Weddings In National Park

Weddings from the Pros

Episode 64 with Nathan, Preston, Cindy and Mary Ann

Cindy Ballaro and Mary Ann Nease of Ladies of the Light Ceremonies and Photography offer some pointers on the factors to consider and what to anticipate when planning an outdoor wedding and why a national park can be a great choice as a wedding venue.

Reach out to them through their social media at Ladies of the Light Ceremonies or at

In This Episode We Cover:

  • Consider the Park where your venue will be and its accessibility  for the guest. 
  • Why the time of the year is very important to avoid any troubles.
  • Coordination with your Event Coordinator is necessary to plan a perfect Wedding  .
  • Why asking for Park recommendation on where you want to have your wedding is crucial in planning.

Listen to the Full Podcast Here!

Read the Full Transcription Below!

Here at Angled light photography. We believe marriage is an amazing adventure and your wedding is the jumping off point. We'll explore planning an authentic and meaningful wedding experience as we connect with real life couples and the industry's top professionals. We're here to inspire and encourage you as you begin this journey of a lifetime. Hey, everybody welcome back to another episode of the show. So I am here, joined with my brother from another mother Preston. What's up guys? Great to be here. We are really excited about the guest that we've got on today's show and we're actually doing this remote because you guys are in north Carolina, right?

Yeah, near Asheville. So I'm talking today with Cindy and MaryAnn from the ladies of the light ceremony and photography and they do something that's incredibly special, very unique and that Preston and I honestly haven't really seen done anywhere else. So that's why we wanted to have you guys on the show. You guys specialize in planning weddings in national parks, right? That's so cool. So you know, pressed and I both have a love for the outdoors. We really enjoyed being gone As a matter of fact, Preston just got back several days ago from hiking and Zion he was just showing me footage.

It looked beautiful. Yeah, a lot of snow. It was great to be out and get out of the office a little bit. So we have a lot of questions for you guys and we're excited to hear because we do love weddings and we love being outside. So we love to hear your take on what you guys do. Yeah, So Cindy and Marianne. So tell us a little about you guys. How did you guys get started with doing weddings and national parks and kind of making that your specialty?

Okay. Well I'm gonna let Mary Ann take this one over because it's very special to her. So I have two granddaughters and the youngest one. She and her husband fiancé at the time I started traveling out west to look into the national parks and they went to arches and they went to Moab to see the stars at night. And when they decided they were gonna get married, my daughter decided that she wanted to get married in the national park also in addition to, yes, she had her heart set on another national park.

But when she did all her research because she did it all on her own, she found out that the one that was really her favorite place, there was just some limitations as far as accommodations. And so she had to switch. So they did some investigation and they came up with Zion national Park. Neither one of them had ever been there. So Cindy and I got invited to go to the wedding, which was very honored that I thought I wanted mom to come all that way. And so it was a little bit of a family trip and Cindy came and we went early and visited a couple of other national parks nearby and the day before the ceremony we actually went to Zion and scoped out the place where she was hoping would be a good spot never having been there.

She was a little nervous. So she was really glad that we had the opportunity to go. And we met for dinner the night before and we said, oh you'll love it, it's by stream and it's just you know, these big rock faces, just these huge red cliffs. And she decided that she was going to get married in the late afternoon. So it was a very nice son and it's all about the light. That's my byline. I've said it for years and so it is all about the light blowing and it was just a tremendously beautiful wedding.

I mean it was very nine people and so after the wedding was over we were old and Afterglow was saying how well everything went and my daughter said, well I'm so glad everything turned out okay, but I don't want to ever have to do that again by myself because it was so hard. It was so hard. I was at her house several times and she would have me going through uh different picking a photographer out there. I am a photographer but didn't want mom to do it and I got that but I didn't have a camera and I didn't manage to sneak in a few.

So anyway, after the wedding was over, Sydney and I had such a wonderful trip before the wedding that I was laughing and I was, well, we we actually picked up the cake and had to help do a few other things. And at the end of the trip I was staying Sidney. We'd be fools not to try to join forces because Cindy planned our trip and she picked the best places to stay. The most economical places to say the best features, a hot tub or this cool restaurant nearby.

