A couple standing together in front of Crater Lake after their vow exchange.

How to Elope at Crater Lake National Park— Tips From a Local

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Tips from a local elopement photographer for how make planning your Crater Lake elopement as smooth as possible.

A couple standing together in front of Crater Lake after their vow exchange.
Eloping at Crater Lake is a pretty simple process.

Imagine standing hand in hand with your partner, surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of Crater Lake National Park. With its deep blue waters and striking cliffs, it offers an elopement experience like no other. This guide is crafted to help you navigate the essentials of planning your intimate ceremony at this magnificent location, ensuring your special day is as magical and memorable as the setting itself.

Understanding Crater Lake

Nestled in the heart of Oregon, Crater Lake is more than just a stunning natural wonder. This may sound corny, but I like to think of it as a reminder that beauty can come from uncertainty… This amazing landscape was forged by unimaginable violence. 

Formed over 7,000 years ago by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama, the lake is renowned for its calm waters & deep blue color. Mount Mazama was about 12,000 feet tall… now the highest point in the park is just under 9,000. 

All that mountain just EXPLODED away— it hurts my brain to think of the sheer volume of rock, ash, and dust that is no longer there. Not to mention the 1,943 feet of depth in the lake! It’s INSANE.

And all that crazy action would have been witnessed by indigenous people throughout the region. Now its diverse, majestic landscapes… canyons, valleys, waterfalls, rock formations, old growth conifers… are protected and managed by the federal government. 

And because I’m a total nerd for natural history and interesting ecology…

I have to mention the aquatic moss… Most of the biomass (total mass of living shit) in Crater Lake is probably this moss— not fish or invertebrates or anything like that… moss. It’s found at a depth of about 100-450 feet, which is a testament to how clear the water is. 

Because the moss needs sunlight to photosynthesize, the water has to be incredibly clear in order for enough light to penetrate to that depth… 

I’ve spent a good amount of time scuba diving, mostly in the Monterey Bay in California, and any day that had 30 feet of visibility was an AMAZING day of diving. I can’t even fathom waters as clear as Crater Lake’s… 

Anyway… here’s some stuff you probably ACTUALLY want to know.

Legal Requirements and Permits for eloping at Crater Lake

Crater Lake is a National Park. This usually means there’s a few more hoops to jump through for special events. 

Crater Lake National Park requires that you get a permit for your elopement. It’s not a tough process, but below is some intel you might need.

  • Permit Application: You’ll have to apply for a special permit for your wedding or elopement in Crater Lake National Park. The total cost is around $100— $50 for the application fee and $50 for the permit itself.
  • Application Process: When applying for the permit, you’ll need to specify your preferred locations and dates. It’s crucial to apply at least 8 weeks in advance due to the processing time. The gears of federal bureaucracy can grind quite slowly, so a bit of forethought is almost mandatory.
  • Pro Tip: As previously stated, the permit process at Crater Lake can be VERY slow. After submitting your signed application, you may not hear back immediately. To avoid any hiccups, plan to file for your permit as early as possible.

Click here for a permit application.

Entrance Fees:

Yes, there’s an entrance fee to get into the National Park. It’s about $20 in winter and $30 in summer. That price includes a noncommercial vehicle and all its passengers (so long as it’s under 15 people).

Of course, if you have a Federal Lands Pass, you can enter without a fee.

Park Restrictions

Be mindful of the park’s regulations—  

  • Amplified music isn’t allowed, but acoustic music is welcome if it doesn’t disturb other visitors. 
  • Environmentally disruptive practices like tossing flowers, seeds or rice, and releasing balloons or doves are prohibited to preserve the local ecosystem.

In the following sections, we’ll delve into the best times to elope, how to choose your perfect spot within the park, and other essential tips to make your Crater Lake elopement a seamless, enchanting experience. Stay tuned for more insightful advice on creating your dream elopement in this natural wonderland!

Legal Requirements for Eloping in Oregon

You’ll need to make sure that you get all the proper legal stuff done to make your marriage legal as well.

Oregon is not a terribly complicated state to get married in. Here’s the basics:

  • You’ll need to apply for a marriage license, which you can do online.
  • You both have to show up at a County Clerk’s Office to obtain the license.
  • You’ll have a 3 day waiting period after receiving the license, then 60 days to perform the ceremony.
  • An ordained officiant and 2 other witnesses are required for the ceremony.

Here’s a full blog post about the marriage laws in Oregon if you need or want more information.

