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San Juan Mountains Elopement Guide

Why Elope in the San Juan Mountains

Breathtaking Scenery: The San Juan Mountains in Colorado offer some of the most stunning and picturesque landscapes in the country. Eloping in this mountainous region provides a backdrop of majestic peaks, alpine lakes, and lush forests- creating a naturally beautiful backdrop. If your elopement is under 15 people in total, there are numerous locations that do not require any permits.

Intimate and Secluded Setting: This remote region of Colorado provides a sense of seclusion and intimacy, making it an ideal location for couples seeking views without the viewers. Many locations offer more privacy than busier mountain towns. If total privacy and having the mountain all to yourself is more your style, there’s TONS of lesser known areas that would be perfect for that Just the Two of Us elopement.

Versatile Seasons: Whether you prefer the snow-capped beauty of winter, the vibrant colors of fall, or the blooming wildflowers of summer- there’s somewhere stunning and accessible year-round. You can choose a season that resonates with your personal preferences and vision. Just a reminder, the high country’s seasons might be a little different than what you’re used to. Flowers bloom in Mid July to Mid August, and Fall varies but tends to be in late September or early October.

Adventure Opportunities: If you and your partner are adventure enthusiasts (ahem, YES PLEASE), there’s opportunities for outdoor activities of all levels. There are lakes to hike to, mountains to climb (14er anyone?), rocky alpine fields ready to pitch a backpacking tent, trails a plenty to mountain bike, and some of the best 4×4 roads in all of Colorado.

Starry Nights: Experience enchanting nights under a blanket of stars. The San Juan Mountains, with minimal light pollution, offer a celestial display unlike anywhere else, providing a romantic and unforgettable backdrop for your elopement. Imagine seeing the Milky Way with just your eyes, and spending some time getting some out of this world images.

What towns are located in the San Juan Mountains


• Regional Airport (KTEX)
• Elevation: 8750′
• County: San Miguel
• Marriage License Office in Town
• Accommodations in Telluride or Mountain Village
• Price Range: $$$$


• Closest Airports: Montrose 36 mi (MTJ), Durango 60 mi (DRO)
• Elevation: 7792′
• County: Ouray
Marriage License Office in Town
• Hot Springs in Town
• Price Range: $$ – $$$


• Closest Airports: Durango 45 mi (DRO), Montrose 50 mi (MTJ)
• Elevation: 9318′
• County: San Juan County
Marriage License Office in Town
• Limited Accommodations, book in advance
• Price Range: $$ – $$$

Lake City

• Closest Airport: Gunnison Regional 55 mi (GUC), Montrose 104 mi (MTJ)
• Elevation: 8661′
• County: Hinsdale
• Marriage License Office in Town
• Limited Accommodations, book in advance
• Price Range: $$ – $$$


• Airport in Town (DRO)
• Elevation: 6512′
• County: La Plata
Marriage License Office in Town
• Largest Town in the area, many accomodations
• Price Range: $ – $$$$


• Closest Airport: Montrose
• Elevation: 6985′
• County: Ouray
• Marriage License office is in Ouray, Colorado
• Limited Accommodations, book in advance
• Price Range: $ – $$$

Permitting for Elopements

Much of the San Juan mountains do NOT require a permit if your wedding in total (including photographer, officiant, and any other Human) does not exceed 15 people. Some areas of the San Juan National Forest allow up to 75 people before a permit is needed, however, there are not many places that can accommodate that many people without booking a venue of sorts. You can typically google Special Use Permit, Location to get more specific details on the location that you’re interested in hosting your elopement at.

Always be sure to Leave No Trace while adventuring in Colorado’s mountains. Pack out everything that was packed in – even something as small as an orange peel. Take only photos, leave only footprints.

Jeeping Trails in the San Juans

You’ll be hard pressed to find better 4×4 trails in all of Colorado. With everything from an easy dirt road to one of the most notoriously difficult trails in the country (looking at you, Black Bear Pass) – there’s a trail for everyone.

Who is a Jeeping Elopement best for?

• Couples looking for drastically different looking multiple locations
• Couples not wanting to hike to a higher alpine destination
• Couples who love off-roading (of course)

You can hire a Jeep Tour to be your personal driver if you’re not comfortable on 4×4 roads. Or if you just want to hang back and relax on your wedding day. Check out companies like Alpine Scenic 4×4 Tours to customize an elopement 4×4 experience.

