Growing up in Denver with summers spent on her grandparent’s farm in Minnesota, Chelsey Russell embraced her inner cowgirl from a young age.
“I remember clomping around in my aunts’ too-big cowboy boots, riding horses, and just being outdoors,” she says. “When my fiancé gave me a pair of cowboy boots, we knew immediately that we both wanted to get married with our boots on.”
Chelsey met her future husband while living in New Hampshire, but their mutual love of the mountains and of the Western lifestyle drew them back to Colorado for a destination wedding in a Rocky Mountain setting.
“We envisioned a secluded location on a ranch with an outdoor ceremony and our dogs as ring bearers,” Chelsey says.
The Russells aren’t alone. More than 12 percent of all weddings in 2007 were destination weddings.
“Every couple wants their Western wedding to be unique and memorable,” says Courtney Caplan, president of Austin-based Caplan Miller Events, “and it’s a planner’s job to make sure that happens.”
The Russells, for example, chose the 5,000-acre Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Colorado. Its location approximately 80 miles west of Denver was within easy reach for their friends and family, and the award-winning resort’s rustically upscale accommodations—which range from a boutique, 52-room lodge to full-service, luxury cabins—offered plenty of options and price ranges for their guests.
With their guests wrapped in blankets on a sunny fall afternoon, the couple exchanged vows at the foot of the Continental Divide in the beautiful Ranch Creek Valley with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks and meadow of vibrant wildflowers in a picture-perfect rendition of Chelsey’s dream wedding. And yes, the bride, groom, and their wedding party all wore boots.
Check out these locations for ideas on planning your own dream Western-style destination wedding. All are handy to on-site or nearby overnight accommodations.
The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, just outside of Austin, is known for its world-famous barbeque, but weddings are also a specialty. Guests enter the Salt Lick Pavilion through a wooden arch personalized with the bride and groom’s name. The Western setting is in place—hay bales, wooden fences, and a wagon, as well as an open space sprinkled with wildflowers. Exchange your wedding vows creekside, then move inside for a reception that includes local Texas beer and wine and old-fashioned barbecue—just don’t forget to provide the bride with a Texas-sized bib.
For a traditional Western wedding, downtown Austin’s The Driskill is a historic hotel with more than 100 years of history and love stories. Texas chic elements are sprinkled throughout the hotel, especially in its ballroom with unique murals and paintings, original fixtures, flooring that dates from 1886, and its Longhorn/Texan bar. The bride and groom can arrive (or depart) in a romantic horse-drawn carriage.
Another notable option is wrapped up in more than 180 years of Texas tradition at the George Ranch Historical Park, just 30 miles southwest of downtown Houston. Established in 1824, the George Ranch is one of the Texas’s oldest ranches. Its charming and rustic facilities are made for weddings. Say your vows amidst 100 of your closest friends and family in The Chapel, built in 1900. Then put on your dancing boots and head to the Guy Lodge Hall, a dance hall built in 1911 that features wooden floors, stenciled walls, a tin ceiling, and a stage.
How about a vineyard? Initially it might not seem country, but this elegant Western destination is the Chateau at Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction, Colo. The outdoor pavilion and grounds are surrounded by the Colorado National Monumentt, the Bookcliff Mountain Range, and the Grand Mesa. Add their wine, western décor, and a little help from a local catering company, The Cowboy and the Rose, and you have the elements for an upscale Western wedding.
Brides and grooms couldn’t ask for a prettier backdrop for wedding photos than what’s found at the Paradise Guest Ranch in Buffalo, Wyo. True to its name, the Paradise beckons with lush meadows and snowcapped mountains. Or you might choose to get hitched inside at the Sam Elliot Pope Memorial Chapel. A guest ranch destination wedding also gives guests a bonus—their own Western family getaway. Once the dust settles on the wedding, their guests can settle in for their own celebration in the Big Horn Mountains of north central Wyoming.
With just the right touch of Santa Fe style and upscale Western elegance, Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort and Spa is located in its own private valley just outside the heart of Santa Fe, N.M. Bridal magazines rate Bishop’s Lodge high among the choices for a destination wedding with a Spanish theme. Choose from several outdoor venues including a natural historic landmark: Bishop Lamy’s chapel. Or you might choose Little Tasuque Gazebo, which is canopied by oak, cottonwood, and juniper trees, and warmed by a handcrafted river rock fireplace. Nearby Mesa Vista offers sweeping views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains beyond—a perfect spot for a sunset reception.
For a Western step out of the ordinary, take a gander at The Rivers Retreat Center, located 40 minutes from downtown New Orleans on a serene, 100-year-old riverfront. The Center doubles as a Bed & Breakfast in a park-like setting featuring hand-crafted Garden Gazebo and Pavilion, cozy guest houses, and plenty of activities. Their Western Wedding package has it all—from outrageous, fun, Western décor and food, to a genuine country music band. Mix in a bride and groom’s personal hayride, and you’ve got a recipe for a Western destination wedding in the heart of Cajun country.
WANT A PICTURE-PERFECT WESTERN WEDDING?
Keep these tips in mind:
- Focus on what makes the destination special. For example, if you have a meadow with a creek, why not take advantage of that picture-perfect setting? If it’s a historic hotel, emphasize the Western architecture. Consult with on-site staff and let them help you make the most of what your destination has to offer.
- Include PERSONAL touches. Just because you’re getting married away from home doesn’t mean that your wedding can’t reflect your personalities. Find a way to add your interests as a couple. Is it cowboy boots and a cowboy hat? Or is it incorporating wildflowers into your decor? A few personalized details can go a long way.
- Take advantage of a planned event. For rodeo fans, book your wedding to coincide with the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, for example. Take your guests to a rodeo performance for the rehearsal dinner.
- Use miniature novelty items for centerpieces, like a howling wolf, cowboy boot, cowbells, chili peppers, you name it. Add horseshoe table sign holders with placards of performing rodeo cowboy names—a fun way to celebrate your love of rodeo at the reception.
- Incorporate Western elements into welcoming gifts, such as gift baskets wrapped in a colorful bandannas and stuffed with local specialties. Upon request, local wineries can also personalize their labels with the bride’s and groom’s names and wedding date.