Kate the Planner here to answer your questions! Washington is rapidly becoming a popular place to elope. Born and raised in this state, I LOVE watching couples from around the country discover the magic in our mountains, the seclusion in our forests, and the epicness of our seaside home. I plan and officiate a lot of elopements in the Pacific Northwest and each area has its own requirements. With all the beauty nature has to offer here in Upper Left, USA, I frequently get asked questions about what the marriage license and permitting process looks like. So here is a breakdown of the marriage license process AND what you need for some of our most popular elopement locales.
Q: What does it take to get a marriage license in Washington state?
A: Most eloping couples fly into the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to elope in the Pacific Northwest. It is most convenient to apply for a marriage license through King County if that is the case, however, you can register in any county if you are flying into a different regional airport. Washington has a mandatory 3-day waiting period between when you acquire your marriage license and when you can be legally married. If you are filing and picking up in Seattle, you can start your application process online here. Unless you have a notary handy, I find it's easiest to go into the office and pick up your marriage certificate in person. You do not need an appointment, but you are both required to be physically present to pick up the certificate with a photo ID on hand. The cost of the certificate is $67 (no fees if paid by cash or check; 2.5% fee if paid by credit card). If you want to read up on all the juicy details, you can find them here at the Marriage licensing page for King County.
Q: How do we know our marriage license was filed properly?
A: You need one witness (often, the photographer) and your officiant to sign the marriage license in addition to the personal information you (the couple) fills out. I recommend having your portion pre-filled and -signed in case of inclement weather (read: rain). Your officiant is responsible for mailing in the finished paperwork. If you want to make a name change or confirm the filing, you can conduct an online records search here.
Q: What kinds of permits do I need for National Park locations?
A: The permit you need will depends on the location of the park you are eloping in. Most require a combination of a park entry pass and special use permit, plus a camping reservation if you intend to spend the night. To make it easy, I’ve broken down the answers for the most popular National Parks to elope in Washington. You can always find more information specific to the trail head on sites like the Washington Trails Association or on the park service’s government website.
Olympic National Park
Park Entry: You can use an America the Beautiful federal interagency pass for entry into the park. You can also buy a seven-day pass for your vehicle or an Olympic Annual Pass from www.YourPassNow.com depending on how much you plan to visit the park. You do need a physical copy of your pass present or printed for it to be valid.
Special Use Permit: Apply for a Special Use Permit AT LEAST four weeks in advance with the National Park Service staff. You can find the email address to submit applications and here.
Overnight or Camping: Wilderness Camping Permits are required for all overnight trips into the Olympic National Park backcountry ($8 per person per night). The nightly fee for camping in one of the established campgrounds ranges from $15-$22 depending on the location and season.
Park Entry: You can use an America the Beautiful federal interagency pass for entry into the park. You can also buy a seven-day pass for your vehicle or Mount Rainier Annual Pass from www.YourPassNow.com depending on how much you plan to visit the park. You do need a physical copy of your pass present or printed for it to be valid.
Special Use Permit: Apply for a Special Use Permit AT LEAST four weeks in advance with the National Park Service staff. You can find the email address to submit applications and apply for a Fee Waiver of the $60 fee (if applicable) here. Your party size determines which locations may be used for wedding ceremonies, which can be found here.
Overnight or Camping: A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping. This permit reserves your specific wilderness camping site for the night you want to stay. Campsites fill up quickly in the summer and the majority can be reserved in advance while the rest are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Submit a Reservation Request via the button on this site. Anyone wishing to climb above 10,000 feet or onto any glaciers must pay a climbing cost recovery fee and get a climbing permit.
North Cascades National Park
Park Entry: Great news—there is no entry fee to elope on the North Cascades! And while the park is open year-round, inclement weather often closes the North Cascades Highway between November and May of each year. The North Cascades Visitor Center is open daily through the summer and closed during the winter.
Special Use Permit: Apply for a Special Use Permit AT LEAST four weeks in advance with the National Park Service staff. You can find instructions to submit applications and pay the $50 fee (if applicable) here.
Overnight or Camping: You can apply for backcountry permits, car camping reservations by campground site, and other permits here.
Q: What else should we know to be responsible environmental stewards?
A: Whether you are a seasoned outdoor adventurer or a relative novice, study up on the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. These practices ensure you minimize your impact on the environment hosting your elopement and preserves the great outdoors for fellow explorers. Ensure that you research and prepare for your day trip or overnight adventure (including packing the Ten Essentials if you plan to take a significant hike or camp overnight); stick to durable surfaces; pack out what you pack in; leave what you find; minimize campfire impact; respect wildlife; and remain considerate of other visitors.
Q: What are some beginner mistakes we can easily avoid?
A: Make sure you download the Google map of your route in advance and while you have an internet connection. Many of our National Parks lose touch with the world wide web at some point. Make sure you know where you’re going on windy forest roads so you can ensure the safety and sanity of other drivers. If you plan to hike on a trail head, make sure you research trail conditions leading up to your big day. Monitor for closures and adverse conditions that necessitate additional gear, as well as monitor how popular the trail head is and when to arrive to ensure a safe parking spot. If you want to change into your elopement clothes later on in the hike or adventure, bring a pack large enough to accommodate your ceremony supplies. Some like to bring a changing tent up with them; if it’s worth the weight, then bring it. If not, then plan on stopping along the treeline to have your presto-change-o moment.