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Blog Post

Leave No Trace & Elopements

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

One of the things I really love about elopements? The connection that a couple creates with the land they read their vows on. It's really beautiful to be able to come back year after year to the same wildflowers, the same incredible views, and feel the same way you did on your wedding day. But it's not unheard of for these beautiful ceremony locations to be shut down - that means no photography, no more ceremonies, and no more vow renewals! When this happens, it's likely because the land wasn't being taken care of. Maybe everyone was trampling on the wildflowers until they didn't grow back, or maybe folks kept leaving their trash behind because they thought "this one empty water bottle won't hurt." Enter Leave No Trace. Leave No Trace is a "framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors." That includes eloping couples! I also can't stress this next point enough - it doesn't matter if you haven't been perfect at the things I'm about to talk about in the past. You can start now!

If you're looking to elope outside, ask your photographer if they're Leave No Trace Certified - this means they've taken the LNT Course For Photographers, and will know how to create an elopement that's incredible, and planet friendly.

Ready to learn the 7 Principles? I've copied The Principles word-for-word from Leave No Trace's own website, and then followed it up by explaining what this means for you & your elopement!

1. Plan ahead & prepare

The Description:

"Adequate trip planning and preparation helps backcountry travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably, while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land. Poor planning often results in miserable campers and damage to natural and cultural resources. Rangers often tell stories of campers they have encountered who, because of poor planning and unexpected conditions, degrade backcountry resources and put themselves at risk." What This Means For Elopements:

Every one of my couples receives a custom location guide. When you choose one of those locations, I'll let you know what we need to prepare for - if an area floods easily (like a slot canyon, for example), we'll keep a close eye on the weather and make sure you have a backup location! It means I'll make sure you know what gear you need to bring. It means I'll always have extra snacks and backup headlamps in case we stay out after dark. Whatever adventure you want to go on? We'll be ready for it!

2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces

The Description:

"The goal of travel in the outdoors is to move through natural areas while avoiding damage to the land or waterways. Understanding how travel causes impacts is necessary to accomplish this goal. Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development of undesirable trails. Backcountry travel may involve travel over both trails and off-trail areas."

What This Means For Elopements:

Our wild places here in Utah (and elsewhere) may seem rugged, but a lot of them are actually pretty delicate! Instead of romping off trail and squishing the wildflowers, we'll find creative ways to shoot where you don't need to leave the trail. For your ceremony location, we'll make sure you're totally surrounded by beauty, but not stepping directly on it.

3. Dispose of waste properly

The Description:

"The Center encourages outdoor enthusiasts to consider the impacts that they leave behind, which will undoubtedly affect other people, water and wildlife. “Pack it in, Pack it out” is a familiar mantra to seasoned wildland visitors. Any user of recreation lands has a responsibility to clean up before he or she leaves. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash and garbage."

What This Means For Elopements:

If you want to elope way out in the wild, you need to be prepared for anything, and I mean anything! Whatever we bring in, we'll bring out. There are lots of ways to make this pretty simple, for example - after your vows, we'll skip the confetti and choose to pop champagne instead! Or if you want to turn your trip into a backpacking elopement, well, you probably know already that we'll need a way to take care of No. 2 properly (it's all part of the adventure, I promise).

4. Leave what you find

The Description:

"Allow others a sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them."

What This Means For Elopements: If you love to collect things, let me know what you'd like to bring home with you and I'll take a perfect, frame-able photo of it instead. Think about it this way - you might only want to to take a small vial of sand from the beach where you say your vows, but if everyone who visited the beach took a vial of sand, there wouldn't be much left over for others to enjoy! The same can be said for desert rocks, fossils, and more.

5. Minimize campfire impacts

The Description:

"Fires vs. Stoves: The use of campfires, once a necessity for cooking and warmth, is steeped in history and tradition. Some people would not think of camping without a campfire. Yet, the natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and an increasing demand for firewood. The development of lightweight efficient camp stoves has encouraged a shift away from the traditional fire for cooking. Stoves have become essential equipment for minimum-impact camping. They are fast, flexible and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition—and they Leave No Trace."

What This Means For Elopements:

This one is pretty straightforward! We'll only create fires in already existing fire pits, make sure to follow any existing fire bans, and try to get our wood in town so we don't need to take any from the existing environment!

6. Respect wildlife

The Description:

"Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a “better look.” Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife so keep your group small. If you have a larger group, divide into smaller groups if possible to minimize your impacts."

What This Means For Elopements:

Trust me to come totally prepared for the area you're eloping in. I'll let you know beforehand what type of wildlife we might get to see, if we're lucky! And if we're in bear country, I'll bring the bear spray, y'know? We can totally observe any animals we come across, but as cute as they are, we won't be feeding the chipmunks (no matter how much they beg ;)

7. Be considerate of other visitors

The Description:

"One of the most important components of outdoor ethics is to maintain courtesy toward other visitors. It helps everyone enjoy their outdoor experience. Many people come to the outdoors to listen to nature. Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets and damaged surroundings take away from the natural appeal of the outdoors."

What This Means For Elopements:

Your ceremony location won't be right in the middle of the trail! When you choose a location, I'll spend time researching/scouting to make sure we won't be in the way of anyone else getting to enjoy the view too. Most people totally love coming across an elopement and will congratulate you, we just want to make sure they don't have to shuffle around us to keep moving! Getting interrupted wouldn't be fun for you, or for them. I also love to bring along a bluetooth speaker that clips to my gear, but I leave it off in crowded areas. If having a totally intimate, people free experience is super important to you, let me know and I'll consider that when helping you choose your ceremony location!

You made it to the end!

I want everyone to be able to experience the incredible outdoor scene here in Utah (and the whole planet, let's be real) for generations to come. Could you imagine if your family could hike to your exact elopement spot years from now and remember how badass you were to get married out in nature? For that to happen, we need to take care of our wild places and keep them open! And finally, to be totally honest, I want to be able to continue visiting these places. A lot of the locations I recommend to you mean a lot to me, and I'd be heartbroken if they became inaccessible. So do your gal a favor, and let's Leave No Trace!

Do you practice Leave No Trace or is this the first time you're hearing of it? Let me know in the comments and let's chat! 👇

Kira McGrigg Photographer & Guide is based out of Utah and specializes in elopements that connect couples more deeply to the planet through sustainable practices and incredible experiences.

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