Iris Elise & Jordan Easley are a husband & wife videography and photography team capturing intimate weddings and adventure elopements in Portland, Oregon and beyond.

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Lake McDonald Vow Renewal Shot on Film in the Fall in Glacier National Park

After years of photographing and filming adventure elopements and vow renewals in some of the most beautiful places in the world, we decided to document our own! For our one year anniversary, we celebrated by going on a roadtrip across 10 different states, to visit 5 new national parks in the Northwest / North Central parts of the US, focusing most of our time in Montana and Wyoming, in and around Yellowstone and Glacier.

Our Story

Jordan and I (Iris Elise writing here) got married in September of 2022 at a state park in our home state where we and our friends loved to go hiking and camping on the weekends. I was so fixated on having an adventure elopement on the Oregon Coast, but because marriage is a compromise, we ended up hosting a DIY camp wedding instead that still felt very outdoorsy and intimate (that we ended up loving!) Though I was still dreaming of our own private vow exchange on the coast together. So, we got creative and decided we would dedicate one of our days on our anniversary road trip together to do a vow renewal ceremony!

The Roadtrip

Over 2 and a half weeks on the road, we spent nearly 100 hours in the car, crossed over 5,000 miles, listened to audio books, podcasts, and ate many homemade chocolate chip cookies together. The time passed quickly, and the views were incredible. We were both completely offline from work, and it was so amazing to just have time together and not have to worry about the everyday responsibilities of life…waking up, going to work, making meals, cleaning the house, keeping up with our schedule or finances, making time to get exercise and see friends…we didn’t have any of that on the road, which a large part of us missed, but ultimately, was so needed.

The trip was timely too, we recently went through a loss in the family and were forced to learn how to grieve together for the first time in our marriage. But it was so good, so needed. One of our biggest takeaways from our trip was the importance of silence and solitude. Driving through hundreds of miles of open fields and desert, hiking up to a mountain top just to sit and listen to the wind, winding down at the end of the night at camp and praying together, it all felt like a true retreat, a reset. The first year of marriage is hard, y’all. We fought more than I thought was possible, we had to figure out how to budget together, how to merge our lives and our schedules, how to think of one another ahead of ourselves, how to communicate and compromise, and on top of that all, do business together. But at the end of a long day or an end to a long week, there’s not a better feeling than coming home to someone that feels safe, that knows you and sees your flaws, and yet loves and supports you more than anyone else in the world. It’s truly miraculous. 

The Morning Of

After seeing Badlands, Wind Cave, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone (and later on Teddy Roosevelt) and then almost being forced to go home after the threat of a possible government shut down while we were in Grand Tetons, we finally made it to Glacier National Park, the last leg of our journey before heading home. For most of our time on the road, we camped, which saved on lodging costs and was overall a great experience (s’mores every night and a cup of camp coffee every morning), but every few days we’d book a hotel or AirBnB to be able to shower, cook a real meal, and get a full night’s rest.

The night before our vow renewal, we stayed at this perfect Tiny Home A-Frame Cabin near the park with a hot tub, fire pit, and even a sweet little tabby cat that came to visit us in the morning! We woke up super early to write our vows/ceremony letters with the intention of getting ready together and then doing a sunrise hike at the park. When we finished writing our letters, we ended up deciding we wanted a little more time at the cabin to have a slow morning before we checked out later that day, so we didn’t make it out for sunrise, but once we got on the trail and found our ceremony spot, it ended up being perfect because the sun had just come out from the clouds and there was no one on the trail, which was exactly what we wanted! 

The Ceremony

There is something undeniably magical about Glacier National Park. Its pristine landscapes, crystal-clear waters, and towering peaks make it a place of unrivaled natural beauty. We absolutely love exploring the PNW, but the massive mountains of Montana and its diverse ecosystems truly had us speechless. Lake McDonald is an iconic spot in the park, and for good reason. It’s super accessible and gives you a good glimpse of the beauty of nature that is there. We chose Rocky Point Trailhead to start our hike around the lake, knowing that it was a pretty easy hike (2mi roundtrip with about 200 ft of elevation gain) and would have several lookout spots over the mountains and the water and was east facing (perfect for sunrise, as we had originally planned for!) 

