This is the complete guide to eloping in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, located in Michigan.
Whether you are just toying with the idea of eloping in the Sleeping Bear, or you’re knee-deep into the planning, this guide will help make the process simple and stress-free!
With nearly 100,000 square miles and over 100 state and national parks, there is no shortage of incredibly beautiful locations to elope in Michigan.
Imagine getting married…
…on a beach with your toes in the sand and waves crashing on the shore.
…on an epic cliff overlooking one of the Great Lakes.
…under a waterfall.
…in the middle of a forest with only the sounds of birds chirping and the wind rustling the trees.
All of this, and more, is possible when you choose to elope in Michigan!
This guide is broken down into six steps for eloping in Sleeping Bear:
Narrow down your date
Hire a photographer
Apply for your permit
Get your marriage license
Hire other vendors
Have the best day of your life!
1. Narrow down your date
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, about 40 minutes from Traverse City. If you’re wanting warm summer weather, then June through August are the best months. The weather starts to cool off in September, but it is usually still in the 60s, and typically late September is when the leaves start changing and are absolutely incredible! The fall is definitely one of the best times to get married in Sleeping Bear. If you’re looking for an epic frozen elopement, anytime between January and March is your best bet – although December sometimes gets a good amount of snow too.
One thing to keep in mind is biting flies. While there are bugs anywhere that you get married outside, the biting flies are usually most common mid-May to mid-June in Sleeping Bear, but some will hang around through the summer, especially on humid days. Once the weather starts to cool off in September, there are a lot less of these bugs around. Bug spray does help – but picaridin spray tends to work better than deet spray with these flies. Don’t worry though, I always carry both with me for you to use!
Keep in mind that this is Michigan, and the weather changes a lot! If you embrace the weather and make it part of your day, it can tell a really beautiful story. And photos in the rain are some of my absolute favorites! But I am always ready to change to a backup plan if the weather keeps us from our original plan. No matter what curve balls may happen the day of your wedding, I will be there every step of the way to ensure you still have the day of your dreams!
Also keep in mind that most locations are less busy on weekdays, and sunrise is usually the best time of day to find a private spot.
One important note for Sleeping Bear is that they will not issue permits for weddings during the following holiday weekends: Memorial Day weekend, July 4th weekend, and Labor Day weekend.
If you’re having trouble narrowing down a date, reach out to me! I can help you with finding the ideal time of year for your vision.
2. Hire a photographer
When you’re eloping, your photographer may be the only other person besides your partner that is with you all day, so it’s so important to work with a photographer that you connect with and trust.
Many photographers, including myself, provide custom location scouting and planning assistance for your day. And honestly, I’m much more than just a photographer! I’ll start learning about you two and what’s most important for your wedding day from our first conversation. And as we begin dreaming up your day, I’ll spend the time to get to know you both better and help you with finding the perfect location and planning out your dream day.
Whether you need help with location scouting, permit research, timeline and activity suggestions, vendor recommendations, or you just want to talk through an idea – I will be here for you every step of the way. I also provide all of my couples with a 70 page elopement and intimate wedding planning guide that will help you two determine what’s most important to you on your day and give you ideas and inspiration.
I’ll be your photographer, your guide, your cheerleader, and your friend on the best day of your life!
3. Apply for your permit
Sleeping Bear does have some restrictions on where a wedding ceremony can take place within the park. However, before/after the ceremony, we are able to visit other areas of the park for photos or other activities. The permit is only for the wedding ceremony as full receptions are not permitted within the park. An important note for Sleeping Bear is that they will not issue permits for weddings during the following holiday weekends: Memorial Day weekend, July 4th weekend, and Labor Day weekend.
The permit process for Sleeping Bear is very simple and straightforward – there is more information about the application process and permitted areas on Sleeping Bear’s website here.
I am always available to help you determine the permit requirements and answer any questions you have throughout the application process!
4. Get your marriage license
If you or your partner is a resident in Michigan, you can apply for your marriage license in the county where you live, and your license will be valid anywhere in the state of Michigan. However, if both you and your partner are from out of state, you will need to apply for your marriage license in the county you are getting married in. You have the option to complete an application online beforehand, and then go to the clerk’s office to pay the application fee and complete the process.
Application fees for your marriage license are $20-$30 (depending on if you are a resident of Michigan). After your application is submitted, there is a 3 day waiting period, and the license is valid for 30 days from the date of approval.
Each county has their own web page and application to apply for your marriage license. Click here for an example from Marquette County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
While I cannot perform your complete ceremony (as I’ll be busy photographing!), I am legally ordained and can sign your marriage license as an officiant in the state of Michigan. If you’re wanting to privately exchange vows without an officiant walking you through a formal ceremony, this could be a great option for you as I don’t charge any additional fees for this service. If you’d prefer a more formal ceremony or someone to walk you through your vow exchange, I can recommend some great local officiants. You will also need two witnesses over 18 years old to sign the marriage license. I’ve had many eloping couples ask strangers on a trail to sign their license, and everyone has always been so excited to do this!
5. Hire other vendors
Once you have your photographer, date, time, and location selected – it’s time to hire other vendors for your day! As your photographer, I help all of my couples with recommending vendors for their day.
Some vendors to consider hiring for your elopement or intimate wedding are a planner, florist, videographer (my husband works as my videographer and video can be added on to any of my photography packages), officiant, hair/makeup artist, or private chef (many couples prefer a private reception dinner at their Airbnb opposed to a restaurant!)
6. Have the best day of your life!
After all the time you’ve spent planning and preparing for this day, remember to take it all in! Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned – and that’s okay! What is most important is that you are celebrating your love with your favorite person in the world.
Your wedding day is so much more than a ceremony and photos. It’s an entire experience. From start to finish, spending the day doing exactly what you want to do with the love of your life. No stress, no pressure, no obligations. Just the two of you, celebrating your love. Isn’t that how every wedding day should be?
Whether you need help with marriage license requirements, permits, narrowing down a location, or getting connected to vendors, I am here to help. I guide all of my couples through the process of eloping and making sure that your day is everything you want it to be! I will be your photographer, your guide, your cheerleader, and your friend on the best day of your life.
You can make your wedding day whatever you want it to be!
Scroll down for more photos of gorgeous Michigan elopements, and check out Michigan elopement location ideas here!