How to Elope in Montana
KATIE BERG PHOTO || Montana ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHER
UPDATED GUIDE FOR 2023
Mountains, glaciers, and alpine lakes – oh my! The great state of Montana is one of the most beautiful places to elope in the western U.S., boasting wide-open landscapes featuring snow-capped mountain peaks, thousands of miles of hiking trails, vibrant blue lakes, and opportunities for outdoor adventure galore. Below is a comprehensive Montana elopement guide that details everything you need to know about eloping in Montana, from what permits you’ll need, to how to get your marriage license, all the way to the best seasons + locations to elope. Get ready for the wilderness adventure of a lifetime with your Montana adventure elopement!
In this guide, we will cover:
- Where is Montana
- Why Elope in Montana
- How to Get to Montana
- Best Time of Year to Elope in Montana
- Top 5 Best Montana Elopement Locations
- How to Get Married in Montana
- Best Places to Stay in Montana
- Fun Montana Elopement Activities + Ideas
- Best Montana Elopement Vendors
- Meet Your Montana Elopement Photographer
- Montana Elopement Packages + Pricing
Where is Montana?
Montana is located in the northwestern United States, bordered by Idaho to the west, Wyoming to the south, the Dakotas to the east, and Canada to the north. A few of Montana’s largest cities that you may have heard of include Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, and Great Falls! Driving to Bozeman (southwest Montana) from Seattle would take approximately 10 hours without stopping, so it’s definitely an accessible destination if you want to make your elopement into a road trip adventure.
Why elope in Montana?
There are a billion reasons why you should elope in Montana that would be impossible to fit into one blog post, so here are some of the TOP reasons that Montana makes for an incredible elopement location:
- Montana has not 1, but 2 national parks – Glacier National Park & Yellowstone National Park (which also covers land in northwestern Wyoming & eastern Idaho)
- Montana has 7 national forests, encompassing eight mountain ranges and some of the most stunning backcountry areas in the western U.S.
- The landscapes are incredibly diverse, boasting a variety of epic mountain ranges, alpine lakes, glaciers, wildflower meadows, wide-open fields, forest-covered valleys, geysers, super volcanoes, rivers, glacial lakes, waterfalls, & more
- It’s considerably easier to find secluded + private locations in Montana than other popular elopement destinations in the PNW
- It’s home to some of the best outdoor activities in the country: skiing, white water rafting, hiking, wilderness camping, fly fishing, backpacking, & more
Flying into Montana is fairly easy thanks to the variety of both international & regional airports to choose from!
There are 5 international airports in Montana:
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)
- Glacier Park International Airport (FCA)
- Missoula International Airport (MSO)
- Billings Logan International Airport (BIL)
- Great Falls International Airport (GTF)
I recommend flying into the airport that’s closest to your elopement location + where you’re staying, whether that’s one of the larger international airports, or a regional airport that you need to connect to via one of the international ones. You’ll definitely want to rent a car if you fly to Montana, so that you have the freedom to explore wherever & whenever you want without having to rely on public transportation, especially if you’re not staying in a big city!
Closest airports to popular Montana destinations + driving time:
- Glacier National Park: FCA; 30 minutes
- Bozeman: BZN; 15 minutes
- Flathead National Forest: FCA; 40 minutes
- Lolo National Forest: MSO; 1 hour
- Beartooth Mountains: Yellowstone Regional Airport (YRA); 2 hours
- Yellowstone National Park: YRA; 1 hour
Driving to Montana is also a totally viable option if you’re coming from a nearby state and are down for a road trip! It would be super fun to turn your elopement into a week (or multi-week) long road trip, leaving from somewhere like Washington or Oregon & spending a few days making your way to Montana for your elopement. Find some cozy places to stay along the way, whether it be an Airbnb or a campsite, and find some pretty hikes to take or viewpoints to visit along your route!
For reference, the west entrance of Glacier National Park is about 8.5 hours from Seattle, 10 hours from Portland, 10 hours from Boise, and 8.5 hours from Jackson Hole.
How to get to MoNtana
Best time to elope in Montana
This is always a hard one to give a direct answer to when couples ask it about their elopement location! When should we elope in Montana?
In general, I’d say that the best time of year to elope in Montana is between late spring and early fall, from May through early October. The weather and conditions totally vary by location, though, and on factors such as elevation, average precipitation, & uh, climate change. Some places in Montana make for AMAZING winter elopement locations, while there are other locations that you definitely do NOT want to elope at in the winter.
When you’re choosing what time of year to elope, here are a few main things to consider as far as your desired location goes:
- Weather: obviously you want to be comfortable during your elopement, so be realistic about what temperatures + conditions you’d be comfortable and uncomfortable in!