And so she did all the planning for us. And I took pictures all the time. And so we were talking about it afterwards, I said, oh my gosh, let's, I'd go anywhere with you. You could plan a trip for me anytime and I could go along and take pictures and then it was just like, oh wow, wouldn't it be fun if we could start a wedding planning business in national parks because they're just so beautiful. Yeah. And they're being appreciated more and more all the time. Yeah.

Well that's so cool. That's what I was born. That's cool. That's awesome. And I think what's really interesting is that, you know, a national park is probably a national park for a reason because it probably has, you know, some really unparalleled beauty that you're just not going to find anywhere else. I mean that's why it was designated a national park and protected by the government, you know, And so it's always been interesting because I've never thought about why I don't see more weddings in national parks. But you know, I would imagine that a part of that is because the logistics of making that happen is probably fairly difficult. Right?

Planning a conventional wedding is complicated enough. But when you start talking about permitting and travel and all of that stuff, I would imagine that having someone who's an expert in that field could really, you know, make something possible. That otherwise would be pretty tricky. Right? So let's kind of start with, probably the first question is on everybody's mind, which is okay. I know I love the outdoors. I'm an outdoorsy person and the wedding that I would envision in my head probably is a reflection of that, you know, and so the idea of having a wedding or their wedding in a national park is something that resonates with them. Right?

So how do they go about deciding where to go? I mean, there's some options, right. Oh, yeah, there are lots of options I guess. You know, right now, we have focused on three parks in the area of the country that we are in right now. So we've focused on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the great Smoky Mountains and the new River Gorge in west Virginia, which is the latest, my newest national park in America. And so, you know, we've gone to those parks and really vetted some great ceremony sites and leave them out.

We've taken lots of pictures and videos. And so I guess that's where we would steer people to now. They wanted to go someplace else. We would certainly help them with that. But those are the ones that we've looked at right now. And so we would suggest those locations. That's cool. What's the, probably the biggest thing when somebody's trying to decide, okay, I think I want to have my wedding in the national park, I want to have my wedding outside versus, you know, I don't know if I want to maybe go to a traditional venue.

What are some pros and cons both ways that you guys can think of when somebody's planning their wedding that you would just say, hey, so these are some things to think about to really figure out if this path is right for you. Right? Well, two things really come to mind first is the size because most of the sites that are in the parks are limited to 25 or less people. So, you know, you have to be okay with really having that intimate group of people at the ceremony.

Now, we also work with people if they want to have a larger reception or party somewhere else, where they have 100 people, then they can have the small reception and then we'll all drive to the other place where the reception is. But I think that's the first question, you know, are you going to really be okay with having this small intimate ceremony and then, you know, of course the weather and so one of the things that we're doing to help ensure that that's not as big of a factor is the sites that we are vetting have some type of shelter nearby.

So if it's raining and we need to go under the shelter and have the ceremony there we can do that. Hopefully, you know, it wouldn't be raining all day and Marianne can get some lovely pictures when the sun's out. But I think that's probably the other thing that people you know are concerned about now, also the time of the year. I mean we're really only going to be booking weddings from april through october which you know, is really when those parks are really allowing it as well.

And that's gonna mean that you're not, you're not going to have a winter wedding in a national park probably. Well, the new River Gorge in west Virginia does not limit the dates really limit the time at certain spots. There's a real long walkway down to this beautiful overlooking the new river and the new river Gorge bridge, which is a sight to behold in itself. And so here's the thing, you can only in the fall during the fall hours whenever it's so gorgeous that trees are so pretty that they limit the time, you can have the wedding on that walkway and big overlooked to like in the morning, it's like 11 o'clock to 12 and you only have 30 minutes and x number of people could go.

