How We Chose Our Venue | A Wedding Photographer’s Perspective Allenspark, Co

2019 marks NINE years for me of shooting weddings professionally, so when people who know this hear that I’m getting married, everyone seems to be curious about the choices I’ve made after spending so much time in the industry.

The automatic assumption is that planning must have been a breeze for me, after all – I’ve had so many years to gather ideas, witness the pitfalls, the triumphs, know what stressors to avoid, etc.

Well- let me tell ya- planning is NOT easy.

Not for me, and not for most people. Even for trained event planners it’s still a pretty big deal!

A friend of mine referred to wedding planning in a way us outdoorsy folk refer to rough days in the mountains – “Type 2 Fun”. He couldn’t be more right. In retrospect will it be worth it? Absolutely- but it’s not so fun right now.

Part of my job as a photographer is to help guide future couples and to make their lives easier. Now that I’ve been on the bride-side of things, I feel like I have so much more to offer! Therefore I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned from my time in the industry, how I’m applying them to my own wedding, and a few new things I’ve picked up along the way!

First topic I want to tackle- VENUES!

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(one) Choosing a Venue

Where to start : Choosing to look for venue in an area that holds a special place in your heart can make your day even more memorable – plus you’ll have that sentimental place to go visit over and over again.

Our first date was a camping trip in Allenspark, Colorado at an area overlooking Wild Basin (part of Rocky Mountain National Park) with an amazing view of Mt. Meeker – a prominent 13er in the area. It’s also the same exact spot where Bobby proposed to me and asked me to be his “adventure buddy for life”!

Naturally- this campsite has become a very important place to us. It just made sense to also get married somewhere nearby – so we started our search for venues in the Allenspark/Lyons/Estes Park area.

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What I’ve learned as a photographer :

I knew I wanted a large private residence or a venue that provided lodging to our guests. 

Why? In my experience, wedding days – especially those that involve guests who have to travel – can be extremely stressful for a couple who feels obligated to spend the few hours at their reception making sure to spend time with every single guest. No one wants their guests to feel like they traveled such a long way, and didn’t even get a chance to chat with the couple or give them more than just a quick hug and a “congrats”.

Venues that provide lodging for numerous people for multiple days allow a couple to spend quality time with their guests who are traveling. This alleviates the pressure to spend their entire wedding celebration worrying about whether or not they’ve had time to interact with everyone there. The couple will actually be able to just revel in their wedding celebration, doing what they want without stress or guilt.

What I’ve learned as a bride:

Lesson 1: Take a venue tour. 

The venue we thought we would choose and the venue we went with are so entirely different.

We went to look around at a prominent wedding venue known for lodging, and were treated pretty poorly by the staff. We were ignored and treated like an aggravation, and it definitely didn’t feel like a welcoming place in reality vs. the warmth that was conveyed in the imagery on their site.

On the opposite side of things – we really weren’t sure about the venue we ended up choosing before taking the tour.

The website didn’t quite do it justice, and the price seemed too good to be true! But within the first couple minutes of touring the Sunshine Mountain Lodge in Allenspark (though the address is technically Lyons), Colorado- we knew it was “the one”.

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by pine forests and aspen groves, 6 little red cabins and a lodge provide the ultimate Colorado experience to the laid-back outdoorsy type who really just want their wedding day to feel like they’re hanging out with their friends and family at basecamp before (and after) their grand adventure.

It’s perfect for weddings between 60-80 people, but can hold up to 100 and sleep up to 40 overnight. We have the venue for three nights which allows us to hang out with our friends & family before the wedding day, have community dinners/breakfasts, use it as a meeting point for hikes together, hang out by the fire pit in the evening, and there are no worries about folks driving home inebriated.

Not only is the venue just our style, but the owners – Cat & Cory – are the sweetest, and work so hard to make SML a cozy and homey space for their guests.

The cherry on top of it all is that it is just a short 15 minute drive from the campsite where we’ve made so many memories together as a couple, and we’ll be saying our own private vows there before heading back to the lodge for a larger ceremony with family & friends.

Lesson 2 : Consider how inclusive your venue is. 

Because Sunshine Mountain Lodge isn’t a traditional venue, we had to piece our vendors together ourselves vs. just booking one big package. It’s no fault of the venue’s – we chose this path! But we didn’t quite realize how many small logistical issues can arise from doing everything yourself. Do NOT underestimate how much planning can go into building a wedding day from scratch, and having to worry about things like “who will pick up the 18 bags of ice? Where will we store it?”, etc.

All inclusive venues can be really nice for this reason, but they can also really limit you if you want to customize your day.

To  us, Sunshine Mountain Lodge is the perfect venue for us and our crew, and totally worth the extra planning.

Lesson 3: Inform your guests about considerations they need to take given the venue you’ve chosen. 

Sometimes when we live in an area like this, it’s easy to take for granted how much others might not realize. Make sure to inform your guests of pertinent information that they might not think of.

Some examples of things we’ve needed to tell our guests based on Sunshine Mountain Lodge being a venue in the Colorado mountains around 8500′ in elevation :

  • Drink lots of water. It’s incredibly easy to dehydrate in the high desert at elevation, and acute mountain sickness is not fun.
  • Alcoholic drinks will hit you harder here. Keep that in mind and drink responsibly.
  • There will not be cement or pavement of any kind at our venue outside of a flagstone patio. Bring proper footwear.
  • Smoking marijuana is legal in Colorado, but please do not ash or throw anything containing embers on the ground. Forest fires are a real concern here, and it takes very little to get one going.
  • Wear sunscreen at all times. The sun is a lot harsher here and you can burn on cloudy days.
  • Do NOT leave any type of food in your rental cars. Bears are known to pull doors off hinges in pursuit of a Clif bar.
  • If you decide to recreate- beware of ominous weather. Lightning strikes are more frequent here and often lethal.
  • Beware of big animals. Moose and elk are not as friendly as you might think. Keep your distance and be respectful.

Anyways- that’s all for now! I hope that some of this advice has helped you think more about your venue, and if you’ve already booked it- what else you might consider when it comes to utilizing it. 🙂

I love shooting at all different types of venues, but am so excited to spend my own wedding day at this one. It’s a gem.

I’ll make sure to post a follow up blog and let you all know how it went! Only 22 days now!



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How We Chose Our Venue | A Wedding Photographer’s Perspective Allenspark, Co

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