Post Summary: The North Cascades are one of the most underrated elopement locations in Washington state! Many couples automatically think of Mount Rainier or Olympic National Park when they think of National Parks in Washington - but the North Cascades offers some of the most stunning views in the Pacific Northwest. Below, you’ll find the ultimate guide to planning an epic North Cascades elopement in 2022!
Where are the North Cascades?
The North Cascades are a mountain range that make up – you guessed it – North Cascades National Park! Less than three hours from Seattle, the Cascades provide nothing short of the most insane views you could ask for when touring Washington state: from jagged peaks to forested valleys to bright blue bodies of water, the mountain range has SO much diversity to offer.
Not only does North Cascades National Park encompass more than 500,000 acres of land, but in that it includes two national recreation areas, several national forests, wilderness areas, & multiple waterways. So you’ll have NO shortage of incredible land to explore during your time in the Cascades!!
Why elope in the North Cascades?
Oh man, the reasons to elope in the North Cascades are ENDLESS. Simply by driving along State Route 20 (the North Cascades Scenic Highway) you get to experience breathtaking mountain views, and you’ll want to pull out your camera literally everywhere you stop along the highway - whether you stop at an actual rest area, scenic overlook, or just randomly on the side of the road.
Along with the scenic views everywhere you look, the North Cascades are an absolute DREAM for outdoor-lovers who are ready for an adventure in the mountains. Choose from a long list of options: horseback riding, bird & wildlife viewing, fishing, boating, camping in the woods, hiking through some of the best mountain country in the US, backcountry climbing, backpacking, biking, & more! It’s the perfect destination for couples looking to combine their Pacific Northwest elopement with some form of outdoor adventure, whether by themselves or with their invited guests.
How to get to the North Cascades
Getting to the North Cascades is fairly simple: drive along the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20)! (Okay, maybe not that simple. . .)
Since the North Cascades encompass such a large piece of land, getting there depends on where you’re coming from + your destination.
If you’re coming from the west, take SR 20 which connects with I-5 at Burlington. If you’re coming from the east, SR 20 will intersect with US Route 97 & SR 153.
Once you pick your North Cascades elopement location, you’ll want to look up exact directions, and also make sure to find a backup route in case of road closures due to avalanches or wildfires! You can monitor current road statuses through the National Park Service website here!
If you’re flying in from out of state, you’ll want to fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), which is the nearest major airport & about 120 miles from the North Cascades Visitor Center. You can then rent a car & drive through the Cascades to get to your destination, or take the Greyhound or the Amtrak Cascades to get you closer to your final destination!
It’ll probably be more expensive, but you can also fly into Bellingham International Airport (BLI), which is about 90 miles from the North Cascades Visitor Center.
Weather plays a HUGE role in how your elopement day plays out, so be sure to pick a season & month with temperatures and conditions that you’ll be comfortable with!
Spring weather in the North Cascades
Spring is a great time to visit the North Cascades! This is when wildflowers start to bloom in Washington, and the snow begins to melt away at higher elevations. You’re also less likely to see major crowds in the spring, as peak visitor season is typically in the summer (unless it’s a super warm & sunny spring season)!
Temperatures in the spring in the Cascades will be mild and it’ll still get fairly chilly in the mornings & evenings, so be sure to bring layers and plan for rainy conditions (because after all, it is the PNW!). You’ll also want to make sure you monitor the weather and trail/road conditions in case it snows later in the season than expected, or if it’s pretty cold and snow hasn’t melted at higher elevations quite yet.
Summer weather in the North Cascades
Summer is the peak time to visit the North Cascades, as the weather is typically best between mid-June & late September. The snow is usually melted off even the highest trails by July, and you’ll get the most sunny & warm days out of the year - plus longer days & more light means more time to explore! Temperatures usually don’t get too high except for on the drier east side of the mountains (in areas such as Stehekin & Lake Chelan), where they can reach the 90’s F.
If you’re eloping at a popular visitor destination, consider holding your ceremony at sunrise and/or on a weekday to avoid big crowds! Wildfires are also unfortunately common on the east side of the Cascades, so make sure you plan alternate routes in case wildfires cause road closures along SR 20 & nearby access routes.
