Great Sand Dunes Elopement Photographer
Hi, I’m Lucy – Great Sand Dunes elopement photographer and National Park freak! Welcome to my newest favorite Colorado National Park! If you’ve been wondering how and where to elope at Great Sand Dunes National Park, you’re in the right place. This guide will walk you through everything! From when to elope, a sample timeline, how to elope in the park legally – everything!
Where is Great Sand Dunes National Park?
Great Sand Dunes national park is located near Alamosa, Colorado in the San Luis valley. It’s about 4 hour’s drive Southwest of Denver airport, or 3 hours north of Sante Fe New Mexico. The dunes are the tallest in all of North America, rising over 800′ from the valley floor. You can see the dunes from the main parking lot. The huge Sange De Cristo mountains, home of nine 14,000’+ peaks, wrap around the eastern edge.
PRO TIP: If you are driving to and from Denver, take two different routes. First, take rt 285 through Conifer and over Kenosha pass, and enjoy the spectacular town of Buena Vista. On the way back, head east from the park to Fort Garland and north on i-25, stopping at Garden of the Gods and Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs.
When to Elope at Great Sand Dunes NP
It’s no secret that the dunes can be hot in the summer – how about 140 degrees on the sand! That’s enough to give you second degree burns. When considering when to elope at Great Sand Dunes National Park, timing is everything! Winter is a great option here, and there are plenty of aspens if you crave that fall color. Spring is the busiest month in the park, but there are still ways to get away from the crowds if you know the park well. Get in touch with me to talk timing and get more recommendations!
Eloping on a weekday
Please, please, please choose a Monday to Thursday date for your elopement at Great Sand Dunes. This is a popular weekend destination for Coloradoans, so weekends often have a line of cars waiting to get in. The parking lots of this park are not large, so definitely plan to elope on a weekday here.
Real Great Sand Dunes Elopement Photos
Sarah & Tyler self solemnized their elopement on the dunes in fall of 2022! These two goofballs packed their day full of fun adventures. After sand sledding and making sand angels, they continued their adventure up Medano Pass in an offroad jeep. The water crossings were fun and brought us to many amazing mountain views – even lakes! We returned to the dune field for sunset, which was so epic and stunning. Their elopement at the Great Sand Dunes was unforgettable! See their whole elopement story unfold here.
Elopement Ceremony Locations in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes has no specific ceremony sites within the park. That means you can choose where YOU want to elope! But if you haven’t personally been to the park, it’d be pretty hard to plan. Let me walk you through several of the different areas and spots. And if you make me your Great Sand Dunes elopement photographer, you’ll get access to my custom, interactive map with detailed locations and photos.
During the spring months, meltwater from the high peaks form Medano creek that runs through the park. This seasonal river is one of only three places in the world where you can experience surge flow, which is a unique hydrological feature. You must cross the creek to hike up the dunes, so be prepared to get your feet wet! Some couples choose this as their Great Sand Dunes elopement location. I’m telling you – this incredible landscape is SO much more than just piles of sand. The geology and hydrology of the area is truly fascinating.
There is a small cottonwood grove on a sandbar in Medano creek. In Spring and Summer, the bright green leaves of the trees adds a welcome splash of color. In late September through October, the leaves turn gold and make a great focal point even when the creek is dry. This is only a short walk from the parking lot, so there are lots of people in this area.
The Grasslands and Low Dunes
After crossing Medano creek and passing the Island, you’ll come to the grassy lowlands and dune foothills. If you don’t feel like breaking a sweat, this is an easy Great Sand Dunes elopement location. Also, all the park visitors start spreading out here, so you can walk as far as you want to find a secluded spot. Maybe just on the other side of a small dune, or in the grassy areas where the view of the dunes is good.
Top of the Dune
The largest dunes are closest to the parking lot, which means you’ll have to hike up them to see most of the dunefield on the other side. It takes a regular person about an hour to hike to the top of Star Dune or High Dune. Hiking on deep sand isn’t the best terrain, but the views are absolutely worth it! Getting married up here will give you a 360 degree view of the mountains and immense dune field.
The picnic areas
The Sand Pit and Castle Creek picnic areas are only accessible with 4WD high clearance vehicles like jeeps or 4runners. If you have your own suitable car or are taking a jeep tour, definitely plan to stop here. The different perspective on the dunes and the privacy is these areas is valuable. Don’t take a rental car here though, as deep sand and creek crossings are definitely NOT covered.
