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Dunton Hot Springs. Photograph courtesy of Heidi Chowen

Plan the Perfect, Laid-Back Colorado Wedding

Towering white cakes, penguin suits, and bland ballrooms, begone! Especially in Colorado, there’s no need to adhere to tired traditions on your special day. Our guilt-free guide shows you how to ditch the stodgy formalities and make the biggest party you’ll ever throw more personal, memorable, and actually fun.

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Nix: The Generic Ballroom

With so many young transplants pouring into the state, Colorado weddings are increasingly destination affairs—that is, expensive, PTO-devouring trips—for guests. Make it feel like a vacation your family and friends would have actually chosen to take by holding your event in one of these striking city or mountain locales. —Emily Williams

The Venue
Dunton Hot Springs (shown above)
52068 Road 38, Dolores, 877-288-9922,

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Cool Points
The seven-plus-hour drive to Dolores is well worth it to take over an entire restored ghost town—complete with a dance hall and saloon, yoga studio, and hand-hewn log cabins—with up to 44 of your favorite people.

Couples Will Love
Warming up cold feet with a dip in the on-site hot springs.

Out-of-Towners Will Rave About
The myriad outdoor activities, including horseback riding, fly-fishing, and mountain biking.

Washington Park Boathouse
Washington Park Boathouse. Photograph courtesy of Sheena Wang Photo

The Venue
Washington Park Boathouse
701 S. Franklin St., 720-913-0700

Cool Points
Built in 1913, this budget-friendly—$1,000 for nine hours on weekends and holidays—open-air pavilion got a renovation in 2012 that made the art deco icon as functional as it is beautiful. (Denver Parks and Rec begins taking reservations on November 1 for mid-April through mid-October.)

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Couples Will Love
That BYO full-strength beer, wine, and champagne are allowed as long as you bring a professional bartender to serve it.

Out-of-Towners Will Rave About
Taking sunset selfies with Smith Lake as a backdrop while the kids entertain themselves on the playground close by.


Venue 221. Photograph courtesy of Emily Sacco Photography

The Venue
Blanc
3150 Walnut St., 303-974-7487

Cool Points
Nestled in RiNo, one of Denver’s hottest—and grittiest—neighborhoods, Blanc’s sprawling complex boasts multiple indoor and outdoor spaces that deftly mix natural features, such as a small orchard, with industrial design elements like the old train tracks in the back courtyard.

Couples Will Love
Holding the whole shindig in one place but feeling like you changed venues by, say, doing the ceremony in the barn, cocktail hour on the patio, and the dance party in the gallery.

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Out-of-Towners Will Rave About
The nightlife hot spots—like Bar Fausto, Epic Brewing Company, and Finn’s Manor—within walking distance of Blanc, so they can keep the party going after the official festivities conclude.


The Venue
Venue 221
221 Detroit St., 720-924-9302

Cool Points
This eight-month-old mid-mod site in Cherry Creek North channels Mad Men with period-influenced light fixtures, stone walls, rich walnut ceilings, and a sleek bar.

Couples Will Love
Perfecting the ambience using audio-visual capabilities that include LED lights with customizable color settings and a 98-inch media wall for displaying photos or videos.

Out-of-Towners Will Rave About
The perks of staying at the nearby Halcyon hotel, which include the use of New Belgium cruiser bikes, a rooftop pool, and a free ride to the reception in the Halcyon Range Rover.

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Photograph courtesy of Stevie Crecelius

The Venue
Mount Vernon Country Club

Cool Points
At this wood-and-stone club tucked into the foothills, panoramas of Clear Creek Canyon before sundown and Denver’s skyline twinkling in the distance at night can be seen from the decks or wall-to-wall windows of the main dining room.

Couples Will Love
That in-house event planning is included in the cost.

Out-of-Towners Will Rave About
Proximity to some of the Front Range’s must-see tourist destinations, including Red Rocks, the Coors Brewery, Lookout Mountain, and the Lariat Loop.


The Venue
Winter Park Resort
85 Parsenn Road, Winter Park, 970-726-1578,

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Cool Points
It doesn’t get more Colorado than hopping a gondola to watch a couple recite their vows. The mountaintop Lodge at Sunspot’s soaring ceilings and wood beams make for a classic alpine-cabin look that’s especially stunning in the winter.

Couples Will Love
Winter Park’s wedding gift of complimentary season passes for the newlyweds for the next winter or summer.

Out-of-Towners Will Rave About
Making first tracks on the hill during the day and last chair down after an evening of dinner and dancing at 10,700 feet.

Ace Bar Bus
The Ace Bar Bus. Photograph courtesy of Taryn Kapronica

NIX: The Full Bar

There are three ingredients for a kick-ass wedding party, according to Josh Wolkon, the man behind Secret Sauce Food & Beverage (Vesta, Steuben’s, Ace Eat Serve): great people, killer tunes, and an open bar. And he would know. His Ace Bar Bus—a 1978 Volkswagen converted into a mobile bar complete with mixers, glassware, two mixologists, and a top-quality sound system—has fueled the festivities for many a rowdy reception since it hit the streets in 2014.