So those are things that you would have to anticipate, but lots of times if it's your, you know, you don't know what to even, you don't know what, you don't know right? I guess you do, I guess, you know, there are always going to be some unknowns when you're having an outdoor wedding and so you probably need to have a disposition of, you know, little carefree nous and you know, if something doesn't go with the flow. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And also, you know, a lot of the parks really are suggesting that ceremonies not be on weekends.

So you know, you might pick a Monday or Friday or Wednesday. And so that's another thing, You know, are you okay with having it not on a weekend day? Gotcha. So for what you guys do, you basically take them all the way from A to Z. Right? So if somebody says, hey, I know that I want to have my wedding outside and I know I wanted to be in a beautiful national park. You basically kind of take them through everything that they need to know in order to have their wedding, right?

I'm guessing and just pregnant from wrong, but I'm guessing you'll help them choose the location the time, the place like because those are big deals in national parks because I didn't even realize what you just said with, you know, there's designated days advised designated times. So finding place and even logistics, like it does kind of need to be easy to get to. I would imagine a lot of times, right? I mean it's not like you wanna backpack into a location so you gotta find somewhere that you got to find somewhere that's relatively easy for, especially even though we're talking mostly a look, you might have some elderly that can't, you know, isn't very mobile and they need to be able to get to that space easily.

So you guys really helped them factor in all of those decisions and choosing the right location. Does that sound right? Yes, absolutely. That's cool. And we've been another thing we've been, you know, really particular to note is how far is the parking lot to the site? And do you have to walk in someplace? I mean there is a site on the Blue Ridge parkway that you know, there's about a 10 minute walk through a trail that I doubt somebody that's in their eighties or nineties would want to do, then there's other places where you can literally drive right up and you're right there.

So there are options. And when other consideration is getting, you always want to look your best at your wedding day. And so that's a concern is where is the nearest restaurant, Is it suitable for my situation? Right. So we have also, we have made notes about parking restrooms and handicap accessible. Right? There are several in the great Smoky Mountains that one in particular that we really like has handicapped walkways all the way up to the restrooms, great parking and a shelter nearby. Real nice lawn beside that's got shelter.

And if you want to go someplace else to have some more formal pictures made that could be either a second trip or after the wedding or before. So I can resonate with that because one of my favorite places to do engagement sessions and I've even done elements is black balsam knobs. That's one place that's pretty popular. There's restrooms that's close by but it's not the easiest to get up to. Right? I mean it's easy but it's not the easiest to get up to and it's not, I don't know that I would sometimes I wouldn't advise people to necessarily use the restroom.

So that's really great knowledge to have on hand kind of taking you through like what does these elements typically look like? Do you help them also with offsite reception locations like a restaurant to go have your reception at. Do you kind of help them through what all those options are after the elopement? Yes, we do. We've been, you know searching out places that are about an hour, an hour and a half from the ceremony sites and then for instance, like in west Virginia pipe stem. State Park.

It's just amazing state park with beautiful facilities and it's only about 30 minutes from grand view, which is on the new river gorge and grant the state party. Yeah. And so we would work with their events person and get the date set and everything with them as well. And then our couples can either work directly with that person or we can sort of be the in between to help coordinate all that. But yes, we're gonna definitely have options for them for reception sites. Cool. And typically for most of the elements, I know the ones that I've photographed in the past, you know, it does kind of various a little all over the place.

Like I've done elements where they just get married and that's it and they basically get in the car and then they go off to their honeymoon. I have done, you know, they'll do that. And by the way, like when you say 30 minutes to an hour and a half, it's because a lot of these locations are rather remote, right? Like the national parks typically has borders that are pretty far away and it takes a little while to get, you know, to get to the entrance of the park, you know, and so that's why it's not intentional that you want to make it an hour or an hour and a half.

But that is just something to keep in mind that if you want to have dinner that night, it will take just a little bit of time to get from the ceremony location to the place that you're gonna have kind of a reception. So I'd like to say a little bit of something about that. I know that a lot of people who really do want the simple scenic ceremony and they want to stick to that, let's just say they do get married there and they have a reception site that's 45 minutes away.

