Northern Arizona is spectacular. And it’s no surprise as to why many couples want to have their weddings here: They want to capture the magic of the region on their big day. If you’re considering having your nuptials or researching different wedding destinations, consider this your ultimate guide to planning your Northern Arizona wedding. Many visitors head to Northern Arizona in search of seeing the region’s downright gorgeous scenery. And couples looking to wed are no different.
“Aesthetics are really important to people,” says Jane Ferrell, owner and lead photographer of Jane in the Woods, a Sedona-based wedding planning, photography and floral company. “That’s why they’re coming to Sedona: They want this memorable, epic picture of them doing this once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Likewise, plenty come to Sedona seeking out the city’s renowned healing energy. “The weddings that I witness that happen here just have this level of sacred energy that I don’t see happening everywhere else. If Sedona is in your ear, in your mind, listen to that because there’s a reason. I can’t even think of one bride who followed that and then wasn’t just absolutely thrilled,” says Jane. “Time and again, we hear, ‘It was an incredible experience. It was perfect.’” Although it’s virtually impossible to describe an “average” Sedona couple, two planners we spoke with for this story said that many of their couples tend to be adventure-seeking and searching for an authentic experience. Most are coming from out of town. Many are also planning elopements or weddings with about 50 guests or less. “We find that people are prioritizing the wow factors and the experience and the memories,” says Jane. Now that you know why someone would want to have a wedding in the area, here are our wedding-expert approved tips on planning a wedding in Northern Arizona.
What Sedona’s Venues Have to Offer
Sedona is home a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces where couples can hold their weddings. These range from large resorts complete with ballrooms to stunning red rock locations. See a list
of local vendors on page 14. Sedona can host tiny elopements as small as just the couple and weddings of up to about 200 guests. Although Laura Marolakos, a wedding planner and coordinator
with Heart of Sedona weddings, says she wouldn’t advise her clients to go above 140 guests. “Usually, the local venues have an outdoor space that has some gorgeous views,” says Laura. “It just depends on the vision. Some people want to keep things 100 percent outside, and just dance under the stars all night. Others want a more elegant feel with a ballroom and feel like they’ve got that security from weather and the environment. And maybe it feels more glamorous or upscale to them to have a ballroom.”
Don’t Forget to Check the Calendar
Before you book your wedding date, be sure to check to see what else is happening in Sedona. Unless you’re planning a pretty small wedding, you might be in town during a busy, packed weekend.
“The beauty of Sedona attracts not only wedding couples, but tourists from all over the world. Corporate and local events are also popular, and of course, we cannot forget holiday weekends. Booked up hotels and restaurants along with heavier than normal traffic is part and parcel to these busy times. Keeping that in mind when choosing your wedding date will provide you and your guests a stress-free day,” says Wendy Umstattd, director at Sedona wedding venue Agave of Sedona Wedding & Event Center.
Start Planning Early
“My recommendation to brides, if you can, is to really plan a year in advance,” says Laura. Laura encourages brides to do this for two reasons: Many other events go on in Sedona, and couples will want to ensure that the city can accommodate their wedding group. The second reason is that Sedona is a small town.
If your original date is not available or happens to coincide with another large festival, don’t despair. “Be open to changing your date if your date is not available. Have a backup date,” says Laura. Likewise, you’ll want to keep in mind that not everything you want or might need will be instantly available. Just try to go with the flow. “We’re an intimate town, and we only have so many resources,” says Laura.
Consider Planning a Multi-Day Trip to the Area
Laura and Jane both told us many couples will stay for a few days before and after their weddings to explore the area. They’ll jet off to the Grand Canyon or Antelope Canyon. Some couples will take a wine tasting tour, Jeep or helicopter tours, go golfing or biking (Laura says she’s had grooms injure themselves before the wedding and doesn’t advise anything too intense pre-ceremony), visit a spa or take a yoga class. Or stay in Sedona and see what makes it so magical. “Couples that come here want something unique. Something intimate. Something that’s special to do with their group,” says Laura. “It brings these groups together in a very special outdoor environment to help them reconnect in whatever way they need to reconnect. Whether it’s with themselves or their partner or their families. It appeals to the adventurous.” If you’re up for it, consider donning your wedding attire and having a photo shoot in the red rocks. “Go off into the sunset with your photographer on top of a mountain and enjoy the natural beauty. It’s what makes Sedona special: We’ve got so many nooks and crannies here. Each rock, each mountain has its own personality,” says Laura.
Red Rock Destinations Can Be Difficult to Reach
Browsing through Sedona wedding photos on Instagram is fun and beautiful. And it’s easy to imagine your wedding being in a stunning locale. But it’s important to keep in mind that a picture can only tell you so much. “Those photo shoots are not reality,” says Laura. “They’ll see certain venues, and say, ‘That’s where I want my ceremony, and I have 150 people.’ And, well, that’s not a reality here in Sedona, because you need a Jeep, a high clearance vehicle, and it takes about an hour to get up there.”
