elopement north carolina guide

Last minute Blue Ridge Parkway Elopement - Western North Carolina

An extremely last minute adventure elopement session deep the Blue Ridge Mountain Forests near Black Balsam Knob and Devil's Courthouse. Last minute surprises are the best, because it's all new and exciting and happening quickly. Get's your adrenaline going for sure! I am so happy with how these came out and I made Melissa ugly cry, which ya know, for us girls is a big deal. So I cried and laughed with her when I delivered the USB. If you live close by I always try to hand USB so we can cry together. When I do deliver USBs I bring: Tissues, chocolate, and a surprise custom to each bride. 

Hanging Rock State Park - western North CAROLINA elopement

Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury just north of Winston-Salem North Carolina. 

It was my first time visiting this park, you can normally spot the wild Ashley in the Great Smokies or Blue Ridge Parkway Mountains. North Carolina is my home state and the fact that I'll still be exploring our beautiful state a decade from now, makes me smile so big it hurts my cheeks.

While it is winter, we had the perfect day for elopement pictures. This on a day where it was ONLY 48 degrees, that’s warm right? BUT combine that with hardly any wind and sunshine - makes for a very happy wedding couple and photographer. Radiant heat is the best.

Candice and Mark had the perfect spot already planned and we meet at coffee shop near Asheville and I followed THEM to Hanging Rock State Park as they mountain climb together there. Well well well, the tides have turned eh? The couples show the photographer the best spots that they’d found while going on their own adventure. But seriously, they showed me a WHOLE new area for adventure elopements and adventure portraits in North Carolina. Folks our state is a GOLD MINE when it comes to stunning locations. Like just drive 30 mins anywhere in western North Carolina and BAM epic landscapes. 

So yeah enjoy these winter pics minus the snow.

I mentioned in an Instagram post couple weeks back, that in order to get this hazy look, you just add a TINY tiny bit of oil to top of lens corner aka less is more folks. TMI but I normally rub my finger tips on my forehead and dot lens and MAKE SURE you a microfiber wipe to clean lens. ALWAYS.

Blue Ridge Parkway Adventure Elopement

Today I wanted to share a bit about WHY I love elopements and am so incredibly stoked to be apart of them.

I am drawn to the bravery and the genuineness of elopements. As a photographer, elopements have allowed me the privilege to witness people - as raw and real as possible - standing in front of each other, declaring and promising their love in a unique, passionate, and epic way that means everything to them. There's no fancy front to put on - just two people wholly and entirely in love with each other, promising to spend their lives together in a way that's true to who they are. The couples I have photographed - and the couples like you, who I hope to photograph - continue to cement my belief in the elopement experience. Elopements capture the unique, authentic, and honest love between two people as they take each others hands and dive into or hike, climb, or jump into, the greatest adventure of their lives.

Elopement Options - What to do during an Elopement

Elopement Options - What to do during an Elopement

Often, I get asked by couples who choose eloping “What do I do for my ceremony?”

An elopement ceremony is different than a traditional wedding ceremony because there’s more freedom to create something that you both feel represents you as a couple. We wanted to share a few ideas for what to do during your elopement ceremony, whether you choose to have a self solemnizing ceremony on a mountaintop or a intimate wedding ceremony with a few close family and friends.

Western North Carolina Elopement Blog Sunset Haze

You probably have realized it's western north carolina is my favorite elopement destination for any couple. Moods for days here and with every season within access it’s your decision. It’s my favorite place to photograph adventure engagement sessions, weddings, and elopements too. So it should be no surprise that these photos of Riley + West in the mountain tops of Asheville and it’s one of my favorite adventure photos yet. These two are so adorable together and we had so much fun with them! I had so much fun working with everyone

Elopements - You have Questions and I have Answers

“Elopements - Everything you need to know, didn’t know, and thankful you know now Guide”

Elopement Photography by Ashley Lee

Hey ya’ll this is pretty straight forward. This is an Elopement Q&A as well as a guide that links to Planning your Elopement and Packing, along with potential Elopement Destinations in Western North Carolina and much more. Elopements are so exciting and thrilling but it’s good to know everything to see if that is what you truly want for your day.

How do Elopements work?

It seems like when a lot of people imagine eloping, they imagine running down to city hall, finding the judge, and getting married in five minutes or less after filling out a bit of paperwork. That is one way to do it.

OR if you want to truly elope (just the two of you) but aren’t interested in the city hall/courthouse route… why not pick an epic location and go for it? Think next to the Blue Ridge Mountains, standing on a cliff in the Great Smoky Mountains, or somewhere in Asheville that you love. You’ll need an officiant to legally seal the deal, but that’s just about it. 

