Leave No Trace Guide for Your Elopement

Couple hiking through a meadow on their elopement in Chilliwack, BC.

More and more couples are realizing that a big wedding isn’t for them – which I absolutely love! But, getting married outdoors means that these outdoor locations are heavily impacted by us being there, and a lot of damage happens when people aren’t informed about their effect on the environment. This guide is all about planning a Leave No Trace elopement – we’ll talk about what that means, how you can make sure these places stay beautiful, and how to practice LNT when you elope!

What is Leave No Trace?

First, we’ll need to talk about what Leave No Trace (LNT) actually means! LNT is a set of 7 principles created by the Center for Outdoor Ethics, designed to guide how we recreate outdoors.

The truth is that we humans have a big impact on the world around us – and a lot of damage happens just because we aren’t aware! Few people have bad intentions, but taking the time to learn these principles and how they might apply to your elopement makes a huge difference.

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace

Here’s a quick overview of the 7 principles of Leave No Trace – in the next sections, we’ll talk about how they apply when you elope!

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

Why is Leave No Trace Important for Elopements?

Leave No Trace is important for a few reasons – and it’s important anytime you’re outdoors! But when you elope, practicing LNT ensures that couples can keep having ceremonies and getting married in these epic locations. A lot of places have already seen the effect of damage to the environment – many parks and outdoor areas have  limited the spots where ceremonies can take place, and even banned ceremonies altogether! 

Of course, we want to make sure that couples can tie the knot in these amazing places, but we also want to make sure they stay beautiful – so to keep the environment safe, keep ecosystems healthy, and to keep parks and recreation areas open to the public, keep reading to learn about LNT and how you can make sure your elopement follows the principles.

Couple hiking through wildflower field during their elopement in Chilliwack, BC.

Leave No Trace & Elopements

Now, let’s break down each of those principles, and how they apply when you elope!

1. Plan Ahead & Prepare

Planning ahead and preparing means making yourself aware of where you’re going, and being ready for anything. Being outside is a magical experience, but when you’re away from cell service and other people, it can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared. 

To follow this principle when you elope, educate yourself on your specific location – how to get there;  what the road is like (will you need a 4×4 vehicle?); if you’re hiking, how long and how difficult is the trail? 

Make sure you download offline maps to prepare for losing cell service, that you bring a first aid kit and are prepared with more food and water than you think you’ll need, and that you know what to expect!

Here are some questions to ask yourself, both leading up to your elopement and the day of!

  • What’s the weather like – do you need any special gear?
  • If you want to bring your dog, is the location dog friendly?
  • What do you need to pack to make sure you’re safe, and prepared for unexpected conditions?
  • What wildlife might you encounter, and how do you handle these encounters safely?
  • Do you have sturdy hiking boots and appropriate clothing (jackets, layers, etc to stay warm)?
Couple hiking through a green meadow in BC during their elopement

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

When you’re in parks or other public lands, make sure to stick to established trails! “Durable surfaces” refers to sand, dirt, and rocks – as opposed to grass or wildflowers. Plant life is surprisingly fragile, and it takes a long time to grow! Stick to established pathways, and if you’re camping, set up your tent somewhere that looks like it’s been camped on before. As much as possible, avoid stepping on plants! 

One thing to be aware of is “social trails” – these often look like trails, but they happen when a lot of people take the same shortcut or side path. Stay off of these too – if it looks like it isn’t part of the main trail, continuing to walk on it damages the environment!

Couple waking through a wildflower meadow on their elopement in Chilliwack, BC.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

Always make sure to pack out anything you pack in. Leaving trash outdoors  is unsightly, but it can also hurt the wildlife. For a Leave No Trace elopement, never leave anything behind! But, this also refers to things that you may not consider “waste.”

There’s a common misconception that biodegradable items – like flower petals that fall off of an elopement bouquet – aren’t harmful to the environment. But the reality is that anything that doesn’t belong there has the potential to cause damage! Make sure that you look up if any types of flowers are banned at your location – some parks forbid anything that “sheds” a lot or that can be poisonous to animals. And during your elopement, make sure you don’t leave anything behind!

If you want to help the environment even more, bring an extra trash bag, and we’ll pack out anything we find that’s been left behind by other folks.

4. Leave What You Find

There’s a quote that says, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” – and that’s exactly how your elopement should be! The goal of a Leave No Trace elopement is to leave the place exactly how you found it, or better. 

It can be super tempting to take a cool rock or a seashell, to pick a wildflower or bring home a leaf. But, imagine if everyone did that! Not only would it make the landscape a lot less pretty, but it also hurts the ecosystem. Picking flowers means there isn’t as much pollen and seeds to grow new ones, and many animals rely on rocks, sticks, shells, or leaves to make their homes or to burrow in.

Couple hiking on a trail at Lake Louise on their elopement day.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Camping during your elopement is a super fun, unique way to get married! Before you decide to have a campfire, make sure there are no burn bans. Here in BC, and in many other places, there are strict burn bans in place during the summer, when conditions are dry. 

After you’ve verified that fires are okay, make sure to be safe, no matter the season! It’s best to stick to established fire rings, away from grass and foliage. Try to use sticks that are already on the ground to avoid damaging trees, and when you’re done, make sure the fire is completely out! Don’t take any risks – put it out, and ensure there aren’t any remaining embers.

6. Respect Wildlife

When you’re outdoors, remember that this is their home – you’re in the space where wildlife lives! Respecting wildlife means never approaching them. In some places, wildlife can get used to seeing humans, and they might venture closer, or hang out close to trails. If you see a wild animal, keep your distance, and don’t approach them. If they approach you (in a non-threatening way), don’t encourage them! Back away, and give them space to pass. Even wildlife that seems relaxed can get spooked at any moment – these are wild animals, and they’re looking out for their safety.

Being familiar with what kind of wildlife you might see is part of principle one – plan ahead and prepare – so make sure to familiarize yourself and know what to do in case of potential encounters or dangerous situations. For example, you may want to learn about bear safety, and carry bear spray. 

If you want to bring your dog, make sure it’s allowed, and keep them on a leash at all times. A dog’s presence can disturb wildlife, and of course, you don’t want your pup running into any animals!

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The last principle for a Leave No Trace elopement is to be considerate of other visitors. Look into the specific rules of your location, but usually, this means not blocking trails or walkways, keeping noise to a minimum, no speakers or loud music, and no arches or other structures that can get in the way.

Eloping isn’t like renting a venue – you’re sharing this outdoor space with other visitors!

Hire a Leave No Trace Aware Elopement Photographer

As a photographer who works outdoors, it’s super important for me to be aware of LNT principles, and part of my job is to help each couple learn about their specific location.

Contact me if you’re ready to elope, and I’ll make sure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to conserving the environment and keeping the places we visit beautiful!

More Elopement Planning Resources

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