Fall weather in the North Cascades
Fall is a GORGEOUS time to visit the North Cascades, because we all know the PNW has the most amazingggg fall colors in the mountains & forests!! There’s truly nothing like witnessing the trees changing colors in the middle of a Washington mountain range, let alone having those colors be the backdrop to your elopement.
Temperatures will be milder and it’ll be much cooler in the mornings & evenings, so make sure to pack layers AND raincoats, of course. And watch trail conditions in case snow comes earlier than expected!
Winter weather in the North Cascades
Winter is not the best time to elope in the North Cascades due to snow and, well, PNW winter conditions. SR 20 often closes at milepost 134 (the Ross Dam Trailhead) for the season around October-November, and avalanches may cause more road closures especially in the steeper parts of the mountain range. It gets prettyyyy snowy and cold in the Cascades in the winter, and combine that with all the potential trail/road closures & you get a not-so-great elopement location. I’d say avoid the Cascades in the winter (especially late-November through mid-March) if you can, and opt for a location with lower elevations & less possibilities of bad conditions!
No matter what season you choose to elope in, be sure to monitor the conditions in the weeks/days leading up to your elopement through the NPS website here! It’s super important to have backup locations & routes in case of unexpected weather conditions that might cause trail & road closures.
Top 10 best places to elope in the North Cascades
North Cascades National Park has sooo many epic locations that it’s impossible to go through all of them & narrow it down - so I went ahead and picked out my top 10 favorites for you to take a look at!
1. Diablo Lake
Diablo Lake is one of the most visited spots in the park for a reason. The bright blue water is UNREAL and is a freaking must-see by anyone traveling through the Cascades!! It’s about 125 miles from Seattle and 90 miles from Bellingham, within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
Important disclaimer about Diablo Lake: when you look up wedding/elopement photos at Diablo Lake, you’ll see many photos at a dirt overlook with an amazing view of the lake, a popular spot for weddings. Please note that this spot is unfortunately NO LONGER permitted for any type of photoshoot, elopement, or wedding due to overuse by visitors (even if you have a park permit). The area is blocked off by a fence and you have to climb under it in order to get to the spot (accessible behind the restrooms) - so please pay attention to where you’re going and do not use this spot! Instead, find a nearby trail like Thunder Knob that’ll get you just as beautiful views of the lake, and is a permitted location to visit!
2. Rainbow Loop
Rainbow Loop is a 4.4-mile one way (8.8 total) hike in the central Cascades, just west of the towns of Mazama, Winthrop, & Twisp. On this trail, you’ll get beautiful views of the hills of Stehekin Valley, Rainbow Falls, and Lake Chelan! You can access the lower trailhead from Stehekin Road, or start at the upper trailhead for less of an elevation gain.
Washington Pass Overlook is an absolutely stunning roadside stop along SR 20, west of Mazama and east of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. It’s the DREAM elopement location for couples who want those breathtaking views of the jagged peaks of the Cascades, without a multi-mile hike!! You literally pull off the highway into a parking lot where there are restrooms, picnic tables, and benches, and walk along the 0.25-mile trail through some trees and BAM - you get epic views of the towering peaks, plus gorgeous trees everywhere you look & a cool view of the winding highway. This is by far my favorite easily accessible elopement location in the North Cascades!
4. Blue Lake
Ready for another absolutely freaking beautiful body of water in the North Cascades? Blue Lake is the most beautiful lake in the middle of the mountains, north of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, & features not only crystal blue waters but also views of the mountain peaks, forests, alpine meadows, & wildflowers in the spring and summer seasons. It’s a 4.4-mile roundtrip trail with only 1050 feet of elevation gain, so it’s a really great option for couples who want a hike to take them to beautiful views, without having to do anything too challenging!
The Cascade Pass trail that goes through Sahale Mountain is an amazing option for couples looking for an epic outdoor adventure through the beautiful terrain of the North Cascades! Take SR 20 to the small town of Marblemount, turn on Cascade River Road, and follow the road to the end for about 23 miles to reach the Cascade Pass trailhead. Throughout this 12-mile roundtrip hike you’ll get to witness amazing mountain peaks, alpine meadows, and wildflowers in the spring. The elevation gain is 4000 feet, so it’s definitely a bit of a trek - and make sure you get a backcountry permit if you’re considering camping overnight in the area!