Whether you hire Wolkon and Co. (around $1,750 before tax; you provide the booze) or not, ditch the full bar for a more laid-back, pared-down approach. Let guests help themselves to craft brews and “just offer a few options for cocktails,” Wolkon says. “It’s nice when everyone’s sharing similar spirits.” —Callie Sumlin

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Nix: The Officiant

The first clue that Boulderites Jon Carroll (left), 32, and Chris Lessard, 26, might not have a traditional wedding could’ve been when Carroll proposed to Lessard this past Thanksgiving with a gaming computer in lieu of a ring. Less than a month later, the two exchanged vows on Flagstaff Mountain. Thanks to Colorado’s status as one of only a few states that allow self-solemnization (meaning two people can marry each other without a third-party officiant or witness), they were able to hold an intimate ceremony with just one very special guest: their dog, Oslo.

5280: So why did you choose to get married the way you did?

Jon Carroll: We wanted to get married before the end of the year. We weren’t sure how long we’d legally be able to with the new president’s vice president, so we decided to go ahead and pull the trigger.

Chris Lessard: Just in case.

Carroll: December 21 was our anniversary, and it was also the winter solstice. We didn’t want anyone to feel left out—friends, family, whatever—so we went up to the top of the mountain by ourselves.

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What was your ceremony like?

Carroll: I got up there and said my vows to Chris, about how special it was to find someone like this. I didn’t write them down, but I’d been thinking about them for a long time. And Chris goes, “Oh, shoot, I was supposed to write vows?!”

Lessard: I was joking, but I was also taken aback because, typically, Jon is a very reserved kind of guy, emotionally.

Carroll: Then we signed the certificate, and Oslo stamped it as the witness with her paw print—and promptly pooped in protest. We always joke that she was really a Trump supporter; she liked us, but she didn’t like what we were doing.

What did it mean to you to have the freedom to get married on your own?

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Carroll: We’re still planning to have a celebration with our families and friends, but neither of us is very religious, so to be able to have the marriage be just between us was pretty magical and special.

Lessard: It’s nice to not have to depend on other people to say it’s OK. I think it’s cool that Colorado lets you be independent and do the thing with the person you love in the way that you want to.


Nix: The Unity Candle

For obvious reasons, open flames aren’t allowed at some outdoor venues in our arid state. Fill in the blank to find a suitable substitute, which can be a more personalized—and not necessarily religious—ritual for your ceremony.

The couple that hikes together…

Collect flat river rocks of ascending size and have family members and friends who’ve served as your figurative guideposts hand them to you during your nuptials. Use them to build a ceremonial cairn—those piles of stones left by other hikers to keep you from losing the path.

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The couple that climbs together…

Tie the knot (literally) by creating the classic figure-eight follow-through knot, widely used in rock climbing and mountaineering for its strength and safety.

The couple that drinks together…

Mix and share a simple two-part cocktail (Woody Creek potato vodka from Basalt and grapefruit juice combine to make a lovely pink hue) in a slightly irreverent demonstration of how the whole can become more than the sum of its parts.

bag toss
Photograph by Sarah Boyum

Nix: The Awkward Cocktail Hour

Don’t worry: No one is saying you shouldn’t serve pre-dinner drinks. We’re simply suggesting you give your guests something to do—you know, other than try to strike up conversations with strangers—while they wait for you to arrive. That’s why Colorado cocktail hours are more and more resembling a day in Cheesman Park: Drinks in hand, guests toss cornhole bags and exchange good-natured taunts while the kids run around collecting grass stains. After all, what better way to bring together your college girlfriends and your cousins than a little friendly competition? The lighthearted mingling might lead to friendships forming well before the party really gets going—and at least no one has to endure a three-minute conversation about the weather.

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Wedding band
Photograph courtesy of Kristin Coffin Jewelry

Nix: The Blood Diamond

You’ve seen the movie, so you can’t feign ignorance about the horrors of the diamond industry. Which is why you should eighty-six the big-box jewelers in favor of Kristin Coffin, who began handcrafting rings using primarily lab-grown stones—no environmentally destructive mining or warlord funding involved—nine years ago. “Rings might be the one purchase that you actually use and wear for the rest of your life,” Coffin says, “so why wouldn’t you want to know how it’s sourced?” —EW

Nix the blood diamond
Photograph courtesy of Kristin Coffin Jewelry

The Stone
Moissanite, grown in U.S. labs and abroad, is cheaper than its naturally occurring counterpart: A loose moissanite costs roughly a tenth of what you’d pay for a diamond of the same size.

The Metal
Rose gold is the most requested metal for engagement rings among Coffin’s clients. “It’s really earthy looking, and it’s less flashy because it blends in with your skin,” she says.

