The Ultimate Guide to a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement | nikolevelascophoto.com
Couple getting married in Palo Duro Canyon

Imagine tossing cookie-cutter tradition to the wind and getting married exactly how YOU want to get married.

Forget a copy and pasted ceremony in the middle of a barn, lace up your hiking boots and opt for a Palo Duro Canyon elopement instead. Holding your partner’s hand in your own and saying your vows as the sun rises over the rim of the second largest canyon in the united states. Followed by horseback riding through the canyon and a just-married picnic! Imagine starting your life together with the ultimate adventure. That’s exactly what a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement can be!

From epic hiking trails like the famous Lighthouse Trail or lesser-known CCC hikes throughout the park, horseback riding tours, awesome four-wheeling adventures, and ziplining! Palo Duro Canyon offers so many ways for you to spend your elopement day. Whether you want to relax and take it easy or go all out and spend the day filled with adrenaline, you can make it happen with a Palo Duro Canyon elopement.

Couple getting ready for their Palo Duro Canyon Elopement

How to get married in Palo Duro Canyon

Like any other trip to a State or National Park, you’ll need to plan ahead and prepare! Which is what I am here to help you do. I’m your elopement photographer, planning guide, and problem-solving extraordinaire. I believe the experience you have on the day you get married matters above all else and I am always stoked to help couples bring their dream elopements to life! Specializing in Texas elopements, I’ve got the inside scoop on how to plan elopements in locations just like Palo Duro Canyon.

I made this guide as a resource so you don’t have to stress over what you need to do to make an elopement in Palo Duro Canyon come to life and can enjoy the planning process almost as much as the elopement itself.

Blog Index

  1. Questions to ask yourselves at the beginning of your planning journey
  2. How far in advance should you start planning a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement?
  3. When is the best time of year for a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement?
  4. Permits and reservations
  5. Lodging tips and tricks
  6. Hiring vendors
  7. Park Rules and Regulations
  8. Planning a Palo Duro Canyon elopement with guests
  9. Choosing your ceremony location
  10. Make a plan to eat and hydrate!
  11. What activities do you want to include? With a list of activity suggestions
  12. Packing suggestions, tips and tricks
  13. How to craft a Palo Duro Canyon elopement timeline
  14. Marriage requirements and legalities
  15. Have the best elopement day ever!

Couple exploring Palo Duro Canyon on their elopement day.

The first step in planning a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement – dream big!!

No two elopements are the same. The first phase in planning is all about envisioning the best possible day for the two of you that would celebrate your relationship in the most genuine and true-to-you way. Forget what you’ve seen on social media, in blogs or what your friends and family have done. Create a day that will make you feel the most relaxed, in love, and stoked to be alive.

Some questions to ask at the beginning of your planning;

  • What are some of your favorite memories together? Where were you and what were you doing?

  • How do you want to feel on the day you get married? Happy? Relaxed? Full of energy?

  • Are there people you can’t imagine your day without or are you spending the day just the two of you?

  • What about the weather, temperature, and what you are wearing? What would be the most comfortable and the most “you”?

  • Are you able to take a lot of time off work or if you have to elope over a weekend?

  • Do you want to camp or would you rather stay in a hotel?

  • Do you need to rent a car or find someone to take care of your animals while you’re away?

Palo Duro Canyon Elopement Ceremony


How far out in advance should you start planning a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement?

Six months to a year in advance would be ideal for planning a Palo Duro Canyon elopement. If you give yourselves at least six months you’ll have more flexibility when it comes to choosing your lodging and other vendors. If you want to glamp or camp inside the park – campsites open up five months in advance and book pretty quickly! So having a minimum of six months to plan can really come in handy. Though I have been able to plan a Palo Duro elopement within a three-month timeframe before!


The further out you plan the more freedom you will have in terms of booking things like lodging, vendors and fun adventurous tour guides or excursions.

