destination wedding

Our RMNP Wedding

For some, the perfect wedding is a big, formal event, with many guests, traditions, dinner, and dancing - and there's nothing wrong with that. Ted and I have attended plenty of gorgeous weddings with well-planned and fun parties that were perfect for the couples who planned them. But for us, none of them really resonated in a way that felt like the kind of celebration we’d want to throw ourselves.

Most wedding traditions never felt all that important to us, and since I dislike being the center of attention, being a bride was never all that appealing to me. An entire day in front of 100+ people, all eyes on me, smiling and posing for a thousand photos while guests snap countless, unflattering photos for Facebook, worrying about what I look like and whether everything would go as planned, watching the clock, wondering what people are thinking of our choices for colors, food, dresses, details… sounded like the most anxiety-inducing thing I could think of. I don't even like dancing. Maybe we should just elope.

Then there was one wedding that changed everything. In 2014, a college friend asked me to help her plan their wedding, only a couple weeks before it would happen. They wanted a tiny wedding, on top of a mountain, filled with fall color and surrounded by nature, complete with an unforgettable hiking adventure for those who would attend. Not only was I to be the wedding planner, I'd also be her photographer. Planning that wedding felt like I was planning my own wedding. No need for decorations or table linens, no arguments over colors or centerpieces. With the brilliant fall foliage and a warm sunset, this intimate ceremony was the perfect compromise between having a wedding and eloping. They invited only their closest family and friends for the summit ceremony, and planned a larger gathering to celebrate with friends a few weeks later upon returning home.

Then there was one wedding that changed everything. In 2014, a college friend asked me to help her plan their wedding, only a couple weeks before it would happen. They wanted a tiny wedding, on top of a mountain, filled with fall color and surrounded by nature, complete with an unforgettable hiking adventure for those who would attend. Not only was I to be the wedding planner, I'd also be her photographer. Planning that wedding felt like I was planning my own wedding. No need for decorations or table linens, no arguments over colors or centerpieces. With the brilliant fall foliage and a warm sunset, this intimate ceremony was the perfect compromise between having a wedding and eloping. They invited only their closest family and friends for the summit ceremony, and planned a larger gathering to celebrate with friends a few weeks later upon returning home.

Then there was one wedding that changed everything. In 2014, a college friend asked me to help her plan their wedding, only a couple weeks before it would happen. They wanted a tiny wedding, on top of a mountain, filled with fall color and surrounded by nature, complete with an unforgettable hiking adventure for those who would attend. Not only was I to be the wedding planner, I'd also be her photographer. Planning that wedding felt like I was planning my own wedding. No need for decorations or table linens, no arguments over colors or centerpieces. With the brilliant fall foliage and a warm sunset, this intimate ceremony was the perfect compromise between having a wedding and eloping. They invited only their closest family and friends for the summit ceremony, and planned a larger gathering to celebrate with friends a few weeks later upon returning home.

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That day, Ted and I not only realized that we wanted THAT kind of wedding, we also wanted to help other couples ditch the traditional expectations and plan a unique wedding adventure that was perfect for them. We started photographing more adventurous couples and families and shifted to shooting only outdoor weddings and elopements. Each time a couple got married on the summit of Whiteface or on a family farm, alone or with only their closest family and friends, where they could be themselves, relaxed, speaking their vows freely and without judgment, I felt happy and vindicated. We weren't crazy for wanting something different, or for wanting to incorporate nature and adventure into it. After all, hiking was what brought us together in the first place, and we're not the only ones!

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So this year, we reserved the Park Entrance Lodge in Estes Park, Colorado, for four nights, secured a wedding permit for Rocky Mountain National Park, and put together brochure-style invitations to send the 13 guests, which recommended hiking trails and local attractions we thought they’d be interested in. I ordered a beautiful Morilee bridesmaid dress in ivory, which was perfect in every way. My jewelry was all handmade labradorite pieces, a stone that holds great meaning for us, as well as an amazing alexandrite ring my sister gave me as an early wedding gift. I wanted to do some kind of wedding favor, so I picked up maple candy to bring with us, as a way of incorporating a piece of our northeast home into it all.

We flew to Denver, met up with friends, climbed a few of our favorite mountains (we used to live in Fort Collins), and watched a moose fight while waiting for family to arrive. All 15 of us stayed together in the lodge, with outdoor-themed décor throughout, and cooked meals together. I made our cake topper, which has all sorts of stories embedded in it, and my mom made our wedding cake right there at the lodge. Ted stopped by the Red Rose Rock Shop for a birthday present for his mom, and after asking Ted what brought him to town, they gifted us a beautiful piece of rose quartz!

On our wedding day, Ted and I woke up at 4am to get ready, and my sister went with us into Rocky Mountain National Park for sunrise portraits. We chose not to hire a photographer as a way of keeping this event as intimate as possible, and I know a lot of photographers would be dismayed by that. (I definitely don’t recommend skipping hiring a professional. Sometimes family or friends offer to shoot for free as a gift, and I strongly encourage anyone with that offer to review their portfolio, camera gear, and processing skills and to make sure you truly love their style and work. This is your big day and you want to remember it through high-quality, well-composed photos. Also consider whether being your photographer will negatively impact a friend/family member’s experience and ability to enjoy your celebration). For me, what was important was including my sister, working as a team, and having complete creative control in processing, knowing that I have the skills and ability to ensure quality images as a professional photographer myself. I had a vision for what I wanted in our wedding photos, and we are grateful for my sister’s flexibility and willingness to help us get the shots we wanted.

When we finished up with our portraits, we dropped my sister off at the lodge to change, and picked up the best man, matron of honor, and our climbing partner officiant. We headed back into the park to scout out the ceremony spot, set up the tripod, and evaluate the light conditions (by now it was almost 10am). I took portraits of the guys and friends that came with us and we listened to an elk bugle while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. The ceremony itself was only 6 minutes long, and perhaps slightly disorganized due to a lack of real detail planning or rehearsing – though that was the level of awkwardness and humor we were going for. My sister took photos during the ceremony, and we took turns passing the camera for portraits with family, where I’d take the photos if I wasn’t in them, finally ending with a group shot from a tripod I set up and ran into.

After the ceremony, we went back to the lodge to relax a bit before going into town for an early celebratory dinner. Ted and I wandered into the Ore Cart Rock Shop after dinner and bought the biggest, coolest piece of labradorite we now own. Back at the lodge, we had toasts and cake and watched the sunset from the hot tub.

Just as with traditional weddings, elopements are also not for everyone. There’s something very special about a tiny, private ceremony with only your closest family/friends, and while we wanted something intimate, we still wanted to include our parents and my siblings. This trip was particularly special to us because it allowed us to share some of our favorite places and hikes in Colorado with friends and family, making our wedding adventure into a multi-day vacation for all of us. Colorado was the first place we lived together, making the location meaningful for us, and were able to include some of our friends who still live out there who wouldn’t have been able to make it if we had done a northeast wedding. After the trip, my parents hosted a very relaxed, not-so-formal backyard party complete with lawn games and cows, so we were still able to celebrate with our extended family and friends back in New York. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.