Best Times to Elope at Crater Lake


This is the most popular time for visiting Crater Lake. The warm weather provides a comfortable atmosphere, and all park facilities are usually open. However, this is also when the park sees the most visitors, so expect some crowds. Rangers advise arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid long lines and crowds.

Early Fall

The weather remains pleasant, and you can enjoy the beautiful fall colors. This is also a less crowded time, making it ideal for a more intimate experience​​.


For a unique and serene setting, consider a winter elopement. The park is substantially less crowded, and the snowy landscapes offer a stunning backdrop. 

Keep in mind, though, that many facilities are closed, and you’ll need to be prepared for cold weather and limited access in certain areas​​— CRATER LAKE IS A SNOW ZONE. 

There is only one road open, and most of Rim Drive is closed. You can, however, park at the Village and snowshoe or Cross Country Ski through the landscape. I do highly recommend this, if not for your elopement, then as an item for your bucket list.

Here’s a link to check for closures in the park.


Much of the park remains closed during the Spring, but a beautiful elopement can still be had. It is a bit of a gamble, though— in the springtime, you could easily have a glorious sun-filled day or a late season snow. 

If you’re blessed with a good day, there is potential for an epic snowshoe elopement in beautiful, temperate Spring weather! It’s likely that there will still be snow, especially in early spring, and you may even have some solitude. Especially if you  choose a sunrise elopement (which is honestly the best time in the Spring since only the West rim is open… see the Sunrise vs. Sunset section below). 

Choosing Your Elopement Spot

Awesome Locations within the Park:

  • Discovery Point: Offers panoramic views of the lake with a relatively easy hike, suitable for couples looking for scenic beauty without a strenuous journey​​.
  • Watchman Peak Overlook: This trail leads to an incredible view of Crater Lake, with an ADA accessible walled scenic overlook. It’s about 1.7 miles round trip, up a big ass hill ….  so not for the faint of heart. It’s the PERFECT place for a sunrise elopement.
  • Garfield Peak Trail: A more challenging trail that rewards you with breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding mountains​​. 
  • Mount Scott: This is about a 4.3 mile round trip hike to the top of a gorgeous mountain. The peak is set farther back from the lake than others surrounding the caldera, but you get a more complete panorama of the volcanic landscape. 
  • Wizard Island: You’ll need to take a boat tour to get here, but how fun would that be?!
  • Cleetwood Cove Trail: The only trail that offers direct lake access—  if a dip in the lake is part of your agenda, this is the trail for you! Just be aware that the water is VERY CHILLY because it’s basically all snow melt.
  • Plaikni Falls: Beyond the caldera, Crater Lake has some other wildly beautiful landscapes, including canyons and waterfalls. If you’re a waterfall chaser, there are lovely options for you here.

Click Here for my Google Map of possible elopement locations in Crater Lake.


The eternal conundrum for an elopement… here’s the deal—

Sunset is almost always busier than sunrise, no matter your destination. And that is true for Crater Lake as well. 

Both times are beautiful, and both have the potential for amazing lighting. Because Crater Lake is completely encircled by a roadway (at least in summer), you can have backlighting at either golden hour (which is the best type of lighting for outdoor photos). 

I typically prefer sunrise at Crater Lake. (The first time I ever visited was when I was hiking the PCT, and I woke up super early to hike in and catch the sun rising over the lake… it was probably my favorite day on the trail, to be honest.) It’s less hectic. Not only is there more solitude, but the West Rim drive is more accessible, and offers more facilities. So you have access to all these things, with the benefit of less people.  

All this to say … you needn’t sacrifice perfect lighting for a specific timing. Choose your favorite time of day, then select a location based on that. 

This photo is taken at sunset on the West Rim. As you can see, to have subject backlit, the lake will be out of the frame and out of view entirely.

Important Considerations:

  • Safety: Be cautious around the caldera and steep cliff drop-offs. Always follow park rules and guidelines for your safety​​.
  • Swimming: There’s only one legal spot for swimming in Crater Lake, accessed via the Cleetwood Cove Trail. The water is cold, as it’s largely made up of melting glaciers​​.
  • Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles: These principles are crucial for preserving the natural beauty of the park. Make every effort to minimize your impact on the environment during your visit​​.

Logistics and Lodging

Getting to Crater Lake:

It’s true that Crater Lake National Park is a perfect elopement destination, but getting there can be a little long on the logistics.


Portland, OR is likely going to be the easiest airport to fly into. It is a large international airport, with the usual array of amenities and resources. You could rent a car and make the roughly 4 hour drive from Portland. It’s a long drive, but it is a beautiful one. 