A Few Favorite 4×4 Elopement Locations. Though not a comprehensive list, here are a few stunning trails in the San Juans to get that planning process started.

American Basin

• Closest Towns: Lake City or Silverton (over a 4×4 pass)
• Difficulty: Moderate, High Clearance recommended
• Best time of year: late June – early August for wildflowers and lush, green fields
• Can hike beyond the basin if desired
• Can car camp in the basin, or tent camp in the lower basin.

Governor Basin

• Closest Town: Ouray
• Difficulty: Moderate, much of the road is a shelf
• Best time of year: late June – early October – the road is seasonal and depends on snowfall
• No camping is allowed in the basin, but it is a short drive back to Camp Bird where there is camping allowed.

Cinnamon Pass

• Closest Town: Silverton
• Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult, driving the entire pass can have obstacles year to year
• Best time of the year: late June – mid September
• Can connect with multiple passes/make a loop or a point to point

Yankee Boy Basin

• Closest Town: Ouray
• Difficulty: Moderate to Twin Falls, Difficult above Wright Lake
• Best Time of Year: Early June – mid October
• Can connect with multiple passes, including over to Telluride.
• One of the easier passes for young and elder family members.

California Pass

• Closest Towns: Silverton and Ouray
• Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult depending on the route taken
• Best Time of Year: Early July to Late September
• Is connected to other passes and can access multiple hikes nearby.
• Great area for sunset.

Self-Solemnizing in Colorado

Colorado is one of TWO places in the United States that you can marry yourselves. That’s right, you don’t need an officiant. You can declare yourselves married. Without witnesses – or as many witnesses as you’d like. Your dog can sign your marriage license. Or your cat. Or no one.

What do you need to legally get married in Colorado?
• Many places require online paperwork to be filled out before you arrive for an in-person appointment. Be sure to check regulations for the specific county you’ll be getting your marriage certificate at.
• Both parties need to be present at the appointment, and be sure to bring both your IDs.
• A Marriage license is $30. Check with the county to see what form of payment is accepted.
• You can obtain a license within 30 days of your elopement, and it must be returned within a few weeks (again, check with the specific county you obtained the certificate from for specific times).
• You can get married the same day you obtain your license.

Hiking Elopements in the San Juans

The San Juan mountains are known for their teal alpine lakes, jagged mountain tops, and lush green hillsides. There’s a never ending list of places to hike in the area. You can find everything from a small, easy hike to get better views of cirques and basins, to a massive multi-day backpacking adventure (Chicago Basin, anyone?!). Also in the area are some of the most gorgeous summits – 13ers and 14ers alike.

How to Choose a Hiking Elopement Location

• Know your ability – don’t have your elopement day be your first experience with a hike of that magnitude.
• Think about the amount of physical work you’re wanting to put in on your wedding day.
Not everyone wants to hike 10+ miles to elope. That’s totally fine!
Some people do want those more intense hikes or backpacking trips – I’m here for all the hikes.
• Sunrise or Sunset? Some places lend themselves better to one or the other.
• Lake, alpine field, or summit? Or a trail that has all 3?

Some General Mountain Tid-Bits

• Colorado is known for our Summer afternoon thunderstorms. In July and August, it’s generally best to think about being below tree-line by noon. If you’re wanting a sunset elopement above tree-line, my personal suggestion is to think about late August through early October.
• Hiking for your elopement is work. You have extra weight on your back – sometimes packed in ways that you wouldn’t pack a normal backpack to keep things from wrinkling. Give yourself more time than you think you need.
• The altitude is no joke. Be sure to hydrate with electrolytes (start about a week before you come to Colorado), eat carbs, and eat the morning of your elopement (even if it’s at 2am). You’ll feel so much better.
Pro Tip: Salt Tabs are amazing when you’re hiking and sweating. I use Salt Stick tabs, and Ultima Replenisher when I hike.
• Bring more water than you think you need – or if you don’t like carrying extra weight (like me), grab a Water Filter for hikes where you can filter water on the go.
• Think about your hiking boots BEFORE the day of your elopement. I highly recommend breaking your shoes in beforehand to keep those feet feeling good and fresh all day.

A Few Favorite Hiking Elopement Locations. This list is FAR from comprehensive, just a few favorites from the past few years. There’s many unknown gems tucked away – I’m happy to help build the perfect hiking elopement location with you.

