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The Great Outdoors

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Jennifer Wilcox and her husband Joe decided to get married in California’s Yosemite National Park last year. They’re both park rangers, after all.

But being married next to mountain ranges and waterfalls isn’t just for employees of the National Park Service. Offering breathtaking backdrops and park-specific event planning companies, national parks are a popular option for couples wanting to take advantage of the nation’s most beautiful scenery.

Kevin Andersen, a wedding and special event sales specialist for Delaware North Company Parks & Resorts, a concessionaire for Yosemite, says the park hosts 200 to 300 weddings annually. The location draws couples from as far as England and Australia, though most of the couples are from northern California or the Bay Area.

“We have multiple weddings just about every weekend from April from October,” Andersen says.

About 90 percent of the weddings have a connection to the park, he adds.

“It’s the extreme beauty of the area,” Andersen says. “City and metropolitan areas have their own draw for weddings, but they don’t compare to the natural beauty here.”

That draw is the same across the country at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. Vicki Kemner, a wedding planner with Smokey Mountain Wedding, sees about 200 to 400 weddings per year, and only two weddings per day are allowed inside the park.

She says it’s a popular place to get married because couples don’t need to have a blood test to be married in the state of Tennessee, and because the park includes views to 25 mountain ranges.

To keep ranges, forests and waterfalls in pristine condition, national parks outlaw some wedding staples. Helium balloons, birdseed, rice and confetti are typically not allowed. In the Smokies, only natural materials can be used, and everything has to be cleaned up afterward. At Yosemite, flower girls are not allowed to drop petals on the ground and any music outside must be acoustic and not amplified.

Some of the restrictions may force you be creative. Fire isn’t allowed in the Smokies, so instead of a unity candle ceremony, the bride and groom perform a unity sand ceremony, pouring two individual vials of sand of different colors into a container to represent their marriage.

Though couples have to keep within such restrictions, prices for wedding packages can make the ceremony very doable.

Wilcox was amazed when her total wedding cost turned out to be $5,000 by booking with one of the park’s concessionaires. And Kemner’s company offers a $299 outdoor wedding package including a six-inch heart-shaped wedding cake, a pastor to officiate, 20 photos by a professional photographer and a white wedding album.

Another perk includes outdoor activities for your guests. Summer weddings offer an opportunity for biking, hiking, mountain climbing or just floating down a river. In the winter, your guests can take part in snow skiing or ice-skating.

Just taking in the scenery should please your guests, though.

“I got a lot of comments about it,” Wilcox says. “It was a wedding a lot of people will remember.”

When planning your wedding:

Find a full list of national parks within the United States at www.nps.gov/parks.html.

Call early to arrange a date and location, and to find out your park’s specific guidelines on parking, guest count and what you can bring in.

Do your paperwork. You’ll need a special use permit, which may take several weeks to process, and a marriage license for the state you’re getting married in. Keep the permit on-hand at the wedding.

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