Big Bend is my favorite corner of Texas. At a whopping 801,163 acres, Big Bend is one of the most stunning and diverse national parks in the country!
You’ve got the entire Chisos Mountain Range, The Chihuahuan Desert and The Rio Grande River winding it’s way through the park. There are endless opportunities for exploration at Big Bend. Which is why it makes for an epic adventure elopement location!
Big Bend is huge so when you start to dig in to planning it can get pretty wild pretty fast. I’ve got you covered with the ultimate guide to a Big Bend Elopement.
What this blog covers;
- Texas Marriage Laws
- Location Scouting
- Guided Tours
- Don’t Forget to Eat
- What to Wear
- Leave No Trace
The ultimate guide to your Big Bend Elopement.
This blog covers specifics for the Big Bend area, if you want a blog that completely unpacks the elopement planning process I’ve got you covered through this link.
Step One: Select a date!
You’ve made the decision to elope and chosen Big Bend as your location. Yay! You are already in a great place in your planning journey so pat yourselves on the back. Deciding to elope and selecting a location are huge!
The next step is deciding on when you want to elope. I highly discourage eloping in Big Bend during the summer months. The average temperature in Big Bend May through September stays around 103 degrees. Spending time in this kind of heat makes it super easy to become dehydrated, get burns, experience heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. I recommend October through March for your Big Bend elopement.
Being flexible on your exact date is really helpful when you start reaching out to vendors! I recommend having a month or general time of year in mind but try to stay open on the exact date until you talk to your dream vendor.
Next – start reaching out to vendors.
A photographer or planner familiar with Big Bend is who you would want to reach out to first. As an elopement photographer and guide, I help my couples with the entire planning process as well as photos and logistics on the day of. Having someone in your corner who’s familiar with adventure elopements is important! An elopement in Big Bend is the combination of two worlds really, the wedding industry and the outdoor recreation world. It is incredibly important to have someone in your corner helping you craft an elopement experience who knows not only how to prepare for all of the events and moments that take place on a wedding day but who can prepare for a hike through the desert or into the mountains as well! Someone who knows how to navigate the trails, understands how to prep for all kinds of weather and packs all of that extra hiking gear you don’t even realize you might need! That’s what I do!
Texas Marriage Laws
Texas does not require witnesses, so you could hire a photographer who is also ordained or bring a friend along with you to act as your officiant (make sure they are ordained).
If you would prefer to have a professional officiant that can speak during your ceremony you’ll want to find an adventurous officiant who will hike alongside you!
Marriage License Details;
All states, including Texas, have specific marriage license requirements.
In Texas once you receive your marriage license you must wait 72 hours before the ceremony is performed.
Whenever it comes down to the legal stuff I highly encourage digging deep into your own research rather than taking my word for it. Here is a link to help you get started.
Big Bend National Park is public land and managed by the government.
A special use permit is required for performing any kind of marriage ceremony in Big Bend. Permit requirements change all the time so it’s good to check the site for the most recent information. Permits take 30-60 days to be completed so should be applied for as soon as possible! You can find more information on Big Bend Special Use Permits through this link.
Big Bend camping as well as backcountry use requires reservations and permits as well. Front country day passes do not require reservations but are $30 upon park entry. Front country day use is free if you have a National Parks Pass!
Big Bend is full of some really fun primitive dirt roads. I highly recommend having a four wheel drive vehicle for travelling around Big Bend! This way you can have access to locations off the beaten path which in turn provide more privacy. If you don’t have four wheel drive then a vehicle with high clearance and all terrain tires will get you around for the most part.
A low clearance car will still get you around the park, you’ll just have to stick to the paved roads! I do recommend having tires in good shape though. And a tire patch kit no matter what car you’re driving!
You could rent a four wheel drive vehicle for the full experience. Visit this link to see some of your options.
Booking your lodging is something else you will want to do in the early stages of planning your Big Bend elopement. The best places get booked up so fast!
Towns Around Big Bend for lodging;
Remember that Big Bend is BIG, so when I say that a certain town is an hour outside of the park that same town may be two or three hours from a specific trailhead. Be prepared to do a lot of driving!
Terlingua is about 20 minutes to an hour outside of the park, Terlingua doesn’t have much cell reception but there are a lot of lodging options with wifi. I have been able to use apps like Whatsapp to communicate with couples and load maps on my phone before leaving my airbnb! (Though it is smart to have a paper map as a backup just in case) Terlingua is more remote, meaning the food options are super limited and you won’t really find any grocery stores. If you’re staying in Terlingua it’s best to pack your own food in! I prefer Terlingua so I travel with a cooler full of food from my home grocery store.
Willowhouse – https://www.willowhouse.co/
Terlingua Basecamp – https://basecampterlingua.com/
Alpine is an hour and a half from and it is the biggest city near Big Bend. Meaning they have decent cell reception and actual grocery stores. While it is still a small town, wow civilization!
Antelope Lodge – https://antelopelodge.com/
The Holland Hotel – http://thehollandhoteltexas.com/
Marfa is about two hours from Big Bend, known as an arts hub Marfa is a tourist attraction with some unique lodging options. Because it is more of a destination town there are some cool attractions like bars and art exhibits. The hours are limited so it would be best to scope out on a Saturday. Which is great because I recommend eloping in Big Bend on a week day anyways! Elope during the week and explore Marfa over the weekend. Win win.
