Ultimate North Cascades National Park Elopement Guide

March 1, 2024

Elopement, Intimate Weddings

Table of Contents:

A lot of people don’t know that Washington has a third national park, but we do—and it’s INSANELY beautiful! Not only do we have the iconic Mount Rainier National Park & the breathtaking Olympic National Park; we also have the stunning, totally underrated North Cascades National Park. It’s an alpine paradise and is home to one of the most scenic drives in the entire Pacific Northwest, taking you through marvelous mountain viewpoints, lush hiking trails, wildflower meadows, bright blue glacial lakes, and sooo many more diverse landscapes. All of this makes for a pretty incredible elopement location, don’t ya think?! That’s why I put together this full North Cascades National Park elopement guide for you, where I’ll be answering all your questions + giving you all my best tips for eloping in this amazing park. Let’s do this thing!

Where Is North Cascades National Park?

Before we talk about elopements, let’s make sure you’re familiar with where the North Cascades are, especially if you’re not a PNW native or have never even heard of the park. North Cascades National Park is located in northern Washington (who would’ve thought?), encompassing just over half a million acres of land—yup, it’s BIG! It’s actually the largest of three units that make up the North Cascades National Park Complex, which also consists of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area & the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. I know that’s a little confusing, so all you need to remember is that it’s huge and has endless amazing spots you can visit 🙂

Driving-wise, it’s about 3 hours to get from Seattle to the primary access point of North Cascades National Park via the State Route 20 (SR 20) corridor. But because the park covers soooo much of Washington, the driving time will obviously depend on which area you’re heading to! The closest international airport to North Cascades National Park is Bellingham International Airport, but you could also fly into SeaTac if you want to spend some time in the city + are okay with a longer drive to the Cascades. It only takes about 1.5 hours to drive from Bellingham to the North Cascades, so that’s definitely the easiest route!

FAQ’s About Eloping In North Cascades National Park

Now, before we dive into all the reasons why you should elope in the North Cascades, I wanted to answer a few FAQ’s about visiting the park itself.

Is Mount Baker part of the North Cascades?

Short answer: yes! While Mount Baker is one of the most iconic peaks in the North Cascades Mountain Range, it isn’t actually, technically part of the North Cascades National Park Complex, which begins further east with the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. But honestly that’s just a technicality—as far as I’m concerned, Mount Baker is by far one of the most beautiful spots to visit in the North Cascades range, plus it’s easy to add to your itinerary if you just start on the west side of the range + drive east into the rest of the park!

How long does it take to drive through the North Cascades?

Well, if you were to drive straight through the park along the North Cascades Highway (the SR 20 I mentioned earlier), it would take you around 1.5 hours to drive from the west entrance of the park to the east entrance. But I def don’t recommend just driving straight through—and trust me, you’ll agree once you get there! This park has SO many scenic viewpoints, trails, and even random pull offs on the side of the road that deserve to be enjoyed, so take as much time exploring this glorious mountain range as you can, whether you’re taking a backcountry hike through the alpine landscapes or you’re just driving through + want to stop at an overlook or two.

Is there an entrance fee for North Cascades National Park?

Nope! It’s so cool that you can visit North Cascades National Park for FREE—no entrance pass required! The only times you’ll need to pay to visit the North Cascades are if you’re staying at a campsite, going backcountry camping, or parking at a trailhead on U.S. Forest Service land that requires a day-use fee or Northwest Forest Pass

When is the best time of year to elope in the North Cascades?

The best time to elope in the North Cascades is between mid-June and late September! 

Because the North Cascades are, well, a mountain range in the PNW, they won’t be accessible year-round; a lot of the trails, overlooks, and portions of SR 20 close down every winter, and don’t open up until late spring or early summer (depending on how extreme the winter weather is that season). Most years, SR 20 closes down at milepost 134 (which is the Ross Dam Trailhead), and snow covers a majority of the trails, so you can’t even drive through certain parts of the highway. The snow is typically melted on all but the highest trails by July, so the safest times of year to plan an elopement are between July and September.

One thing to keep in mind is that the east side of the Cascades tends to be much drier and warmer than the west side, especially in the summer, with temperatures getting up into the 90s in areas like Stehekin. Unfortunately, this dry climate has been causing a lot of wildfires the past few years, so it’s possible that wildfires could affect your elopement in the later summer months—something to be aware of and to plan for, just in case.

You can also elope in the North Cascades in the shoulder seasons, spring and fall! In the spring you’ll find beautiful wildflowers and greenery coming back to life, but you’ll also probably encounter a bit of rain and potentially still snow. These times of year are also great for elopements, as there are typically fewer hikers out on the trails, so it’s easier to find secluded, quiet spots to elope! However, you never know when snow could hit in the fall, and you never know when it’ll melt in the spring—so the shoulder seasons can be a little risky. But if you’re down to be flexible, go with the flow, and potentially have to change plans based on the weather, then spring and fall can be amazing!