- Extreme conditions: look at what the potential is for extreme conditions such as windstorms, unexpected snowstorms/hailstorms, thunderstorms, wildfires, etc. at the time of year + locations you’re considering eloping at.
- Crowds: if you’re eloping at a popular location, consider that you won’t be the only ones there. “Peak” season for most Montana locations is the summer, while “off” season is the winter – except for skiing/winter activity locations. Consider eloping at more popular spots during the less-busy season, if you’re not planning to hike to a high elevation and are okay with cooler temperatures!
- Elevation: if you’re eloping at a high elevation location, you’ll want to elope in the summer in Montana, when snow is fully melted and you’re free to venture out on the trails. If you’re eloping at a lower elevation, you’ll be able to get away with eloping in the spring or early fall in Montana – just be prepared for the possibility of snow hitting earlier/later than expected!
- Activities: if you want to incorporate warm-weather activities into your elopement such as hiking, white water rafting, or swimming, elope in Montana in the summer. If you’re a winter person and want to hit the slopes, or enjoy some cross-country skiing, elope in Montana in the winter!
Here’s some general info about the seasons in Montana:
SPRING WEATHER IN MONTANA
Spring in Montana is stunning, with many mountains (especially spots at higher elevations) still completely covered in snow, and the sun finally emerging from hibernation! Although the wildflowers start to bloom and the foliage begins to come back to life, spring does bring the most rain in Montana, so be prepared for potential rain and thunderstorms. Eastern Montana typically warms up quicker in the spring, whereas western Montana can often stay pretty chilly for longer.
SUMMER WEATHER IN MONTANA
Summer is one of the best times to visit Montana if you’re okay with crowds + other tourists, thanks to the to-die-for vast, lush green landscapes and clear mountain views! You’re more likely to experience thunderstorms in the summer than in any other season, but I’d say the summer Montana sunshine is well worth the risk – and to be honest, who doesn’t love a good thunderstorm over an epic landscape?! Keep in mind also that although temperatures are fairly warm throughout the day, you’d be surprised at how much they can drop at night, even in the summer – and especially at high elevation locations.
FALL WEATHER IN MONTANA
Fall in Montana is pretty hard to beat if you’re dying to see some stunning foliage changing colors across the mountain ranges and in the alpine valleys! It does get pretty chilly starting around late September, and can be a bit unpredictable as far as heat, rain, and snow go. Be prepared for chilly morning & evening temps, and the possibility of snowfall hitting earlier than expected (thereby closing off certain roads/trails that you may need to take to get to your ceremony location) – one of the reasons it’s crucial to have a backup location (or two) on hand going into your elopement.
WINTER WEATHER IN MONTANA
Finally, Montana is famous for its extremely snowy winters, and is well-known for its world-class skiing opportunities! If you want to incorporate your fave winter activities into your Montana elopement and would rather stay at a cozy ski resort than sleep in a tent during the heat of the summer, winter is definitely the time for you. Keep in mind that temperatures get extremely cold in Montana in the winter, and the snow will limit the locations you can choose from, blocking off most mountainous & high elevation spots! It’s also important to note that western Montana gets a lot more snow in the winter, whereas eastern Montana typically gets less & is much windier.
Top 5 Best Montana Elopement Locations
Now that you’re familiar with where Montana is & why it’s an incredible place to elope, let’s dive into some of the best locations to consider for your Montana elopement! Below, I’ve included only 5 of my top favorite Montana elopement locations, because I actually put together a whole dang separate guide with the 32 Best Places to Elope in Montana. If this list of 5 doesn’t seem to include the location for you, be sure to check that guide out for 27 more epic places to consider!
We’ll start off with an obvious one – Glacier National Park is THE premiere location to elope in Montana, in my humble opinion. It’s pretty dang hard to beat the jaw-dropping landscapes you can find in Glacier NP, whether you want to tie the knot in front of a glacial lake, atop a mountain at sunset, or in the middle of the sub-alpine wilderness. Not only does this national park have over 700 miles of trails to explore, it has a whole list of designated wedding locations that makes it super easy for you to find the perfect spot for your ceremony!
Closest major airport + driving time: FCA; 30 minutes
Best time of year to elope: Summer (June-August)
Permit(s) needed: Entry Pass, Special Use Permit, Vehicle Reservation
Want to learn more about Glacier National Park elopements? Check out my comprehensive guide to How to Elope in Glacier National Park!
Known for its world-renowned fly fishing, countless opportunities for outdoor adventure, and close proximity to Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman is a fantastic area to explore for your elopement. You can find a cute place to stay in town, and have easy access to tons of hiking trails, mountain biking routes, rock climbing opportunities, awesome places to ski, and sooo much more!