We finished getting ready in the car (touching up makeup, adding a few sentences to our vows, lacing up our hiking boots and packing up our bags), and then set forth! We enjoyed the hike through the forest, which reminded us of our favorite spots in the PNW and then hiked up to a lookout over the water about halfway in to settle in for a second and enjoy the views and make some coffee, and then hiked a bit more to the waterfront for our ceremony afterwards. We had made homemade chili and biscuits the night before at the AirBnB, which was perfect for the average temps of 50 degrees most days in the park during the season we were there, so we wrapped up a few biscuits with butter and jam to take in our pack, and had a little picnic moment before our ceremony! Here’s what we packed in our day packs to bring with us on the hike:

  • Water bladders (for easy access to hydration!)
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray, bear spray (always for any hike we go on)
  • Our homemade biscuits w/ jam and butter (premade wrapped in tin foil)
  • Paper towels + Stasher silicone bags for clean up / trash (pack in, pack out!)
  • Our backcountry bathroom kit (another thing we always just keep in our bags) including a mini shovel, toilet paper, and a microbial pee cloth!
  • Coffee equipment: Jet Boil, water, + propane, AeroPress, filters, hand grinder, coffee beans, and Fellow Mugs 
  • Pocket blanket (which has ground stakes and comes in handy for windy scenarios)
  • Ceremony things: Glacier NP visitor’s guide, rings, vow books, dried bouquet + boutonniere, a portable speaker for a dance moment
  • Film camera + film (we use old school Pentax K1000s + Portra 400 or Fujifilm 400)
  • Phones (see our BTS reel here!) 

After our picnic, we went down to the water. As soon as we settled in, the sun came out from the clouds and the wind calmed a bit and everything just felt perfect. We took a few film photos of our details, some fun portraits, and then set our bags aside and walked to the middle of the lakefront to read our vows to one another. Jordan cried…and I’ve only seen him cry two other times in our entire relationship, so that was incredibly special to me. Our letters reflected on our past year of marriage together, what we learned/how we grew, and then also focused on the next year ahead and the promises we wanted to make to one another going forward.

Maybe the best part of the whole experience was that when we started to pack up and hike back to our car after our ceremony, we were greeted by a friendly man named Dave waiting by his car in the parking lot. He gave us a gentle smile and asked us if we had really just gotten married (he seemed pretty surprised at the thought of that, which I understand), and when we proceeded to tell him it was our anniversary trip / vow renewal ceremony, he got out his camera and showed us a photo he had taken of us from the above trail while we were down on the lake reading our letters (peep that first photo above!) I was so grateful. That is the only photo we have together of us the entire day (we had taken photos of each other with the film camera, but weren’t really able to take a selfie on it) and what Dave didn’t know is that I had prayed for the exact scenario to happen beforehand.

Some may call it luck, but I truly believe God is good and He cares for us deeply. He knows our hearts and our desires and wants the best for us (even when we don’t really know what that looks like). And in world of self-sufficiency and do-it-yourself-because-no-one-else-is-going-to thinking, it’s sometimes difficult to let go of control and trust God. But this was one of those moments that confirmed for me that He is still moving, still speaking, still providing for us, even when we don’t know it. I’m so grateful for Dave and our ceremony moment he captured for us.

Exploring and Experiencing the Park

After our vow renewal at Lake McDonald, we spent the afternoon in Apgar Village. We ate at a local diner called Eddie’s Cafe, got icecream together at the giftshop next door, and purchased a few souvenirs for our friends and family back home. Soon enough, it was time to hit the road and head to our campsite. We stayed at Many Glacier Campground which is on the East side of the park, about an hour drive to the other side from Lake McDonald. Many Glacier is one of the only campgrounds that was open past September in the park, and was in primitive status, which meant no running water or accessible bathrooms. This was difficult, and I must say, was extremely cold at night, dropping below freezing, but visiting national parks during off season has its perks too! There were hardly any cars at most of trailhead parking lots we ventured to, and the entire park was accessible by car still including Going-to-the-Sun-Road (which is a MUST, even if you’re not camping in Many Glacier!) Sometimes, due to snow this road will close, making the hour drive through the park almost double to go around instead, but we were lucky enough to get there right after it had reopened after the snow had cleared. 

