What It’s Like to Get Married During a Pandemic

Eloping in Glacier National Park

August 30, 2020

A little personal journal entry about what it was like to get married during the coronavirus-19 pandemic

Prefacing this by emphasizing how lucky we were to be able to do this. 

*Professional photos by the incredible Studio KH*

When the U.S. began going into lockdown in March, my partner, Jas, and I weren’t too worried about it affecting our wedding. Our day was scheduled for July 25, 2020, and it seemed impossible that restrictions on gatherings would last more than a few months. There’s no way it the pandemic would roll into summer, right?

Alas, the days began passing too quickly. I began listening to podcasts about the coronavirus pandemic—when will it be over? I thought, as I eagerly listened to experts’ predictions. Betches Brides posted a weekly IG story poll asking July brides if they were postponing or not, and I anxiously poured over the results. Our wedding was supposed to be in Whitefish, Montana, and I started refreshing Montana’s coronavirus-19 count—one of the lowest in the country—seeing it as a good sign that it might be safe to go there once things started going back to normal.

Getting Married During a Pandemic

In April, my worry increased and I started online shopping for a courthouse wedding dress. I held off on ordering wedding invites and crossed my fingers that I could return the white dress that I had found.

But things didn’t get better. Our friends and family would be coming from all over the country—Raleigh, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, even London—and it didn’t feel safe to travel, especially with three sets of grandparents attending. Uninviting guests felt cruel and unfair.

On Memorial Day weekend, I called my dad and Jas spoke to his parents. The decision to postpone was clear and we broke the news to our family and friends.

engagement photo by studio kh

Engagement photo with one of our dogs

It was hard. In our case, we had gotten engaged in November 2018 so we, and our guests, had been looking forward to this for over a year and a half and had been dating for six years. But hey, 2020 is the year of hard decisions.

Planning our Elopement

To give you a little background as for why we wanted to get married in Montana in the first place, Jas and I are big mountain-lovers. We’ve been plotting to move out west for years to pursue our favorite hobbies—skiing, hiking and being outside in general—and since our network would be coming from all over, it seemed like a viable option to do a destination wedding. It wasn’t about the photos…we absolutely love being out west and wanted to share that experience with everyone.

Since we were getting married in Whitefish, I had been following Montana-based vendors on Instagram for over a year. I knew that many couples had been getting married in Glacier National Park for years and was always wowed by the photos. I didn’t think we could do that, being the eldest child with a big family, but What. A. Dream.

So when I began thinking about a courthouse wedding, my gut said, NO, THANK YOU. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s romantic to get married in a courthouse, but since I had already planned to do an outdoor wedding, in my favorite place, it felt like a huge letdown for me. So I started dreaming about tying the knot in Glacier National Park…

Getting Married in Glacier National Park

Two introverts getting married, by themselves, in the mountains. I mean wasn’t that our real dream wedding anyways?

So we pivoted. I began researching how to get married in Glacier with less than two months to go. I returned my courthouse backup dress and found a used wedding dress off of Still White that had already been hemmed for my height. I’m not one to half-ass things and wanted our wedding to be special AF and wanted a “real” wedding dress (my original dress needed to be altered and the train was not made to be galavanting around a national park).

I had been in contact with my photographer, Kimberly, and broke the news that we were postponing, but let her know our new plans. K, who lives in Minneapolis too, graciously responded by offering to make the drive out there, as she and her boyfriend had just bought a converter van and wanted to road trip out there anyways. She’s my all-time favorite photographer and her generosity made my heart melt. It felt meant to be.

How to Get Married in Glacier National Park

So, like most corona brides, I began planning a second wedding with less than two months to go. Getting married in Glacier is relatively easy, and if you’re interested here’s what you need to know:

1. Contact Glacier National Park to Get a Permit

Follow this link to print and fill out the PDF under the wedding permit section. Put this + $100 into an envelope and mail it to the designated address and wallah, you have requested your wedding venue! Make sure to follow up with the park as they will need to mail you the official permit. I spoke to Justin and he helped me pick a spot to get married (we were married at Ryans Meadow, which is near the west Glacier entrance right on Lake McDonald) and also sent me the official permit. Note that you can take photos anywhere in the park, but your actual ceremony needs a reservation.

2. Find an Officiant & a Photographer (if you want)

Before my photographer offered, I had been considering these three photographers:

But I’m obviously partial to Studio KH and highly recommend enquiring about her services 😉

Studio KH Mountain Elopement

Jas and I had a friend living in Missoula, Montana, so she officiated our wedding. Some of these photographers do offer packages that include an officiant, among other things like cake, videography, etc. so I would enquire about that if you’re looking for one. Fun fact: anyone can marry you in the state of Montana, and you don’t need witnesses.

