Adventurous Weddings + Elopements: How to Respect the Great Outdoors on Your Wedding Day (Leave No Trace)

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It’s no secret that I hike and shoot a lot of weddings and engagements up on Roan Mountain and other scenic locations. I often feel a smidge of guilt bringing weddings and guests to these locations, simply because that’s bringing more opportunity to wear down the terrain, annoy hikers, or potentially leave pieces of litter behind, etc. However, I’m also a believer in sharing these beautiful places and trails, because nature is meant to be enjoyed! I try my best to adhere to Leave No Trace’s 7 principles and to always leave a place, “better than we found it,” and to, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”

It’s something that weighs on my heart each and every adventurous wedding, but the best way to respect and appreciate these beautiful locations is to educate brides and grooms planning their own mountaintop, lakeside, or outdoorsy adventurous wedding. If you’re a newbie to hiking and the outdoors, most hikers live by the Leave No Trace code- 7 principles to remember while hiking, enjoying the outdoors, or planning your adventurous wedding!


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1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

The first principle of Leave No Trace is to always plan ahead and prepare for your hike (or in this case, your adventurous wedding)! Always hop on Google and make sure to find maps of the trails that you plan on hiking and see if you can find any reviews that will tell you if it’s an easy or moderate hike (I can always assist you with this). Be sure to also keep an eye on the weather the week leading up to the wedding and plan to dress accordingly- wear hiking boots if need be (versus fancy heels or flats) and bring a jacket if it’s going to be windy, rainy, or cold. If you’re headed to a park or national forest, be sure to research any type of permits needed to hold your wedding in certain locations.


2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

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Now, you may not be camping during your adventurous wedding (if you are, that’s awesome), but you will be holding a ceremony in a scenic location to say your vows! It’s always recommended to stay on trails and to travel on durable surfaces to avoid disturbing or wearing down vegetation. According to the Leave No Trace website, “Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.” When picking a ceremony site, I try to recommend having it in a place where people already go for the view (but also where you’re a bit out of the way of hikers), and some place where you’re not ‘mowing down grass’ or breaking too many tree branches for the view. I also recommend keeping your guest list down (if possible) to the most important people, as to leave the footprint down as well!


3. Dispose of Waste Properly

This third principle is probably the most well known, but you’d be surprised at how much litter is still left behind in scenic places! I constantly find granola bar wrappers and disposable water bottles that were forgotten on the trail. If you’re planning on bringing any type of snacks or drinks, it may be best to bring a backpack or have a friend carry a bag for you to make sure everything is packed out and makes it way back into your car. If I have room in my camera bag, I’ll often times offer to take any trash that the couple may have while we’re shooting portraits!


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4. Leave What You Find

While on your hike to the ceremony location or hiking for portraits after, it may be super tempting to pick some of the flowers you may find or take a pretty rock or other souvenir from the day. Some locations have biologically sensitive areas and picking flowers or taking mementos may disturb those areas. It’s best to try not to disturb rocks or limbs or to build any structures for your ceremony. I recommend not bringing any large items like altars, tables for cakes, or any chairs/couches as props. Let nature be the altar and enjoy what’s already there!


5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

I don’t often build campfires during my intimate weddings or engagements while on the trail, but I’m also not opposed to it as long as we follow important campfire guidelines! A campfire engagement session can be a cute and cozy way of sharing your love for each other and the outdoors, however it’s super important to take precaution with a dangerous flame. First, make sure to check the conditions- has it rained the past couple of days making the ground moist, or has it been incredibly dry and windy? Check local forest personnel to see if it’s possible to build a fire. If it’s okay, try and use an already made fire ring where other campers have made fires and try to use the sticks and twigs around you. This just helps with leaving things how they are and to avoid disturbing the environment too much. Be sure to attend the fire/be tentative. Take necessary procedures to ensure the fire is out before you leave!


6. Respect Wildlife

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In our Tennessee and North Carolina forests and trails, there is an abundance of wildlife —especially bears (Cue Dwight Schrute, “Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.”)! It is incredibly important to respect the wildlife you may see while hiking and exploring for your adventurous wedding. If you see any deer, bears, birds, squirrels etc, be sure to observe from a distance and NEVER feed them. Keep all trash in any backpacks or bags to avoid them looking or smelling your food/snacks. If you bring dogs to your session, be sure to bring leashes to keep them safe!


And last, but not least…

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Oh boy, this is a big one! This goes for not only couples and their guests, but also for photographers who may be sharing nature and locations with other photographers! Like I mentioned earlier, I believe nature is meant to be shared, but in a respectful way. When setting up for a ceremony, make sure that it doesn’t impede with other visitors who also may be enjoying the same view. Avoid making loud noises. It’s great to be happy and excited (most likely you just got MARRIED on a mountaintop), but remember how you would feel if you were trying to go on a hike and met some loud/obnoxious guests in a serene, quiet, location.

Photographers- if you see other photographers in an adventurous location with their clients, be sure to treat each other with respect! A smile and wave of acknowledgement can be nice! If you’re in a hot spot, be sure to allow others to get there too and try not to be in each others’ shots if possible. None of us “own” any location and we’re all so lucky to be able to bring our clients to these spots.

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If we all remember the principles of Leave No Trace, we can all work together to preserve these amazing locations and continue to enjoy the beauty!

If you have any other questions regarding or would like more information on Leave No Trace principles, be sure to visit their website: https://lnt.org!