They have that 45 minutes to an hour by themselves just after they've exchanged vows and the most important day, they're not inundated with people in their face and asking them questions and I'll come over here. There's just not those distractions. You have an amount of time to really let it sink a little bit. That's such a great point. So Preston here has said numerous times that at whatever point he is getting married, we're working on it, we're working on and whatever point he does get married, he's probably gonna do it on top of a mountain somewhere. Right?

I've been married now for 11 years. But for somebody like Preston who maybe sometime in the future will be getting married, what are probably like the top three favorite locations that you guys have, like, where would you advise people to check out and to see what are your top three favorite locations? Well, I guess because we have focused on these three parks the most, I would say in the great smoky mountains, we found a really sweet spot that has what they call Spence cabin, which is a wonderful like cabin that you could have the reception in right there.

And then behind it is this beautiful stone portico that goes out onto the river that's right behind the house. And so it's like you're almost in the river, you know, and everybody could be on that stone portico. I think that would be an awesome place in the great Smoky Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Gosh, my favorite would be chest. Oh, oh yes, just don't overlook. Right, That's not a very long walk. It's just a breathtaking view right now, that one is tiny. Like I think you can have like 10 people including the photographer and the right, right.

And then I would say in the new river gorge, I think grand view right now is our top choice for their again, there's a lot of little spots in that park that are secluded and have a shelter nearby working great parking, beautiful views of the river and I'll tell you in May and June when the rhododendrons are blooming. It is absolutely gorgeous. I mean they have the most beautiful flowers there and I think we've ever seen all over the park all over near the overlooks and the new rivers and behind and it's just as I say, it's almost, that's awesome. Yeah.

So to kind of start wrapping things up was probably the three biggest tips that you have for somebody who's looking to, you know, have their wedding in a national park. What are maybe three things that most of the couples that you guys have worked with so far were surprised at or that they just didn't know going into the planning process. Well, I would say first off to hire a planner because really, you know, as Marianne said earlier, we really watched her daughter agonized over all the details that she had to be doing and she was doing that to a park that was 2000 miles away and that she had never even been to before.

So I would say, you know, hire a planner that is familiar with the parks and you know, we of course would love to be that planner. Well, the second thing that we're probably the first thing that most people don't know, even as a traveler, you know, the national parks are being hit really hard with tourists right now. Some places are having to limit the number of people and the process communicating with the parks is, it's not difficult, but it can be time consuming. You have to apply for a permit, a certain amount of time away from the wedding.

And some places, for instance, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you're not allowed to bring live flowers of the concerned live flowers, maybe possibly spreading seeds from the flower bouquet onto the ground and disturbing the ecosystem. So I never thought of that. Right? So there's there's things about the park that people don't think of. And so, you know, that's what information will bring to them so that they can decide, oh well, you know, that's gonna keep me from doing this or, wow, that's perfect. I'm a real concern about the ecosystem of plants and the integrity of the park.

And of course that's what I'll do because I'm that kind of right black crest like Preston, you're right. Is there anything that you would add to that that you would? Sure. I'm trying to think. I mean, my first thought is I do think a lot of people don't realize quite how many limitations there are in certain parks. Right? National parks, our national parks for a reason. These are the, you know, kind of ecological gems of the country, right? These are the most special places. And so because you know, the way that regulated is to protect them because they're so special.

That means you do have to think about permits. You do have to work with rangers. You do have to think about, you know, all of these things that you might not normally think about. This wasn't even on my radar really before this conversation, I've heard of people getting married in wild places, right? Places up on top of mountaintops and by rivers and stuff. But it's really interesting that you guys even bring this to the table because it never even crossed my mind to get married in a national park.

So I think it's really cool and obviously we encourage our couples to work with great planners that can help them navigate all of the logistics. But it's cool that you guys are doing a deep dive into this because it wasn't even really on my radar to actually be inside of a national park because in my mind it would be too tricky. But it's really cool that actually as possible with the right kinds of planning. It is, it is, it is. And we've been looking into all those details so that my daughter wished.

