If you love to camp and want a fully immersive experience, you have my full support to plan an overnight rendezvous at a campground near where your elopement ceremony will be taking place. Magnolia + Ember offers a two-day (or multi-day) package that is the perfect fit for adventure like this.
Search for campgrounds on public lands with The Dyrt app!
(here’s a free 7-day trial for the Pro version)
We began the day by checking into the campsite as soon as the reservation allowed. Our plans included pitching the tent and dressing at the campground before driving to the elopement destination in Cades Cove where the bride and groom would exchange vows and take portraits at sunset. I highly recommend setting up everything (tent, hammocks, etc…) when you first arrive because you likely will not be up for that challenge when you arrive back at camp after dark. My bet is you will be ready to cook dinner and enjoy snuggles by the fire. However, it is super important to note that you cannot leave food or trash behind while you explore elsewhere, this includes water as well. Keep that packed in your car until you are ready to eat. Returning to the campsite with bears or other wildlife playing the role of wedding crashers would not be a pleasant surprise.
Cades Cove is an 11-mile scenic loop going through one of the most historical places in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park filled with cabins, primitive churches, a grist mill, and a blacksmith shop all scattered around fields of beautiful mountain views. Wildlife Overlook is one of the most popular spots in the park area for wedding & elopement ceremonies. This is a great choice from the list of pre-designated locations for a spacious field and ample parking if you bring a few loved ones along. There is a limit of 6 cars and 25 people total (this number includes the couple, officiant, photographer, and not just guests).
Whether you choose to get married in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park or another of the 63 National Parks in the United States, each have their own SUP application process and guidelines to follow in order to get married within the boundaries of the park. We are privileged with the opportunity to access these breathtakingly epic spaces, and with that, comes the responsibility to take care of these public lands by following the requirements & restrictions set in place by the park.
A Special Use Permit (SUP) is required to hold weddings, elopements (even those with 2 people), vow renewals, or any commitment ceremonies in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. These guidelines are intended to facilitate discrete services and ceremonies appropriate to the quiet, natural settings found in the park.
You can apply for a SUP up to 1 year in advance, and applications & payments must be receive at least 14 days prior to the ceremony. Keep in mind, there are no guarantees that last minute requests will be approved. The application fee is $50 for spots on the pre-designed location list. If you book an adventure elopement with Magnolia + Ember, I will help you navigate all the legality and applying for the permit, educate you on restrictions specific to the GSMNP, and help you plan the whole experience with any elopement photography package.
It is important to note who is legally allowed to photograph weddings, elopements, and portrait sessions in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. With a valid Special Use Permit, any photographer is allowed to capture your event under the SUP, but they are not allowed to use any resulting images in their business (this includes posting on social media or their website). This is listed as Condition 25 in the SUP: “This permit does not authorize hired service providers to advertise or to solicit for business for commercial services occurring inside the National Park on websites or social media platforms. Businesses are only allowed to advertise if they hold a Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) with the park. Any vendor or service provider who advertises services without a CUA will be barred from providing future services until a CUA is obtained.”
Since you are not required to have a Special Use Permit for portrait sessions, this means only photographers who are licensed with a Commercial Use Authorization are allows to shoot engagement, proposals, and couples sessions. Magnolia + Ember is one of the few permitted photographers in the GSMNP which is how I am able to bring you this informative blog post on everything you need to know about getting married in the Smokies!
Per the restrictions listed in the Special Use Permit, required for any elopement in a National Park, alcohol is only allowed in designated picnic areas and campgrounds. This means popping a bottle of bubbly for that celebratory spray photo is considered an open container and illegal in most park areas.
A great alternative is a 750mL bottle of Topo Chico. Not only does this keep anyone from getting fined or arrested for having alcohol in a National Park, this aligns with the guidelines provided by Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. We want to ensure we are mindful about our environmental impact when getting married outside. Sparkling water is better for the environment and does not leave a sugary residue that could be harmful for fragile vegetation and wildlife.
Just as with each park system has its own rules, each state has its own laws for marriage license and requirements to obtain a marriage license. In the State of Tennessee:
I love when so much thought goes into designing the space where you will enjoy your just married meal. Regardless of where you choose to eat together, I urge you to make it your own. Along with locally sourced wine (giddy over Cades Cove Cellars for my own personal reasons) and a single barrel bourbon made in Tennessee, this campground picnic tablescape was intentionally put together to offer a balance between nature and simple elegance.
I am all here for the battery-operated twinkle lights and rose petals on sleeping bags for the first night as a married couple. Just because you are camping does not mean you have to skip these gestures of romance. Another must-have item to pack for your campground elopement I recommend is a handsfree light source like a headlamp or a solar powered inflatable light. Although, I give mad props to this bride for successfully finding a solution for the handheld flashlight so she could see to chop vegetables for dinner after dark.
Magnolia + Ember is a proud business member of 1% For The Planet and donates a portion of sales from all elopement & adventurous couples sessions booked (regardless of the location being on private or public land) to the non-profit organization that works protect and preserve wildlife and park lands.
All Content, Images, Creative Design © 2010-2021 Julie Crawford of Magnolia and Ember, All Rights Reserved, Do Not Copy
Support the environment with your experience! Magnolia + Ember is a proud business member of 1% For The Planet and donates a portion of adventure elopement gross sales to the National Park Foundation, a non-profit organization that works protect and preserve wildlife and park lands.