Zion National Park | Utah
the hearnes » adventure elopement photographers
Kelley + Matt’s Intimate Family-Only Wedding in Zion National Park
Kelley and Matt’s intimate destination wedding in Zion National Park is truly such a great example of how you can have an adventurous elopement-style wedding and still invite the guests that mean the most to you. These two are from the north east, and in their very first email to me Kelley mentioned how they’d both been to so many weddings that the idea of doing something big and traditional was absolutely not for them. Kelley said that from the moment she came across our instagram account, she knew our vision for weddings spoke to her and Matt, and was exactly what they wanted. She mentioned they’ve always valued travel and experiences over nice things, and this was yet another way they could live out that life philosophy. Matt and Kelley are both super close with their families, so they knew they wanted their parents and siblings present for their wedding, and they wanted it to be somewhere beautiful so they could fully focus on being in the moment, celebrating their marriage without all the usual wedding fluff.
From her initial description, I knew we could absolutely make those dreams come true, and when they mentioned feeling drawn to Zion National Park in Utah, I agreed it was the perfect place for an intimate wedding like theirs! We helped them plan a lot of the logistics, and Kelley really put her creativity to work coming up with gorgeous DIY projects, styling and designing their entire wedding from afar, having never seen the venue! They chose to rent out a gorgeous AirBnB property located right on the edge of the park, which provided the perfect place to get ready, gather their guests, and have a beautiful reception dinner on the porch under the stars. If you’re planning an intimate wedding near a National Park, we can’t reccomend this idea enough — renting out a little property to get everyone together makes the logistics so easy to manage! Just make sure you confirm what you’re planning with your AirBnB host first.
Kelley and Matt planned out an epic weekend for their families and basically made a vacation out of their wedding week in Zion. They all went hiking, road four wheelers, and explored all over the desert. Nobody in the group had ever been out here before (including Kelley and Matt) so it was truly an amazing experience for all of them! The day of their elopement we met up in their little villa perched up on a hill. As we walked in the door we were immediately greeted with hugs and squeals from Kelley and her family, as if we were long lost friends! They even asked where Charlie (our dog) was within a few minutes of arriving! We explained he was with a friend for the day, but he ended up getting to come for the reception…best thing ever! As Kelley was finishing up on her hair and make up (by the amazing Brynn Thomas), I walked around and took photos of all the stunning details Kelley had put together. Her bouquet was one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen and even had a real cactus in it (By Bloomers never ceases to amaze us!). After they shared a sweet first look on the back porch (with their adorable moms looking through the windows), we made our way out into the desert for some private portraits together before their ceremony. We ventured into some areas of Zion National Park that are less popular than the main canyon, and the questing paid off because we had it all to ourselves! We did end up exploring into a little slot canyon area that had a few climbers, but honestly that just made things even more entertaining.
After hiking around together for a bit, we met up with Kelley and Matt’s family and hiked into a little knoll for their ceremony. Kelley’s brother, who is also best friends with Matt, officiated the ceremony and had everyone in tears pretty much the entire time (including himself). It was so sweet to watch how their families participated in this moment with them, while still allowing them to fully focus on each other. One of my favorite things about these small elopements is the way guests can be involved in the process. For instance, Kelley’s parents were standing near them, so when she started to get emotional over her vows, her dad stepped forward and rubbed her shoulders. It was the sweetest moment of support and love, something that wouldn’t be as natural in a big ceremony setting where everyone is sitting in the “audience.” After their ceremony, they did a toast with a special beer that was brewed in honor of one of Matt and Kelley’s brothers’ fallen colleagues. They are both firefighters together, and they brewed this beer to celebrate the life and benefit the family of their friend, so it only felt right to have a toast to honor him there.
After their ceremony, the family went back to the villa to get ready for dinner and we went over to Zion Under Canvas to check Kelley and Matt in for their tent that night! We absolutely love Under Canvas — their glamping tents make it feel like you’re on a safari, so we were stoked when they wanted to do a few portraits on the property! After that, we went back to the villa for more time with their families. Kelley and Matt shared a first dance, and then each danced with their parents, which turned into a big group dance surrounded by the most beautiful Zion cliffs. Then, as everyone came inside, Kelley’s sister surprised them with the most amazing gift — videos made by their family and friends back home congratulating them, offering advice, and celebrating their marriage from afar. Matt and Kelley were a puddle of tears watching the love from all of their people near and far, and even a video of their sweet pup! It was such a special surprise, and so thoughtful of her sister to put together.
As the sun began to set, we ran off for one more little portrait session on the property, our at a beautiful private overlook with views of the gorgeous sunset. It was a perfect way for Kelley and Matt to really soak in a few moments as husband and wife, and make sure they truly remembered everything they loved about their wedding day. Before it got completely dark, we made our way back for a delicious dinner catered by Padre Canyon Foods and the table that Kelley designed. She spent months sourcing vintage candle sticks, hand-dying the napkins, and hand writing everyone’s place cards, and everything came together beautifully. After they cut their cake and signed their marriage license, we couldn’t resist the invite to hang out a little longer, no cameras, just as family. They even insisted Charlie join, so Callen went to pick him up and sure enough, he was the life of the party! It’s always such an honor when our couples, and their families, invite us in as one of them. The rarity of that is not lost on us…we could be seen as simply vendors for the event, but to be seated at the table, and then invited to stay without cameras in hand, is an honor I will never get over. I am so thankful for the connections we build with our couples, and in some cases, their entire families.
Elopement Location: Zion National Park, Utah
Reception + Lodging: ZionVilla “True North” via AirBnB
Photographers: The Hearnes Adventure Photography
Bride’s Dress: BHLDN
Bride’s Hair + Make Up: Brynn Thomas
Bride’s Bouquet: By Bloomers
Bride’s Accessories: Etsy
Bride + Groom’s Lodging: Under Canvas Zion
Reception Styling: DIY by bride (but I highly reccomend Mae & Co if you prefer not to DIY)
The Hearnes Adventure Photography is run by Abbi and Callen Hearne, a husband & wife wedding photography team with an emphasis on adventure. They live on the road as full-time nomads, allowing them to serve a large portion of the western US. You can typically find them in Moab, Utah or Yosemite National Park, California, with side-quests to Patagonia and Alaska. They believe love is the greatest adventure and strive to create photos that are epic, romantic, true, and timeless.