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How To Elope In North Carolina

A newly married couple kisses in the forest on their elopement day near Asheville, NC

Considering eloping in North Carolina?

You just found the ultimate guide and elopement checklist for your North Carolina elopement!

Whether you’re scaling back your wedding due to events beyond your control (like a pandemic), or you’ve always wanted a smaller, less conventional wedding, this helpful guide to eloping in North Carolina will answer all your questions.

Elopements are becoming more mainstream, but there still is a stigma attached to eloping. Because of that stigma, it can be hard to find the information and resources you need for the wedding you want.

You might have questions, like:

  • Is it legal to elope in North Carolina?
  • How much does it cost to elope in North Carolina?
  • Who can legally officiate a wedding in North Carolina?
  • Do you need witnesses at your wedding in North Carolina?

Don’t worry! It’s easier than you might think. This step-by-step guide and checklist will cover all your bases, from links to official websites, breakdowns of fees, and some great tips for accommodations and locations.

Let’s get started!

How To Elope in North Carolina: The Checklist

1. Choose Your Location

Choosing your location is the first and most important step. It’s also probably the hardest. North Carolina is such a beautiful state, with majestic mountain vistas to the west and sunny sandy beaches to the east, where do you see yourself getting hitched?

Looking for suggestions? Check out the guide to the best places to elope in North Carolina.

I realize that this might sound crazy coming from a photographer, but there’s more to choosing your elopement location than just pretty pictures. Sure, the sunrise over a mountain outside Asheville might look great on Instagram, but does that truly speak to your relationship? If so, great! But if not, don’t force yourself to have a wedding that doesn’t feel right just because it’ll photograph well.

When choosing a location, think about your history and activities that are meaningful to you.

Was your first date to the Biltmore in Asheville? 

Do you both love surfing in Wilmington? 

Is your ideal vacation holing up in a cabin in the mountains like Davey Crockett?

One thing to consider when choosing where to elope is the cost of wedding and photography permits in some parks. It varies from park to park, but in North Carolina, you can usually elope in a state or national park for under $150, but that cost may increase if you bring too many guests.

2. Choose Your Date

When it comes to eloping in North Carolina, there are a few things to keep in mind when picking a date.

Things to consider when choosing your NC elopement date:
WEEKDAYS VS. WEEKENDS

One of the best things about smaller weddings and elopements is that you don’t have to plan your schedule around what’s convenient for a big group of people. You might have a few guests, but you won’t necessarily have to schedule for a weekend to make it easier for a hundred people to be off work and able to travel and recover from their hangovers.

Which means you can elope on a weekday. Getting married on a Tuesday may not sound like the most romantic option, but hear me out.

Eloping on a weekday is a great option for several reasons:

  • Smaller crowds at parks, beaches, and other public spaces.
  • Better prices from your favorite wedding vendors
  • You can do the ceremony and spend a couple days together and then follow it up with a weekend celebration with your loved ones.
SEASONS

Generally speaking, in North Carolina, the winters are relatively mild and the summers are hot and sticky. If at all possible, avoid doing your elopement in July and August.

Not only are July and August going to be uncomfortably hot, but that’s the height of tourist season; the interstates will be parking lots, beaches and parks will be full, and hotels and Air BnBs will be more expensive.

Do yourself a favor and avoid the dehydration and heatstroke, plus sweat stains and matted hair in your photos by steering clear of elopements in July and August.

Opt For Spring Or Fall

For more comfortable weather, think about late March through mid-June or September through mid-November. In the spring months, you’ll get flowers and that bright, fluorescent green of new foliage, and in the fall you’ll get the leaves changing.

DAYLIGHT

Keep in mind the amount of sunlight in your elopement day, especially if you’re planning for early spring or late fall.

If you have a full day of activities, consider exchanging vows early in the morning or at sunset — you’ll catch the beautiful light, and still have several hours either before or after to spend your day together. Work with your photographer to put together a timeline for your elopement that is perfect for you. 

VENDOR AVAILABILITY

If you have your heart set on working with certain vendors, you should definitely check with them about their availability before deciding on a date for your North Carolina elopement.

You could narrow your date options down to 5 or 10 and then check with your vendors about their availability on those dates. With any luck, you’ll be able to find one that works for everyone.

3. Decide How You Want To Make It Legal

Once you have your date picked out, your next step is to decide how you want to go about the legal process of getting married.

Most couples who elope in North Carolina will go about it one of two ways:
  • Have an officiant perform the marriage on the day of their elopement
  • Get legally “courthouse married” on a different day, but have the scheduled elopement day be a celebration of their commitment to each other. 

Some couples consider their elopement date to be their anniversary, and some couples celebrate the day they were legally married. It’s up to you!

North Carolina is among the most hard-nosed states about the legal process of getting married.

If you want to have the official marriage ceremony performed on your elopement day, you’ll either need to find a magistrate (not a judge) or a minister from a recognized religious institution and two witnesses. North Carolina does not recognize online ordinations from the Universal Life Church nor do they allow civil celebrants or judges to conduct marriages.

Depending on what you’re imagining for your day, it might be difficult or not part of your vision to have a minister and two witnesses along on a lengthy hike or going to the beach with you at sunset.

TAKE CARE OF THE LEGAL STUFF ON A DIFFERENT DAY

Many eloping couples will choose to simply take care of the legalities by getting “courthouse married” on a separate day, to spare themselves and their loved ones the headache. Because of NC’s strict laws around marriage, this might be the best option for you.

You can still choose to have a loved one join you and perform a ceremony or give a reading on your elopement day if you’d like!

4. Plan Your Day

This is the fun part of the planning process! Work with your photographer to build a timeline for your elopement day.

