| April 26, 2019

Leave No Trace Principles for Eloping Couples

Table of Contents

The Guide Every Eloping Couple Needs to Leave No Trace

If you’re considering eloping for your wedding day, there are probably a lot of unique, important reasons you’re doing so.  

Whether it’s because you want to free yourself of the obligations and pressures that sometimes go hand-in-hand with a big wedding, you don’t want to deal with family drama, or you’d honest-to-god just prefer to have an intimate, just us day when you say your vows and choose forever.

A lot of couples choose to elope because it gives them the chance to embark on a hugely amazing adventure together in a place that’s special to both of them — the great outdoors.

Bride and groom walk hand in hand in the San Juan Mountains on their wedding day.
Bride and groom explore in the mountains on their wedding day.

As adventure elopement photographers, it’s probably no surprise that the only thing we love more than, well, love, is the beautiful earth we’re lucky enough to explore.

So much of our passion — helping couples create their dream elopements — is built on loving, appreciating, and caring for the world we live in — but, we can always do more to help. No one is perfect, us included!

Which is we’re all about doing everything we can do to protect it — including doing everything we can to educate the couples we’re so fortunate to meet and work with.  

Which brings us to the most exciting part of this post — our LNT Guide for Eloping Couples.

If you’re not familiar with LNT (or Leave No Trace) yet, that’s okay — that’s exactly why we wanted to write this post and become a resource for couples looking to elope. Because no matter how well we think we’re doing to protect the planet, we can always do better and we can always learn more!  

The Leave No Trace principles are a list of 7 outdoor ethics that everyone should live and abide by — they’re here to help us protect the outdoors, minimize our impact, and constantly better the way we live on this earth. They’re established, but they’re static — leaving room for us to always grow and learn better ways to care for our planet.

The cool thing about eloping in a LNT sense? Just by its nature, it’s already a lot less wasteful than a big, traditional wedding (way less disposable waste and stuff!)

But honestly, just cutting back on waste isn’t enough.

We can always do more. And as an eloping couple who’s hoping to adventure through a beautiful little spot on our planet, you (like all of us) owe it to the earth to treat it right!

That’s why we crafted this little guide to help you better understand what, why, and how you can follow along with the 7 Leave No Trace Principles during your elopement (and beyond!)

LNT Principle #1: Plan Ahead and Prepare

When it comes to having an LNT elopement, preparation is huge! Why? Because the better prepared you are, the least amount of impact you’re going to have on the space around you—and that’s the ultimate goal, after all.

Before your elopement day, we’ll help you put in the research needed to make sure we’re prepared — calling local rangers, checking online resources for trail data, seeking out knowledgeable and LNT vendors, and more.

Even the most spontaneous of elopements require LNT preparedness, and you know what, it’s not only going to benefit the planet, it’s totally going to benefit your experience.

When you take the time to prepare for your elopement, consider things like:

  • Are there any closures that could affect our elopement plans? (think restoration, construction, etc.)
  • Do I need a permit to elope here? (the answer is most likely yes but do your research—you always want to make sure you have a permit!)
  • Is there a high season or a busy time in this area?
  • I want to bring my pup to my wedding—is this spot doggo friendly?
  • Am I good to go on gear? (will not having a particular piece of gear force me to further my impact on the outdoors?)
  • Is there a cell-phone reception here?
  • Do I have trail maps downloaded?
  • What about fire bans?
  • Am I totally equipped to pack everything out?

Taking the time to really prepare and ask yourself these important questions can guarantee that you’re totally ready for your elopement day — and totally ready to minimize your impact at the same time.

LNT Principle #2: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

One of the best parts about eloping is that it allows you to have any type of wedding experience you want! If you want to ditch the crowds and go somewhere totally remote, you can — even if it involves camping, backpacking, or hiking to your location.

If you plan on doing any of this for your elopement, that’s perfect. You’ll definitely want to make sure you’re sticking only the marked trails, traveling and camping on durable surfaces (think dirt, dry grass, or rock), and that you’re always being mindful about the impact you’re having on natural surfaces.