Closest major airport + driving time: BZN; 15 minutes
Best time of year to elope: Summer (May-September), or winter (November-March) for less crowds
Permit(s) needed: None
Boasting some of the most stunning rugged wilderness in all of Montana, Flathead National Forest is pretty dang hard to beat. Located in the Rocky Mountains of the northwest part of the state, you can enjoy over 2,000 miles of trails, the perfect river to float, beautiful views year-round, and tons of awesome spots to camp – it’s a dream come true for outdoor lovers, plus it’s in driving distance of Glacier National Park, so you can easily hop between the two locations on your elopement day!
Closest major airport + driving time: FCA; 40 minutes
Best time of year to elope: Summer (May-September), or November-March for winter activities
Lolo National Forest is located in west-central Montana, spanning two million acres and endless opportunities for outdoor exploration, from hiking to camping to winter sports such as skiing. With tons of alpine lakes, wildlife galore, and four major wilderness areas, this forest is absolutely packed with epic backdrops from left to right!
Closest major airport + driving time: MSO; 1 hour
Best time of year to elope: Summer (June-August)
Permit(s) needed: Entry Pass, Special Use Permit for groups of 75 or more people
Home to the highest peaks in Montana, the Beartooth Mountain wilderness is an epic part of south-central Montana. The area is a part of the 944,000 acres encompassed by the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and boasts not only endless phenomenal mountain views, but also a stunning scenic highway, more than 300 lakes, over 700 glaciers, and gorgeous sup-alpine tundra plateaus. If you love hiking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, camping, and even skiing (downhill or cross-country), the Beartooth Mountains are a must-visit during your time in Montana – and make for an amazing backdrop for some epic Montana elopement portraits!
Closest major airport + driving time: YRA; 2 hours
Best time of year to elope: Late spring - early fall (April - mid-October)
Permit(s) needed: Special Use Permit for groups of 75 or more people
How to Get Married in Montana
Onto the legal stuff: here’s everything you need to know about the legalities of getting married in Montana, from getting your Montana marriage license to obtaining the appropriate permits for your ceremony.
Montana marriage license + laws
Do I need a witness to get married in Montana?
To get legally married in Montana, you’ll need two witnesses present.
Do I need an officiant to get married in Montana?
Since Montana isn’t one of the states where self-solemnization is legal, you will need a certified officiant to marry you in Montana.
How long is my Montana marriage license valid for?
Once you have your official, finalized Montana marriage license, it’s valid immediately (there’s no waiting period!) and will expire after 180 days.
How much does a Montana marriage license cost?
The fee to get a marriage license in Montana is $53, with potential additional fees depending on the method you choose to pay with (cash, credit, debit, etc.).
How do I get my Montana marriage license?
The process can vary slightly by county, but here’s an example of what the process looks like to apply for a marriage license at the Flathead County Courthouse (the closest courthouse to Glacier National Park):
1. Apply for your marriage license online
2. Visit the Clerk of Court’s office in-person (both of you) to sign the application & provide valid photo ID
3. After signing your license, pay the $53 in cash (or via credit card with an additional $2.31 fee)
The courthouse will help guide you through any other necessary steps, and you’ll be good to go & legally get married in the state of Montana right away – there’s no waiting period required!
For any questions you have regarding getting your marriage license through the Flathead County Courthouse, you can give them a call at (406) 758-5659.
Be sure to do your own research into whichever county you’re planning to apply for your license in!
To sum up the basic Montana marriage laws:
- Montana marriage license fee: $53
- Montana residency required: No
- U.S. residency required: No
- Witnesses required: 2
- Minimum age requirement: 16
- Blood test required: Yes, rubella blood tests required for female applicants – unless you opt out by applying for exemption
- Required waiting period: None
- Length of license validity: 180 days
Location Specific Montana Wedding Permits
In addition to your Montana marriage license, you’ll also need to get any special permits necessary to hold your ceremony, depending on where you get married! Below, I’ve included the permits you need to get married in both of Montana’s national parks (Glacier & Yellowstone), as well as the process for getting a permit in any of Montana’s state parks.
Glacier National Park: Special Use Permit
- Cost: $125 non-refundable application fee plus potential monitoring fees
- Application process:
Glacier National Park
Attn: Special Park Uses
PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936
- Sign & return a copy once you’ve received your final permit
- Things to note:
- You must submit your application and payment no more than one year & no less than one month in advance
- Once you receive your final permit, you can’t change your location or time without having to apply for an entirely new permit
- You can ONLY have your ceremony or vow exchange at a location included on this list of designated locations – but you can take informal portraits elsewhere
- Each location has a different maximum number of guests + vehicles allowed, and it fluctuates by season
- You & your guests will still need to pay the regular park entrance fee.