Now I'm sure that she would have hired a planner and she said so herself. Right. But now us watching her really broadened our knowledge of all kinds of different things and when's the best time for a wedding at a certain location where you maybe have the light coming from a certain direction, can they be there at the sunset time or the sunrise time? And of course the photographer is going to think about this, right? Yeah. I mean obviously Nathan and I write Eastern Standard time or whatever Mary and I'm sure that your experience as a photographer helps you guys do a really great job of what you do because you know, obviously Nathan and I are photographers.

So that's the primary thing we're thinking of is how are we going to capture what we're gonna capture. And I would imagine that the wedding's you guys are planning and, you know, wild weddings like this really do have the potential to create some really stunning images. And so that's very exciting to be able to think about that. And you know, obviously we encourage people to have kind of a comprehensive conversation not just with their planner, but also with the photographer, if they're thinking about photography, and that's important to them, really asking those questions, which way is the sun setting?

Which way are we going to be facing? What, what time of year, what flowers are blooming? Like all of those questions are worth pre planning so that you can maximize, you know, your experience and get images that really capture. And so that's super exciting. You know, we we would look forward to being able to photograph a wedding like that because it seems like it would be really special. 101 100%. So that the guys, this has been really amazing. Thank you so much for coming on and thank you so much for being open and going down the endeavor of doing this and helping couples who are really interested couples like us, not that president, uh what I'm gonna say, people like us, you know, people like us who do love the outdoors and who would be very, very interested in doing that's cool.

I didn't even know the term was wild wedding, that's pretty neat. So I just made that up. Okay, well we just coined that, right? But to have somebody who can actually help a couple do a wild wedding because that's something that is very, very unique. And I wouldn't think for me if I was planning a wedding right now, I wouldn't even think to go find a plan because I wouldn't think that there was a coordinator who specialized in that, right? So I think I just think it's really cool that you guys are doing it and hopefully we can help get your message out to the masses, to the, to the wedding photography wedding from the pro nation.

So thank you guys. I really appreciate it. Yeah, A big part of our philosophy here at angled light is trying to help people think through how do you create a wedding that really fits your personality and not necessarily break the mold for breaking the mold sake, Right? We encourage our couples to not just make decisions about planning their wedding, whether it's one or where, how many people based on what people expect of them, but really think through like how do you create the wedding experience? That's who you are and what your relationship is.

So it's really cool that you guys are kind of playing a part in that. And you know, if you would explain to someone 50 years ago, I don't know if this is like a recent development, but it's cool to see people starting to really embrace taking a wedding and making a personal making it fit them. And I think you guys are empowering people to do that in this really cool new way. Absolutely. I think that the last couple of years with the health of the viruses and concerns people really did seem to turn to smaller weddings and two national parks.

Both Right, right, right. Yeah. I also just wanted to mention that on both our Facebook and Instagram pages which is ladies of the light ceremonies every day. We have a simple scenic shot which is a beautiful picture that Marianne has taken and so you can wake up in the morning with some with a beautiful photo every morning and we invite people to come and like those pages and so they can get their simple scenic shot 100% all in love with trees everywhere. Again, that's that's awesome. And is there a website, is there somewhere else where people can find you if they have more questions?

Yes, Ladies of the light ceremonies dot com and they can visit us there. We have a little, we're offering a initial complimentary consult and they can schedule it right from our website. Sounds great. Well thank you guys so much for being on. We really appreciate you. Great to meet you guys. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Alright guys. Hopefully you guys enjoyed the conversation if you guys are looking for trying to find the right planners to help you design this wedding for you, which means that you love the outdoors.

You want to be outside and you have a love and respect for the national parks and you want that to be a part of your story. A little part of your story, reach out to the ladies of the light and they will help get you there guys. Thank you so much for joining us. I hope you have a great day, a fantastic week and the best month ever. Take care. Bye bye here, angle life photography. We believe marriage is an amazing adventure and your wedding is the jumping off point.

We'll explore planning an authentic and meaningful wedding experience as we connect with real life couples and the industry's top professionals. We're here to inspire and encourage you as you begin this journey of a lifetime.

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