But You Usually Don’t Need a Permit to Host a Sedona Wedding
One perk of having your wedding in Sedona? You’re typically not going to need a permit unless you’re planning to marry at an Arizona State Park. “Sedona is not a national park. There’s a lot of open “land,” says Jane. “It’s very big and open. And for that reason, it’s really easy to get married here. There’s lots of places you can go.”
Check the Weather Prior to the Big day
Many couples assume the weather is identical to Phoenix weather, and that is not true. “We are not Phoenix,” says Laura. “That literally needs to be emblazoned everywhere.” In the spring months of February and March, the temps can be chilly and tend to drop at night. Make sure you’ve brought clothing for cooler months. Laura has seen snow in April. During the summer months of July and August, monsoons or sudden, heavy rain storms can drench an entire outdoor wedding. You’ll want to have a rain backup if you’re holding your wedding outside. This will only work for small weddings. “I just don’t encourage the large groups to come during monsoons. It’s just too difficult because we don’t have many rain backups here,” says Laura. But she says smaller elopement weddings can work. “We can get away with it with umbrellas. There are a few locations in the summer we can go to that can accommodate a tiny little group,” says Laura. “They tend to be really beautiful because everyone’s huddled together. And it may not be the bride’s ideal vision of rain on her day, but they tend to just go with it.”
Why Have Your Wedding in Sedona?
From the stunning red rock scenery to the quiet, intimate venues, Sedona has plenty to offer couples. And that’s why so many flock here to exchange vows. “The brides and grooms that come to me are a lot more down to Earth. They just want something a little bit more intimate and heartfelt. They don’t want the big city cookie cutter event. They want something special. They want something magical and heartfelt,” says Laura. “That’s really Sedona in a nutshell. It truly is.”
What You Need to Know About Having Your Wedding at the Grand Canyon
If you’re having a Grand Canyon wedding, you must secure a permit with the National Park. Dana Micklos, owner of Grand Canyon Wedding Packages and Flagstaff Forest Weddings, tell us it’s a relatively simple process. But it can take anywhere from 60 to 90 days to obtain this permit. With one exception, the permit costs $150. The Grand Canyon also only has a few sites that can accommodate weddings. Two of the most popular sites for Dana’s couples are scenic overlooks Lipan Point and Shoshone Point. Dana says that although Shoshone is very popular, it’s generally pretty easy to obtain permits for other sites. “It has the most panoramic view of any space,” says Dana of Lipan Point. “It has the best view of the river below.” Shoshone Point is a private space and comes with a higher permit fee of $500. But sometimes a higher price tag is worth the cost. This spot features beautiful scenery, a covered picnic pavilion, a restroom and is easily accessible via car.
Why Have Your Wedding at the Grand Canyon?
“It’s just so different than what anyone else has probably been to before. And that’s very true at the Grand Canyon. Some people have never even seen the Grand Canyon when they go to get married. And so that first big ‘aha’ moment, it’s so cool. It’s a great experience for their wedding day. Something that they’ll just never forget. That’s really been the trend and that’s what people are focusing on is just something a little bit more meaningful,” says Dana.
Be Sure to Look Up Driving Directions to Your Destination
Dana says she educates plenty of couples about the geography of Arizona and how far apart destinations are from one another. If you fly into Phoenix and need to get to Sedona, Flagstaff or the
Grand Canyon, realize that you have a 90-minute drive or longer ahead of you. Dana says many people also assume the Grand Canyon is much closer to Las Vegas than it actually is. Even though
a part of it is, the south rim – where you’d want to be – is about fourand-a-half hours from Las Vegas. Helicopters also can’t land you at the bottom – that’s only allowed in one specific area.
Get Ready for An Adventure
Keep in mind that having a wedding in the Grand Canyon outdoors means you’re in a beautiful setting where the weather can turn in a flash. Be prepared for anything. “People that are coming for these types of weddings, I try to prepare them for anything. So come prepared for different types of weather. Make sure you explain the terrain to your guests so they’re not coming in high heels. Just make sure that they are up for the adventure that it is,” says Dana.
Why Have a Flagstaff Forest Wedding?
You can experience everything from a small wedding ceremony to a full-on reception in the forest in Flagstaff. “We do everything from simple elopements in the forest to full-blown weddings and receptions and a beautiful event tent set up out in one of our locations. And those can be like full blown weddings with DJs and dance floors, lighting and power in restrooms, and they’re just really such a unique experience,” says Dana. “My favorite part of those events is watching those events and watching those guests and in their eyes, ‘Wow. You can do this? This is cool.’” If you’re booking a Flagstaff forest wedding, you can look forward to views of Mount Humphrey’s Peak – the tallest point in all of Arizona – in the backdrop of your photos. Depending on the time of year, you might see aspen trees in full bloom, ferns and wildflowers. Ceremonies typically start right before sunset to capture wedding photos during the golden hour when the natural sunlight is best for photographers.
If You Want a Flagstaff Forest Wedding, You Might Need to Secure a Permit
“For the forest weddings, there is a misconception that you can just go out into the woods anywhere and have a wedding. But, there are, in fact, guidelines in place by the Coconino National Forest Service that require couples to obtain a permit and choose from preapproved wedding locations,” says Dana.