Yellowstone National Park: Special Use Permit
- Cost: $250 non-refundable application fee
- Application process:
- Download the permit application
- Look through the approved list of wedding locations
- Send your completed application & $250 payment (via this payment form) via email to email@example.com
- Sign & return a copy once you’ve received your final permit
- Things to note:
- You must submit your application and payment at least 2-4 weeks in advance
- You can only hold your ceremony at one of the locations listed on this webpage
- You & your guests will still need to pay the regular park entrance fee
Montana state parks: Special Use Permit
To get married in any of Montana's state parks, you’ll need a Special Use Permit.
- Cost: Varies by park & ceremony location
- Application process:
- Complete this permit application
- Mail your application to the Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks Regional Office in the area where you want to get married (addresses + contact info are included in the application)
- If your application is approved, you’ll receive a permit specific to your desired location & time period, along with the amount of the permit fee + instructions on how to pay it
Best Places to Stay in Montana
Once you’ve narrowed down all of your top locations, you’ll need to look into lodging! It’s super important to find a place to stay that fits the vibe you’re going for (whether you want to sleep under the stars at a primitive campsite, cozy up in an A-frame Airbnb in the forest, or relax at a luxury lodge in the mountains), since it’s where you’ll be coming back to in the evenings. And if you want to spend as much intentional time with your guests (if you're having any) as you can, a great way to do that is to stay at the same location as them!
Below is a list of some of the best places to stay near Glacier NP as well as in Kalispell, Whitefish, Bozeman, & near Yellowstone NP. Keep in mind how far (or not far) you want to have to drive from your lodging to get to your elopement location, as well as how many people you need your accommodations to fit, the amenities you want to enjoy, and, of course, what your budget is!
WHERE TO STAY IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Where to stay in Kalispell
Where to stay in Whitefish
Where to stay in Bozeman
Things to Do for Your Montana Elopement
Sooo by now you’ve probably gotten a good feel for where you want to elope in Montana, and hopefully what time of year you want to elope, too – now comes the SUPER fun part: planning your activities!! I’m such a huge believer that incorporating meaningful activities into your elopement day is an incredible way to make every part of your elopement experience unforgettable, because truly – there is no better way to celebrate your love through unique experiences and once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
Here are 9 of the best things to do in Montana that would be SO fun to include as part of your Montana elopement!
- Take a scenic drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Go horseback riding through the Montana mountains or through Yellowstone NP
- Have a zoological/botanical garden experience at the ZooMontana
- Soak in the Yellowstone Hot Springs
- Go fly fishing
- Hit the slopes at the Big Sky Resort
- Hike to the stunning Ousel Falls
- Traverse the underground cave system of stalactites + stalagmites at Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
- Have a one-of-a-kind natural glamping experience in a tipi at Bodhi Farms, a boutique eco resort in Bozeman
Montana elopement hair & makeup:
Montana elopement florist
Montana elopement cake
Montana elopement rentals
Horseback riding experiences
Best Elopement Vendors in Montana
Meet Your Montana elopement photographer
By this point, hopefully you’ve gathered allll the details that are relevant to planning your own Montana elopement, and one that feels 1000% right to YOU at that. I long ago left the belief behind that every wedding has to look the same, that every couple has to follow the same traditions in order to plan a “successful wedding” – now, the perfect elopement in my eyes is the one that feels like you. One that incorporates the people, the activities, and the experiences that matter to you, that feel important to your life, and that will help create those lasting memories that’ll warm your heart to think about in 10. . . 20. . . 50 years.
As a seasoned Montana elopement photographer, I’ve got the knowledge, expertise, and experience ready to guide you through the sometimes overwhelming, yet extremely exciting process of planning your Montana elopement!
I know it can be hard to spot the differences between the many adventure elopement photographers out there, so if you want to find out more about my approach to Montana elopement photography & what makes me different than the 10 other photographers you have open on your Chrome window, head to this page.
For details on my Montana elopement packages, prices, and what I offer to my booked couples, take a look at my Montana elopement pricing page (or see an overview below)!
Montana Elopement Packages & Pricing
- 7 hours – 3 days of elopement photography coverage anywhere in Montana
- Your own personal elopement guide & consultant
- Unique and personalized location scouting
- Local vendor recommendations
- Optional complimentary officiant services
- Montana permit and marriage license assistance
- Hand-crafted elopement timeline
- Created just-for-you activity list
- Unlimited guides and resources
- 100+ page How to Elope Guidebook
- Optional complimentary officiant service
- Digital online gallery with full resolution image and printing rights
- Sneak peek images within 1 week
- Photographer travel fees covered anywhere in Montana
Starting packages begin at:
Other Elopement Destinations to Consider in the United States
Haven’t quite landed on Montana as your final elopement destination? I totallyyyy get it – there are WAY too many stunning places to choose from (but is that really a bad thing?!). If you want to learn about more of my favorite places to elope in the northwest U.S., check out the most popular elopement location guides from my extensive collection below!