that would be perfect for a springtime Montana elopement are
- Renting an e-bike and taking a ride along Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park (past where it’s open to cars) and enjoying having the place nearly to yourself, spotting wildlife along the way, and listening to the roaring waterfalls from the spring snowmelt.
- Spending the day before your elopement near Bozeman whitewater rafting, ziplining, fly fishing, or tubing down the Madison River followed by renting an offroading vehicle and drive to the top of a mountain to exchange your vows the day of!
Where should we elope in Montana?
I have an entire guide covering what are, in my opinion, the best places for elopements in Montana that you should definitely check out, but below is an overview of my favorite areas to get you started!
6 of the Best Areas to Elope in Montana:
- Bozeman / Gallatin National Forest
- Beartooth Mountains
- State Parks in Central Montana
- Flathead National Forest
- Hidden Gems in Eastern Montana
- Glacier National Park
We’re coming from out-of-state, where do we get our marriage license? Do we need to find an officiant?
If you two have started considering eloping, there’s a high chance you’re really drawn to not having all eyes on you and having an intimate, true-to-you experience. Luckily, in the state of Montana, you don’t need any witnesses and the person legally marrying you doesn’t necessarily need to be ordained. As an elopement photographer for many couples who choose to elope with only me present, I actually got ordained online and have helped many couples make their “I do” legal and properly fill out their marriage licenses.
Which brings me to… where do you go to obtain your marriage license?! If you’re coming from out of state, you’ll definitely need to obtain a Montana wedding license when you arrive (rather than bringing one from where you live), whether that be in the city that you fly into or the area that you two are staying in and are having your elopement in. A quick google search for the county that a city is in followed by searching “[County] clerk office marriage license” should point you in the right direction. As of November of 2021, licenses are $53 and you have 180 days to use it. You’re also not bound to get married in the same county that your license is issued in, it’ll be valid throughout the state of Montana!
How to Find Your Montana Elopement Photographer
Helping couples elope throughout the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado is my specialty and I’d love to share some things that are super important to be thinking about when you’re looking for a photographer to third-wheel on such an important day!
When looking for an elopement photographer, consider asking them…
- How they will be there to assist the two of you in crafting an elopement day that aligns with who the two of you are and your vision for your day?
- What level of communication can you expect from them during the planning process? Are they available to answer any questions you may have along the way?
- Will they help you navigate the process of obtaining the necessary permits for your wedding ceremony? Is paying for the photographer’s commercial permits something you’ll do or is it included in their elopement packages?
- Where are they based and is travel to Montana and throughout Montana included in the packages or will that be an additional fee?
- Do they bring backup gear (like multiple camera bodies) and save photos to multiple SD cards while shooting to ensure your photos are as safe as humanly possible?
- When can you expect to see sneak peeks and your final gallery of images?
- How will you get the gallery (online, USB, etc.) and will you have personal printing rights?
- Where can you see reviews from other couples who have worked with them?
Choosing a photographer to capture your elopement day is a big deal, don’t feel crazy for asking questions and doing research until you find “the one.” The best piece of advice that I can give is to follow your heart and find someone that will be the perfect third-wheel and is knowledgeable of all that Montana has to offer for your elopement day. It’s totally okay (and even encouraged) if you have to email a few to choose one that feels right.
Checklist for Planning Your Dream Montana Elopement
Step 1: Before you start any planning or dive too deep into research, consider the following questions to get you started on the planning process with an initial vision for your day in mind:
- When you thought about having a more traditional wedding, what didn’t feel quite right and what led you to ultimately look into eloping in Montana instead?
- When you close your eyes and think about your elopement day, how does it feel? (Ex. adventurous, relaxing, romantic, etc.)
- When you first landed on having your elopement in Montana, what sorts of landscapes and activities really stood out to you most? Were there any particular locations that really made you feel stoked?
Step 2: After you’ve sorted through those last questions, think about what your budget will be for your day and what time of year feels right to have your elopement in Montana.
The task of deciding on a budget might feel super daunting after switching gears from a wedding that would cost you tens of thousands of dollars, but that’s why I wrote a blog post outlining the cost of eloping (including things like photographers, videographers, and even florists)!
Before making your way to step 3, you don’t necessarily have to have a precise date in mind (unless there’s a date that means a lot to you) and it’s more helpful to have a general idea like “early June” or “fall”! It’s also worth noting that 99% of the elopements that I photograph take place on a weekday to avoid as many crowds.
Step 3: Book your dream photographer and date for your elopement!
Although photographers have much more availability flexibility for week-day elopements (unlike traditional weddings that are typically constrained to weekends), I don’t recommend waiting too long to reach out to different photographers for information and to schedule information calls to get to know them better! Once you land on your perfect match, coordinate with them to choose a date, sign their contract, and let the planning excitement begin!
Step 4: Decide on the perfect location for your elopement
Your elopement photographer or planner should be able to help guide you through this process, but if you need any ideas, don’t hesitate to check out my guide filled with ideas on where to elope in Montana to help you dream up the possibilities and see if anything jumps out at you.
Step 5: Secure your flights, rental cars, lodging, and other elopement vendors
As soon as you land on a location for your elopement secure your flights and rental car reservations, especially if you’re planning on eloping in Glacier National Park. Many of the rental car places in Montana run extremely low on inventory due to the influx of visitors and the last thing you want is to pay an inflated rate or be stuck looking high and low for a vehicle.
In terms of finding good local vendors, like florists and hair and makeup artists, your elopement photographer or planner will most likely be a great resource for vendors that they have either worked directly with or come highly recommended.
Step 6: Get excited for your day and pack the essentials!
There have been countless times when couples have arrived in Montana for their elopement only to text me realizing that they left their vow books at home or that they can’t find their jewelry in the chaos of the last-minute packing. For this exact reason, I put together a resource detailing what to pack for your elopement day – so that you can bookmark it and reference it before you head to the airport or hit the road!
So what are you waiting for?! Let’s work together to plan your day!
As an elopement photographer who specializes in helping couples just like you elope throughout the Rocky Mountains, I would be stoked for you to be one of the couples I help in the upcoming year!