Glacier Elopement Planning Guide [Updated for 2020!]
Are you considering a Glacier elopement? If you are, you've chosen a beautiful and dramatic place to get married. Glacier National Park caps the Rocky Mountains within the United States and spills over into Banff National Park in Canada. Known as the Crown of the Continent, Glacier is famous for its breathtaking views and receding glaciers. The Going to the Sun Road intersects the Park, providing one of the most scenic drives in the world as the road ascends out of West Glacier, tops out at Logan Pass, and descends to St. Mary's Lake and then lands between Many Glacier and Two Medicine on the east side of the Park.
What Time of Year to Get Married in Glacier National Park?
If you're not from Montana you might not know which seasons are best for your Glacier elopement. That's going to have a significant impact on where you can go and how much clothing you need to wear. The Going to the Sun Road usually opens in late June or early July and only stays open until the end of September. The summer window is short and crowded with over three million visitors, but if you want the magnificent views from the highest viewpoints, you must plan your elopement during this time. One of the best windows for a summer elopement is September as kids are back in school and the fall colors will begin emerging. If you're willing to risk some possible adverse weather and are okay with having your ceremony at a lower elevation, the early summer or fall months would work well. If you'd like a snowy wedding, you'll be guaranteed that during the winter, but you'll be limited to West Glacier and McDonald Lake as your backdrop.
Sunrise or Sunset?
It will be best to avoid holding your Glacier elopement during the middle of the day (and the permitting office may not even allow it), so you'll have to decide whether to have your ceremony at dawn or dusk. They are both gorgeous options, but some locations have better light during one or the other. East-facing sites like Many Glacier or Two Medicine will be beautiful for both sunrise and sunset. Though remember the steep neighboring mountains will affect the sunset times you'll see online. Sites on the west side of the Park like Apgar, Bowman Lake, and Kintla Lake are gorgeous in the morning. Lake McDonald Lodge is perfect at sunset. An additional advantage beyond the gorgeous light in the early mornings and late evenings is that you will also miss most of the crowds.
Permit and Marriage License
There are two legal requirements to get married inside Glacier National Park: a Special Use Permit from the Park and a Montana Marriage License.
To apply for your Special Use Permit ($100), follow this link and scroll to the "Wedding" section at bottom. It would be a good idea to consult with your photographer and call Glacier's permitting office before submitting your application. With the number of visitors increasing each summer, the location rules have been tightening so you'll want to get the latest from the Park staff first.
You'll need to make a visit to the courthouse in Kalispell your Flathead County marriage license. The address for the courthouse is 920 South Main and they are open Monday - Friday, 8:00am - 4:30pm. Be sure to bring your birth certificate or driver's licenses. You'll sign the application together before the Clerk of Court and submit a $53 payment. More information and the opportunity to fill out your application ahead of time is at this link.
Glacier Wedding Locations
If you can get your makeup on and your partner wrangled at 5am, you'll have a few options for a westside sunrise elopement. One choice is to travel north to Polebridge, grab a huckleberry bearclaw at the historic Mercantile, then continue up to Bowman Lake or Kintla Lake. An easier and more popular path would lead you to the beach in front of Apgar in West Glacier. If you're already on the eastern side of the Park, your options are limitless as the sun will be rising in your favor.
A sunset Glacier elopement means you have plenty of time to prepare and get to your ceremony site, but you will have more crowds to navigate. If you're on the west side of the Park, the beach in front of Lake McDonald Lodge is the perfect fit. One the east side, Many Glacier, St. Mary's Lake, or Two Medicine will all be great places to elope in front of the sunset.
This is far and away the most popular location for Glacier elopements. The amphitheater in Apgar is big enough for a full-sized wedding, or the beach in front is perfect for a sunrise or sunset elopement. This is a good spot if you're having a few family and friends along as there is ample parking. Ryan's Meadow is another popular place and although it's within sight of West Glacier Village, it has the most isolation from tourists. A great location for an evening waterfront ceremony is on the beach in front of Lake McDonald Lodge up the east side of the lake. The Lodge also provides a great option for lodging and dinner.
It almost requires staying on the east side of the park to have a Many Glacier elopement, but it is worth it. Many people find this section of the park to be their favorite. There are beautiful ceremony sites on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake and great portrait locations (sans tourists!) just behind the hotel and down the creek. If you're looking for more adventure you could take your photographer on a hike into Iceberg Lake or into Grinnell Glacier.
The quiet western side of Glacier should not be overlooked! The Polebridge Mercantile serves as the gateway to the park and a great stop for famous huckleberry bear claws. Once across the west fork of the Flathead and into the park, you will have beautiful backdrops for your elopement at either Bowman Lake or Kintla Lake. Both offer brilliant sunrise views and nice portrait locations along the drive.
While you can't get married at Logan Pass itself, there are some beautiful designated spots nearby that offer similar views and better parking. Having a ceremony near Logan Pass puts you right in the middle of the best scenery in the country for your portrait session, too.
Places to Stay
If you'd like to stay inside the Park, the Village Inn at Apgar or Lake McDonald Lodge are great options on the west side of the park. Just outside the west gate you'll find Belton Chalet or Great Northern Resort. If you're okay with a longer drive there are many hotel and Airbnb/VRBO options in Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Kalispell, or Bigfork.
On the east side of the Park there is the Many Glacier Hotel or Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins in Many Glacier. Also available is the Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins which is located just outside the East entrance along the Going to the Sun Road.
There are numerous campgrounds throughout Glacier National Park, as well. Most accommodations in or near the Park will require reservations, so plan ahead!
I am based in Missoula and spend much of my summers photographing in Glacier National Park. My photography packages for elopements include travel and accommodations.
-Four hours of coverage
-Online gallery of edited photos with download access and personal printing rights
West Glacier, Logan Pass, or Polebridge: $1850
East Glacier, Many Glacier: $2000