Here are a few extra considerations for this principle:

  • If you’re in a spot where you’re permitted to walk off-trail, do so carefully and in a single file line—that way, you’re really minimizing your impact!
  • Resist the “take a shortcut” mentality—sure, maybe the trail ahead looks a little daunting, and going off-trail might save you some trouble, but resist and stay on the marked trail.
  • If a trail is closed for restoration, respect the closure! It might make you change your route a little bit, but hey, they don’t call it an adventure elopement for nothing. Your photographer can totally help you work with the barriers and get that epic shot you’re craving—all without disrupting the natural areas (we promise!).
  • Understand the surfaces you’re dealing with. If you’re adventuring in a high alpine area for your elopement, be extra delicate—try to rock hop and stay on durable surfaces as much as possible to minimize your impact on the alpine tundra. The same goes for cryptobiotic soil—a living organism that’s commonly found in the high desert.
Bride and groom walk hand in hand in a forest in California on their wedding day.
Bride and groom kiss in the desert on their wedding day.

LNT Principle #3: Dispose of Waste Properly

When we say dispose of waste properly, we mean all waste. That’s right, lovebirds, we’re about to get a little less romantic here and talk about the icky stuff — trash and waste (poop included).

Stay away from things like confetti — even if it’s “biodegradable.” Make sure that you’re packing out every single thing you’re packing in — from food scraps to flower petals to that champagne cork you popped off to celebrate your I Do’s.

Want something that’s like confetti that’s way less harmful to help you celebrate? Think bubbles, sparklers, ribbon sticks, snowballs, or even a high-five tunnel if you have guests!

Need a bathroom break while you’re eloping? Hey, we’re all human — it’s only natural! Just make sure that you’re taking your bathroom break the right way! Proper disposal of our own waste is really important for keeping our water sources clean — in most cases, you’re probably in the clear to dig a cat hole (a hole in the ground you can do your business in!) and bury your waste, but you absolutely need to do your research beforehand. Sometimes, picking up your waste and bringing back to civilization with you for proper disposal is the only correct way to do it! No matter what, make sure you pack out your TP and do your due diligence on the doody!

The general rule: if you bring it with you, take it with you when you leave — don’t leave anything behind. Make sure you’re doing an intensive sweep of the area before you go so you can pick up anything that might have slipped away.

Extra karma points awarded to every couple who picks up trash that isn’t theirs!

LNT Principle #4: Leave What You Find

Think about the beautiful landscape you’re going to see in front of you on your elopement day. Close your eyes and try to imagine the grand, powerful view.

Now, zoom in a little. Think about every pebble. Think about the plants. The trees. The leaves. The sand.

Every single small piece you’re picturing right now is what makes up that huge, gorgeous landscape in the first place. Taking something away from that — no matter how small — changes it. It impacts it. It alters the environment and the balance.

If you love something, don’t nab it — tell your photographer. They can take a beautiful picture of it for you so you can hold onto that memory forever without snagging a vital part of nature.

LNT Principle #5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

There are few things better than ending an amazing elopement experience all cuddled up by a campfire. But, before you whip out the matches and start gathering kindling, you need to make sure there’s not a fire ban in place. Typically, this is issued by the county and can be found really easily with a quick google search.

If there is a ban in affect, that’s no problem — there are so many other great nighttime photo-ops, like a starry night photo or a night hiking by headlamp photo.

If you’ve done the research and know there’s no fire ban in effect and you totally want a campfire to cap off your day, do it! Just make sure that you’re only building your fire in a designated area or an established fire ring. Be super aware of the winds and the size of your fire — a sudden gust of wind could blow embers into flammable areas and start devastating fires.

When you’re ready to leave, don’t wrap up the night without fully putting the fire out and dispersing the cooled ashes!

LNT Principle #6: Respect Wildlife

Witnessing wildlife on your wedding day is such a beautiful, unique experience — as elopement photographers, we’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of diverse creatures when we tag along for elopements.

But disrespecting wildlife is a total no-go — and not just because it could be dangerous for you (though, it definitely could be). Respecting wildlife has a lot to do with keeping them safe — the last thing you want to do is approach them, feed them, or try to get close to them.

