First things first

I think elopements are the coolest.

I spent years daydreaming of getting married among the mountains or beneath the giant canopy of redwoods. And the thought of going someplace like Italy or Ireland? Sign me up. As I've built my business, I've made some of those dreams come true through the experiences of the couples whose elopements I've been a part of, and I have had the pleasure of traveling around the country, shooting in some of the United States' most beautiful parks and landscapes.

But with those fabulous adventures have come many, many conversations with couples about the incredible toll planning their elopement took on them, both financially and emotionally. The cost. The inconvenience. The disappointment of friends and family. And as an Iowa native and avid explorer of this great state, I look around and ask myself, "Well...why not Iowa?"

This is not a plea begging you not to elope. But it is an encouragement that, if you're on the fence about whether or not you can make an elopement work, I strongly encourage you to consider looking out your back door and realizing all Iowa has to offer. Let's take a look at a few ways that eloping in Iowa can make your elopement dreams come true, shall we?

It's not what you think it is

A little weird on the wording, but stick with me because this is an important concept to grasp before we more forward:

Focus more on what elopements AREN'T instead of what Iowa IS.

Like I said before, I have had fabulous daydreams about glamorous elopements. They all are outside, usually on a cliffside or at the edge of a giant alpine lake, typically with a waterfall off to my left no matter where I am standing. And more likely than not, that's the scene you have in your head of eloping, too. Because for a long time, eloping was one of two things: running off into the woods alone, or running off to a Vegas chapel with an Elvis impersonator. Both incredible valid and fun ways to celebrate the beginning of your marriage. But not the only ways to do it.

Changing your mindset to focus more on what an elopement is for you is one of the most important things you can do when planning your elopement. Elopements don't have to look a certain way. They don't have to have a certain backdrop or venue or theme. The only thing an elopement has to "do" is celebrate the beginning of your marriage the way you and your partner see fit.

Love the prairie where you walk your dog? Boom—you've found your first look spot. Always wanted to hit up that beautiful state park a few hours away? Tada—there's your ceremony location. Have a favorite watering hole you love to visit? Awesome—grab your post-ceremony drinks there. You can go 20 minutes or 20 hours away from your house, just as long as you feel like it speaks to who you are is all that matters.

It's cheaper

It's no secret that weddings are an investment. According to The Knot, the average traditional wedding in Iowa as of 2022 was $19,000, though other sources go up to as much as $25,000 due to the cost of inflation post COVID. Yeesh.

And while eloping definitely helps reduce the financial burden, even with the best intentions of scaling down and doing something more intentional, you might start to see the dollar signs piling higher and higher. Adventure Instead, one of the premiere elopement photography companies based in Colorado, reported that the average couple spends anywhere from $5,000-$15,000 eloping. $5,000? Not too shabby! But $15,000...that's almost what you would spend for a traditional wedding.

So where would we, in Iowa, most likely be in that range? Let's break it down a little:

Say you want to get married in Olympic National Park. Some quick Googling shows that flights from Des Moines to Seattle, Washington are anywhere from $500-800 depending on what time of year you're planning to visit. You need to check at least one bag (wedding attire doesn't pack down quite as nicely as your casual Tuesday attire), and obviously you'll need a vehicle to get said people and bags from point A to point B. Without even leaving the airport parking lot, you've already spent anywhere from $1,500-3,000. Then you have to consider regular travel expenses, such as gas for said car, lodging, and food, but on top of that you have the additional expenses of wedding attire, flowers, and vendors like photographers. (Because, let's be honest, if you're going to go through all the effort of traveling to somewhere epic for your wedding, it'd be silly not to have someone document it.)

Eloping in Iowa reduces a heck of a lot of the cost. You're subtracting hundreds, if not thousands, by removing the need for things like travel tickets, lodging, car rental, and eating out. Does that mean that you can't rent a nice AirBnb or hotel? Or swing by a restaurant or two? Absolutely not. But it does give you more options of how you choose to spend your money and on what.

It's more convenient

And speaking of affordability, let's talk about convenience. I don't know about you, but as an avid traveler I still get regular headaches on trips. Whether it's delayed or cancelled flights, hotel rooms that don't match their photo online, or forgetting important items at home right by the front door on the way out of the house—there are a lot of way that trips can go wrong. And on wedding days, we especially want things to go right.

I'm not saying that getting married in Iowa will remove every opportunity for flubs, but it's hard to argue

Also, is one of your biggest hesitations eloping excluding friends and family? (Or even pets?) Eloping closer to home provides easier opportunities for friends, family, and pets to be a part of your wedding day. Have folks meet you after a private ceremony for a fun reception or say "see ya later" after your nuptials to focus on some alone time with your new spouse without having to worry about things like travel and lodging.

A wedding couple walks through a lush prairie towards tree-topped bluffs in Decorah, Iowa.

It's freaking GORGEOUS

Circling back to "It's not what you think it is," you don't have to sacrifice your daydream of epic views or scenic scenery just because you're not leaving the state.

I'd say trust me on this, but do the "research" yourself: Iowa is absolutely stunning. While we may not have coastlines or mountains, we do have an INCREDIBLY diverse landscape, spanning from sprawling prairies to breathtaking bluffs. Almost any scenery you want you can have in Iowa, all within a few hours drive from your humble abode. And the best part? Most of the State and City parks in Iowa don't require a permit or usage reservation to utilize their natural spaces. Simply show up and do the dang thing. (Lodges and pavilions are another story.)

Thinking an Iowa elopement might be for you?

The first step is hiring a local photographer who knows their way around Iowa's state and city parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and hidden gems. And not to brag or anything, buuuuuuut oh hey I'd love to help.