Summit County locals give tips for eloping in one of Colorado’s best wedding destinations

A couple elopes at Dillon Reservoir.
Tiffany Bitner/Courtesy photo

Summit County has always been a popular destination for weddings as visitors from around the country and world make their way to the area to tie the knot in front of stunning mountain landscapes or the glistening water at Dillon Reservoir.

But over the past year, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced countless couples to ditch the lavish and expensive celebrations they were planning, many have discovered that eloping in Summit’s backcountry offers all of the adventure and beauty necessary to make their special day unforgettable.

“I think it’s probably the top spot in Colorado for the couples that book me,” said Nina Larsen Reed of Larsen Photo Co., who specializes in elopement weddings. “Everyone is looking for this combination of somewhere that’s not too far from the Denver airport, staying in a cute mountain town where they have plenty of restaurants and things to choose from and plenty of activities. And the views are pretty hard to beat.

“There are so many different hiking trails and options to go around and explore. So Summit is really that sweet spot of everything people are looking for.”

Summit truly does have everything an eloping couple could want for their wedding, along with plenty of choices to make each ceremony unique. Those looking for slightly larger or more elaborate ceremonies can reserve space at the Sapphire Point or Windy Point campgrounds overlooking Dillon Reservoir. Others trying to hold a ceremony off the beaten path will find myriad trailheads where a short hike will lead to secluded hideouts and an intimate experience. For the most adventurous couples looking for an epic experience to brag about for years to come, there’s always the 14,265-foot summit of Quandary Peak.

But before setting any plans in stone, experts suggest bouncing ideas off wedding-industry locals who will be able to provide more informed recommendations on the best locations based on a couple’s preferences — and make sure the bridal bouquet matches the wildflowers growing nearby.

“I would say to rely on the locals,” said Maddie Snyder, owner of Lady Sunshine floral boutique in Frisco. “If you can take advantage of calling your florist or calling your photographer and using them to find the best place to elope, I would do that. I think a lot of people from out of town see pictures of somewhere online and get stoked on that. … But there are so many places you can take advantage of.”

Not only will locals be able to lead a couple to their dream wedding destination, but they’ll also be able to help out with some of the nuances that come with eloping in the area. For instance, did you know that you can get married in Colorado without an officiant or witnesses, or that you may need a special-use permit to get married in the White River National Forest?

A couple elopes at Blue Lakes in Breckenridge.
Tiffany Bitner/Courtesy photo

If the plan is to get married on a budget, florists around Summit County offer small packages that include just a bridal bouquet and matching boutonniere without having to pay up for centerpieces or bridal party flowers. A large-scale dinner for hundreds at a banquet hall can easily be traded in for a Champagne picnic or a night out at a restaurant on Breckenridge Main Street.

“One thing I talk about with my couples is, ‘What is important to you?'” elopement photographer Tiffany Bitner said. “Is it the location that’s most important? Because if that’s the case, then spend your resources, depending what your budget is, and focus specifically on those things. Especially when you’re choosing to elope out in nature, a lot of times there isn’t a high venue cost.

“There may be a permit required for the marriage ceremony itself or for a photographer, but often times you’re not spending thousands of dollars on a ceremony or reception space. You can use that money and be creative and go to a brewery for dinner or rent an ATV or something like that. … It’s one thing we love to help our couples with.”

While getting to say “I do” in a picture-book setting like Summit County is a memory couples will keep with them forever, it’s also important not to leave anything behind.

“The biggest thing that I tell my couples is the importance of Leave No Trace and making sure that’s something they’re aware of,” Bitner said. “A lot of couples are coming from out of state and may not be aware not to walk through wildflowers, or that up in the Alpine there’s soil that’s very fragile and making sure you’re not walking on that. Just setting those expectations up front that the only way we can have elopements in these beautiful places in the Rockies is if we protect it.”

Gallery caption: Nina Larsen Reed / Larsen Photo Co.

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