Blue Lakes, Ridgway

• Length: 8.7 miles RT to Upper Lake with 2510′ gain; 6 miles RT to Lower Lake with 1650′ gain
• Closest Town: Ridgway
• Difficulty: Moderate
• Best Season: Summer and Fall
• Backpacking is allowed without permits (subject to change, they’ve been discussing permits)

Handies Peak

• Length: 5.3 miles RT with 2440′ gain
• Closest Town: Lake City or Silverton (over a 4×4 pass from Silverton)
• Difficulty: Hard due to Elevation
• Best Season: Summer or Fall
• Is a 14,000+ mountain – be prepared for high elevation.
• Can also photograph at Sloan Lake and in American Basin (trailhead).

Highland Mary Loop

• Length: 8.5 miles RT with 2182′ gain
• Closest Town: Silverton
• Difficulty: Moderate
• Best Season: Summer and Fall
• The loop includes views into the Weminuche as well as rolling hills of green mountains

V2, Island, and Ice Lakes

• Length: 9.5 miles RT for V2 included with 3500′ gain, 7 miles RT for just the lakes with 2650′ gain.
• Closest Town: Silverton
• Difficulty: Hard
• Best Season: Summer and Fall
• The loop includes summiting V2, Island Lake, and Ice Lake. You can omit V2 and do the two alpine lakes as well.

Uncompaghre Peak

• Length: 8.3 miles RT from upper TH with 2927′ gain
• Closest Town: Lake City
• Difficulty: Hard due to the elevation
• Best Season: Summer and Fall
• Is a 14,000 + mountain, be prepared for high elevation.
• One section of Class 2+ scrambling (only about 15 ft long)
• Upper TH is a 4×4 road

Things to do while visiting the San Juan Mountains

Go for a 4×4 adventure or rent a Side by Side. There’s so many amazing trails to be had. Take the famous Alpine Loop.

SUP in one of the near town lakes. Ridgway State Park is a fabulous place to go for a paddle board. Molas Lake is another great close to the car adventure.

• Visit Ouray Brewery. It’s always poppin’, so expect a wait from time to time. I enjoy sitting on the rooftop and looking out over the box canyon while eating a Green Chile burger.

Ride the Free Gondola in Telluride. It’s the only free gondola in the country. The gondola runs from the town of Telluride to Mountain Village – with a mid-mountain stop. Check out San Sofia while you’re at Mid-Mountain.

Visit Ouray Hot Springs. Take a nice soak in the natural hot springs open to the public for an entry fee. If you’re more on the bold side, research the hot springs you can hike to. Most of them are local secrets – so consider finding them part of the adventure.

Ohhhh and Ahhh on the drive on 550. The road from Ouray to Silverton is a high mountain pass – famous for it’s sheer drop offs and amazing scenery. Beware driving at night though, the animals love to hang out on the road sides to lick the salty rocks!

Visit a Mining Site. There’s lots of local tours, museums, and ruins to see. The SouthWest is known for it’s mining history.

Close to the Car Adventures

Looking for a more chill, easy going elopement? There’s plenty of places that are close to town, easy to access, and perfect to bring along close family and friends.

How to Chose a Location Close to Town

• Chose a town that interests you. Do you want a super outdoorsy area with a focus less on tourists and more on recreation? Silverton may suit your needs best. Is hanging out at a Brewery and visiting shops along a main town strip what you’re looking for? Ouray sounds like it might be for you. Are you looking for more of a posh experience, with more traditional restaurants and boutique shops? Telluride sounds like your best experience.
• Check to be sure the location you’re looking at doesn’t require a permit.

Close to Town Locations

Box Canyon Overlook

• Closest Town: Ouray
• Located just off 550
• Best Season: Accessible Year Round

Off Highway 550

• There are many amazing pull-offs and accessible fields off the highway that connects Ouray and Silverton
• Best Season: Open year round, inclement weather pending.
• Winter can be very icy driving alongside the drop-offs

Molas Lake

• Closest Town: Durango
• Can reserve a camp site at the lake
• Is a recreational lake, you can fish and use non-motorized flotation devices.
• Best season: Spring, Summer, Fall. You can snowshoe 1 mile to access the lake in winter months.

Blue Lakes Campground

• Closest Town: Ridgway
• Can camp at the campground
• Is near the Blue Lakes hiking trailhead
• Best season: Summer and Fall

Last Dollar Road

• Closest Town: Telluride and Mountain Village
• Best Season: Fall and Summer
• There are campgrounds and hiking trails on the road
• The road connects Telluride to Ridgway, but the best views are just outside of Telluride.

Want to Check out more San Juan Mountain Photos?

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