Your dream Gatlinburg elopement – the ultimate planning guide
UPDATED FOR 2024-2025
Elopement is becoming a popular option for many couples throughout the world and the United States is no exception. Outside Las Vegas, Gatlinburg is the most popular destination when it comes to elopements. Unlike Vegas, however, Gatlinburg offers unparalleled authenticity coupled with astounding natural beauty with the Smoky Mountains being the backdrop.
The Smoky Mountains are America’s oldest mountain range and the most visited National Park in the country. The majestic landscape provides a sense of calm and is the ideal elopement or wedding destination. Beauty and romance can be found virtually around every corner. If you are thinking about eloping in the United States, The Smoky Mountains are the perfect destination.
Let’s dive in…
Welcome to the Adventure of a Lifetime
Hey there, I’m Amber! I’m your elopement photographer and planner – your one-stop-shop for absolutely everything you need for a magical, incredible elopement day.
I offer all-inclusive elopement packages for couples who want to relax and let me handle absolutely everything, as well as options for couples who like a little bit of DIY! I’ll find the perfect place for you to exchange vows, recommend vendors, help you figure out travel and lodging, make a timeline, and more – personalizing each part of your elopement day to perfectly suit the two of you. And of course, I’ll be there to take the photos and document this once in a lifetime adventure.
You aren’t like every other couple, and your wedding day shouldn’t be either! I’ll help you craft a day that’s true to you, authentic, and real, allowing you to immerse yourselves in the experience as you say your “I dos.”
First, let’s be sure we’re talking about the same thing:
What is an elopement?
The term ‘elopement’ has significantly different meaning than it held several decades ago. Nowadays, elopement is where a couple opts to skip many of the elaborate wedding plans associated with traditional nuptials and instead preferring to slip away for a more intimate and private ceremony.
You may decide to tag along some of your family members and friends for your elopement or you may decide to keep the moment private, between you and your partner. It is up to you to decide how simple or elaborate your elopement ends up being.
And what is an adventure elopement?
An adventure elopement is where the couple foregoes a traditional wedding and instead holds the ceremony in nature, surrounded by beautiful scenery. Adventure elopements usually involve some kind of hiking to get to the desired spot and are typically intimate ceremonies with only a handful of people in attendance.
Gatlinburg is the ideal location for an adventure elopement because it is a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It also offers many fun things for the couple to do including hiking, dining, attractions, and adventure.
Why you should consider a Gatlinburg elopement
Gatlinburg is the place the usually comes in mind when couples are dreaming about and planning their elopement or wedding in the Smoky Mountains. Gatlinburg is widely regarded as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. With the growth in popularity of elopements, Gatlinburg has earned itself the unofficial title: “Elopement capital of the United States.”
Gatlinburg offers many stunning natural backgrounds for your elopement getaway wedding thanks to its close proximity to the Smoky Mountains. Only a handful of places in the entire United States are as stunning as Gatlinburg.
History and Culture
Every curve and bend of the road in the Smoky Mountains brings a special kind of vintage setting that can only be carved into the mountains over centuries. If you elope to Gatlinburg, you can be use to have a unique and a one-of-a-kind experience of culture in the Smoky Mountains.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Ultimately, the number 1 reason why people elope to Gatlinburg is its close proximity to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. People that elope to Gatlinburg also have many things to do and enjoy such as hiking, going for picnics, and much more.
How to get legally married in Gatlinburg
You will first require a Tennessee marriage license if you would like to get legally married in Gatlinburg, TN. Here are the requirements for obtaining this marriage license and thus be legally married in Gatlinburg:
- Both parties must be at least 18 years old
- The parties getting married are required to present either a certified birth certificate or valid state driver’s license
- The parties getting married must also present a social security card
- If one of the parties getting married is currently not a US citizen, they will be required to provide a valid passport
- If either party has been widowed or divorced, they will need to know either the date of death or the date the divorce was finalized
- There’s no waiting period
- The license has to be used within 30 days of issuance.
