How to Elope at Dream Lake - A guide for elopements, weddings, and engagements
When clients ask for my favorite place to take elopement, wedding, or engagement photos in Colorado, the answer is always Dream Lake. Hallett peak has such a unique shape that's easily identifiable in photos, and the lake itself is so magical that it's a fun place to visit, even over and over again. I think the images genuinely speak for themselves, so here are a few samples of the hike to Dream Lake.
Can you have an elopement or wedding ceremony at Dream Lake?
Unfortunately, no. There are designated locations where you can exchange vows within Rocky Mountain National Park, and Dream Lake isn't one of them. However, you can still take pictures all over the park!
Wedding Permits at Rocky Mountain National Park:
I have some bad news; if you want to elope or have a Rocky Mountain National Park wedding in 2021, you're too late. Rocky Mountain National Park cut down the allowed number of permits to 250 per year, and they were first-come, first-serve, and all claimed by mid-January if you're determined to exchange vows in the park plan for 2022. Sorry, friends! You can apply for your 2022 permit starting in October of 2021. Keep in mind they only allow six ceremonies per day - so if you have a specific date, plan accordingly. Applications are $300, and well worth it! Apply for your wedding permit here.
Didn't get a permit for 2021? Instead, opt for having your ceremony outside the park in either Estes Park or Grandby, then visit the park for an epic elopement or wedding photos and activities.
Photography Permits at Rocky Mountain National Park
If you're only planning to take photos in the park for your elopement wedding, that makes things a little less complicated. Your photographer needs to purchase a photography permit for the exact day. Permits are only $50, or $300 annually.
Designated ceremony locations at Rocky Mountain National Park:
There are 12 designated locations to exchange vows. The closest place to Dream Lake is the Bear Lake Nature Trail, but it's not permitted on weekends and only allowed part of the year. Here are all of the wedding sites in the park.
Pro's to taking photos at Dream Lake
If you're trying to convince your significant other that Dream Lake is worthy of the 2.2-mile hike for your elopement, wedding, or engagement photos, consider that it's one of Colorado's most iconic views. It has a magical feel even while you're there! There are also multiple epic spots to stop and take photos while you're on your way to the lake, or you can extend your hike. It's a short hike, so it doesn't take very long, and it gives you more time to enjoy the rest of the park or do other activities during your elopement or wedding.
Cons to taking photos at Dream Lake
Dream Lake is busy; there are tons of visitors each day. Sometimes you'll have it all to yourself, but more often than not, you'll be sharing it with others. You might even see another couple having their photos taken. If you're looking for a location with total seclusion, this isn't it.
The best time of year for photos at Dream Lake
There is no bad time of year to have your photos taken at Dream Lake. The lake is even epic when frozen over and covered in snow! My favorite time of year for Dream Lake is autumn because of the changing colors and Elk, but you don't see much of that at the lake itself.
The best time of day for photos at Dream Lake
For optimal lighting and the alpine glow, opt for hiking up to Dream Lake before sunrise; when the morning light hits Hallet peak it greats this incredible red glowing effect (you know what I'm talking about!). If you can't handle sunrise, opt for just before the evening's golden hour. Sunset isn't always very epic in the location since it gets dark so fast in the mountains' shadows. I would opt for taking photos at the lake right before the golden hour and then heading out to Trail Ridge Road for epic sunset photos at the highest point in the park.
Astrophotography Elopement/Wedding Photos at Dream Lake:
Dream Lake and almost all of Rocky Mountain National Park are epic locations for astrophotography since it's so dark! Don't forget that if you aim for epic astrophotography shots during your elopement, you don't want the moon to be out, and plan your day around a new moon. I suggest a cooler evening, specifically Fall, for the best Astro shots!
You don't need an officiant in Colorado! Isn't that cool? Instead, you can self-solemnize, and it's legally binding. However, if you'd like someone to, that's okay! In addition to my photography services, I'm a wedding officiant, so that I can sign your marriage license.
Other great elopement photos locations in Rocky Mountain National Park:
If you're planning an all-day adventure (which you should), also check out Moraine Park, Sprague Lake, and Trail Ridge Road for other excellent photo locations. Almost everywhere you turn, there's a masterpiece of a landscape, so you have plenty of photo location options. Other ponds and hikes in the park offer amazing views. Like Emerald Lake and Sky pond!