Further up that 4×4 road is the mountainous canyon and forest of Medano Pass. The road is rough and crosses the creek 7 more times, making this an exciting off road adventure for your day. This area is remote and private.
Escape Dunes and Mosca Trail
The Escape Dunes are a separate set of dunes on the east side of the 4×4 Dirt Road. Accessed by 4wd to the trailhead and then a moderate hike, hardly anyone comes here. There is more foliage on and around these dunes, and the views are incredible. Closer to the visitors’ center, the Mosca trail offers a change to hike into the shade of an aspen-oak forest. Views of the peaks and the dunes are everywhere!
Elopement Locations outside of Great Sand Dunes
But don’t stop there! If you like desire a water feature in your elopement photos, there are some options nearby! The popular Zapata Falls is a waterfall nestled into a narrow canyon. You’ll walk upriver in the creek to witness it’s roar. Nearby lakes offer a migratory bird hotspot and the remote lake Como is stunning.
Here is my Map of Great Sand Dunes National Park Elopement Locations:
This map is like a virtual tour of the Great Sand Dunes National Park & surrounding area with color photos I’ve taken of each place. So you can see all the great spots without without leaving your living room. If you’re planning from afar, this is a great visual key to picking out the elopement spot that works for you. Details like what seasons and time of day are best for each location are included. It will help you plan your activities, accommodations, and your day’s itinerary. Lastly, it’s easy to have a great backup location picked out with this map in front of you. Having that Plan B in your back pocket will keep your planning stress-free!
How to elope in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Every National Park is vastly different in its rules for couples wanting to elope or even have their photo taken. Great Sand Dunes National Park has a unique process! To have an elopement or intimate wedding ceremony here, you have to fill in a $200 special use permit AND choose a location outside of the wilderness area. However, almost all the dunes are in the wilderness area! What’s a couple to do? This is where I come in! With my Great sand dunes photo permit, I can photograph ceremonies anywhere in the park – including on the iconic dunes! This is a necessary step for a true dune experience. So, in short, here are the steps to planning a Great Sand Dunes elopement.
How to plan a Great Sand Dunes Elopement
- Pick a season or date range for your elopement.
- Book a Great Sand dunes elopement photographer to guide you through the rest of the process
- With your photographer’s help, select a ceremony location and fill in your Special Use Permit with the park
- Book your accommodation, optional florist, and garments for your elopement
- Pick up your Colorado marriage license and elope!
Do I need an officiant?
In Colorado, you do not have to have an officiant, minister or celebrant at your wedding. Instead, you can self-solemnize, or declare yourselves married, without any officiant. I did it myself, and it’s not difficult at all! You literally just sign on the dotted line. You may choose to have an officiant, hired or a friend, but legally it is not required. Another option is that I can legally marry you, as I am ordained. This easy state law makes Colorado a great choice to plan an elopement!
Getting a Colorado Marriage license is also not difficult or expensive. You can pick up your marriage license in person at ANY Colorado county courthouse, not just the Alamosa county courthouse, which is the closest to Great Sand Dunes. It costs $30 and some courthouses require an appointment in advance to pick it up.
What to do around the Dunes
There are many experiences nearby to take your elopement day to the next level! Sand sledding or boarding is popular here to get your heart rate up. Play in the creek together and tube down it when the water is high enough! You can ride horses on the sand and experience guided tours, fine dining, and great accommodations at the nearby Zapata Ranch. They even have Bison! There are long and short hikes to lakes, waterfalls, and views of Mt. Blanca peak everywhere, trees to hammock in, and wildlife to watch. Consider a jeep or ATV tour to some of the more alpine and remote areas. There are a few gorgeous picnic areas for celebrating with cake afterwards.
What does it cost to elope at Great Sand Dunes?
So just how much is this going to cost you? The answer is that it depends! If you want to combine your dream honeymoon with your elopement day and don’t mind spending a bit to get you there, you’ll have the best time. But if a thrifty elopement is more your speed, you can achieve that for less than 10k! Here is a hypothetical budget for a 2 person elopement at Great Sand Dunes.
$30 Colorado Marriage License
$200 Special Use Permit from the National Park
$600 to $2600 Accommodation for a weekend
$500 to $5,000 your elopement suits or dresses
$5,000 to $9,000 Experienced Great Sand Dunes elopement photographer
$300 Food and all the snacks
$400 Jeep tour or horseback riding excursion
$450 Hair, makeup (optional)
$600+ Officiant (optional since you do not need one in CO)
=$7,500 to $18,000
How much time do we need for elopement photography?