One of the first people I recommend is hiring an elopement photographer or planner familiar with the area. I help couples plan elopements allll over Texas and am super familiar with Palo Duro Canyon so I’d be stoked to help you bring your elopement to life! You can contact me here to get started (:

Couple hiking around Palo Duro Canyon on their elopement day.

When is the best time of year for a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement?

Selecting your elopement date will impact the rest of your planning so this is one of the first things you want to figure out. I recommend narrowing it down to a general season or month before reaching out to your elopement photographer or planner. Being flexible on the exact day will make a difference because then you can work within your dream photographer’s availability!

The best time of year for a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement would either be in the spring (March-April) or in the fall (October-November).

Palo Duro experiences extreme heat during the summer months, reaching up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit on some days. The canyon is also subject to flash floods and thunderstorms, so make sure to keep an eye on the weather and have a backup location or plan in mind. I always help my couples prepare for whatever weather might come our way and we work together to craft a “plan b” that’s just as epic as their original plan just in case we have to pivot due to weather.

Couple celebrating during their Palo Duro Canyon Elopement

Permits and Reservations required for a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement

You do need to have a day pass to enter Palo Duro Canyon, day passes become available thirty days in advance and they do sell out. So reserving your day pass ahead of time is key.

Day Passes

You can snag your Palo Duro Canyon day passes at the Texas State Parks Reservations site.

Camping Reservations

If you plan on camping inside the park you will need to reserve your campsite as well. This can also be done through the Texas State Parks Reservation site. These reservations become available five months ahead of time and sell out incredibly fast as well.

Glamping Reservations

If you’d like to try glamping inside the park you can reserve a cabin or canvas tent through the Palo Duro Glamping site. These are available further out so if you’re planning more than five months out you could reserve this earlier than you would be able to reserve a regular campsite.

Palo Duro Canyon’s hours are 7:00 am to 9:00 pm. This is worth noting because, for a portion of the year, the sun will rise before the park opens. I highly recommend sunrise elopements to beat the heat as well as crowds. So if you are wanting a sunrise elopement during the time of year that the sun rises before the park actually opens, you will need to make sure anyone you want to be present for your sunrise elopement will be staying inside the park!


Photography Permits

If you plan to have a photographer or videographer document your elopement they will need a commercial photography permit. Which can be obtained in person through the park ranger’s office. I have a lot of experience with permits and am always happy to help couples obtain whatever they need!


Couple writing their vows at sunrise before their Palo Duro Canyon Elopement.

Lodging

Booking lodging for your elopement or wedding makes a huge impact on your overall experience. It’s where you’ll be sleeping the night before your elopement, where you will be getting ready and where you return after your epic elopement adventure. Choose a place you are excited to stay! Give yourself permission to consider really fun rentals like cute Airbnbs, A-frames, treehouses, yurts, or any kind of place that you think is aesthetically appealing, fun, and fits the vibe for the rest of your day.

Tips for booking lodging;

  • Think about the natural light and aesthetics. Does the decor align with your vision? Are there good windows? Part of your elopement may take place at your airbnb so making sure it is a place you find beautiful can make a difference.

  • Read through reviews thoroughly before booking an airbnb. To ensure you have a great experience!

  • Try to find lodging as close to your ceremony space as possible. Generally I recommend keeping the distance within an hour’s drive! For Palo Duro Canyon elopements I recommend either glamping inside the park or lodging in Canyon or Amarillo.

If you want a more in-depth guide on booking lodging for your elopement you can check out my “Booking Lodging for Your Elopement or Wedding 101” blog!

Couple celebrating during their Palo Duro Canyon Elopement

Hiring Vendors

It’s not totally necessary to hire particular vendors like florists or hair and makeup artists for your day, but partnering with some amazing vendors to help you create your dream elopement can really bring your entire experience to the next level! It helps so you don’t have to do everything yourself and can definitely make you feel more present and relaxed when you have a solid team in your corner.