And this isn’t just for the big, bad animals — we’re talking about the tiny, cute ones, too! Sneaky marmots and adorable chipmunks are sweet-looking, sure, but they’re tricky and they want your snacks. Avoid this at all costs! Giving food to wildlife can be harmful to them, can eliminate their healthy fear of people, and can put you in danger, too.

Always make sure that you’re storing your food properly and make sure you know what that means for the specified area you’ll be in.

PS. If you’re planning on being in bear country, know the bear spray policy before you go! Some places require you to have it and some locations ban it!

Bride and groom walk hand in hand on their wedding day. There are wildlife animals ahead on their path.
Bride and groom embrace in the mountains on their wedding day.

LNT Principle #7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The day you’re choosing to elope is a uniquely intimate and meaningful day — odds are, you’re probably looking for a little privacy. Just by the nature of that desire, you’ll probably consider hiking or adventuring during a less busy time of the day and week, which in a way, is a built-in LNT principle.

Hiking during off-peak days or hours is a great start to following this principle, but natural, public spaces are open to everyone. It’s important to be respectful of other people and be mindful of the space you’re taking up. For example, a lot of couples like to play music on their elopement day, but it’s vital to mindfully consider the experience of others around you, too!

It’s helpful to be familiar with hiking etiquette, too! Like:

  • Uphill hikers have the right-of-way — it makes sense, right? They’re doing the tougher part. Sure, some of the uphill hikers are probably so ready to take a break — but let them make that choice!
  • If the choice is between one person stepping off the trail versus an entire group, always go with the one person (a lot less impact).
  • Act like you’re driving — stay right and use the left lane for speeding up to pass.
  • Give your fellow hikers a heads up to let them know when you’re behind them, passing, or nearby!
  • With a group? Hike in a single file!
  • Be friendly and enjoy the outdoors together!

BONUS PRINCIPLE: LNT & Social Media — Keep Your Location “Your Little Secret”

Think about how truly amazing it is that you and the love of your life can elope standing in a spot no one else has ever stood to get married?

We get chills every time we think about it.

Unfortunately, because of the geo-tagging, Instagram age, a lot of those hidden gems are becoming overrun, overcrowded, and damaged beyond repair (a-la-Horseshoe Bend). Not only are we totally destroying the concept of a hidden gem that can be uniquely special for each couple, we’re also damaging the outdoors in the process.

The best way to combat this?

Be conscious of what you’re posting online. Instead geo-tagging your exact location, be vague — consider tagging a local bar, a state, or even just “planet earth.”

Keeping your elopement location(s) a secret can help protect natural treasures and make it all the more likely that you’ll have it all to yourself when you visit again (maybe for an anniversary?).

Bride and groom embrace in the Colorado mountains on their wedding day.

Whether you’re standing on the top of a mountain shouting your vows to the love of your life during your elopement ceremony or just going for a leisurely hike through your neighborhood, practicing LNT principles is absolutely vital.

Remember, we are nowhere near perfect—we all have so much to learn about how we can protect our planet. We’re always striving to do better and want to be an encouraging resource for couples who want to LNT, too!

Have questions about LNT stuff for your elopement plans? Good — ask us! We’re here to be your guides to help you have the elopement of your dreams, which means we’re also here to help you do it in the way that best protects the earth while we celebrate your love!

 Hey there! We’re Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori. We’re professional adventure elopement photographers (and guides and officiants, too!) who call Colorado and Washington home. We’d love to help you plan your adventurous elopement. No matter what you want your day to look like, we can help capture your unique, intentional experience in a creative, unforgettable way. We can’t wait to help you start planning your special just us day. You deserve the beautiful elopement experience you’ve always wanted––don’t let anyone tell you any differently.

Get in touch with us and let us guide you.  

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Maddie Mae

Elopement Photographer

& Planning Consultant

Three photographers

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Adventure Instead

Your Elopement Photographers & Planning Consultants. We are Maddie Mae, Amber, and Tori. We're your photographers, your elopement consultants, your cheerleaders, and your go-to adventure buddy on the day you say your vows.

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