Do I Need a Permit to Elope in Virginia?

Well, it depends.

Whether or not you need a special use permit for your intimate wedding or elopement can depend on several factors.

Permits often seem complicated because it is not a one-size-fits-all-locations answer. Whether or not you need a permit can depend on what park you’re in, how many guests you’ll have with you, or if you are setting up any decorations. For example Shenandoah National Park requires a permit for any ceremony with more than 15 participants (including your vendors) OR ceremonies with any type of setup regardless of the number of guests.

Some parks around the state require no permit at all and others require one no matter what. If you want to get married in a particular area and the specific information is not listed on their website, it is important to call the office to understand their policies.

How much does a special use/ wedding permit cost?

The price of special use permits in Virginia differ from park to park and can range from $10 to $150+, so check the website or contact the park directly. But think of it this way, the price of a permit is still going to be way less than the cost of a traditional wedding venue AND you get to be surrounded by nature and get married in a place that inspires you! 

a bride in a wedding dress and the groom stand on the boardwalk on their way to fossil beach to get married at york river state park

How early should I apply for the wedding permit?

Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to apply for the permit. At First Landing State Park, and many other state parks, they ask you to allow 30 days for processing the application. Other parks, forests, or natural areas may take longer. And, a lot of these parks or public lands are underfunded and understaffed, so apply for the permit with more time than you think so that you have plenty of time to come up with an alternate plan if necessary.

Why do I need a permit?

It’s important to have any permits necessary because it would be terrible to be stopped on your wedding day by a ranger and asked to leave. But mostly, permits help keep the park running smoothly. These parks weren’t originally designed to host wedding ceremonies or handle a lot of photographers doing sessions, so permits help officials make sure that any activities going on in the park are not exceeding the capabilities of the infrastructure that’s in place. They also need to know that these other activities aren’t going to hurt a regular guest’s experience or be damaging to the land they work so hard to protect.

*It is important to do your own research but if the topic of permits seems overwhelming, don’t worry- I’ve got you! I help guide my couples to the right place to find the permit they may need. And I’ll even walk you through filling out the form or point you to the right park official if you have specific questions.

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