Common vendors couples hire for elopements are florists, hair and makeup artists, officiants, chefs or caterers and videographers.

All of my packages include vendor referrals and I am happy to help you get your dream team together so you can have the best elopement ever!

Palo Duro Canyon Elopement Ceremony

Park Rules and Regulations

It is important to learn about the park rules and regulations when planning your elopement. These are beautiful lands that we should respect and care for. You love them so much you are getting married out there right?! I am sure you love them enough to leave them better than you find them. So those who come after us can enjoy them and so you can return for your ten-year anniversary to celebrate in the very place you said your vows! Palo Duro Canyon will have specific rules and guidelines for events, you can call and get this info directly and it will also be given to you when you obtain your commercial use photography permit. For the Texas State Park rules and regulations check this link.

Common Elopement Trends That May Be Against Park Rules;

  • Bouquets & Flowers: You may want to check the local rules & regulations to see if it’s allowed to bring non-native species of flowers. It’s always best to avoid bringing invasive species of plants into environments in case pollen or seeds do drop.

  • Confetti, Seeds, & Rice: Palo Duro Canyon does not allow throwing anything on the ground, and it’s generally not a good idea—even biodegradable confetti. Some sustainable alternatives are to sustainably collect local native leaves or use ribbon sticks or a high-five tunnel to celebrate instead.
  • Popping champagne: Palo Duro Canyon does not allow the public consumption of alcohol. If you really want to pop some bubbly for a fun “spray photo” sparkling water is a great alternative and looks the same in an image!

  • Smoke Bombs and anything with fire: Unless you are at a campsite with a fire pit and there is no burn ban then I recommend avoiding anything involving fire. Smoke bombs, candles, and sparklers all pose a risk of starting a wildfire and we do not want that to happen. Good alternatives are things like ribbon wands, LED fairy lights, the headlights of a car, or lanterns.

Palo Duro Canyon Elopement ceremony at Mack Dick Pavillion

Planning a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement with guests

Yes, you can elope with guests! I love helping couples include their favorite people on their elopement day. Some places in the park will be more sustainable for groups than others so know that when you add guests it does limit your location options. If you want to get married somewhere like on a hiking trail I recommend keeping your guest count under 15 people. If you want a larger group of people you should look into renting a venue, the park offers pavilions inside the Canyon like the Mack Dick Pavillion and it’s perfect for hosting a wedding ceremony! With ample parking, great accessibility, restrooms, chairs, tables and a commercial kitchen. It is ready to go! If this is the route you take, definitely look into a day of coordinator to help ensure everything goes smoothly as the rental of the pavilion does not include any support staff.

Couple celebrating during their Palo Duro Canyon Elopement

Choosing your ceremony location

Think about what is most important to you when choosing your ceremony location. Is privacy or accessibility more important? Do you want a sunrise or sunset experience? You’ll also need to consider your physical capabilities, some hikes are easier than others! A good app to use for checking out different hikes within the park is Alltrails.

One of the first things I do for my couples is to help them narrow down their specific locations. I will send an in-depth questionnaire to get to know you more and understand what kind of landscape as well as experience you are dreaming of! From there I send over a custom location suggestion list, packed full of photos, descriptions, and other great information. Making it super easy and fun to choose your ceremony location!

Couple eating cereal during their Palo Duro Canyon Elopement


Make a plan to eat and hydrate!

Elopement days can drain you really quickly! You may be waking up super early and staying active hiking and exploring throughout the day. So it’s important to take really good care of yourself on the day of the elopement as well as the days leading up to the elopement! Make sure you get proper nutrients and hydration in the days before your adventure to really set yourself up for success. A general rule of thumb for the amount of water you should bring on a hike is one half-liter of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. Have extra water, snacks, and electrolyte packets in your car ready to go so you stay hydrated and well-nourished throughout the day. Here is a great article from REI on how to stay hydrated on the trails.