Gatlinburg, TN is marriage friendly and obtaining the license usually takes just 10 minutes or less. However, the license has to be returned to the county clerk within 3 days of the ceremony. You can apply for the marriage license and pick it up from any one of these 3 locations:
- Gatlinburg Shilling Center
- Sevier County Courthouse
- Pigeon Forge City Hall
Who Can Solemnize a Marriage?
A marriage in Gatlinburg, and by extension Tennessee cannot be self-solemnized. It is only a religious leader, rabbi, preacher, current or former legislators, mayors, or judges, the county clerk, or the governor that can solemnize a marriage.
How to Get to Gatlinburg for Your Elopement
Tennessee, is a beautiful destination for a Gatlinburg elopement. Here’s how to get there when traveling from within the US:
Nearest Airport: The closest major airport to Gatlinburg is McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), located in Knoxville, Tennessee. From there, you can drive to Gatlinburg, which is approximately 42 miles away.
Driving Distances from Major Cities:
- From Knoxville, TN: Gatlinburg is around 42 miles southeast of Knoxville, which is roughly an hour’s drive via US-441 S.
- From Nashville, TN: If you’re starting from Nashville, Tennessee, Gatlinburg is approximately 220 miles east. The drive takes about 3.5 to 4 hours, depending on traffic and the route you take.
- From Atlanta, GA: If you’re traveling from Atlanta, Georgia, Gatlinburg is approximately 214 miles to the north. The drive typically takes around 3.5 to 4 hours via I-75 N and I-40 E.
- From Charlotte, NC: If your journey begins in Charlotte, North Carolina, Gatlinburg is approximately 213 miles west. The drive usually takes about 3.5 to 4 hours via I-40 W.
Planning a Gatlinburg elopement allows you to immerse yourself in the scenic beauty of the Smoky Mountains. With its proximity to McGhee Tyson Airport and accessible driving routes from major cities, Gatlinburg is an ideal destination for your elopement adventure.
Did you know?
As a guide and photographer specialized in Tennessee elopements, I extend a comforting service to all my couples by providing complimentary transportation on their elopement adventure. This ensures that they can fully immerse themselves in the joy of their elopement experience while I handle all the logistics with care and expertise.
Lodging for Your Elopement in Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg offers a range of high-end lodging options that provide luxurious comfort and stunning mountain views. Here are three general ideas for upscale accommodations in the area:
- Mountain Retreats: Consider booking a private mountain cabin or chalet for your Gatlinburg elopement. These secluded and well-appointed retreats offer a cozy ambiance with amenities like hot tubs, fireplaces, and spacious decks. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains while being just a short drive from downtown Gatlinburg.
- Boutique Resorts: Gatlinburg is home to boutique resorts that combine elegance with the charm of the Smoky Mountains. These upscale properties offer stylish rooms, gourmet dining options, spa services, and often have picturesque locations nestled within the natural beauty of the area.
- Luxury Lodges: Choose a luxury lodge or inn for a refined and tranquil experience. These lodges often feature beautifully designed rooms, fine dining restaurants, and on-site activities like golf or fishing. With attentive service and serene surroundings, they provide an ideal setting for a high-end Gatlinburg elopement.
These general lodging ideas offer the perfect blend of luxury and natural beauty, enhancing the experience of your Gatlinburg elopement in the heart of the Smoky Mountains.
Did you know?
When you book your elopement experience with me, I’ll give you access to my concierge service and recommend incredible hotels and talented local vendors.
The best places for a Gatlinburg elopement
If you want to have the best elopement ever, here are some of the places located in and around Gatlinburg that you should consider:
Cataract Falls is one of the easiest places to hike in the Smoky Mountains area. It is just a 10-minute walk from the visitor’s center that’s about a 3-minute drive from downtown Gatlinburg and anybody, regardless of age should be able to reach this spot. It has a rich forest setting and rushing waters that create the ideal romantic environment for your special occasion. It is a great sport for your elopement.
