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 adventures like this.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park
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.
Things to Pack for Camping Elopement
- Tent: This Coleman 6-person tent (pictured) is great for tons of space for changing clothes, storing a suitcase (no food or scented toiletries), and sleep without the dog right on top of you. This 4-person tent is more compact if you do not need the extra room or the screened porch, or if the campsite does not accommodate large footprints.
- Water Container: The downspout on this 2-gallon water jug will be your best friend when you need to refill your bottle, the dog’s water dish, or wash your hands as you prep for dinner, and it happens to be super cute with its retro colors.
- Portable Bluetooth Speaker: For the first dance or sweet tunes sleeping under the night sky! I love my JBL because it is waterproof and has a clip for my hiking backpack.
- Sleeping Bag: I prefer a flannel lined sleeping bag even in the summer because I think they feel more cozy, but any style will work. Just make sure the temperature rating fits the elements you be camping in.
- Sleeping Pad: Don’t forget this one! This sleeping pad has a foot pump to save you from blowing it up by mouth and a built-in pillow.
- Butane Stove: This Coleman portable stove is perfect if you do not want to cook over a campfire.
- Cookware: GSI is my go-to for halulite backpacking pots that are lightweight and made for adventure.
- Ice Chest: Otterbox Venture 45 is the brand I own, and I could not love it more. It has neat accessories that pop right onto the cooler; plus, I can decorate it with stickers I collect from adventures!
- Bear Spray: Better to be safe! I carry the Frontiersman brand.
- First Aid Kit: Again, better to be prepared. This pack from Surviveware is good to keep in your car.
- And don’t forget food, clothing, rings, vow book, marriage license, and any other important personal items!
For Your Furry Companion
- Leash: This hitching system from Ruffwear is a great solution to keeping your dog safe while enjoying the freedom to move around within your campsite.
- Harness: Ruffwear is my favorite brand for adventure gear for dogs. The Flagline harness is a lightweight, multi-purpose hardness, ideal for explore the outdoors.
- Cooling Mat: Your fur baby will thank you for this one, especially in the heat of the summer. The Green Pet Shop cooling mat is pressure-activated and help your dog from overheating.
- Food & Water Bowls: Ruffwear sells a collapsible dish that is really neat and packable for adventures.
Wedding Ceremony in Cades Cove
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).
How to Get Married in a National Park
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.
Special Use Permit for Weddings & Elopements
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.
Tip For Champagne Popping in a National Park!
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.
Tennessee Marriage License Laws
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:
- The marriage license fee ranges $90-$107.50 depending on the county.
- Couples who have completed a premarital preparation course within a year prior to the date of application for the license are exempted from paying $60.00 of the fee.
- There is no waiting period.
- The marriage license is valid for 30 days from issuance, and is good for ceremonies performed anywhere in Tennessee.
- Both parties must appear for the issuance of the marriage license.
- Proof of your Social Security number is required for both parties.
- Witnesses are not required in Tennessee, but there is space for two on the license.
- Tennessee is in currently in litigation through Federal Court determining whether marriages conducted by officiants who are ordained through an online ordination process will remain legally recognized. The case remains open and should be taken into consideration when booking your officiant. If you take advantage of my complimentary offer to combine as your photographer & officiant, my credentials were received in person through the Spirit of Love Ministry and are accepted in the State of Tennessee.
Private Dinner for Two by the Fire at the Campsite
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.
Setting Up this Picnic Table
- Gold Flatware
- Acacia Wood Dinner Plates
- Gold Tin Citronella Candles
- Gold Wine Glass (but actually metal, nonbreakable!)
- Camp-friendly wine cups if you prefer a lid to keep the bugs out: Yeti Rambler
- Insulated wine container to rid your campsite of all glass: 25 oz BrüMate Winesulator
Spending the First Night as Newlyweds in a Tent
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.
Let’s craft your adventurous wedding experience!