Eloping Is a personal decision . Every couple has their personal reasons and definitions of what it means to elope.

But really, what is the definition of Elopement?

Yes, 'elope' has historically meant "to run away secretly with the intention of getting married usually without parental consent." But it has also meant—and still means—"to escape." Elope appears to have become shorthand for "small destination wedding," "wedding that is not financially insane," or "wedding that allows us to not invite all the people we would rather not invite." This certainly differs from the "disapproving parents and sudden questionable decisions" sense of the word, but is it new? Click here to see history of the word.

Do we have to plan ahead for our Elopement?

Yes. Even couples who are choosing to elope will need to make some plans to ensure that their ceremony is seamless and legal. Depending on the location, the couple should contact the local city hall to understand the marriage license requirements. Some locations will require an appointment, a waiting time, and designated witnesses to conduct a wedding ceremony or issue a marriage license. The couple will also likely need their birth certificates and official identifications, so if you are planning a destination elopement, be sure to check local laws prior to leaving for your trip. To see a link scroll to mid/bottom of page for websites in areas around western north carolina, click here

Reasons why Elopements rock:

Saves you a lot of money
No stress no stress no stress
Go wherever your heart desires
Make it all about you two
Party the way you want
You can splurge on things you wish

Difference between an Elopement and Intimate Wedding?

An intimate wedding is just a “normal” wedding day with a smaller guest list.  You opt for a smaller location and a guest list of maybe one or two-dozen people tops.  Intimate weddings aren’t necessarily smaller budget weddings; in fact, a lot of the time a bride or groom will splurge more on their guests with intimate weddings because instead of using a $20,000 wedding budget to create an event for 120 people, they can use the same amount and give 20 people an amazing experience.  Intimate weddings are often very relaxed and to a certain extent, non-traditional.  Sometimes the bride and groom will get ready in the same house and simply have their first look casually in the hall way.  Sometimes there isn’t even formal seating for dinner.  While there is a focus on on beautiful portraits, there’s also a focus on photojournalistic images; a storytelling approach to the day in order to capture all the intimate moments between the few guests present.

Does Eloping Mean Not Having a Wedding at All?

Forgoing a traditional wedding to elope does not mean completely skipping a ceremony or reception to celebrate the occasion. Sometimes, couples who elope simply want to have a more intimate and quiet wedding with a limited amount of guests. 

Other couples may elope to a destination, then return home and host a small reception that includes family and friends to celebrate their union. You might even find couples who exchange vows in front of their guests, even though they're already legally married because they eloped and had a private ceremony first. Totally up to each couple. That’s the beauty of it. You decide.

Eloping and Wedding Etiquette

Gifts - It is not traditional for couples who elope to register for wedding gifts. If the couple is having a celebration after their private elopement, they may still register for gifts, up to couple. If you hear about a friend or family member's elopement, it is proper etiquette to send a gift or a card sharing your good wishes. Even though you won't be attending a wedding, this is still a nice practice and allows you to extend warm thoughts to them.

Intimate Wedding vs Elopement: Photographic coverage

Elopements - Couples often need 3 or 4 hours of coverage for an elopement; that’s it.  It’s photographing of the ceremony and an intimate adventure portrait session.  There’s rarely any getting ready images and never any cocktail hour coverage or reception coverage because elopements don’t have those things.  Period.  The photographer’s job will be the 3 or 4 hours of work on the day to capture the ceremony and portrait session and provide an amount of images reflective of how many hours they photographed.

Intimate weddings, photographically, are the same as full day “traditional” weddings.  Couples almost always still want getting ready coverage, the ceremony, formal photos with family members as well as the couple and coverage of their reception.  A photographer can still spend 8, 10 or 12 hours photographing an intimate wedding day.

A photographer’s job, and thus the cost of their services, is not reflective of how many guests are present.  So intimate wedding vs elopement means you’re still going to pay, for the most part, the same hourly rate.  An hour of a photographer’s time is an hour of a photographer’s time – whether they are photographing 2 people, 20 people or 200 people.  They still process a number of photographs reflective of the number of hours they were shooting for.

Elopement in Asheville or Western North Carolina?

Visit this link here for suggestions and much more info such as permits, ideas for elopements, etc.

Planning an Elopement in North Carolina or U.S.?

Visit here for a in depth blog.

Some parting words from a wise bride “it was easiest & most relaxed way to get married!” 

Isn’t that just what you want for your own wedding? You shouldn’t have to pull your hair out trying to plan the happiest day of your life. It can be as relaxed as you want it to be. It’s your day after all. So many couples are choosing to elope these days, how about you?