Heather-Maple Pass Loop is another rad location option for couples looking for a hiking adventure + epic views on their elopement day! It’s a 7.2-mile roundtrip trail with a 2000-foot gain that takes you through gorgeous ridgelines, wildflowers in the spring/summer, larch-surrounded lakes in the fall, and plenty of views of the Cascades.
7. Rainy Lake
Rainy Lake is the perfect elopement destination for couples who don’t want a big hike, or who need an accessible trail, as the whole 2-mile roundtrip trail is paved & flat, making it wheelchair-accessible! You’ll start at Rainy Pass Trailhead at milepost 158 on SR 20 and make your way through a paved trail through the trees that takes you to a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking clear water and, of course, amazing mountain views.
8. Hidden Lake
Yet another awesome choice for adventurous couples ready for a trek, this 8-mile roundtrip hike, with an elevation gain of 3300 feet, takes you through dense forest, next to runoff streams, and to views of huge cliffs and mountain ridges. The views through this whole trail are absolutely unreal, and you’ll find a fire lookout at the end that you can hang out at if it’s available!
9. Chain Lakes
The Chain Lakes Loop is one of the few I’ve mentioned that’s located at Mount Baker, with incredible views of not only Baker, but also Shuksan and the North Cascades. You’ll find yourself next to beautiful alpine lakes, green grassy meadows, wildflowers, stunning colors in the fall, and even blueberry bushes in the late summer! The 6.5-mile loop is accessible from three different parking lots, and there are a few different ways you can take the trail.
10. Thunder Knob
You might recognize Thunder Knob, because I mentioned it above toward the end of the Diablo Lake section. Thunder Knob Trail is an awesome option for anybody who wants those insane views of the bright blue waters of the lake, while following park rules and not using the popular & now prohibited dirt/cliff spot! It’s a 3.6-mile roundtrip trail with a gain of 635 feet, making it a great option for any couple looking for a little adventure without too much of a challenge.
How to get married in the North Cascades
Once you get engaged, it’s important to make sure you brush up on your Washington state marriage license requirements & laws so you can plan accordingly!
Tying the knot in the North Cascades means you’ll be in one of three counties: Whatcom, Skagit, or Chelan. Follow the links below depending on your exact elopement location to find out what you’ll need in order to get married in that county!
Here are the requirements you need to know about getting a marriage license in Washington state:
- The marriage license fee depends on the county
- Note: you can get your license from any County Auditor’s office in WA
- There’s a 3-day waiting period between the day you get your license & the day you can get married
- Your license is valid for 60 days (then it expires)
- You must be 18 or older
- You do not have to be a WA resident
- You do not have to get a blood test
You must have at least two witnesses present at your ceremony who are at least 12 years old
Special Use Permit
In order to legally tie the knot in North Cascades, just like any other National Park, you’ll have to obtain a Special Use Permit!
First, you’ll need to contact the park office at (360)-854-7213 to receive application materials. Then, they’ll send you the Special Park Uses Application & any other documents to have you fill out, as well as instructions on paying your $50 application fee & other permit fees and submitting your permit. You’ll likely receive the permit in the mail if/once your request is approved, and then they’ll ask you to sign it & return it to the office for final approval.
Make sure to contact the park office as far in advance as possible so that you have plenty of time to apply, and so they have plenty of time to process your permit!
As your photographer, I’ll also need to get a Commercial Use permit in order to legally photograph your elopement in the North Cascades. But don’t worry - I’ll take care of most of that on my end!
Best places to stay in the North Cascades
Finding a place to stay is a super important part of planning your elopement. You want to find somewhere where you can relax, enjoy each other’s company, and truly take in the special time together! Plus, if you want to have your guests stay with you, finding somewhere with plenty of space to celebrate is KEY. Luckily, there’s no shortage of rad accommodations throughout the small towns of the North Cascades, whether you’re looking for a cozy cabin, a spacious campground, or a beautiful lodge!
Airbnb’s in the North Cascades
Campgrounds in the North Cascades
Lodges & Resorts in the North Cascades
How to Leave No Trace with your North Cascades elopement
Keeping the land we visit beautiful for future visitors is a CRUCIAL part of outdoor adventure elopements. It’s our responsibility to respect the land that we get the opportunity to use as a backdrop & explore, and to take care of the places we visit!
