It’s that time of year! The weather is finally nice, and all you want to do is bask in the sun, so of course you are thinking about having an outdoor wedding. Obviously, there are lots of ways to have an outdoor wedding, but campsites and parks offer a unique and fun spin on the idea.
Want to have your wedding in a park or campsite, but don’t know exactly how to go about it? Here is our complete guide to everything you need to know as you plan.
Choose Your Location and Check for Availability
With so many parks and campsites available across the country, the hardest step in the process might be the first one: choosing your wedding location. If you already have a location in mind, like a spot where you and your partner camped or got engaged, then it might be an easy choice, but make sure it’s actually available before you announce your wedding location to the world.
Often we hear that couples think they can just roll up to a park, especially if they are having a small wedding, but no matter the size it is absolutely necessary that you reserve the space with the owners of the property or with the local government or national park service. Like any venue, these spaces will get booked far in advance, so it’s important to get it in writing that you have the space reserved before you send out those invitations.
Consider the Savings
This is also the point in the process where cost comes in, and thankfully, most public park venues are going to be more affordable than your average wedding venue.
“You can ‘own’ the entire camp for days. Can you imagine the cost of doing this in any other space?” says Missoula, Montana photographer Meera Mohan-Graham, and she’s right. The cost difference between renting a campsite and renting a traditional wedding venue can often be thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. The trade off is that most traditional wedding venues come with built in services that parks and campsites do not. We’ll talk more about that later, but it’s important to factor these added costs into your overall budget.
Choosing a public park also means you will likely be supporting the local parks and recreation department, or if it’s a national park, the National Park Service. Rentals are often a way in which these organizations receive funds to continue to care for the parks, so you can feel good that your money is going to a good cause, especially during a time when our federal government is slashing funding for parks.
Decide Whether Guests Will Be Staying on Site
If you have hopes of having a full-on campsite wedding weekend, then look into the overnight accommodations at the campsite and determine whether or not they will be a good fit for your guests.
There are lots of different options out there depending on your location of choice. Public parks offer cabins, tent sites, or even large lodges and dance halls that can sleep dozens. Keep in mind, however, that these accommodation often come with an additional price tag that you may choose to cover yourself or pass on to your guests. Be sure you have a good sense of the affordability of these options before you insist on having your guests stay overnight.
Are You Camping or Glamping?
I don’t need to tell you that glamping is huge right now. Who doesn’t want to go camping, but without all the difficult parts of being outside? Glamping sites are available all over the country, and one of our favorites is based in Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville Glamping offers tents, domes, Airstream trailers, campers, and a treehouse. Yes, you heard me, a TREEHOUSE. But since these sites tend to have more amenities, like air conditioning, heating, stoves, and bathrooms, they are also usually more expensive, and also tend to be booked much further in advance. A few of our vendors’ other favorite campsites include Camp Merrie-Woode, Camp Wohelo, and Maine Lakeside Cabins.
Keep in mind that not everyone will be interested in roughin’ it. “Older guests likely won’t take advantage of onsite lodging unless there is a nice furnished lodge or cabin situation,” says Chapel Hill wedding planner and florist Erica Greenwold Reisen of Folie à Deux Events, so be prepared for some guests to travel from a hotel or other lodging site if that’s not an option.
Will You Have Access to Facilities?
And since we’re talking about amenities, let’s talk about bathrooms. A major concern with any size outdoor wedding is access to bathrooms. If you have guests staying the night, you may also want to look into whether or not shower facilities are available. Even if your ceremony is only 30 minutes long and you aren’t planning for any other events, you need to have access to a restroom for your guests. The last thing you want is for your guests to be holding it for long periods of time. You might also need to bring some extra toilet paper, just in case!
Check with the park service or the venue owners to determine what bathrooms are available. Every site will had different facilities. Some bathrooms will be in great condition and be well equipped with multiple stalls. Others will…not. Depending on the park, your bathroom options may be dismal. If that’s the case, check with the park or venue to determine if you can rent bathrooms that can be brought onsite. Luxury bathroom trailer rental companies are available all over the country, and a quick Google search in your area will often yield several results.
“I photographed a big Hindu wedding in a Michigan nature preserve, and they rented a porta-potty that turned out to be more of a mobile luxury bathroom”, said Meera. “I didn't even know that was a thing! I'm talking stone countertops, people.”
Costs for these trailers will vary, and they often require road access, which is not always available at camp sites. Always double check with your venue or park before signing a contract to rent one of these trailers!
Is the Location Accessible?
“Accessibility for older guests and disabled folks is a major concern with camp wedding,” says Knoxville wedding photographer Alex Blackwelder of Alex Bee Photo. “I’ve seen too many guests unable to access the ceremony location.”
You’ll also want to keep in mind that mobility issues can affect people of all ages and body types, especially if there is a lot of walking or hiking required in order to reach your ceremony or reception location. Uneven terrain can be a hazard for guests in heels, and you’ll want to be upfront with your guests if the location is not accessible. Ask the property manager or park ranger if there is a possibility of using a cart or other vehicle to transport guests from one location to another.
Give Your Guests Somewhere to Sit
Yes, standing in a circle in the forest sounds cool, but your guests are going to get tired quickly and you need to make sure that you provide them with comfortable seating during your ceremony and reception. Ask the property manager or ranger about what your options are for seating and how you can transport rental chairs to the site if necessary.
Consider Transportation Services for Your Guests
If your wedding location is in a fairly remote location and doesn’t have an option for your guests to stay on site, you’ll want to have a transportation plan in place for your guests, especially for guests that plan to imbibe at the wedding. Consider renting a shuttle or bus to take guests from the campsite to a central location or hotel back in town.
Be Prepared to Pay a Travel Fee for Vendors
Your wedding vendors might also not be as ready to work a wedding that is out of the way, and you should be prepared to see a travel fee added to your invoice if you are asking vendors to travel a significant distance. If vendors will have to drive back on rough unlit roads in the middle of the night, you might also want to consider having select vendors stay on site with your guests.
Consider Access to Electricity
The more rustic a location, the less likely it is to have access to electricity. Talk to the property manager or ranger about access to electricity and what type of electrical equipment it is prepared to handle. Just because there is an outlet doesn’t mean you can plug in a large speaker and lighting system.
“Generators can be rented, but it needs to be figured into the cost,” says Louisville, Kentucky DJ Heather Yenawine of HAY DJ. “Small generators are quieter and can support say a ceremony PA, whereas you may need something more substantial (and louder) for a reception with a DJ or band, string lights, fans, or heaters.”
Will There Be Access to a Kitchen?
You’ll also want to have a plan for how to prepare and store food on site if you plan to serve a meal to your guests. Especially in months where the temperatures get high and bugs become a problem, having a closed kitchen with a refrigerator can be a necessity, not to mention, you won’t want to leave uncovered food lying around to tempt the wildlife into joining the party.
Finally, Have a Plan B
Let’s face it, shit happens, and there really is no telling when a natural disaster or mega storm might strike and put a wrench in your plans. Or, who knows, we could have another government shutdown and suddenly your wedding venue is inaccessible. Either way, if you are choosing to have a park or campsite wedding talk to your vendors about having an emergency plan in place. They will be able to provide you guidance and create a plan that still allows you to have lots of fun on your wedding day.
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, accessibility, equality, and design into the Catalyst brand. When she’s not traveling the country working to make the wedding industry a more inclusive place, she’s writing on her couch and snuggled up with her husband and SUPER lazy cats.
Photo by Tiffany Josephs Photography