Cataract Falls, however, is a highly public area and you can expect there to be on-lookers. It is definitely not for the shy of heart. You will also require a permit to hold your ceremony there.
Cades Cove is one of the most popular destinations for people visiting the Smoky Mountains. It provides backdrops for forests, wildlife, water and streams, fields with mountain views, and even historic structures. If you chose to elope in Cades Cove, you can hold the ceremony there, take photos, and then go back to Gatlinburg for the reception.
Cades Cove might be a popular destination for elopements, but you need to apply for a Special Use Permit if you want to get married there. The permit is issued by the National Parks Service.
You won’t find this spot on any trail maps, but it is still an incredibly popular area for wedding photos and ceremonies. It is situated right off the road on the way to Cades Cove and about an 11-minute drive past the visitor’s center. It has about 10 parking spots and incredibly lovely spots for couples to solemnize their marriage right next to the creek.
You won’t be required to pay any travel fees for this spot, but a Special Use Permit is still required. Maloney Point is ideal for ceremonies with a maximum of 10 guests, which explains why it is such a good option for elopements.
Serenity Falls is a privately-owned natural waterfall that’s located 40 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. It is a charming property with an even more charming history. Once you leave the main road and traverse the narrow country road, you will have a hard time believing that it used to be a thriving village. The clear, cascading waterfall is a lovely venue for wedding ceremonies that have not more than 20 guests.
Serenity Falls is one of the best places in Gatlinburg for an elopement, but you need to be aware of the fact that since it is a natural waterfall, the volume of water flowing through it may vary significantly. You should also remember that since it is privately-owned, you will have to pay a considerably higher fee for your wedding, i.e. $300.
Laurel Falls is yet another hidden gem when it comes to elopements in Gatlinburg. You will understand why it is a must-see attraction after taking the a 2.6-mile walk on a paved trail to reach Laurel Falls. The 80-foot cascade is one of the Smoky Mountain’s most photographed spots and for good reason. It is located just outside Gatlinburg and provides perfect photography lighting.
Laurel Falls is one of the most accessible trails, which makes it a popular option for many people visiting the Smoky Mountains area. Unfortunately, this inevitably means that you can expect to find more people than you would want present at your elopement.
The Foothills Parkway is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It has some of the most stunning scenic drives and locations that overlook the Great Smoky Mountains. It has multiple locations with an abundance of beautiful backdrops for wedding photos, which include the waterfall, mountains, roads, forest, and sunset.
Foothills Parkway is a great elopement destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which means that you must have a Special Use Permit to hold your ceremony there.
Did you know?
There is so much more in Gatlinburg than the Smoky Mountains. When you choose to book your elopement with me, I will provide you with a personalized list of 4 to 5 extraordinary off-the-beaten-path locations that perfectly align with your preferences. Allow me to lead you to the hidden treasures of Tennessee, far from the usual tourist spots.
The best time for a Gatlinburg elopement
Gatlinburg, TN has 4 distinct seasons, which means that each time of year will offer a different elopement experience. To help you decide which time of year is ideal for your elopement, here is a brief overview of the different seasons:
Winter is the least favorite season to elope in Gatlinburg simply due to the fact that everything is somewhat dead. The trees are usually bare during this season and it can get incredibly cold. Still, a winter elopement can be a good idea due to the lack of crowds. If you want a truly intimate experience, winter in Gatlinburg can be a great season for your elopement.
Mild temperatures and lovely blooming flowers everywhere characterize this season. Crowds are generally not too heavy in spring unless you set a date during spring break. It usually doesn’t get too humid or hot, which makes it the ideal season for longer hikes. Still, the weather can be a bit unpredictable.
Sun, fireflies, and lightning storms are typical of summer in Gatlinburg. Crowds may get incredibly heavy during this season. Humidity is obviously high in summer and this may lead to quick burn out when hiking. Fortunately, summer offers many fun activities for you and your partner to do on your elopement such as rafting down the rivers.