We hiked Avalanche Lake one of our days there (which was the most crowded, and also the most popular trail in the park) and also hiked Highline Trail, which is basically a trail cut into the side of the mountain that the Going-to-the-Sun-Road runs through! We actually saw 2 other couples that were eloping while we were on the Highline Trail, because there is an iconic pullout spot that overlooks essentially the entire park and all its glory at the Big Bend overlook, just below were we were! We didn’t have time to hike Grinnell Glacier, but next time we’d love to! If you’re planning on visiting Glacier National Park, here’s our run down from our personal experience:

  • If you’re looking for a chill spot to enjoy views and do lunch at, Lake McDonald (near the Apgar Village visitor’s center) is your place! 
  • Avalanche Lake is an easy hike, but will have the most crowds and is closest/most accessible to the visitor’s center in Apgar Village
  • Rocky Point is a great underrated hike that is still easy and accessible on the west side of the park near Apgar Village (perfect for sunrise!)
  • Driving through Going-to-the-Sun-Road is a must if it’s open! 
  • Big Bend turnout is an iconic (but crowded) spot on the drive through the park
  • Highline Trail is about an hour drive east through the park (near St. Mary/Logan Pass) and a more moderate hike, but less crowded with incredible views (pack layers though, the elevation gain makes it colder than the more western parts of the park)
  • Grinnell Glacier is a hard all day hike, but worth it if you have the time and skill for it!
  • If going in off-season, Many Glacier campground is a great option, just prepare for the cold and for primitive status camping
  • The ticketing system to get into the park stops after September, which means you can go in and out as you please and drive throughout the whole park without needing a shuttle to get you there!
  • We only explored Lake McDonald and St. Mary/Logan Pass, and Many Glacier, next time we’d love to explore Two Medicine as well! 

Planning your own vow renewal in Glacier National Park

If after reading about our vow renewal at Lake McDonald, you’re inspired and wanting to plan your own ceremony, here are a few things to consider before doing so:

  • Permits, Packing List, and Preparation: The great thing about already being married is that you don’t need a permit for your vow renewal in the park, which is different than if you weren’t married already and were having a legally binding ceremony in the park! Our biggest piece of advice when planning your ceremony is to follow the Leave No Trace rules, which essentially means if you pack it in, you pack it out, to enjoy nature while equally respecting it, show kindness to your fellow adventurers on the trail, to leave wild animals alone, and take only memories. To see what we packed and how we prepared for our vow renewal at the park, scroll above to the “Ceremony” section and then see our hike recommendations in the “Exploring and Experiencing the Park” section!
  • Day and Time: Choose a date and time that is special to you two (like an anniversary) but also keep in mind peak season in Glacier is May-September and you’ll likely encounter other people on the trail especially if hiking after noon. A sunrise hike in October was perfect for us! 
  • Location: We’d suggest you map out what you want your time in Glacier to look like. If you’re going to spend most of your time on the west side of the park near Lake McDonald, look for hikes on All Trails in that area and lodging nearby, if you’re wanting to drive through the park to the eastern parts of the park, look around St.Mary/Logan Pass, or Many Glacier. If you’re going more south, look near Two Medicine! Also determine if you’re wanting mountain or lake views, although you really can’t go wrong! 
  • Vows and Readings: Plan the words and readings that will make up your ceremony. Consider including personal anecdotes or shared experiences, a song, a poem, a prayer, a joke…you could re-read your vows from your wedding day to reinstate your promises to each other, or create new commitments from how you’ve grown together since your wedding day.
  • Attire: We put on our attire from our wedding day and just added a day pack and a pair of hiking boots to go with it, dried our bouquet and boutonniere from the year before, and brought those along with us too! 
  • Activities: Make a day of it! Spend the morning getting ready together, enjoy your hike, incorporate your favorite foods/drinks like we did, skip rocks on the lake, hammock together, kayak, enjoy a meal together afterwards, sit in the sun or watch your favorite movie to end the day slowly, the day is yours, it should reflect who you two are and what you enjoy doing together! 
  • Lodging: As I mentioned before, we camped in Many Glacier for the majority of the time and stayed in an AirBnB for one of the nights, just be aware if you’re visiting in off season, the local lodges in the park are mostly closed, so looking just outside of the park for lodging if you’re not wanting to camp is probably your best bet! White Fish, Montana is super close to the west side / Lake McDonald, which will be most accessible during the fall and winter months of the year. 

Our ceremony at Lake McDonald is something I hope we never forget and keep as a core memory forever. A vow renewal at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park is more than a ceremony; it’s an experience that connects you with the natural world and, most importantly, with each other. It’s a powerful reminder of the love that has grown, evolved, and endured, and a testament to the commitment you share. If you’re looking for a unique, breathtaking, and emotionally profound way to renew your vows, consider this iconic national park as the backdrop to your love story.

And if you’re looking for an adventurous photography + videography team to explore with you and document your vow renewal or even your elopement at Glacier National Park, you can reach out to us here, we’d love to hear from you! 

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