What is the best time of day to elope in the North Cascades?

Hmmm I don’t think I would say that there’s a best time of day to elope in the North Cascades—I’d probably encourage you to explore all day, if you can! It really depends on what activities you’re doing, what season you elope, and what part of the Cascades you’re in. You’ll also want to take into account what the scenery is like at your elopement location—e.g. If you’re surrounded by high mountain peaks, the sun will set earlier for you than your Weather app says it will. Sometimes certain spots can also look amazing at sunrise, but terrible at sunset due to wonky shadows from the surrounding peaks or rocks! 

Let’s say you’re eloping in the summer: if you’ll be hiking or doing any sort of mild to intense outdoor activities, you probably want to plan those for the early mornings or evenings to avoid the hottest time of day (especially if you’re closer to the eastern side of the mountains). Sunrise is usually the least crowded time of day, as well, so having a sunrise ceremony is an amazing option to help you avoid crowds during the summer. If you’re eloping in the spring or fall, the daytime temperatures will be much more bearable for outdoor activities, but you’ll also have fewer hours of daylight. Again, it’s so dependent on what your unique elopement looks like!

I know there is SO much to consider, so don’t worry—I’ll be there to help you with all of this 🙂 

When is the best time to see the wildflowers in the North Cascades?

If you’re eloping in the mountains of Washington, you’ve gotta see the wildflowers, right?! There’s not really one best time of year to see wildflowers in the North Cascades, since different elevations have different flowers blooming throughout different seasons. Certain low elevation forests might have flowering plants in early March, whereas the alpine meadows typically see peak bloom late into August and early September. You can read more about wildflowers in the North Cascades here if you want more details!

If you reallyyy want some dreamy wildflower meadows, you should consider eloping at Mount Rainier—the summer flowers there are to DIE for. Check out my full Mount Rainier Wedding & Elopement Guide for my best tips!

Best Places to Elope in the North Cascades

As I’ve said multiple times in this guide already, you could literally pull off onto the side of the road pretty much anywhere while driving through the North Cascades, and be met with some of the best views of your life. However, there are definitely a few spots I love more than most, and that make for great elopement locations—so here are my top recommendations for places to elope in the North Cascades!

1. Mount Baker

I know I said that Mount Baker isn’t technically part of the national park itself, but because it’s part of the North Cascades, I had to include it on this list!! It’s one of my all-time favorite elopement locations in Washington State thanks to the insane views, breathtaking alpine landscapes, and just how easy it is to access. And fun fact, Baker (also known as Kulshan) is actually an active, glacier-covered stratovolcano, with the second most thermally active crater in the Cascades (after Mount St. Helens). Hearing that it’s a volcano is always a wild reminder of how powerful these stunning peaks are that we get to enjoy 🤯If you’re looking for a mountain elopement location in Washington that doesn’t require any crazy hike (but still offers plenty of hikes, if you want them), and boasts spectacular mountain scenery filled with lakes, trees, grassy meadows, and wildflowers, then Mount Baker is the place for you!

Don’t miss my full Mount Baker Elopement & Wedding Guide, where I dive deeper into the best places to elope at Mount Baker, permit info, weather tips, and more!

2. Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake is one of those places that will legit take your breath away the moment you step out of your car and see it; it’s this insane, vibrant blue glacial lake nestled in the middle of the mountains, surrounded by luscious greenery and snow-capped hills. It’s WILD, you guys, the water seriously looks like the blue and green saturation has just been bumped up like crazy! It also requires ZERO effort whatsoever, which you know your girl loooves: you can just park your car and walk right to the overlook! However, you actually can’t take photos of any kind at this overlook anymore; it used to be the popular spot for photoshoots, but sadly too many people weren’t following the rules and ended up causing damage to the vegetation. So while you can’t elope at the overlook itself anymore, you can elope at the base of the lake, and the views of the surrounding mountains are JUST as incredible!

3. Washington Pass Overlook

Washington Pass Overlook is yet another spot that doesn’t require you to break a sweat—it’s an actual rest stop on the side of the highway near Stehekin, but has some of the best views in the area 😂All you gotta do is walk along a fully accessible, paved, 0.3-mile loop trail through a few trees, and you’ll find yourself at a viewpoint with STUNNING scenery of three different peaks in the North Cascades: Liberty Bell Mountain, Kangaroo Ridge, and Early Winters Spires. It’s a 10/10 bathroom stop if you need one while you’re driving along the highway, haha! Or if you just wanna stop for a scenic snack, or a picnic!

