When it comes to romantic places to elope, I can’t think of any better spot in the Midwest to elope than in Door County, a county of less than 500 square miles that makes up the “thumb” of Wisconsin.
Home to many beautiful parks, hidden beaches, wineries, and lighthouses, Door County offers many photographic opportunities for elopements. Imagine getting married with just the two of you (or a few close friends and family) in a field of cherry blossoms!
There’s no shortage of great restaurants, adorable B&B’s, and other charming amenities all over this wooded county that is only a few hour’s drive from Milwaukee and about a 4-hour drive from Chicago. It’s a popular destination for elopements for a good reason; there’s an abundance of off-the-beaten-path places to elope.
To get married in any county in Wisconsin, you will need to obtain a marriage license. To apply, you must have resided where you currently live for at least 30 days. Each county has different requirements for when and where to get the license, and Door County is no exception.
If you or your fiance live in Wisconsin, you can obtain a marriage license from the county you reside in, and you can marry anywhere in the state.
If neither of you lives in Wisconsin, you must obtain your license from the Door County Clerk’s office. You must obtain the license 6 days before the ceremony, as there is a 5-day waiting period.
They grant some special dispensations for marriages to be held earlier than the 5 day waiting period, but they don’t disclose what those dispensations are and take them on a case-by-case basis and charge an additional $25 for the waiver. I would not suggest counting on them giving you a waiver; instead, consider arriving early and enjoying your time in Door County before you elope!
If you have been divorced, you will need to provide proof of the divorce, and it must have been at least 6 months before your wedding date. Wisconsin requires this six-month moratorium, and there is no waiver offered.
You will be asked to swear and affirm the provided information is true, and sign the license in the clerk’s office, and pay the $75 marriage license fee. You also must be married within 30 days of obtaining your license, or it becomes null and void.
You can be married by a clergyperson from any active and ordained clergy from any sect, including those accredited out of state.
You may also be married in Wisconsin by a judge that is a resident of the state. This includes any appointed or elected judges, including circuit court, municipal, reserve, tribal, or federal judges. Commissioners may also marry you, as long as they are residents of the state.
Wisconsin is one of the few states that allows self-solemnizing, which means you act as your own officiant and write and say your own vows. The only requirement is that you have two adult witnesses to the ceremony (besides the officiant) aged 18 or above to be present at the ceremony.
I will happily be a witness, or if you have a few people attending your elopement, you can have them be your witnesses. Weird factoid: Wisconsin requires that the marriage license be signed only in black ink.
Door County is a peninsula surrounded by Lake Michigan to the east and The bay of Green Bay to the west. The weather is pretty much the same as all of Wisconsin, with cold, snowy winters, cool springs, warm and sometimes humid summers, and a take your breath away fall season. The peninsula does insulate from some freezing temperatures in the late winter and spring, but otherwise, it’s your typical Midwest climate.
For obvious reasons, summer and fall are busy in Door County. Door County’s #1 moneymaker is tourism, and despite its small stature, Door County can pack people in! However, 23,000 acres are devoted to preserved land, much of it around the shoreline.
There’s also nearby Washington Island, Rock Island, and Chambers Island, which are sparsely populated and have some beautiful places to elope! Even when the traffic is heavy (there’s really only one road in and out), there are always places to get away from the day-trippers in Door County.
The summers are green and lush, and the falls are full of spectacular color. However, I always like an underdog, so don’t discount spring or winter. There’s plenty of beauty here to be found, as long as you have an adventurous spirit, the right hiking boots, and warm clothes.
Once you’ve decided on a date, it’s time to start thinking about what vendors you will need for an elopement adventure in Door County. Booking your vendors as soon as you have picked a date is important, so you get exactly the people you want to work with.
Even though elopements may be smaller and less fuss than a traditional wedding, they can still have lots of moving parts to coordinate. If you are from out of state or are not familiar with Door County, it can be helpful to have vendors with a deep understanding of the local area, who the best vendors are, and where the best food is!
Some vendors you might consider hiring are; hair and makeup artists, florists, wedding planners/coordinators to help you with logistics. You should also and have a plan A and a plan B, and of course, a photographer!
As a Door County photographer, I am always happy to suggest places to have your elopement if you don’t have a particular location in mind. Read on for some of my favorites!
If you love lighthouses, Door County has 11 of them for you to visit. Most were built in the 1800 and are still well-maintained and are actively keeping Maritimers safe.