Redmond, OR also has an airport. It’s about 2.5 hours away, and near the popular vacation town of Bend. So you can visit some other great spots in Central Oregon during your trip.

Another option is Mahlon Sweet Field airport in Eugene, about a 3.5-hour drive​​. The actual nearest airport is Rogue Valley Medford Airport, about 1.5 hours away. I’ve never flown from either of these, so I don’t have much intel— but I’m sure they’re pretty standard, smaller airports!

Lodging Options:

Inside the Park: Options include Crater Lake Lodge, campgrounds, and permitted backcountry camping. Note that these are closed in the winter​​.

Nearby Accommodations: Crater Lake National Park is a couple of hours from a few small cities as well. AirBnb and VRBO are positively exploding with vacation rental options​​ in these areas. Hotels are always an option (obviously…). Bend, OR has many luxury or all-inclusive resorts and hotels. 

  • .Cities and towns to consider staying in: Bend, La Pine, Medford, Chemult, Roseburg, and Ashland.

A case for Bend, OR—

I am based in Bend, OR, so I’m very familiar with the options in Central Oregon. Bend is a great place to stay for your Crater Lake elopement. It’s only a couple hours away, and there’s so much to do in the city. 

If you book an 8 or 12 hour package, which are packages that I allow to be split up into separate chunks, you could have a sunrise vow exchange at Crater Lake, head back to the AirBnb for a nap, then do another fun activity in or near town to celebrate… 

Might I suggest floating the river? Or paddleboarding at one of the alpine lakes? Or renting a pontoon boat at Lake Billy Chinook? Or micro brew/cider pub hopping!

If you want more ideas about eloping in Bend, here’s a post with ideas and essential info about that.

How to Elope in Bend, OR

One of my couples had a pre-elopement visit to the Deschutes River in Bend with their dogs at sunrise. They played fetch and then dunked themselves in the river as a celebration. This is a perfect example of how to make your elopement reflect your relationship 🙂

Preparing for Your Elopement:

  • Dress in Layers: The higher elevation at Crater Lake means temperatures can vary greatly, so be prepared with appropriate clothing​​.
  • Stay Hydrated: Due to the elevation, your body loses water more quickly, so ensure you stay well-hydrated​​.
  • Wear SPF: Higher elevations also mean less protection from the sun, so make sure to apply sunscreen and reapply throughout the day. 

Your elopement timeline could also be made to work around the hottest, sunniest parts of the day. 

A sunrise or sunset session could achieve this— and it has the added benefit of making your elopement photographer very happy, because we LOVE golden hours.

Eloping at Crater Lake offers a unique, breathtaking experience, but requires careful planning and consideration of the time of year and park regulations. Whether you choose the vibrant summer months or the tranquil winter season, Crater Lake provides an unforgettable backdrop for your special day.

This moody, cold day did not deter these two. They had even more privacy (and better stories) because of it!

Additional Tips and Considerations for Your Crater Lake Elopement

Capturing Natural Moments:

  1. Your elopement day should be about creating memories. It should be a celebration, full of activities and moments that truly represent who you are as a couple. 

Consider hiring a photographer who helps you curate the ultimate elopement EXPERIENCE on top of capturing stunning photos.

  1. The lighting changes drastically as the earth turns, particularly on cloudless days. Hiring a photographer familiar with the park can help when planning the best opportunities (and timing!) for epic moments.

For the best light, plan your photography around sunrise or sunset, and consider the position of the sun relative to key landmarks like Wizard Island.

  1. Encouraging Self-Expression and Individuality:

Personalization: Infuse your personality into your elopement. Whether it’s unique attire choices, a personal ritual, or incorporating a favorite hobby, make the day reflect who you are as a couple.

Vows and Ceremony: Tailor your vows to reflect your journey. Consider a spot that feels intimate and meaningful for the ceremony, away from the more touristy areas. Remember, you don’t need to share your vows with anyone but your partner if that’s what feels right….so speak from the heart. We photographers love to catch the emotions that accompany tears. 

Environmental Responsibility and Sustainability:

Leave No Trace: Follow the LNT principles to minimize your impact on the environment. This includes packing out all trash and avoiding activities like releasing balloons or throwing rice— they’re prohibited anyway.

Eco-Friendly Choices: Opt for sustainable options in your elopement planning, such as choosing local vendors, using digital invitations, and selecting eco-conscious attire.

Adventure and Exploration:

Activities: Crater Lake offers numerous activities, such as hiking trails, boat tours, and snowshoeing in the winter. Incorporate these into your elopement for an adventurous experience.