El Cosmico – https://elcosmico.com/
Hotel Paisano – https://hotelpaisano.com/
The Lincoln Marfa – https://www.thelincolnmarfa.com/
Selecting a location for your ceremony takes some scouting, this is where an experienced elopement photographer will be super helpful. I help all of my couples with location scouting!
The first thing you’ll want to do is consider your physical ability and outdoor experience. Some destinations in Big Bend require less than a two-mile hike while others are twelve-mile treks with rock scrambling, with a whole lot in between.
Map out the locations you plan to use and give yourselves about one hour per mile for your hike, even if you regularly hike at a quicker pace. You want to give yourselves time to take in the experience and you will likely be hiking either with extra gear in your packs or while wearing your wedding attire, both of which have an impact on your hiking speed!
Make sure you have backup locations in mind in case of unexpected trail or road closures.
Know your limits! An app you can use to check out some of the Big Bend Trails is Alltrails. Alltrails has comments and reviews of trails as well which can help you be prepared!
Keep in mind that Big Bend is HUGE. Make sure you fill up your gas tank before you enter the park and prepare for a lot of driving.
Adding a guided tour can be an epic way to spend your elopement day. Some of the most exciting ways to experience Big Bend are through guided tours! You can explore the river, go horseback riding or take to the more primitive roads through a jeep tour company.
Some Guided Tours in Big Bend;
What to Wear
The clothing and gear you pack will depend on the season you are visiting as well as the activities you plan to partake in! I do break down some clothing suggestions, like footwear, dresses and socks, in my How To Plan Your Texas Elopement Blog if you want to check that out!
Here is a general list of attire you should plan to pack with you for your Big Bend Elopement;
- Hiking boots with ankle support and good tread
- Water shoes in case you want to walk through the Rio Grande River
- Warm layers, outer layers that you’re stoked to be photographed in if it gets cold.
- Rain & wind protection: windbreaker/raincoat, umbrellas
- Sun protection: sunglasses, hats and sunscreen
When you have all of these details lined up it will be easier to craft a packing list based on the season you are eloping in and the activities you have planned.
Don’t forget to eat!
Waking up at sunrise to hike miles on miles means you will be burning calories and exerting a lot of energy. It can be easy to forget to eat but you will NEED to replenish. Some couples like to make time for a picnic in the middle of their elopement day. You can totally pack food with you and have a picnic on the trail!
Big Bend has a lot of designated picnic areas with picnic tables. Some have restrooms and trash cans so you can properly dispose of your waste after your picnic instead of carrying it around with you in your backpack. Picnics in the middle of the day are a great way to recharge and replenish while checking maps or making adjustments to any plans for the next half of your day.
It is important to note that Big Bend is home to bears, mountain lions and other animals that may be attracted to the scent of your food. So packing your food and disposing of waste properly is key.
For a day hike, you can pack your food inside odor-proof barrier bags like these
For camping and backpacking trips check out this article for planning a trip in bear country.
Leave No Trace
Here is an article for details on Leave No Trace specifically for Big Bend
Big Bend no longer allows you to bring in any live vegetation. Meaning any florals you bring in for your Big Bend elopement must be dried or fake. This ensures you don’t bring in any species that could potentially become invasive in Big Bend.
The Leave No Trace principles are a set of ethics we should follow to enjoy and protect the outdoors at the same time. If you are choosing an outdoor adventure or simply to elope in a beautiful outdoor space then chances are you have some form of respect for the outdoors! Maybe you spend your free time recreating outdoors and are familiar with the Leave No Trace principles and maybe you’ve never heard of them before!
Opting to use public lands for your wedding day (or any day really) comes with responsibilities!
Personally, I believe in respecting and experiencing these spaces rather than just using and abusing them. It can be easy to get caught up in thinking of them just as a pretty backdrop to your photos but they deserve so much more than that.
There are ways to enjoy the outdoor spaces sustainably and responsibly so that we can continue to enjoy them and preserve them for those who come after us! By incorporating the seven Leave No Trace principles when planning your elopement day you are ensuring that whatever locations and activities you choose you are leaving minimal impact on the land! Considering the LNT principles can actually help narrow down a lot of options during the planning process as well.
The seven Leave No Trace Principles are;
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impact
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
- © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
If you’d like to learn more about Leave No Trace then you can visit their website riiight here
I have taken a course specifically for photographers on “How To Leave No Trace” to help incorporate these principles into my business and workflow. So I am an official “Leave No Trace Aware Photographer”! At the end of the course I received a customizable guide to send to couples when we plan their elopement and it is jam PACKED with so much great information on planning an elopement or outdoor wedding that is sustainable and leaves less impact. If you’d like the guide please contact me! I’d love to send it your way.
Are you feeling stoked about your Big Bend Elopement now?
I hope that this blog gave you some tangible ideas to run with and start planning! I do offer Texas Elopement Packages that include photography and planning guidance so if you have any questions at all I would love to hear from you!
If you take any of these ideas I would love to see the outcome so definitely send them my way.
If you want to check out more of my planning resources click right here.
To follow me on Instagram click here!