Lovely hues on trees since the leaves are starting to change and fairly mild temperatures characterize fall in Gatlinburg. The changing of the hues, however, tends to attract many visitors to the area, which makes it one of the busiest tourist seasons of the year. Fortunately, the weather is not all that unpredictable, which means that you can still elope in fall.
Besides the high humidity in the warmer weather, the climate in Gatlinburg is fairly mild, which makes it an ideal location year-round. Still, Fall is usually the best time of the year for a Gatlinburg elopement. The temperatures aren’t too hot, the weather is mostly pleasant and there’s a lovely transitioning of hues all around.
Example budget of an elopement in Gatlinburg
When it comes to elopement budgets, I understand the challenges of providing a precise estimate for vendors outside of my own expertise. The cost can greatly vary depending on your chosen destination and the quality of vendors you desire.
Elopement expenses are significantly influenced by factors like your chosen location. Rather than providing generic budget estimates for vendors I don’t work with, I recommend exploring my elopement packages. They include all-inclusive options, giving you a clearer view of your budget and costs.
Unique Things to Do When You Elope in Gatlinburg
Here are five unique and off-the-beaten-path activities to enjoy when visiting Gatlinburg and Tennessee, perfect for adventurous travelers and animal-friendly enthusiasts. These off-the-beaten-path activities in Gatlinburg and Tennessee offer a thrilling and unique way to explore the natural beauty and adventure opportunities that this region has to offer, all while respecting the environment and wildlife.
Caving and Spelunking
Explore the fascinating underground world of Tennessee by venturing into one of the state’s numerous caves. Notable options include the Tuckaleechee Caverns and the Forbidden Caverns, where you can marvel at stunning rock formations, underground waterfalls, and mysterious underground landscapes.
Experience the heritage of Tennessee’s moonshine tradition by visiting local distilleries and enjoying moonshine tastings. Discover the history of illegal distillation during Prohibition and sample a wide array of flavors, from traditional corn whiskey to fruit-infused variations.
Rappelling in Obed Wild and Scenic River
Head to Obed Wild and Scenic River for an exhilarating rappelling adventure. This less-visited gem offers unique opportunities for cliff and waterfall rappelling, surrounded by pristine wilderness and challenging terrains.
Rock Climbing in Chattanooga
Venture to Chattanooga, often hailed as the “Scenic City,” for rock climbing adventures. The city is home to world-class climbing areas such as the T-Wall and Sunset Rock, providing a thrilling challenge for climbers of all skill levels.
White Water Rafting in the Ocoee River
Satisfy your thirst for adventure with a white-water rafting trip down the Ocoee River. This Olympic-class river features exhilarating rapids and scenic beauty, making it a prime location for rafting and an unforgettable outdoor experience.
What to wear for a Gatlinburg elopement
The first consideration is obviously the wedding dress i.e. the size, mobility, and ability to pack it for your elopement. If you are traveling out of space, you may have just limited space in your car. Dresses such as ball gowns are definitely not feasible.
The fabric is another important consideration when choosing a dress. Different fabrics hang differently, give off different vibes, photograph better, and are more durable than others. Chiffon, organza, tulle, polyester, satin, silk, and lace are all good options.
The style of dress is the final consideration. Some styles are definitely better suited for elopements than others. If you plan to hike or move around, you should avoid princess dresses. If you plan to change into your dress for the ceremony, then you can choose any style.
Proper footwear is a necessity when going on an adventure elopement where there will be some hiking involved. Ensure that the hiking shoes or boots that both the bride and groom wear have sufficient ankle support. Open-toed footwear should be completely avoided. Sneakers are definitely not allowed and neither are sandals or flip-flops.
The choice of suit will mostly depend on the weather. For instance, you may not want to wear a 3-piece suit for an elopement in the middle of July. Still, you can wear a formal black tuxedo for the wedding with coordinating accessories such as black bow ties, white tuxedo shirts, cummerbunds, as well as boutonnieres that match the bride’s bouquet.