Please make sure you read my blog post dedicated to Leaving No Trace: A Planning Guide for Adventurous Couples, and educate yourselves on what it means to “Leave No Trace” when exploring the outdoors. In that blog post, I talk about the LNT organization and the 7 LNT Principles they’ve laid out to make it easy for us to minimize our impact on the beautiful nature we visit!
North Cascades wedding & elopement FAQ’s
I’ve pretty much covered everything you need to know about eloping in the North Cascades, but I wanted to answer a few FAQ’s I’ve seen couples ask about North Cascades National Park elopements!
Where can I elope in the North Cascades?
There are TONS of spots within the North Cascades where elopements are permitted. Head back up to the locations section of this blog post to see my top 10 favorite elopement locations in the North Cascades!
How many days do you need in the North Cascades?
Oh man, as many as you can get! I highly recommend blocking out a week or so for your elopement if you’re able to, so that you have tons of time to explore the stunning national park & nearby areas. Take a day making stops at the blue lakes of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, then explore the Stehekin Valley & Lake Chelan, and continue making your way through. You’ll want plenty of time to make stops along the way, too!
How long does it take to drive through the North Cascades?
Well, if you drove straight through the Cascades with no stops, it would probably take around 3 hours! But you’ll definitely want to make a ton of stops, because there are epic views at nearly every turn (seriously).
How much does it cost to get married in the North Cascades?
Great q! The last I saw, the non-refundable application fee for a Special Use Permit was $50. Once you apply and speak to the park office, there will likely be additional permit fees based on the details of your elopement and the location you choose!
Hiring the perfect team of vendors is essential to making your dream elopement come to life! Here are some awesome vendors that serve the Olympic National Park area that you can check out to help you plan your dream day!
North Cascades elopement vendors
On the hunt for an awesome team of people to help bring your North Cascades adventure elopement to life? Below are some fantastic vendors that I highly recommend checking out!
Officiant: Another One Ties the Knot
Florist: Brier + Ivy, Good Seed Floral
Hair/Makeup: Kate Hana, Alyssa Underwood
Videography: Good Co Studios
Now that you’re feeling confident in your knowledge about eloping in the North Cascades & ready to plan your dream day, I’d be SO honored to tag along and not only capture the magic of your elopement, but also help bring it all together. I offer a Washington intimate wedding & elopement package that includes 4+ hours of photography coverage, your own personal elopement guide & consultant (me!), and so, so much more. This package begins at $4,500, and you can see further details below + get in touch here for full North Cascades elopement pricing & package options!
Meet your North Cascades elopement photographer
Hi, I’m Katie - a potential candidate for your North Cascades elopement photographer!! 😉
I’m a Washington-based elopement photographer who knows the North Cascades (& Washington’s other beautiful NP’s) like the back of her hand. I’m not the typical photographer who takes your photos & then sends you on your way with ‘em - I’m all in and I’ll go all out for you! I will always capture you as you are, ready to encourage you, be your guiding hand, and provide you with an above & beyond experience from start to finish.
The North Cascades have my heart for so many reasons, especially because I truly think they’re one of the most underrated spots in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re feeling like we’d be a good fit for each other, I can’t WAIT to talk to you about photographing your North Cascades elopement - you can reach out to me here & we’ll start planning the North Cascades National Park elopement of your wildest dreams!
Get to know me even better here if you’re feelin’ the vibes!
Elopement Packages and Pricing for North Cascades
- 4 hours – 2 days of elopement photography coverage anywhere in Washington
- Your own personal elopement guide & consultant
- Unique and personalized location scouting
- vendor recommendations
- 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 peak images within 1 week
- Photographer travel fees covered anywhere in Washington
Starting at $4,500
More Washington Elopement Location Options
If you’re still considering other location options for your Washington adventure elopement, I’ve got guides you NEED to read to learn about Washington’s two other national parks - check ‘em out below!
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In order to make your dream elopement day happen, it's super important that we connect and that you feel comfortable with me! The best way to do this is to reach out and schedule a call so you can learn more about me and I can learn about you two so i can document what's real + the most important to you.