Hey! We’re Ashley and Dan – a husband and wife adventure elopement photographer team based out of Wisconsin. We created this Montana elopement guide for anyone looking for a BEAUTIFUL and secluded place to elope. Montana is one of our top favorite places to photograph elopements for many reasons – the variety in landscape, the many mountain ranges, the alpine lakes, the solitude, etc. If Montana has been on your radar, or you’re still open to places to elope, this guide is for you!
What You Need to Know About Eloping in Montana
Montana has many nicknames including “Big Sky County” and “The Last Best Place”. If you visit Montana, you’ll see the reason behind these names. Montana has some beautiful, diverse landscapes. The eastern part of Montana is known for its wide open spaces and miles upon miles of plains and rolling hills. The western part of Montana contains a large number of mountain ranges. There are actually 77 named mountain ranges! And all are part of the Rocky Mountain range.
Montana has a lot of beautiful locations for elopements in the mountains. Glacier National Park is known as the “crown of the continent” and has stunning views of massive, snow-capped peaks along with numerous alpine lakes. The Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness covers a vast area and has hundreds of lakes, high alpine plateaus, and is known for the beautiful drive along the Beartooth Highway. Tom Miner Basin is a bit of a hidden gem in Montana. It offers a great place to get away from other tourists and is home to a large variety of wildlife. If you know where to go, you can have a beautiful, private elopement ceremony in Montana and have a freakin’ awesome adventure while you’re at it!
Marriage Licenses in Montana
The process to get legally married in Montana is fairly straightforward and simple. A marriage license will cost you $53. There is no waiting period for weddings in Montana and you can get married as soon as you get your marriage license. You do not have to be a resident of the state of Montana. One thing about Montana marriage license laws that makes it a great location for elopements is that the state does not require witnesses. The marriage license in Montana is good for 6 months after you get it. When you go in to get your marriage license, you will need to bring a valid ID and also know the full names and birthplaces of your parents. One special thing you should take note of is that Montana residents can get a marriage license and get married in any county, non-residents have to get a marriage license in the county they are getting married in.
Best Time of Year for a Montana Elopement
Montana is located quite a ways north and much of the state is located at higher elevations. The most popular season to get married in Montana is during the summer months. Keep in mind that even in the summer, snow sticks around in the mountains. In fact, there are even glaciers that remain year round in Montana. Much of the high country in Montana is not even accessible until July or even August, depending on the year. While summer has the sunniest weather and mild temperatures, fall is a great time as well. If you want to elope in the fall in Montana, you’ll be able to see spectacular fall colors. But be sure to plan for much cooler weather as it can start snowing, even in early fall.
Things to Do in Montana
Montana is well known as a great location for outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re going to elope in Montana, you’ll definitely want to plan something to enjoy the outdoors. There are a variety of ways to enjoy the great outdoor areas that Montana has to offer. Enjoy a gentle car ride through the mountains, go paddle boarding on a lake, or do an easy hike. Or take it to the extreme and go white water rafting or mountain climbing!
While you’re in Montana, be sure to try out some of the local foods! Flathead cherries can be found in mid to late summer and you’ll be able to find a lot of little fruit stands all over that sell these local cherries. Huckleberries are a year round favorite. They ripen in late summer to early fall but are preserved in various forms for year round use. They only grow in the wild and must be harvested by hand, making them a real treat. You can find huckleberry pie, ice cream, preserves, jelly, candy, vodka, and even beer. While you’re in Montana you may also want to try some of the various big game meats such as elk steaks or bison burgers.
Best Places to Elope in Montana
If you’re planning a Montana elopement, you’re probably going to want an epic location for your elopement! Montana has some of the most incredible locations for your elopement. As one of the least populated states and because much of Montana is more remote, there are many locations you can go to where you can have a very private ceremony, away from other people, with only the mountains and wide open spaces in view.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is one of the most popular locations for elopements in Montana. And it’s no wonder because it is such a rad place! Glacier National Park is large with a lot of different, remote areas you can go to escape the crowds. The park has a lot of easy to access, drive up to kind of areas where most of the tourists go. But if you go just a little bit off the beaten path, it can feel like you are way out in the wilderness.
Glacier National Park basically has about six different areas. West Glacier is usually the most popular area. In the West Glacier area there are a lot of woodlands, lakes, and lots of greenery. This area of the park is the most lush since the mountains catch more of the rain on this side of the park. The Saint Mary area has more open spaces and drier grasslands. Logan Pass divides Saint Mary from West Glacier and is home to popular places such as the Highline Trail and Hidden Lake. The amazing Going to the Sun Road winds its way up over Logan Pass to connect West Glacier to Saint Mary. Keep in mind though that the Going to the Sun Road is only open for about 4 months out of the whole year due to heavy amounts of snow that persists even into spring and summer.
Many Glacier is located in the northeastern part of the park. There you’ll find hikes to places like Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier. In this area of the park there also tends to be a higher concentration of large wildlife such as grizzly bears and moose. The Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park consists of the southeastern region of the park. This area, along with the northwestern part of Glacier, near Polebridge, are some of the least visited areas of the park.
If you like lakes and mountains, you will love Glacier! There are over 700 lakes within the park in all different areas of the park. Glacier is similar to the views you’d get in Canada, in fact, Glacier is part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Waterton National Park is the part of the park that extends into Canada.
