Destination … Adventure Elopements
WORDS BY BRITNEY MAGLEBY
When I was in fourth grade, I told my mom I was never getting married. “But if I do,” I continued pensively, “I want to go to the top of a mountain to do it!”
This set my nine-year-old imagination ablaze: We could hike to the top of the highest mountain, or go scuba diving, or I could snowboard in a wedding dress. Maybe then, I thought, getting married wouldn’t be so bad.
Many years later (and with no change of heart), I found myself in Jackson Hole, Wyoming—a dynamic and scenic destination that I would boldly claim as “adventure elopement capital of the nation.” Here, couples exceed even my young dreams. They announce their engagements while wakesurfing on Palisades Reservoir, and say their “I do’s” in caves in the backcountry. Some don their suits and go whitewater rafting; others wear their gowns on horseback. And, I bet I’m not the only one who wants to hike to the tippy-top of the Grand Teton to seal the deal.
Pick Your Pleasure
The Tetons are home to some of the most incredible elopement adventures in the world, so pick your pleasure and you’ll find it here. Jackson Hole Whitewater partners with Snake River Ranch to offer a private ceremony location on the banks of the Snake River—only after you and your wedding party take on its Class II whitewater section. Teton Surf Company can accommodate newlyweds-to-be and 10 guests for a shred behind a state-of-the-art wakesurfing boat, after you say your vows. Exum Mountain Guides will help you safely navigate rock climbing, hiking, or mountaineering for couples who want an anything-but-ordinary backdrop for their wedding photos.
These are just a few examples of the endless adventures that can be found amid our rugged landscape. But ultimately, how you choose to celebrate your matrimony is an incredibly personal decision.
“What’s right for each couple is always different. … If [an adventure elopement] feels true to who you are as a couple and the right way to celebrate, I can’t encourage it enough,” says adventure wedding photographer, Erin Wheat.
Don’t Fit Your Elopement Inside “The Box”
When you strip away everything else, the only thing you really have to do on your wedding day is sign a piece of paper. This may sound unromantic at first, but it’s quite the opposite. Removing unnecessary traditions opens up space to be filled with what brings you joy.
That idea that you must have dinner and dancing at your wedding? Let it go!
“I had a couple stop to take pictures and have a picnic on the hike back after their ceremony,” says Tiffany Garcia, owner of Elope Jackson. “Provisions [in Jackson] can do really cool things anywhere … and Jackson Hole Charcuterie is a great option, too.”
The myth that 4 p.m. is the perfect time to get married? Squash it!
“You can start your day with a wedding [ceremony],” says Garcia. Rise before the sun, board a hot air balloon (care of Wyoming Balloon Company), and capture gorgeous sunrise photos as you “kiss the bride.”
This law of wedding planning might be more important with an adventure elopement than with a typical wedding ceremony. With a traditional wedding, your planner is there to keep you on track, your photographer captures beautiful moments, and the vendors are there to ensure you enjoy the day. With an adventure wedding, the right vendors could actually save your life (while also doing all the above)!
“Find someone who specializes in [adventure elopements],” says Wheat. “Those of us in this realm have a vast knowledge about practices and locations.”
“It’s so fun to think outside the box,” adds Garcia, who’s carved a niche planning elopements with 25 guests or fewer. “I enjoy thinking about back-up plans and safety for everyone.”
Jackson is one of the few places where local wedding vendors are willing to “tackle the extreme” by your side. Like, where else can you find a photographer who will hike three hours for “the perfect shot,” or an officiant who doubles as a raft guide?
“Know Before You Go”
A famous motto of Jacksonites, this phrase is not to be taken lightly. If your elopement plans bring you deep into the backcountry, thoroughly research where you’re going, and know the topography. Pack intentionally, and be prepared for weather to change on a dime. Bring bear spray, plenty of water and food, and hire professional guides, when needed. Also, always ensure you have proper permits, should your mountainside elopement include more than just yourselves. And, if you’re not confident in your plan, adopt the other famous saying of Jackson Hole adventurers: “If you don’t know, don’t go!”
Be A Good Steward
Keep Jackson Hole wild. This includes the obvious—pack out what you pack in, leave no trace, and respect the wildlife. For an adventure elopement, though, you might have to take your stewardship a few steps further. Tag responsibly in your wedding photos, meaning don’t give away the location of private places or secret spots on social media. (How incredible would it be to have a venue to return to that only you know about?)
Also, know the rules of the adventure activity you choose. “We want to be stewards of the river and the ranch,” says Jeff Tibbitts, owner of Jackson Hole Whitewater, when referring to their private event location. “We always make sure that we provide ramp and river etiquette.”
The same could be said for any outdoor activity you engage in during your weekend of festivities. Even though you may be belaying in a suit, be respectful of other climbers. And still tell a loved one where you’re going and when to expect you back.
What I failed to realize when I was nine is that you shouldn’t need the excuse of an adventure to have a wedding. And you don’t need the excuse of a wedding to have an adventure. When you find the right person, every day can be an adventure, as love is the greatest life-changing adventure of all.