Do you want to go for a hike?

Spend the day at the beach?

City Hall then dinner?

Your elopement day can be anything you want!

When putting together your elopement day timeline, it’s important to build in buffer time, especially if you’ll be going to more than one location.

The universal law of wedding days states that there will be traffic, someone will spill something, or someone will have forgotten something important.

Or maybe you’ll get lucky, and you’ll end up at an amazing spot at just the right time so catch some cool lighting and want to hang out a little longer to enjoy it!

Building in buffer time allows you to take the day as it comes, instead of stressing about your schedule.

An adorable farmhouse near Asheville, NC which would make the perfect home base for your elopement.

5. Book Your Accommodations

Once you know your date, and where you want to elope, it’s time to book your accommodations!

Some local couples will choose to skip this step and get ready at home and then go back home at the end of the day. However, one reason to consider booking somewhere to stay is so you don’t have to make your house picture-perfect! 

Your getting-ready photos can be taken in a clean, bright, stylish place without you having to lift a finger. Also, the fact that you are eloping instead of having a big wedding doesn’t make your day any less valuable or significant. You deserve to have a relaxing getaway. 

You will want to book your accommodations soon after your date is set. North Carolina is home to some incredibly cool Air BnBs and relaxing retreats, but the good ones tend to book up fast. 

Here are some examples of cool places to stay in North Carolina for your Elopement:

A Home of Beauty and Wildlife near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Elegant Stone Greenhouse on 40-Acre Farm

Sugar Creek Treehouse with hot tub

6. Curate Your Wedding Day Details

Whether you want a killer bouquet, the perfect vintage hiking boots, or an antique rug to stand on to say your vows, give yourself time to carefully and intentionally choose the details that will be a part of your wedding day. 

7. Obtain A Marriage License

A month or so before your wedding date, you’ll want to make a plan to get your marriage license. You’ll both need to visit the Register of Deeds office for the county in person. Some offices allow you to submit your paperwork online in advance to save time, but regardless, you’ll still need to show up in person to get your license.

Marriage licenses in North Carolina are only valid for 60 days, but can be used the same day you apply, so this is one part of the elopement process that you don’t want to knock out early.

How to get a marriage license in North Carolina:

Each Register of Deeds office has different requirements and different costs for issuing a marriage license, so you’ll need to contact them in advance to make sure you have your documents and payment in order. 

The average cost of a marriage license is $60.

Things you will probably need:
  • Proof of your social security number.
  • Proof of your age.
Things you might need:
  • Proof of a divorce (if either of you were previously married).
  • Cash (some offices only accept cash).

8. Elope!

It’s the day you’ve been planning for! You’ve done all the careful planning and curation ahead of time, so wake up slow, have a cup of coffee in your yurt, and enjoy your day exactly the way you want to. 

Things to know about getting married in North Carolina:

Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, and you can not be denied a marriage license on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender. 

If you or your partner (or both!) have decided to change your name after your wedding, you will need to contact the social security administration to get a corrected social security card, and then go to the DMV to change your name on your driver’s license.

Additional Resources for Eloping in North Carolina:

Information on Marriage from the NC Judicial Branch

Worried that you might regret your decision to elope down the road? Check this out.

Where to Elope in North Carolina

When it comes to elopement destinations, North Carolina may not immediately come to mind.

But with its great collection of State and National parks, and the variety of landscapes to be found within the state, North Carolina is slowly working its way up the list of the best places to elope in the United States!

The possibilities are nearly endless, but here are some of the top places to elope in North Carolina!

Asheville

Asheville is the #1 place to elope in North Carolina, and for good reason. An artsy town situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are beautiful vistas everywhere you look. Whether you prefer to get hitched in a hip place in the city, or want to drive a little outside of town to some of the beautiful natural spaces, Asheville is the place to beat!

Catawba Falls

Only a half-hour and a short hike away from Asheville, Catawba Falls is a gorgeous backdrop for your ceremony. It’s in Pisgah National Forest, so you may actually need to acquire a special use permit if you are entering the park under the guidance of your photographer, even if your party is less than 75 people. Remember when I said that weekday elopements cut down on crowds? You’ll definitely want to think about that here. The hike is easy and the falls are beautiful, which means lots of tourists.

Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock State Park is less than an hour from Asheville and has gorgeous vistas, trees, and waterfalls as well as covered pavilions and pews. There are fees associated with events, weddings, photography permits, and you’ll need to reserve your spot early to secure the place you want to hold your ceremony.

Lake Glenville/High Falls

Lake Glenville and High Falls pack a one-two punch, located just across the street from one another. High Falls is at the end of a short but strenuous hike down a hillside and is well worth the effort.

Check out this elopement at High Falls!

Linville Gorge

Linville Gorge is part of the Pigsah National Forest which is truly a national treasure. Linville Gorge is packed full of incredible scenery and hiking trails with more beautiful spots to see than you could possibly fit into one trip.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway meanders through Southwest Virginia and down into Western North Carolina. With its curated overlooks peppering the parkway and famous hikes and vistas, eloping on the Blue Ridge Parkway is an awesome choice.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the line between Western NC and Eastern TN, and is home to some of the most incredible views you’ve ever seen in your life. Countless hikes featuring breathtaking views offer the opportunity to craft an elopement day that is truly unique.

The Outer Banks (OBX)

If the mountains aren’t really your scene, North Carolina still has beautiful options for you. Spend the day relaxing on the beach, or exploring the dunes in Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Wilmington

Wilmington, NC is a quaint river town minutes away from the coast and spectacular beaches. Wilmington is the perfect place to bring a small group of friends and loves ones to celebrate with you.

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