Photography and Wedding Permits for Glacier National Park
The total cost for a wedding permit in Glacier National Park is $100. Permits ensure that you have the location you choose to yourself. While there may be other visitors present, you can be assured that there won’t be another couple getting married on your location. Be sure to learn more about permits on the Glacier National Park website. Glacier does not have many location restrictions, but keep in mind that (due to the popularity of the area) wedding permits are not issued for Hidden Lake Trail. If you are flexible on your date or location, it can definitely help you get your wedding permit. The application includes areas for you to put down alternate locations, dates, and times. Dan and I are more than happy to help you navigate the permit process and find the perfect location for your Glacier National Park elopement.
The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness includes Gallatin National Forest, Custer National Forest and Shoshone National Forest and covers over 920,000 acres of land. It gets its name from the Absaroka Mountain range in the western part of the wilderness and the Beartooth Mountains in the eastern part of the wilderness.
The Absaroka Mountains start in northern Wyoming and cross into Montana. In Montana, these mountains extend from near Gardiner to Livingston. The Absarokas are a great place to see grizzly bears due to more open, fertile valleys. The Absaroka Mountain range is slightly lower in elevation in comparison to the Beartooth Range in Montana, and because of this, the Absarokas have more spruce, fir, and pine forests.
The Beartooth Mountains are higher in elevation and actually have the largest area of land in excess of 10,000 feet outside of Alaska. The elevation of these mountains make high alpine tundra more common here. The Beartooth Highway makes access to these mountains easier but is only open seasonally.
What we love about this wilderness area of Montana is that there are so many wide open spaces to explore and you can really get off the beaten path! It’s one of our favorite locations for elopements in Montana. There are valleys, streams, waterfalls, lakes, and beautiful mountain peaks. This area has so much natural beauty that not all of the hundreds of landmarks and features have been named. The rugged, high peaks of the Beartooth Mountains may appeal to you if you are looking for a “top of the mountain” feel for your Montana elopement. On the other hand, the Absarokas may appeal more to you if you want to see more more lush forests and greenery for your elopement.
Tom Miner Basin
The first humans to use the Tom Miner Basin were various Native American tribes that regularly hunted these grounds. In fact, you can sometimes even spot tipi rings on the land and find old arrowheads. One of the most unique things about the Tom Miner Basin area of Montana is the Gallatin Petrified Forest. In this unique petrified forest, you can still see petrified trees that are estimated to have been standing there for over 50 million years. The petrified forest is unique but is definitely not the only feature of Tom Miner Basin.
This basin in Montana is rich with life and has a unique amount of diversity. It is a natural extension of habitats found in Yellowstone National Park. Tom Miner Basin offers great habitat for grizzly bears, so be sure you are familiar with safety in bear country. The basin is a lush valley surrounded by high mountain peaks. Many of the elopement locations within the Tom Miner Basin area are easier to access. Some do take a 4WD vehicle to access, so not all of the locations are long hikes to get beautiful views of Montana.
Fairy Lake and Sacajawea Peak
Fairy Lake is a beautiful little blue lake not too far from Bozeman, Montana. Sacajawea Peak is located a short distance from Fairy Lake and the lake actually sits at the base of the peak. Fairy Lake and Sacajawea Peak are some moderately used areas in the Custer Gallatin National Forest. There are two different ways that you can access Fairy Lake. You can park at the lower trailhead and hike about 2 ½ miles (or 5 miles roundtrip) to reach the lake. Depending on your vehicle and the road conditions, you can drive up further and park right near the lake. But depending on weather, the season, and road conditions, you may need a high clearance 4WD to drive up to the lake.
The top of Sacajawea Peak is located about 2 ½ miles further from Fairy Lake. The peak offers a great area to see bighorn sheep and mountain goats. And if you decide to elope up here, you just might have some goats photobombing your wedding photos! How rad would that be?! The hike up can be a little technical but is totally worth it if you’re up for the challenge. You can still choose to have an easier to access location at the lake and still get the peak in the background. A lot depends on what you are comfortable with as we want to help you plan a day that you can really enjoy, not something that makes you uncomfortable. You don’t want to just choose a location and “do it for the photos” but you really need to enjoy your elopement in Montana.
Montana Elopement Packages
Dan and I want to get to REALLY know you both as a couple! That’s a huge part of how we create great images just for you and give you a damn good experience. We enjoy developing friendships with our couples so we can have fun together on your elopement day. Be sure to learn more about our Adventure Elopement Process to get a better idea of how it all works.
We’re not just photographers though. We’re not here for just the photos, but we are here for you to help you plan your Montana elopement. Glacier National Park and the state parks require various permits for photography and to have your elopement in these locations. We’re here to help you with location scouting for elopement locations in Montana, getting the right permits, and helping you find any other needed vendors for your elopement in Montana.
Our Montana elopement packages are put together for couples that want to have fun, create an epic day, and explore! That’s why our packages start at 8 hours. Your elopement matters and deserves to be an amazing day that you remember forever. We’re here, not only to document your day, but to help you create a unique, adventurous elopement experience. Contact us to get started with planning your elopement in Montana and let’s come up with the perfect wedding day for YOU!
Click here to see a gallery from one of our recent Montana Elopement shoots!