Okay, okay, I hear you. You have a metric tonne of family that you need to invite to your wedding so that you don't hurt anyone's feelings. I totally relate - I'm the fifteenth of forty-two cousins (we're French Canadian, we come by this honestly), and everyone has opinions and thoughts on what you need to do to make your wedding day perfect.
It is SO overwhelming to hear all the opinions and the thoughts and unwanted advice. I bet you've taken a moment and looked at your fiancé and said "what if we just ran away and eloped?"
I am here to say DO IT. Your wedding day should be about you and your love story, and the start of a beautiful journey together. Over the course of my career, I've been fortunate enough to pick up some dos and don'ts from my clients who have chosen to elope in the Rockies.
Do #1: Be flexible with your plans
So you've decided that you're going to do it. You have all your vendors booked, you found the perfect spot in Jasper for your ceremony, and you're all ready to go. But, once you get to your spot, you find out that the Parks Canada agent that you spoke to on the phone in the spring forgot to tell you that the spot you've chosen does in fact need to be booked, and you can't just show up and use it.
This situation happened to a client of mine. They had everything prepared, and when the groom went down to set up the ceremony site, he found that it had been booked up for the entirety of the weekend. Shit. Cooler heads prevailed, and we all drove down to Patricia Beach instead, where they were married. We did, however, take their portraits down on Pyramid Lake, where they had planned on being married.
Don't #1: Don't trust The Weather Network
I know, as an Albertan, we can never really trust the weather guys. I've seen days where the forecast was supposed to be 100% rain all day, and it turned into the most beautiful, sunny June day. Just this week, we had a forecast of 80% chance of snow... and it still didn't snow.
If you're looking to go to Moraine Lake, then keep an eye on road closures. The road up is only open from mid-May to mid-October, because of avalanche risk. I would absolutely love to be able to see Moraine from the top of the rock pile, with fresh snow and gleaming ice across the lake... a girl can dream. Moraine is also a huuuuuge tourist draw and is the most photographed lake in all of Canada. Now with the new restrictions being placed on the access roads, you'll also need to plan ahead and book a taxi or find a commercial vehicle heading up to the lake. Make the most of your time, and plan for a Sunday evening or mid-week event for smaller crowds.
Do #2: Explore a little
I had never been to Waterton before 2020, and being able to check out new places with good friends was such a treat. When we went back in 2022, I was the only one on the team who had a vague understanding of where things were. Kirsten and Sam had never been, so we took a loop around the townsite, along the waterfront, and then popped out near Cameron Falls before heading back to our motel to sleep.
The next morning, we checked out and met our couple up by the Prince of Wales Hotel, and we all wandered around the grounds for about an hour before heading to Red Rock Canyon. We clamoured across rocks and into trees (I usually end up partially in a tree at some point during a session) and we spent a lot of time laughing, getting the best shots, and just enjoying the early summer sunshine. And yes, I did get a sunburn despite wearing SPF 60... that I forgot to reapply... My point being that had we not explored the townsite a little the day before, we wouldn't have found the cute little nooks and secluded areas that we did.
Don't #2: Don't ignore the signs
Please don't ignore safety message signs. Like "Don't feed the wildlife" and "Don't cross this fence" or "Don't let the moose lick your car".
Yes, the moose one sounds bizarre. But they're craving salt that you've picked up from the roads, and can actually lead to damage to your car if you're not careful. Also, please don't feed the bears. Or approach the bears. Or touch the bears. I've seen all of these happen. You're asking for trouble. I know that they're friend-shaped, and I know that they look soft and cuddly and squishy, but they (probably) don't want to be pet. Although, if I'm presented the opportunity to pet a raccoon, I will be there trying to pet a racoon. (At least it isn't a bear). Chances are that the signs are there because someone is looking out for the general wellbeing of the public.
Do #3: Prepare for the any situation
I know, I know, I just told you to not trust the weatherman. But you can reasonably expect certain weather patterns in certain seasons. If you're hiking, then you should expect to wear close toed shoes and carry water in your bag. If it's December, then multiple layers of loose, warm clothing is something to expect. It's all fine and dandy to take off your jackets to get the shot, but you should be carrying a jacket with you so that you don't end up hypothermic.
The one thing I do trust The Weather Network for is their UV Index. I burn like a ginger in the slightest of sunshine (even in the winter), so knowing how strong the sun will be during the day is crucial. I should also add that reapplying sunscreen is just as important as actually putting it on in the first place. Take care of yourself so that you can enjoy every moment of your big day.
Don't #3: Don't feel guilty
When you decide to elope, you might be blowing off traditions that your families expect from you. You might hear a lot of flak from your relatives, but at the end of the day, they aren't the ones getting married - you are. So follow your heart, do what feels right to you, and celebrate your union with crème brulées or mint chocolate ice cream cones or your favourite beer at the top of a mountain.
Don't let other people's expectations of what your day should be dictate what you do. Literally all you need is your fiancé, someone to officiate, and your wedding license. Oh, and probably permission from someone if you're planning on eloping on private property. Maybe a couple of witnesses, but they can be literally anyone over the age of eighteen.
Do #4: Pace yourself & know your limits
It can be tempting to try and get photos everywhere that you want, and have a list of places as long as I am tall. But for a full day elopement, we can maybe get to two or three locations, and really spend some time there getting the best possible shots. The point of a full day elopement is to relax, take our time working together, and creating some magical photos that you'll treasure.
I wanted so badly to photograph at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Red Rock Canyon, and then to hike partially up to Lower Bertha Falls before going back to Waterton Townsite and getting more portraits on the lake, at the ice cream shop... I had to stop myself. I had done the Lower Bertha Falls hike in 2020, and it took us almost all day, and I didn't have all my camera gear with me then! So we axed a few locations, and worked with what we all felt comfortable doing in that moment. Honestly, I know that the client was happy that she didn't have to hike in her heels, and the rest of the team took a sigh of relief that we wouldn't be dying on a hike into the woods without bear spray.
Don't #4: Don't break the wheat
This will make sense, I promise!
While on location in a wheat field outside of Edmonton, I told my client that we could walk into the field as long as we didn't break the wheat. The farmers who rely on the crop would be pissed if they came into the field and saw a bunch of damage. So don't break the wheat.
And then I immediately rolled my ankle, fell, and broke the wheat.
Basically, respect your surroundings. Don't trash it so that the next person can't enjoy it. Make sure that the ground you're stepping on can support you before you actually go to step, and if there are barrier markers, then don't cross them. This will keep our environment healthy so that everyone can enjoy it!
All in all, the only rules of eloping are that you enjoy your day, you have fun, and your event aligns with your wants and desires. Get married on the shores of Lahaina, Maui, or at the downtown library, or even in your living room in your sweat pants. Do what feels most like you!