Having your Elopement or Wedding in Arches National Park
A guide to legally, safely, and responsibly get married in Arches.
Arches National Park offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world--arches several stories tall, deep canyon-like cracks in towering red rock, rock pinnacles and balancing rocks, desert oases and more! But great beauty also comes with great responsibility. Arches National Park is home to some of the most fragile and unique desert landscapes in the world, and, sadly, visitors (including elopement and wedding photographers) have been destroying this wonder.
"Great beauty also comes with great responsibility."
A note to other elopement photographers:
Arches has struggled with elopement photographers not following park rules and Leave No Trace Principles. Some parks have put in very strict no-elopement policies, but Arches continues to allow elopements. Let's keep it that way by following a few easy rules:
1- Stay on trail or on slick rock surfaces and NEVER step on cryptobiotic soil, sand dunes with plants growing in them, or on plants.
2- Make sure your couple has the proper permit and follows the rules. There's a good chance you know the park and the rules a lot better than them. Play Park Ranger at the beginning of their wedding day, pointing out cool plants and geological features, while also telling your couple and their guests how to protect those important parts of Arches' ecosystem.
3- Remember that no shot is worth ruining an ecosystem or a landscape for generations to come.
Picking the Perfect Date and Time
Weather + Crowds
You might think the desert it always hot--not so! In fact, what made all of those glorious arches is ICE! Water melts during the day, gets absorbed into the sandstone, then freezes at night, causing small cracks in the stone that eventually break off and make arches. Roughly 109 days of the year in Arches reaches below 32F, so be sure to pick the weather you enjoy.
Spring + Fall
I personally love Arches in the spring and fall. It's not too hot, it's not too cold, and it's not too crowded, as kids are in school and fewer people take time off work. The one downside (for some people) if that these are the few months of the year when you might experience unexpected inclement weather. In the Fall and Spring, be prepared for everything from a cloudless, sunny day to flash floods and snow.
Want the park to yourself? Winter offers minimal crowds. The arches can get dusted in snow, creating an unworldly feel (especially under the moonlight). Be prepared for cold and wet conditions.
Joe would rather die than be in Moab in the Summer. He'll whine for hours about the extreme heat, burning sun, and huge summer crowds (all sunburned like lobsters). I have to admit he has a solid point here. If you elope in the summer, wake up really early, as you can avoid the heat the first few hours after sunrise. One thing Summer has going for it, is that Moab is bustling with life--all the stores, restaurants and businesses are open. I can't say that about the rest of the year (our favorite donut shop taunts us by seemingly taking most of the Winter off and closing randomly in the Spring and Fall).
Avoiding the Crowds
Arches is popular, so unless you wanted to get married in front of 100 tourists, you'll need to pick a time of day when fewer visitors are around. I almost always recommend sunrise (no one wants to wake up early!), but sunset can be good too, especially at times of the year when sunset is around or shortly after dinner time (people get hungry and make the exodus from the park into Moab for some pizza and beer at Zax's).
First, you'll want to obtain a permit. Information for permitting is all available here. As of February 2023, a permit costs $385 and the application will take about 20-30 minutes to complete. If you elope with us, we will help you fill this out :)
Ranger Escort Requirement
As of 2022, Arches started requiring a ranger escort for your elopement. Their job is to make sure you (and your vendors and wedding party) follow all of the permitted rules. This fee is included in your permit.
Always read your permit throughly, as rules might change. However, here's some of the big rules to be aware of:
Stay On Trail!
It's very important to stay on trail in most parks, but especially in the Moab area! Moab has a lot of cryptobiotic soil, a special "living" soil that, when stepped on can be damaged and decades (or even centuries) to recover.
In area without obvious trails, like areas right under arches, or areas without trails, like Fiery Furnace, stay on rocks. Arches is a great park to explore and offers great places without formal trails, but be sure to always have your feet on a trail or on a solid rock to prevent harming the ecosystem.
Besides protecting the soil, you'll also need to protect and respect the rock formations and the animals. You cannot climb on top of ANY of the arches in the park.
Pick the Right Flowers
Did you know that a lot of the plants and animals you see in national parks shouldn't be there? While some of these plants are harmless, others are very destructive, causing native plants to die or wildfire to burn bigger and at much higher temperatures. Seeds get brought in on peoples shoes, cars, and wedding bouquets! As a former park ranger who's job was to remove plants, I can say with a heavy heart that once a new plant or animal is introduced into a park, they can be nearly impossible to introduce.
When you get your wedding bouquet and boutonnière flowers, tell your florist to only use fresh flowers (no dried flowers), and NEVER include grasses or seed pods in your floral arrangements.
Keep it Quick!
While you can photograph anywhere in the park (anywhere on trail that is!) and stay as long as you'd like for photos, you can only have your ceremony at a few places and your ceremony is limited to ten minutes.
Need more time than that? Due to high visitation, Arches can't make exceptions to this rules. Consider either eloping outside of the park and just do your photos and wedding-day hikes in the park, or split up your ceremony into a public and private section (e.g. have a quick ceremony with your guests then save your personal vows for a hike later in the day or share them under the stars at your campsite).