Cana Island Lighthouse is probably the most popular because it is open to the public, and you can climb to the top of the tower to get awesome views (and photos!)
It’s a short walk down to the beach, and the sunsets can be spectacular here. It would be a perfect place to elope because it’s got all the scenery you could want!
If you want to get away, this tiny little island 7.5 miles off Door County’s coast in the bay is like stepping back in time. Chambers Island has no electricity and only recently in the last few decades has a sewer system put in place.
Only accessible by boat, the island has sandy beaches, beautiful sunset views, and a historic lighthouse on the 3200 square mile island. If you love the idea of a private island, this is as close as you will come in Wisconsin!
Because of the limited means to access the island, I’d suggest chartering a boat and choosing this island in the summer when the weather is a bit more predictable.
A short 5-mile ferry ride across where Green Bay and Lake Michigan meet, you can arrive on Washington Island, a peaceful and secluded island.
One of the most spectacular beaches there is Schoolhouse beach, which features thousands of sandstone rocks, polished smooth because of how they tumble down the cliffs in the horseshoe-shaped bay.
Washington Island is more populated than Chambers and has more amenities such as restaurants and hotels, but still feels like you are a world away.
At the tip of the peninsula is Rock Island, an uninhabited island home to the beautiful and remote Rock Island State Park and has breathtaking 365-degree views of the water from all sides of the island.
If you’re looking for an adventure/hiking elopement, Rock Island would be an excellent place to consider because it has over 10 miles of trails. It’s dense and woody on the interior but has sandy beaches, and of course, what Door County location wouldn’t be complete with a lighthouse! Rock Island boasts the oldest in Wisconsin, the Pottawatomie Lighthouse.
On the northern edge of Door County is Newport State Park, 2,300 acres and 11 miles adjacent to Lake Michigan’s shores. Called the “Dark Park” because it has the designation of a dark sky park, meaning that they actively advocate for the protection of natural parks being free of urban lights that can affect nocturnal wildlife.
As you can imagine, the stars shine bright in Newport. The northern lights can often be seen from here and spectacular meteor showers can often be seen in the late summer months.
Newport is a great place to stay if you love camping. Sandy beaches, great for swimming or kayaking, beautiful wildflowers in the summer. Newport also has great views of the moonrise, which could be wildly romantic for an elopement!
On Washington Island, there are two Lavendar farms, Fragrant Isle and Island Lavender Company. Online there is no information about photos or weddings/elopements there, but if you contact the owners, they have specific days/times they allow small events.
The lavender is in full bloom in late July/August, one of the busiest times for Door County, so if you love this idea, it’s best to plan ahead and perhaps even consider staying on the island because ferry traffic can be heavy in the summer.
The lavender farms are beautiful, and of course, so deliciously fragrant!
Door County has a good size Scandinavian population; you will see influences all over the county from the goats grazing on the thatched roof of the well-known Swedish restaurant, Al Johnson’s.
A beautiful place to get married on Washington Island is the Stavkirk, a beautiful chapel built in the style of a church in Borgund, Norway.
It’s the perfect place for an elopement because, at capacity, it can only hold 38 people. The church’s outside is gorgeous, surrounded by tall piles and mature trees and a little bridge area with a walking trail.
It has sort of a medieval feel to it and many intricate carvings inside and out.
Another beautiful little chapel in the woods built in the Scandinavian style is the Boynton Chapel on the grounds of Bjorklunden, an estate in Baileys Harbor. Built over 9 years, this chapel seats 36 and has gorgeous frescos painted throughout and stained glass windows.
It’s another location that’s great for outdoor photos and is a short hike to Lake Michigan. They book the chapel in two-hour increments, and it’s very popular, so if possible, I would recommend a weekday because you’re much more likely to get a timeslot than on a busy summer or fall weekend.
If you’re considering eloping in Door County, I’d love to talk to you about the many photographic opportunities on this beautiful peninsula. I’ve listed a few favorites here, but there are many, many other options.
If you can imagine your perfect elopement day in Door County, what would it look like?
Really, your elopement can have any look and feel you like. You can get married by the shore of Lake Michigan, have a beautiful private dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants in Door County and have a bonfire cuddling together; I’ll capture it all for you!
For more detailed information on elopement photography, contact me here, and we can talk about what you love about Door County!