Do your favorite dates involve hiking, picnics, and spending time outdoors? Then a public park may be the perfect spot for your wedding ceremony and reception. Not only will the natural landscape serve as a beautiful backdrop for pictures, but choosing a park as your venue can also help you save money on an event space, decorations, and more. However, planning a wedding in a public park also comes with a unique set of challenges, like the fact that you need to obtain certain permits and the possibility of bad weather. If you're thinking about hosting your ceremony or reception in a park, here are 10 important things you need to consider first.
How accessible is the location?
Whether you're considering having your wedding at a small park in your hometown or somewhere within a larger national park, you'll quickly realize that the most idyllic spots are often located well within the area's grounds—not on the outskirts. Since more remote locations aren't easily accessible by car, some guests, including elderly loved ones, may have trouble reaching the destination. Even if it's easy to drive right up to your preferred spot within a park, you'll need to consider whether or not it will be feasible for vendors to park and unload, and whether or not you'll be able to set up chairs for a ceremony.
Are there associated access fees?
Some public areas and national parks require a fee for admission. Determine whether or not wedding guests will have to pay upon arrival, and consider paying for your guests' fees ahead of time, if so. You could also offer transportation (like shuttles or buses) into the park as a nice gesture.
How many permits do you need?
Since most parks are public spaces, anyone can use the property, but you'll likely need to acquire a permit for hosting a wedding. Apply to the permit office as soon as possible to ensure approval and availability. While most permits are free, you may need to pay an application fee, which is usually anything from $20 to $200. Make sure you've applied for all necessary permits—you may need one for the ceremony and reception and another for amplified sound.
Are there rules and regulations you need to be aware of?
Most public parks have regulations regarding noise and time restrictions, alcohol use, permissible guest count, and rentals. Talk to authorities about the rules before the wedding, and understand the consequences for breaking them. If any of these are deal-breakers for you—say, you can't have live music in your favorite park—then you'd be better off looking for a different venue instead.
What would you do in the event of bad weather?
Does your preferred park have a lodge, covered patio, or gazebo that you could use should the weather turn on you? Will the town's permit office allow you to put up a rented tent in the event of poor weather? Make sure you understand your backup options before booking. Another important question to ask: What happens to the park in the event of severe weather? Some of these public spaces close in heavy rain, snow, or extreme heat or cold, so you may need a back-up location if this is the case.
Will other people be around?
Since public parks are open to anyone, a bride and groom can't banish passersby from the space. Kids may be playing baseball 50 feet from your cocktail hour, and their parents may sneakily snap a few photos of your beautiful reception. If you can't welcome the idea of potential onlookers with a happy attitude, find a more secluded spot for your vows.
Does this space match my preferred dress code?
Outdoor weddings are usually low-key, meaning that an elegant ball gown may look out of place in a park setting. If you've been dreaming of a black-tie celebration, complete with women in gowns and men in tuxedos, a park might not be the right setting for you.
Will the town limit my rentals and décor?
In order to keep a public park in tip-top shape, some local authorities may forbid certain items, like fire pits or in-ground stakes. Check with the park administration before reserving rentals, and don't be afraid to get creative with your big day aesthetic. Since parks are naturally beautiful, you can rely on the surrounding scenery as a major decorative element, but if the idea of not having your dream tent makes you upset, start looking elsewhere.
Are there public restrooms?
Most public parks have restrooms or portable bathrooms scattered throughout the grounds. Plan your ceremony and reception near a restroom for convenience. Or, if your ideal spot isn't close to these facilities, make sure the park allows you to bring in portable toilets. Flush units cost around $300 a piece, while no-flush options run for considerably less (although these aren't the most elegant options for a wedding).
How will we serve food?
Just like with rentals and décor, parks may have restrictions about outside food, beverages, and cooking equipment. Since they don't want waste or food containers to harm wildlife, they may ask you to eat only in designated areas. Ask the management about food restrictions, then plan your meals accordingly.