Exploring Beyond the Lake: Consider visiting other attractions in the area, such as nearby waterfalls or small town events (such as the Shakespeare a festival in Ashland) to add variety to your elopement adventure.

Inclusivity and Diversity:

Welcoming All Couples: Crater Lake is a magnificent backdrop for any couple. All are welcome at Tule Walks. As an LGBTQ+ elopement photographer, it’s important to me that everyone feels welcome.

Accessibility: For those with mobility concerns, there are accessible overlooks and trails. If you or a guest has mobility considerations, then Crater Lake could be the perfect place for you.

Meaningful Connections and Celebrations:

Intimate Experience: Keep your guest list small to maintain the intimacy of the elopement. This aligns with the park’s capacity and ensures a more personal and meaningful experience.

Celebrating Your Way: After the ceremony, celebrate in a way that’s meaningful to you, whether it’s a quiet picnic, a fancy dinner (or brunch), or stargazing by the lake.

Summary & FAQs about Eloping at Crater Lake National Park

What is the best time of year to elope at Crater Lake?

Late Spring to Early Fall are the best windows in terms of accessibility. Roads and facilities are open, and the lodge is open as well. Summer is the most crowded time, but there are ALWAYS ways around the crowds— whether it’s a more remote spot or a sunrise hike.

Winter is a gorgeous time to go, but you need to be prepared to snowshoe or cross country ski out from Rim Village/Lodge area. 

What is the best time of day for a Crater Lake elopement?

It’s all about the golden hours for a Crater Lake Elopement….  sunrise or sunset.  Both create lovely photographic memories, but sunrise is probably better for lighting.

You can watch the sunrise from the West Rim, which is where most of the facilities and viewpoints are. Plus, Wizard Island is backlit at this time of day.

Sunrise is also a more peaceful time in the park. Crater Lake National Park is immensely popular, and the parking lots can fill up quickly, especially in the main part of the park (Rim Village). As you move farther away from the village though, the crowds thin. 

Sunset is a stunning time of day as well. You can watch the sunset over the lake from the East Rim. It’s likely to be less populated on the East Rim as well. 

How much does it cost to elope at Crater Lake?

Crater Lake National Park as an elopement venue is a great value. There’s a $50 permit application fee, and the permit itself is $50. Plus an entrance fee of about $30— unless you have a park pass, then it’s free (basically… girl math).

So you’re looking at a grand total of about $130 for a venue.

If camping is part of your elopement itinerary, it’s still very affordable.   Campsites at Mazama Campground can be booked in advance, and there are some first-come-first-served spots available well. For a tent, it’s $21. 

Here’s the link to book a campsite.

Do we need a permit to elope at Crater Lake?

Yes! Here’s the link to apply for a permit. It’s $50 to apply, and $50 for the actual permit,  once it’s approved.

Can we have guests at our Crater Lake elopement?

Yup! Guests are allowed at your Crater Lake elopement, but I encourage you to keep the list small. It helps with pretty much everything— travel, communication, finding the perfect setting — when you don’t have to contend with a list of 20+  people. 

How accessible is it?

Accessibility in the park ranges from wheelchair friendly to scaling steep scree slopes. 

If you have a guest with mobility considerations, there are plenty of beautiful spots along the East and West rim, mere yards from the parking lot, with amazing views of the lake and Wizard Island. 

Can I bring my dog?

Yes 🙂 Your dog can attend your elopement at Crater Lake as long as they are on leash and under control, and stay in designated dog-friendly areas:

These are the specific parts of the park where they are allowed—

  1. Mazama & Lost Creek Campgrounds
  2. All picnic areas
  3. Parking areas and paved trails & walkways
  4. On the following designated trails:
    1. The official route of the PCT (not the alternate route that goes along the rim)
    2. Lady of the Woods (so long as the snow isn’t too deep)
    3. Godfrey Glen (same deal with the snow)
    4. Annie Spur (connecting the PCT to Mazama Village)
    5. Grayback Drive (which can be accessed when East Rim Drive is open)

Eloping at Crater Lake National Park offers a unique opportunity to celebrate your love in a breathtaking natural setting. It is seriously one of the most unique landscapes in America.

Incorporating these tips and considerations can ensure your elopement is not only a reflection of your values and personalities, but also an epic adventure. 

Remember to plan with care, embrace the natural beauty, and let your love story shine in this magnificent landscape.

How to Elope at Crater Lake National Park— Tips From a Local

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