Campground Weddings

David and Myka Cygielman held their wedding at El Capitan Canyon in Southern California. Photo: David Howell Photography

Jeff Crider
October 9, 2012
Filed under Feature Stories, Lifestyle, Top Stories, Travel

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Twenty-eight-year-old Carlie Wittenberg had a traditional wedding ceremony at a chapel in Galesville, Wis., last June. But instead of having her friends and family gather at an expensive venue for a formal reception, Wittenberg had her guests rendezvous a few miles away at Champions Riverside Resort, where they feasted on home-cooked pulled pork and brisket, drank to their hearts’ content and spent the night in their tents and RVs.

“I wanted a comfortable, casual wedding and reception,” Wittenberg said, adding she didn’t want to worry about friends or family driving home immediately after the reception.

By having them spend the night at the campground, Wittenberg was also able to have a relaxed reception and enjoy the company of her friends and family on the most important day of her life without facing the time constraints that most reception venues impose.

Wittenberg also saved a bundle, since having her reception at a campground was a fraction of the cost of having the event at a more traditional wedding venue.

Across the country, growing numbers of Americans are realizing many campgrounds offer ideal settings for weddings and wedding receptions, according to campground operators and industry officials.

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Not only are campgrounds more affordable than hotels or other typical reception venues, they are usually far more willing to accommodate weddings, either by letting wedding parties cook their own food or by allowing them to work with outside restaurants and caterers. Some campgrounds even offer their own banquet services.

The scenic settings that campgrounds provide also make them alluring, and some park operators are finding they can increase their spring and fall shoulder season business by promoting the ability to host weddings and receptions.

Indeed, one of the reasons 20-year-old Taylor Harrington said she planned to have her reception at the pavilion of Holiday Park Campground in Greensboro, Md., this October was so people could enjoy the fall colors.

And since growing numbers of campgrounds offer rental accommodations, people are finding they can celebrate their weddings over an entire weekend with both their RVing and non-RVing friends.

That’s precisely what Jasmine Mohamed did in September when she married her fiancé, Woody, at Flying Flags RV Resort in Buellton, Calif. The couple planned their wedding to coincide with a vintage RV rally at the resort. But since Flying Flags also has park model rental cottages, all of their friends and family who do not have RVs were also able to come to their wedding and spend the weekend at Flying Flags.

Some RV resorts even have wedding planners.

Seth and Madison Capps had their wedding last November at Mill Creek Ranch Resort in Canton, Texas. Park employees helped plan the wedding and reception, using catering services from a Dallas-based chef, according to Madison’s father, Kevin Gattis, who said his daughter’s wedding was “very reasonably priced.”

Some guests, in fact, arrived at Mill Creek Ranch Resort as early as Thursday night and stayed through the Saturday wedding and reception and didn’t head home until Sunday. While some guests came in their RVs, others stayed in Mill Creek Ranch Resort’s park models and enjoyed the scenic setting, which includes a creek that runs through the resort.

Of course, while many couples like the casual and affordable reception venues and accommodations campgrounds provide, growing numbers of couples are also having wedding weekends in some of the nation’s most luxurious campgrounds.

Consider Franny Teran and Charlie Freund. When they got married last year, they organized a weekend full of fun activities for their family and friends at El Capitan Canyon, an upscale campground just north of Santa Barbara, Calif.

About 150 guests arrived Friday night and spent the whole weekend at the park. Some came in their RVs. Others checked into El Capitan Canyon’s luxurious park model cabins and yurts, while a handful of guests pitched tents.

But while weddings are typically formal events, Franny and Charlie’s wedding weekend started off with a sing-along around a bonfire Friday night as their guests munched on tacos, sipped margaritas and broke the ice with one another.

On Saturday, the guests took part in arts and crafts activities, with some helping to make floral arrangements for the wedding while others painted a “chuppah” or canopy, which Franny and Charlie would stand under during their Sunday wedding ceremony. The chuppah is a tradition in Jewish weddings.

Saturday night’s activities included a Western hoedown with live music and a square dance caller, and a barbecue dinner that included tri-tip, chicken, roasted corn and beans.

On Sunday, the late morning wedding ceremony was followed by a brunch reception and karaoke show in which dozens of Franny and Charlie’s guests belted out their favorite songs.

Many couples say they’ve been pleasantly surprised to find the unusual amenities provided by privately owned and operated campgrounds.

When Miranda Hannemann discovered Johnson Creek RV Resort in the Texas Hill Country town of Ingram, she couldn’t wait to have a Western-themed wedding at the resort.

The park has a chapel that looks like it was built in the late 1800s, complete with wood floors and pews. The park also has a Western-themed rally hall and saloon, which is used for weddings and other special events. The interior of the rally hall is lined with fake furnished storefronts, which make it appear as if you have stepped back into the days of the Old West.

Hannemann, who got married in early May, said she had a caterer handle the food and that the cost of the wedding and reception was a fraction of what it would have been if she had the wedding at a traditional venue in town. Others find that campgrounds offer incomparable settings for weddings, both for the couple getting married and for the guests.

Like Franny and Charlie Freund, David and Myka Cygielman celebrated their wedding over a weekend at El Capitan Canyon.

“It was amazing,” David said. “It really felt like we turned a four or five hour event into a three-day vacation with family and friends.”

With a weekend that included barbecues, hikes and other outdoor activities, the grand finale was the wedding itself on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. David still remembers the feeling.

“You feel like you’re on top of the world in this great, exciting moment with all of the people who you care about,” he said.

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