Five Tips for Planning Your Blue Ridge Parkway Elopement

Christine and Marc elopement at Raven’s Rock off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Charlottesville, Virginia.

Christine and Marc came from Virginia Beach to the Charlottesville area for their Blue Ridge Parkway elopement. They rented a cute airbnb downtown for the weekend and invited immediate family only to their ceremony. All-in-all, they had about 10 guests. 

They didn’t want to do a first look, so Christine got ready with the help of her mom at the Airbnb while Marc was at a hotel nearby. Then her dad drove her and her mom up the mountain to the ceremony location where Marc and his family were waiting. 

They chose a spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of Shenandoah National Park that’s a popular local sunset-watching location. After the short ceremony, we did family photos and then the wedding party headed back into town to relax until dinner while Christine, Marc and I explored the overlooks between Raven’s Rock and Afton Mountain. 

At the end of it, they drove back to Charlottesville for an intimate dinner with family while I met  some friends at a local brewery for my own dinner. 

The day was simple, beautiful and relaxed. They got to share it with the people who love them most while crafting a stress-free and intimate experience. 

Interested in eloping for your own wedding celebration? Here are five tips for eloping in Virginia.

Pick a Photographer Who Specializes in Elopements

In the Shenandoah Valley/Central Virginia, there are a handful of photographers who shoot a lot of elopements. I’m one, but if my style isn’t quite what you’re looking for that’s totally ok. DO find someone who has experience with adventurous weddings, though, and can help you with vendor, location, timeline and itinerary recommendations. Ask them what their policy is in the event of bad weather (it’s Virginia...it rains/snows/fogs.)  They should also know the area well and be able to give you several location ideas for your ceremony as well as help you come up with a backup plan if your top location is closed due to weather or unforeseen circumstances. 

Invest in a Great Place to Stay 

Over the last couple of years, the Shenandoah Valley has become a big wedding destination choice. As a result, there are TONS of beautiful inns, bed and breakfasts, VRBOs and Airbnbs. Choose one that’s comfortable with lots of natural light. You can use that space both for “getting ready” photos and as a place you get to come back to when your adventure is over. 

Many of the couples I work with for elopements are not local to the area, but come to central Virginia for the beauty here. They might rent a cabin or a room in a b&b and use a long weekend or a week to explore the area. Their elopement is just part of the experience. For those couples, I also give them recommendations for places to explore during their time in the Valley. Best hikes to explore, restaurants to try, adventures to invest in. 

Consider Getting Legally Married Beforehand (or After)

Virginia doesn’t make it totally easy to get married -- mostly because it’s difficult to get certified as an officiant. There are local officiants who will perform elopements, but most are not up for a long hike. So if you want to have your ceremony somewhere like McAfee’s Knob (about 8 miles round trip), it’s worth considering doing your legal and elopement ceremonies separately. To get married legally in Virginia you need a marriage license (but there’s no waiting period to get married after obtaining your marriage license so you can get it and get married the same day), which you must acquire from any Virginia courthouse. You then can get married by a judge if one is available or most courthouses have a list of local officiants who will perform the ceremony for a fee (which ranges). 

If getting married on the day you elope is really important to you then I usually recommend calling the courthouse in the county you are getting married in and asking for their recommended officiants. You can then call down the list until you find someone who suits you. But DO lock in your officiant sooner rather than later -- just to make sure you have your top choice. 

Choose Comfortable Outfits -- Especially Shoes

You really can wear whatever you want on your wedding day. A bright blue ball gown, a floral suit, a traditional wedding dress, but do try and make sure it is comfortable. 

There are a couple style of dresses that aren’t great fits for elopements. Those include mermaid and sometimes fit and flare wedding dresses that tend to be a bit more difficult to move around in. Heavy strapless dresses can also be a pain (tugging at your bustline for 6 hours while exploring the mountains is no fun).

Instead consider ball gowns with sleeves or straps, A-line dresses, or even a jumpsuit. 

As for the guys or those who aren’t into dresses, consider the weather when choosing your outfit. When possible, pick an outfit made with natural fabrics like linen or cotton that breathes well. Summers in Virginia can be brutally hot and humid – which means you have to be honest with yourself about how much you might sweat. If you’re a big perspirer, choose darker fabrics that are more forgiving to stains or consider bringing a backup outfit (or two). And as always, sunrise is going to be cooler than sunset so one way to beat the heat is to start early!

Whatever you choose to wear, DO pair it with comfortable shoes. Eloping on a mountaintop is not the time to break out your Jimmy Choos or Gucci loafers. Instead, embrace the Birkenstocks or Vans or well-worn hiking boots. Sporting blisters or a twisted ankle on your wedding day may be part of the adventure, but it probably won’t be the  awesome experience you were hoping for. 

Be Flexible

Most of my couples want to elope in Shenandoah National Park or off of Skyline Drive. But Central Virginia is full of beautiful locations well worth exploring. Sometimes we can avoid bad weather by changing locations. Sometimes the original location is more important than a little rain and we just roll with it. In either case, go into your day with an adventurous spirit. If you come into your elopement with at the attitude that whatever happens is part of the experience and is going to be epic, it will be. 

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This can be really broad -- i.e. Shenandoah National Park or somewhere in Virginia with waterfalls -- I have TONS of suggestions so if you don't have an exact location picked out no worries =).