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  • Zachary Sawyer

Backpacking Elopement on Mt. Garfield

A Mountaintop Elopement in The White Mountains National Forest, NH.


The 4.8 mile hike places you at 4500ft of elevation, right on the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The bare summit holds a 360° view of some of the East Coast's tallest mountains. This is one of the most beautiful places in New Hampshire, perfect for a multi-day adventurous elopement.


 

Morning on Mt Garfield - June


More about Mt. Garfield...


Mt. Garfield's summit stands at 4500ft of elevation, making it one of the White Mountains's 4000 footers (a list of all the mountains in the region with summits about 4000ft; there are 48 total).


The summit is bare rock, peaking above the tree-line in all directions. In the foreground you'll see 11 more of the 4000 footers, including Mt. Lafayette; the 6th tallest summit at 5260ft of elevation. In the background, the tallest mountain in the northeast peaks its head; Mt Washington. On a clear day, you can see it's 6288ft summit along with the rest of the Presidential Range.


Due to the 360° view, Mt. Garfield offers incredible views of both sunrise and sunset. In the morning, the sun peaks from the east over Mt Washington, casting it's light onto the east face of Lafayette. If you're lucky, the right weather conditions create a sea of clouds with these tall peaks rising up through them.


The Morning View of Mt Lafayette from Garfield


In the evening, the sun sets over the right shoulder of Lafayette, casting it's pink and orange rays towards Mt. Washington.


Sunset over Mt Lafayette


Hiking the Garfield Trail - A Moderately Challenging Adventure


The shortest hike up Mt. Garfield is the 4.8 Mile Garfield trail. With 2700ft of elevation gain, this adventure is not easy. It's primary challenges are the distance and steep inclines towards the top (especially with backpacking gear). However, if you turn this hike into an entire day, you could do it without breaking a sweat.


When I backpacked this trail with a few friends (some of which were beginners), we made the journey up in 3 hours and 15 minutes with a pace just above a casual walk (1.5mph). Adding more time will make this trail easier to handle, and even give you more time to take in some of the iconic forest scenery of New Hampshire.


 

MT. GARFIELD BACKPACKING ELOPEMENT TIMELINE


Getting Ready for Your Adventure


Pack your bags; bring your backpacking gear (tent, food, clothing, etc.) and your elopement items (wedding dress, marriage license, and your rings). This is a 2 day, 1 night trip, so bring all the gear you'd normally bring (I provide a packing list to my couples). As for the elopement items, you'll want to make sure you pack those with care, especially the rings!


Keep your rings somewhere on your body at all times, whether in a special bracelet or necklace, but never leave them in your backpack.


You'll want to start your hike in the morning. If you're not local to the White Mountains Region (if it takes you more than two hours to get there), you'll want to look at places to stay. Fortunately, there are plenty of options; you could stay at the Sugarloaf Campgrounds near the trailhead, or somewhere a bit more furnished; like this cozy Treehouse Cabin near North Conway.


*photo from airbnb's website


Having a place to stay nearby is essential; the White Mountains National Forest is large, and even if you're nearby it can take an hour or more to get to your trailhead. Reserving a place to stay allows you to arrive the night before, decompress, and wake up more casually and stress-free for your elopement. There are so many amazing places to stay near the White Mountains National Forest, find something that speaks to you.


Day 1 - Beginning Your Elopement Adventure


After waking up in your cozy cabin or campsite and making your coffee, your journey begins. Travel to the Garfield Trailhead for 9am, starting your hike this early is key to enjoying your experience (and sweating as little as possible). You'll begin hiking around 930am, after going over your checklist of course.


New Hampshire State requires someone (a Justice of the Peace or otherwise) to officially marry you. If your ceremony is at the summit, you won't have to hike with them, but you will have to coordinate with them to make sure they'll be up there at that time.


From there, you have the entire day to go 4.8 miles, it'll be a breeze! Take your time being present in the environment around you; breathe in the pine scented air, listen to water flowing through the brooks, feel the warmth of the sun peaking through the trees. Along the way, you'll have time to stop and take lunch, and pause for any breaks you need.


Day 1 - When You Arrive to the Summit


Your first order of business is going to be to setup camp so that you don't have to do it later, and to ensure that you get a spot while they're available. Garfield Ridge Campsite, less than a quarter mile from the summit, is a maintained campsite with tent platforms, a composting privy, and a natural spring water source. Take the time here to unpack and clean up a bit.



Next up, dinner. You may eat at the campsite, or carry your food to the summit for a meal with a view. Either way, you'll want to make it up there for sunset.


When you get to the top, that is the time to relax and take some gorgeous couples photos/videos with your photographer and videographer (If you've hired them to document your elopement). The summit is a popular one, but it's large enough that you'll have no problem getting away from the other people while maintaining your view.


If you stay past dusk, you'll be able to see the stars come out (on a New Moon night), thanks to New Hampshire's low light pollution. But don't stay too long; if you want a private summit ceremony the following morning, you'll need to wake up early enough to beat the crowds. Head back to camp at a decent time, and try to get some rest for the big day tomorrow.


Day 2 - The Big Day


This is it! The day you get married!


You'll start this morning with getting up and dressing up. Anything you brought to wear during the ceremony, this is the time to put it on. Don't worry about breakfast or cleaning up your tent, you'll do that later.


If you'd like to do a First Look, get dressed in turns (as you'll only have your one tent to get ready in), and let the receiving person (the one who will wait in place and turn around to see the other; typically the groom) sneak away to the summit first.


Go over your elopement checklist one more time before leaving camp, make sure you have everything you need for the ceremony, the following celebrations, and your breakfast afterwards. Then, make your way to the summit.


Day 2 - Your Sunrise Mountaintop Ceremony


This is where it all comes together. You should have your Photographer, Videographer, Justice of the Peace, and Spouse waiting for you at the summit. They'll help with coordinating how this goes down, and you'll be able to rehearse it all the evening before.


Starting with your First Look; your partner will stand by themselves atop Mt. Garfield, facing the view, awaiting your arrival. The morning light will be peaking over the eastern mountain range, casting your shadows across the landscape to the west, and landing on the pine-covered slopes of Mt. Lafayette. When the moment comes, you move towards your partner and tap on their shoulder. What happens next is written by you.


The Ceremony follows; your vows, spoken to each other, are only heard by those present as the trees and hills of the vast landscape absorb the stray sounds of your words. Be present, this is your moment.


Day 2 - You're Officially Married! What's Next?


You've done it! You've married the love of your life, and now it's time to celebrate. Absorb this moment for everything it is, make sure to remember it!


Now you can sit down, enjoy your breakfast as the sun slowly rises and warms up the cold rock beneath you. If you've hired a photographer and videographer, they'll be capturing this meaningful moment from a far, letting you enjoy the beginning of this new chapter in solitude. But before you head back to camp, make sure to take a moment for more couples photos/videos, the scenery will be breathtaking, you'll want to have something to remember it by.


Head back to camp and pack up, throw that "Just Married" sign on your backpack, and start your hike back.


 

Conclusion


This was an incredibly fun idea to draft up. In my years of hiking in the White Mountains, I've found all sorts of gems like this. Today, as I focus on documenting couples' stories with video, I hope to also bring my knowledge and experience in adventures like these to couples who didn't know something like this was an option.


Hire Me as Your Videographer & Planning Assistant


If you'd like to hire me, head to my contact page. There, we can start a conversation and begin crafting your dream elopement experience.


Happy Eloping,

Zach


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