You should definitely schedule meals and water breaks in your elopement timeline! You can pack all of your fave snacks and have a picnic together after you say your vows! Make sure you pack out all of your trash, even things like orange peels and apple cores because they are not native to the environment and could be dangerous if an animal tries to eat them.

What activities do you want to include?

An elopement is all about spending your day the way YOU want to spend it! There may be some fun activities you want to include to make the most out of the time you have together. I know some couples like to incorporate a first look or get ready together. You may want to have coffee together while you finish writing your vows (or transferring them from your phone to a vow book), maybe you want to soak in a hot tub after you spend the day hiking! You really can do whatever you want.

Here’s a list of a few activities to help give you some ideas;

  • Give each other gifts to exchange on your elopement day
  • Have a picnic in the canyon
  • Have a cake after your ceremony!
  • Napping in a hammock
  • Soaking in a hot tub
  • Ask your friends and family members to write letters for you to open on your elopement day
  • Go horseback riding through Palo Duro Canyon
  • Go ziplining!
  • Take an ATV tour through the canyon

What should you pack?

Knowing what to pack for an elopement can be tricky! You have to consider your outdoor adventure items in addition to all of your wedding items. I send all of my couples customized packing lists leading up to their elopement but here is a general list of what you should bring to a Palo Duro Canyon Elopement;

  • Marriage license
  • Permits and reservations
  • Vows & rings
  • The ten hiking essentials
  • Wedding attire & details
  • Good footwear with tread
  • Warm layers (both outer and base layers that you’re stoked to be photographed in)
  • Sun & bug protection: sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray
  • Handwarmers & stick-on bodywarmers
  • Rain & wind protection: windbreaker/raincoat, umbrella
  • Backpacks
  • Headlamps/lanterns
  • Water and food
  • Picnic blanket
  • Bluetooth speaker & downloaded music

Crafting Your Timeline

Once you have all of your locations, vendors and activities nailed down you will need to craft an elopemend timeline. My biggest piece of advice when it comes to building a timeline is to give yourselves time to be spontaneous and flexible! You are eloping to avoid the stress that comes along with a wedding day that is jam-packed with events from start to finish, don’t make the same mistake when building your elopement timeline.

I usually help couples finalize their timeline about three months before their elopement. By this time they have a lot of the details narrowed down so it’s just a matter of crafting a timeline so it all runs smoothly. I will send out a second in-depth questionnaire to gather details and timing from them then we hop on a call to craft the timeline together. It’s super easy and a really fun part of the planning process!

Here are a few quick tips for creating your Palo Duro Canyon elopement timeline;

  • For more privacy choose to elope on a weekday at sunrise.
  • Travel time between locations can eat up a lot of time so be mindful of travel and incorporate it into your timeline.
  • Depending on the time of year, Palo Duro may have a line to enter the park, so plan to arrive early.
  • Give yourself an hour and a half for hair and makeup.
  • Being flexible and having backup options can save you from bad weather, unexpected trail closures, or change in accessibility.
  • The best time for photos is around sunrise or sunset.

For a more in-depth guide and some timeline examples, you can check out my “Elopement Timeline Tips and Examples” blog.

Marriage Requirements and Legalities

Marriage requirements vary from county to county so I highly recommend doing your own research to confirm you have the right information. Texas requires an ordained officiant to be present during your ceremony and sign your marriage license. Texas does not require witnesses to sign your marriage license but you must obtain your license at least 72 hours before your ceremony can take place. For more information on marriage requirements, you can visit this website. I am ordained and have had the honor of officially marrying many eloping couples in the state of Texas!

Have the best elopement day ever!

Now that you know how to get married in Palo Duro Canyon all of your planning can come together to create the best elopement day for the two of you! Relax, breathe and soak up every moment together. Give yourself permission to be spontaneous and enjoy the adventure! And if you have any questions, I would love to come alongside you to bring your elopement to life!



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