Adventure Elope in Asheville & NC Mountains - Ashley Lee Adventure Photographer

Adventure Elope in Asheville & Western NC Mountains- Ashley Lee Adventure Photography

Many couples travel to Asheville and the mountains of North Carolina for an elopement or a small wedding celebration with a few friends or family members. It's the perfect place to elope. Since we have so many public lands such as national and state parks and forest, nature provides the ultimate setting and decoration! Having a simple wedding means there is more time for exploring.

Biltmore Estate
Elope on the private grounds of America’s largest home (you choose the spot) and get access to the entire estate for photos! Their Elopement Package ($2,000) includes luxurious overnight accommodations for the couple at the Inn on Biltmore and up to 12 chairs for guests. Biltmore’s wedding team books elopements within 90 days of the big day. You can add on special experiences like a carriage ride, special tours of the house and a romantic dinner. Go to their website.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Elopements with 25 people or less are allowed along the Blue Ridge Parkway with a permit (application fee of $60 and permit fee $40). There are many places, ranging from waterfalls to mountaintops, but none are private. So you may have some extra onlookers. The permit covers two hours for a ceremony - no receptions. Permits are not issued for federal holidays or the month of October (busiest month due to fall color). Keep it simple: no live plants, no releasing of doves/butterflies, no birdseed/rice throwing, no open flames, no decorating with ribbons, no balloons, no alcoholic beverages. For ideas, see our Top 50 Parkway Stops near Asheville. No weddings allowed at busiest spots such as Waterrock Knob, Graveyard Fields and Devil's Courthouse. Go to the Blue Ridge Parkway website for Wedding Policies & Permit.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A permit for a ceremony or portrait photography is required ($50) with application completed at least 14 days in advance. Much of the park is open to outdoor weddings with a maximum of 20 people and six cars. If you want a larger wedding, they have approved locations for a ceremony - including historic churches:

  • Road to Nowhere, Fontana Lake overlook, maximum of 15 cars and 30 people

  • Deep Creek Picnic Pavilion, a good choice if you want a picnic afterwards. A very busy area in the summer with camping, waterfalls and tubing.

  • Historic Mingus Mill (no private events March-Nov 9AM-5PM when open for tour) - perfect for evening wedding.

  • Historic Smokemont Church, maximum of 6 cars and 40 people (pic above)

  • Collins Creek Picnic Pavilion off Newfound Gap Road

  • Heintooga Overlook on Heintooga Ridge Road, adjacent to picnic area. Entrance from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • Historic Palmer Chapel in Cataloochee Valley - maximum of 10 cars and 50 people (pic at very top of page)

If you have a NC license, be sure to stay on the NC side of the park. Remember that since this is a national park, there are many regulations. Download a PDF of their Permit Guidelines for Weddings. For more info and permit applications, go to their website.

Pisgah National Forest & Nantahala National Forest
If you have 75 or fewer people, a permit is not required. If you want to get married at a developed site with an office, just notify them first. Otherwise, you can have a ceremony anywhere on public forest land. Of course, you cannot block trails or prevent other guests from visiting. You cannot bring in decorations, flowers or food (unless it's a simple picnic). Keep it simple!

Chimney Rock Park
Find a variety of spots for a wedding for the cost of park admission for each guests. Say your vows atop the famous Chimney or in front of Hickory Nut Falls if you have 15 guests or less. Stay away from weekends in July and October. Contact them to check dates - all weddings require a reservation. For larger groups, they have a Pavilion for up to 150 guests. And their Old Rock Café has a great outdoor deck for a meal afterwards. Read more.

Lake Lure
Morse Park by the marina offers a lot of lakefront spots - no reservations needed for a small wedding with no chairs / decorations. A gazebo is also available by reservation. Another option is renting a pontoon boat and getting married on the lake. Nearby in Chimney Rock Village is the Riverwalk with plenty of spots by the rushing river. Read more.

Lake Glenville
Rent a pontoon from Signal Ridge Marina and get married by a waterfall that cascades into the lake. Or find a secluded cove. Read more.

North Carolina Arboretum
The beautiful setting of gardens and natural areas has an elopement package for 10 or less guests. It includes one hour at a wedding site, table, folding chairs setup, free parking, event coordinator, bridal room, and one year membership. $500 for Sunday-Thursday dates and $1,000 for Friday or Saturday. Read more.

State Parks: Mt. Mitchell, Lake James, Gorges, South MountainsA Special Activity Permit is required, but it's only $35. Call the state park office first for best locations and their procedures. 

Bed & Breakfasts
These grand homes office the ultimate romantic setting for a wedding and honeymoon. Innkeepers love to help you coordinate and many have packages. See our Top 30 B&Bs.