4. Rainy Lake

If you’re looking for a little bit of a hike but nothing too crazy, check out Rainy Lake! It’s a beautiful, crazy-clear lake accessible by the trailhead at milepost 158 on SR 20, and it’s only a mile-long trail each way. There’s barely any elevation gain, and the entire trail all the way to the viewpoint is paved—so it’s a great trail to do with kids, anybody with limited mobility, or if you just wanna take it easy on your elopement day but still enjoy some pretty dang amazing lakeside views! The best time of year to hike (well, walk) this trail is from July to October, and btw, the fall foliage here is heavenlyyy. Make sure to pay the $5 day-use fee or have a valid Northwest Forest Pass with you 🙂

5. Stehekin

Stehekin is this beautiful little community in Chelan County that you might have never heard of; it’s super underrated in my opinion, and is one of the best places to visit in the North Cascades. Most people just pass through it, which is very fitting for the name “Stehekin,” which comes from a Salishan word that means “the way through”! It’s a really beautiful valley with so many things to do, including hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing, and waterfall chasing (check out Rainbow Falls!). Stehekin is a great option if you want to find a sort of home base during your time in the North Cascades; you could stay in an Airbnb in the area, or the Stehekin Valley Ranch, spend time exploring the town, and then drive around to other locations from there!

6. Lake Chelan

Next up is Lake Chelan, a large, glacial lake on the eastern side of the Cascades, near the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Lake Chelan is such a magical place to visit because not only does it feature this obviously beautiful lake; it’s also got a state park, tons of outdoor recreation (hiking, biking, swimming, you name it), and some of the BEST wineries in the PNW! Sooo if you’re picturing a nice day on the water, followed by a relaxing wine tasting in a beautiful vineyard, then Lake Chelan would be the dream place for your elopement in the Cascades.

7. Airbnbs/Rentals

Finally, if you want more freedom to celebrate (whether it’s just the two of you or you’re inviting guests), you could rent out an Airbnb or VRBO in the North Cascades! There are TONS of amazing ones, ranging from charming A-frames in the woods to modern lakefront houses; it would be so much fun to rent out a place for a few days where you can not only sleep & chill, but also get ready for your elopement, take some photos, and even have a small dinner or afterparty. Bonus points if you find a place with a hot tub so we can take some fun photos of the two of you relaxing together at night, under the stars 😉

Here are some of the top-rated Airbnbs across the North Cascades to look into for your elopement:

How to Legally Get Married in the North Cascades

The final part of this guide is going to help you make sure you know what you need to do in order to legally get married in the North Cascades!

Get your North Cascades National Park elopement permit

First, you’ll want to make sure you get your North Cascades National Park elopement permit, aka a Special Use Permit. This permit is required for any sort of wedding or group gathering held within the limits of the park, so you’ll need to get it whether you’re having a 2-person or 15-person elopement. Depending on your group size, there may be certain locations in the park that are off-limits for your ceremony, so you’ll want to make sure to discuss that with the park contact. It costs $50 to apply for the Special Use Permit (which is a non-refundable fee), and there might be additional costs required depending on the details of your unique elopement!

When you’re ready, follow these steps to get your North Cascades National Park wedding permit:

  1. Reach out to the Commercial Services Office and request the proper application materials 
  2. Complete & submit the Special Park Uses application sent to you
  3. Pay your $50 non-refundable application fee via Pay.gov, and forward a confirmation receipt to the Commercial Services Office

From there, just follow any further instructions given by the park office in order to obtain your final permit!

Get your Washington marriage license

You’ll also need to get your Washington marriage license since you’ll be, well, getting married in Washington! 

In order to get legally married in Washington, you must:

  • Be over the age of 18 unless you have parental consent
  • Provide valid government-issued ID when applying for your license
  • Have at least two witnesses present over the age of 18
  • Pay the license fee (varies by county)
  • Use your license within 60 days of issuing

The specific costs and processes will depend on the county you get your marriage license through—so once you know where you’ll be eloping, visit the county’s website to find all the specific instructions to get your marriage license. I can help you with this, if you need!

Hiring Your North Cascades Elopement Photographer

Hey friend, I’m Claudia—your resident North Cascades elopement & wedding photographer! I love living in Washington SO dang much, and having easy access to epic places like the North Cascades will ALWAYS blow my mind. If you’re ready to hire a photog to document your adventure + start planning your dream day, let’s connect—can’t wait to get to know you and capture some freaking amazing memories for you!

If you’re still undecided on where you want to get married in the PNW, I’ve got you covered with a bunch more in-depth location guides just like this one! I’ve linked a few I think you’ll love below 🙂

Where to Elope in Washington State: Top 22 Locations

Ultimate Guide to the Best Seattle Elopement Locations

15 Best Seattle Wedding Venues

15 Best Outdoor Wedding Venues in Oregon