Elopement Activities near Rocky Mountain National Park
There is an unlimited amount of hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park! So if you want the party to keep going after your Dream Lake hike, here's what I suggest:
Keep hiking beyond Dream Lake to Emerald Lake.
Make it out to Sky pond! If you're up for a 9-mile hike to a pond with a peak that has mountain spirals do it! And bring your photographer. You'll pass up a few other ponds on the way, and my favorite, Alberta Falls.
During the winter, the ponds freeze over, and you can walk on them, so this is such an impressive winter wonderland to snowshoe at! If you plan on snowshoeing, I suggest extending your hike.
Once you're in the park, you probably won't want to leave for a meal. Instead, plan a picnic with an epic view. There are plenty of places in the park and the hike to Dream Lake for a fantastic picnic opportunity.
Paddleboarding and Kayaking
Hear me out - paddleboarding can be a fun, leisurely elopement activity or great for engagement photos too. Head back out to Lake Estes or over to Lake Grandby.
Frequently Asked Questions about Dream Lake:
When is Dream Lake open?
Dream Lake is open year-round and actually makes an excellent location for elopement, wedding, and engagement photos even in the winter! Double-check the RMNP website to ensure the park is open before your trip, or there are no road closures inside the park.
Is Dream Lake in Estes Park?
No, Dream Lake is in Rocky Mountain National Park, which borders Estes Park.
How to get to Dream Lake from Estes Park:
The most comfortable entrance for Dream Lake is the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. From Estes Park, you'll want to take US-36 W/Moraine Ave for 3.8 miles until you run into the park entrance. From there, enter the park and turn left onto Bear Lake Rd. After 9.4 miles, Bear Lake Rd will end at the Bear Lake trailhead at the parking lot.
How long is Dream Lake hike?
Dream lake is 2.2 miles round trip and only 425 feet of elevation gain. This is an easy hike!
How far is Dream Lake from Denver?
It's roughly a two-hour drive from Denver.
Are Dogs allowed at Dream Lake?
No, dogs are not allowed on trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. Sorry guys, I don't make the rules!
Can you swim in Dream Lake?
Here's the deal... Rocky Mountain Park Lakes have leeches. You heard me right, leaches. So while it's legal to swim in RMNP, you're going to want to pass. The only lake that is illegal to swim in is Bear Lake, which you will pass on your hike. I normally suggest swimming as an elopement activity, but not here!
Can you drive to Dream Lake?
The road to Dream Lake ends before Bear Lake; it's a 2.1-mile hike from there.
Can you camp at Dream Lake?
Rocky Mountain National park is a great destination if you want a camping elopement.
Camping in the wilderness is an option at RMNP. You'll need to get a wilderness permit at the Headquarters Wilderness Office. It's a $30 fee and is actually allowed year-round. Remember to follow Leave No Trace while camping in the backcountry! To learn more about designated areas and wilderness camping check visit the RMNP website directly.
Designated campgrounds at Rocky Mountain National Park
There are reservable campgrounds at Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine Park Campgrounds. There are two first-come, first-served campgrounds at Longs Peak, and Timber creek campground. These locations range between $20 to $60 per evening. For more information on designated campgrounds, visit NPS here.
Can you fish at Dream Lake?
Yes, fishing is permitted at Dream Lake. You must have a Colorado state fishing license.
Dream Lake Elopement and Wedding Photographer
Oh hey! That's me! I'm Cassandra, Colorado elopement photographer, avid hiker, adventure seeker, sunset chaser, and husky lover. Did I tell you I love Dream Lake so much that it inspired my logo? CHECK THAT OUT!
I help couples curate their dream elopements by researching locations, activities, and more. I even have a teammate who helps plan my international elopement travel and lodging!
I have a complete guide to the best places to elope in Colorado. Check out my resources for writing your vows and how to elope, and tell me what else you need! If you're ready to chat about your dream elopement, I'd love to hear from you; let's meet up over coffee or zoom! Let's plan your elopement, contact me here.