Because Great Sand Dunes is a destination for almost everyone, I know you’ll be spending at least 1 day exploring the dunes! There is so much to do here that anything less than a full day would be short changing yourself. Embrace the memories, the spontaneous, and all the best things in life for a full day or multi-day elopement at Great Sand Dunes. Here is a sample timeline for a Great Sand Dunes elopement.
Great Sand Dunes elopement timeline
6:30 Get dressed in your glamping yurt or treehouse
8:00 Sunrise coffee on a jetboil and blanket cuddle
9:00 Get your first look at the dunes and get your feet wet crossing the creek
9:30 Hike to the top of Star Dune
10:30 Say your vows at the top of the highest dune in North America
10:45 Sled or sand-board down!
11:30 Cake, champagne and charcuterie lunch, in that order
1:00 Take a jeep tour off road, explore the dunes on horseback, hike up to the waterfall or play in the river
5:00 Dinner at Zapata Ranch
7:30 Sunset portraits and making sand-angels or sand castles in the creek
9:00 Stargazing at Great Sand Dunes’ epic dark sky park
Great Sand Dunes Elopement Photography Packages
I offer both Great Sand Dunes elopement photography packages, or All inclusive elopements for a one stop shop option. There are no travel fees, download fees, watermarks or other hidden fees.
2 Day elopements in Great Sand Dunes – $7900
1.5 Days of elopement photography – $5900
1 Full day adventure elopement in Great Sand Dunes – $54900
Up to 4 hours elopement in Great Sand Dunes – $4200
Where to stay for visiting Great Sand Dunes
For those of you visiting from the front range of Colorado, you’re going to want to stay near the dunes because it’s a good 3 – 4 hour drive. This will give you more time to explore and check out all the areas around this amazing Colorado National Park. I’ll always recommend staying at Great Sand Dunes Lodge, which is right on the doorstep of the national park. This easy access means minimal driving for your day of fun. They also rent sand sleds right there, and have a seasonal restaurant! If you’d like to go off the wall, try my list of strange and unique airbnbs near Great Sand Dunes. You’ll be delighted with dome homes, cabins, tiny houses, campers, glamping yurts and tents – there’s even a school bus and a treehouse!
What to wear at the Great Sand Dunes?
Remember the scorching hot sand I mentioned? As early as May, the sand will reach unbearably hot temperatures. Instead of option for sandals of any kind, I recommend hiking boots that will protect your feet from all sides. Keeping footwear practical is my #1 recommendation here! If you are eloping from October to April, you may choose to go barefoot or wear amphibious sandals. I also advise you to bring sunglasses or clear eye protection, because nobody likes sand in their eyes. As for what you wear on the rest of your body, it’s completely up to you! You can view my style inspiration and tips for dressing masc, femme, and in between here.
Can we bring our dog to Great Sand Dunes?
Yes! Great Sand dunes is one of the few dog friendly National Parks! So long as your dog is on a leash, and you pick up after them, you can bring them along to your elopement at the Dunes! When your pup is your family, it makes sense to bring them! That makes this a very cool elopement location for you dog lovers. Plus – in Colorado, your dog can sign your marriage license with an ink pad paw print!
I offer full day, 1.5 day and 2 day elopement photography in Great Sand Dune National Park and the wild lands outside of it. See my pricing and package details here. I would love to chat with you and help see if an elopement with me is what you’ve been dreaming of. Get in touch below!
About your Great Sand Dunes Elopement Photographer
I’m a nomadic and colorful great sand dunes elopement photographer with an obsession for mountains, hiking, and my cats. My photography style emphasizes the epic landscape of your dreams and the authentic moments that make you two.. well, you two! I love my job and my nature-loving clients. The Great Sand Dunes is one of my very favorite national parks. Maybe I’ll see you there!
Here are my other Colorado National Park elopement guides to check out:
– Rocky Mountain National Park
– Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
More elopement guides in Colorado:
– Garden of the Gods
– Colorado National Monument
– Boulder, Colorado
– Maroon Bells
– Summit County
– Mt. Evans
– Crested Butte
Other elopement locations with Sand Dunes:
– White Sands National Park (New Mexico)
– Death Valley National Park (California)
– Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)