Make sure your guests also know and follow these rules!
Knots in the Pines Couples heads up:
No Music in the Park!
Knots in the Pines couples always get a complimentary guitar performance by Joe for their first dance... but not inside of Arches. Music (live or recorded) isn't allowed in the park, so we just take it outside of the park, to a place like this spot on the left (note: separate permits may be needed).
Important note about group-size limits:
The park lists a group-size limit for each site. Remember, this isn't just your guests! You, your partner, your officiant, and your photographer count towards this limit.
The Windows Section
25 group-size limit
Hands-down a crowd-pleasing favorite spot for your ceremony. Choose from 4 different arches for your ceremony.
Pros: Iconic, grandious views. Numerous options for your ceremony and great places for photos before or after your ceremony. All the arches are just a short and easy walk away from each other.
Cons: You must go at off-hours unless you want to struggle with parking for 45 minutes and have 100 people watching your ceremony. You're not allowed to impede other visitors' enjoyment of the park, so if you choose a popular time for your ceremony then you can potentially have numerous other visitors moving through your ceremony.
1- North + South Windows
Like eyes looking over the Windows Section, these gigantic arches offer some of the most instantly-recognizable views of Arches. From certain angles, you can see other arches, like Turret Arch, from North and South Window.
2- Turret Arch
A key-hold shaped arch with lots of slick rock surrounding it, offering many different ceremony spot locations.
3- Double Arch
So massive that it's hard to capture in an image, these arches are some of the most unique and massive features in the park.
Sand Dune Arch
25 group-size limit
Secluded, shaded, complete with one of the most rewarding hikes in the park... and a 1/8 mile hike at that!
Pros: This short hike (1/8 mile) has soooooo much to offer. You start in a beautiful sage-brush desert with a distant view of the needles and a second arch and quickly duck into a crack in the red rock (although the crack is not a slot canyon, it has a similar feel). The crack opens closes a few times and quickly reveals a lovely irregular arch. Most of this hike is in the shade, making it one of the only reasonable mid-day options for Arches National Park.
Cons: While it can be a good hike to avoid crowds if you know when to go, if you go at the wrong hour, you will be surrounded by screaming children, since this is a narrow and popular hike. We recommend going in the off-season and early or late in the day. The trail is easy but all sand, which can be hard for some people with limited mobility.
15 group-size limit
Enjoy the monuments of Arches in Park Avenue.
Pros: Enjoy a unique view of towering monuments surrounding a canyon.
Cons: Groups will be confined to a fenced viewpoint. For a very small elopement, you might be able to talk a ranger into letting you have your ceremony at a large rock about .2mile down the trail, but only if the ranger is allows (if there's lots of crowds or a time crunch, your ranger might confine you to the viewpoint). Please respect the rangers decision.
This area can also be too sunny and hot for photos more than an hour after sunrise, as it's very exposed and gets intense, reflected light.
I must admit that this guide is incomplete. Ceremonies are also allowed at the following sites:
La Sal Mountains Viewpoint - 50 group-size limit
Pine Tree Arch - 25 group-size limit
Devils Garden Campground Amphitheater - 80 group-size limit
Panorama Point- 50 group-size limit
Of this list, I would personally never get married at the La Sal Viewpoint, Devils Garden Campground Amphitheater, or Panorama Point, as they all are in areas that (to me) don't provide the "out-in-nature" feel that I crave and that Knots in the Pines is known for. This is just my opinion however, and I've had colleagues get married at these viewpoints happily.
My 2 cents (for what they're worth):
La Sal and Panorama are both offer wide open views, but those views are far away, rather than towering over you. These viewpoints are also close to the road, which can be nice for those looking to avoid a hike (these sites are ADA accessible) but can be noisy and distracting for the nature-lover.
Devil's Garden Amphitheater is a man-made stage area for ranger-talks. This is the only option in the park that allows seating for your guests (okay--I guess you can sit anywhere, but this area has nice benches). The amphitheater is surrounded by lovely plants (lots of piñon pines and junipers) and there is a great arch (Skyline Arch) opposite the amphitheater. You would be able to see the arch during your ceremony but the arch would be to your guests back and you wouldn't see it in most of your photos.
Pine Tree Arch would be a great place for a ceremony, I've just never shot a wedding there! Want to help me complete the list and get married at Pine Tree Arch? Give us a shout :)
Help us complete this list!
Want to be our first couple to elope at Pine Tree Arch or are you just excited to elope in Moab in general? Shoot us an email!
Arches currently (as of Feb. 2023) allows low-impact portrait photography anywhere in the park... okay... anywhere the general public is allowed to go. So get the photos of your fantasy with as much adventure as you want to put in--stop at any viewpoint right by the road or hike 6 miles out on a trail!
Please help keep Arches open to photography by staying on trail, follow the Leave No Trace Principles, and using common sense.