Natural locations for your elopement mean that Mother Nature is in charge. That’s why you should be prepared should the weather be less than hospitable. Pack foot warmers, hand warmers, body warmers, or even a warm shawl. Wear leggings or thermal underwear. Get a cute jacket or wear a wedding dress with long sleeves.
Typical food and dishes from Gatlinburg
You might want to integrate into your elopement day
Gatlinburg and the surrounding Appalachian region are known for their delicious fried catfish. This Southern specialty is typically seasoned with a flavorful blend of spices, coated in cornmeal or flour, and deep-fried until crispy. It’s often served with hushpuppies (fried cornbread) and coleslaw for a classic Southern meal.
Tennessee is famous for its cured country ham, and you’ll find it featured in various dishes in Gatlinburg. Whether served as a breakfast side, in sandwiches, or as an ingredient in dishes like biscuits and gravy, the salty and smoky flavor of country ham is a true Appalachian treat.
Cornbread is a staple in Southern cuisine, and you’ll find it served as a side dish or as an accompaniment to various meals in Gatlinburg. It’s made from cornmeal and can vary in sweetness and texture depending on the recipe. Whether it’s sweet, savory, or somewhere in between, cornbread is a delightful addition to any Southern meal.
Eloping in Gatlinburg – your checklist
Think about where you’d like to go
Gatlinburg is considered the wedding and elopement capital of the South. It is a popular option for either due to its amazing beauty and the fact that it is the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. It has some of the most accessible elopement locations in the United States and it is up to you to decide where you would like to go.
Pick a date
Gatlinburg and the entire Smoky Mountains area is beautiful throughout the year. From the spring wildflowers to the fall foliage, the landscapes are always breathtaking and a perfect backdrop for your elopement. So, pick a date based on your preferences.
Find more informations about travel visas and wedding documentation
If you are a resident of the United States, travel Visas shouldn’t be an issue. However, you will require some wedding documentation such as a marriage license and a Special Use Permit if you plan to hold your wedding ceremony in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Book your accommodation
Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains area is such a popular destination for weddings and elopements since it is highly affordable. So, book your accommodation close to where you plan to hold the ceremony.
Find a place to exchange your vows
You should ideally choose a venue that speaks to your heart. Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains offer so many options from Chic to Country and many actually have amazing mountain backdrops. The area has so much amazing beauty that you will feel compelled to bring elements of that beauty into your special day. Any of the 10 places discussed here is an excellent option.
Book your other vendors
Once you set the elopement date and reserved your accommodation, you should also start reaching out to other vendors to secure the date. Elopements are just as special as traditional weddings and you should find the right balance of planning all the details from things such as the table décor, florals, ceremony archways, pastor/officiant, or anything else you might dream of. Please note that these vendors too must first obtain approval before offering their services in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Plan your travel
Do you plan to drive to Gatlinburg? Take a flight? It is up to you to determine which mode of transport is ideal for your elopement. However, you must decide which option you would like to go with before the date of the elopement. If you prefer, you can always use an agency to handle most of your travel booking, itinerary, etc.
Book your photographer
A photographer will play a key role in your elopement. He/she will capture every awesome moment of your elopement. It is always advisable to hire a photographer that’s accustomed to the Smoky Mountains. He/she must also have a permit to offer photography services within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park if that’s where you plan to exchange your vows.
DOES GATLINBURG SOUND LIKE YOUR DREAM?
How to plan your peaceful elopement in GATLINBURG with me
Let’s dive in, so you can start your journey right away!
Imagine a wedding where you can be you. Breathe. Bask in each other’s love.
Experience a place close to your hearts, or a bucket-list dream.
Are you eager to start planning your elopement in Gatlinburg? I’m here to help you envision, plan and immortalize this beautiful adventure! Contact me now for a free consultation!