3. Apply for a Marriage License from the Kalispell Courthouse

kalispell courthouse marriage license

Signing our license on Lake McDonald

Here is the link! You’ll need to pick this up before your wedding, and then return it after you’re married. Make sure to request a few copies if you’re looking to change your name (I got three).

4. Consider Wedding Details

Do you want flowers? I got a bouquet and boutonniere from Rose Mountain Floral. You can reach out to Janet through her website.

Rose Mountain Floral

What about hair and makeup? Since I had already booked hair and makeup for the day, I kept my original stylist, Ty Nykole. She is amazing to work with!

Jas is 100% Polish and Polish weddings usually center around F-O-O-D. We ordered cupcakes from Fleur Bakeshop to celebrate! We also brought mini bottles of champagne for everyone to pop one in a safe, coronavirus-friendly, way.

5. Pick a Date

We wanted to get married on our original date, which was a Saturday, but I highly recommend getting married during the week if you can. Sunset/sunrise is usually best, so take a look at sunset time charts after you picked a day. We got married at 6 p.m. and it was the perfect amount of time (we finished taking photos at 10 p.m., sunset was at 9:30ish). Keep in mind that it takes an hour to drive from the entrance to Logan Pass.

If you want it to be warm, late July-August is your best bet. Also, Going to the Sun Road is usually partially closed until July, so if you want to get those top of the mountain pics, make sure to plan your ceremony for later in the season.

6. Figure Out Where To Stay

Sunset on Whitefish Mountain

Sunset on Whitefish Mountain

If you’re reading this and we’re still in the pandemic, know that Whitefish is very pro-mask and keeping you safe. You’re required to wear a mask everywhere in Whitefish, even at their outdoor farmer’s market, and we felt safe even when staying at a small inn in Whitefish. We split our time between the Duck Inn (which we LOVED) and an Airbnb on Whitefish Mountain. If you want to spend most of your time in Glacier, know that you’ll be in the car a lot if you stay in Whitefish.

What The Day Was Like

Eloping is actually pretty stress-free. We slept in, ate breakfast, wrote our vows (lol) and then started getting ready around 1 pm. I read letters from my mom and sister and watched a hilarious/cute video of my Maids of Honor in their bridesmaids dresses reciting a poem they had written.

To be perfectly honest, even though we ended up having an incredible day, I was pretty sad that morning. Originally planning an elopement is one thing, but when you’re forced into going from a 175-person wedding to having zero family there, it feels strange to receive “good luck” and “I’m so happy for you” text messages when those people were supposed to be part of your day. I cried all morning! But it did feel exciting that the day was only about *us* and I wouldn’t change it, despite everything.

After getting my hair and makeup done, we met up with our officiant and her boyfriend to get a drink before heading to Glacier National Park. We got margaritas on Jalisco Cantina’s patio and they gave us a free glass of champagne!

Rehearsal Dinner Toasting Champagne

We left to make the 40-minute drive to Glacier National Park and I got to Facetime my mom. I changed in my photographer’s new van (!) and Jas changed at the ceremony site so we could do a first look.

“getting ready”

walking toward Jas to do a first look

moments before our first look

The ceremony was quick—10 minutes—and we read our personal vows in private. Ally, our friend/officiant, wrote the cutest, cheesiest vows and then told Jas he could “kiss the bride” in Polish (at least I think, I don’t speak Polish yet)!

glacier national park elopement on lake mcdonald

Eloping on Lake McDonald

Reading our vows on Lake McDonald

We popped champagne, drank a Hamms tall boy with friends, ate a cupcake and then spent the rest of the night with Kimberly and her boyfriend taking photos and watching the sunset.

Getting Married in Glacier National Park Ryan Meadow

We saw people sitting in folding chairs on the way to Logan Pass, watching the sunset and eating camping dinners from a bag. If you ever visit Glacier, I highly recommend that you do this one night.

Going to the Sun Road Wedding Photos

Highlights include: running in the road, stopping for a bathroom break at a trailhouse restroom (aka port-a-potty), watching the sun set down the mountains, and having people honk and wave at us while they drove down the mountain.

Glacier National Park Elopement Wedding

Waving at Cars

A goat even crashed our sunset sesh, hiking on the Highline Trail, where the trail is only a few feet wide and incredibly steep. We backed up against the mountain to let him go by!

goat on highline trail

goat on highline trail glacier national park

I think everyone will remember 2020 as a hard year, but honestly these unexpected surprises—having Jas home more, eloping just us in the mountains, spending more time with family, normalizing working from home—have made this year more memorable than any other yet. I know things are hard right now, but there is beauty and opportunity in having things change. So when you’re forced to make a last-minute pivot, whether it’s in business or life, remember that it can end up even better than what you originally planned.

glacier national park elopement during COVID-19

Thank you to Kimberly for capturing our day! You can see more wedding photos here.

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