The Process
Each hand-carved design takes Coffin about six weeks to craft (so order at least that far in advance).

The Band
In her Capitol Hill studio, Coffin uses moldings of twigs to help create many of her bands.

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Nix: The Party Favors

Take our word for it—no one wants some random item emblazoned with your initials and wedding date. If you feel you must hand out something, give the people what they really came to Colorado for: recreational marijuana. (Did you actually think your uncle who once followed the Grateful Dead just all of a sudden developed a fondness for you?)

Seriously: This may not be for everyone, but it is a thing. Since 2014, Irie Weddings & Events co-owners Bec Koop and Madlyne Kelly have been helping “canna couples” incorporate weed into their special days with a range of options (at right) for giving guests the gift of ganja. You provide the pot, but Irie does the rest. Polite, professional budtenders can be on-hand to guide guests, and Koop packs what she calls an “Oh Shit Kit” with items—teas, 5-hour Energy shots—to help counteract negative reactions. Generally, though, Koop says cannabis consumption simply enhances events, much like responsible alcohol use has amplified weddings for centuries. “Cannabis is a common denominator across all demographics,” Koop says. “It can bring people together.”

wedding weed
Photograph by Amanda Croy

You can tell Grandma that funny smell is potpourri.


Nix: The Penguin Suit & Puffy Gown

In a state that’s decidedly more black diamond than black tie, the cake-topper aesthetic can be a bit much. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show up looking like a million bucks—whether you drop a few paychecks on your wedding-day outfit or spend a lot less.

Photograph courtesy of Denver Bespoke

For Him

Splurge: Denver Bespoke

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For around $2,000 (still less than many brides spend), altar-bound guys can score custom-made three-piece suits they’ll wear for years to come. Denver Bespoke (pictured) co-owner AJ Machete employs a lot of tweed and linen for Coloradans, whom he says are athletic and “used to being able to move. It’s about the style and the fit.” And since your suit is designed to your specifications, you can dream big—like the groom who got married atop a mountain and then skied down in a tailcoat Machete made out of Gore-Tex.

Save: Knotty Tie Co.

A great tie can really…well…tie an outfit together—even if that ensemble is just a pair of khakis and a crisp white button-down. At Denver’s Knotty Tie Co., resettled refugees from places like Syria, Iraq, and Somalia hand-make neckties and bow ties in recycled polyester twill. At around $45 each, the accessories are reasonably priced enough that you could pick up versions subtly patterned with Colorado iconography—beer hops, bicycles, trout—for the whole wedding party.

not a puffy gown
Photograph courtesy of Ali Vagnini

For Her

Splurge: A&Bé Bridal Shop

Styles at this nearly four-year-old shop in LoHi lean more bohemian than Cinderella but are still chic, meaning you can find something that will look equally at home on a mountain ranch or in an Aspen gallery. Exhibit A: New Zealand designer Rue De Seine’s Love Spell collection (pictured, $2,450 to $4,500), which makes Western-inspired lace and fringe feel vintage, modern, and oh so Colorado.

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Save: Compleat Couture

Gals who can’t justify dropping thousands on a one-time-wear dress (you could buy a carbon-fiber road bike for that!) should head down to Centennial to peruse Compleat Couture’s racks. Designers and retailers donate runway and store samples—from big-name labels like Kenneth Pool and Christos—that sell for 50 to 70 percent off their original prices. (Most come in under $1,000, and there’s a section devoted to $600-or-less gowns.) Any lingering guilt should be assuaged by the fact that a portion of the store’s sales benefit the nonprofit James Resource Network, which supports local single-parent families.

bohemian cake
Photograph by Olivia Morgan Photography

Nix: The Multi-Tier Cake

As evidenced by the half-eaten slices that litter reception tables at the end of the night, the only reason to serve cake at a wedding is so your mom can get pictures of the cutting ceremony. Why not choose a more memorable dessert your guests will actually want to devour? We found local options to satisfy a variety of wedding-day vibes.

Bohemian

The Long i Pie Shop’s cast-iron-skillet-baked pies look just as good as they taste, thanks to flaky lattice-top crusts. But it’s what’s inside—Colorado-grown cherries, peaches, apples, pears, and even rhubarb that customers bring in from their gardens to trade—that makes this dessert perfect for
hippie-chic affairs.

hipster cake
Photograph courtesy of Heidi Clemmer

Hipster

Doughnut walls are officially trending. Whether you create an elegant display with wooden dowels or a graffiti-esque design on a pegboard, get your deep-fried-and-frosted rings—in flavors like sweet and salty caramel and hibiscus flower—from Glazed and Confuzed, which relocated to Aurora’s
Stanley Marketplace in April.

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Chaos and Cream
Photograph courtesy of Caitlin Alhenius

Cosmopolitan

Even your most well-traveled guests will be impressed by Chaos & Cream’s Thai-style rolled ice cream. Mix masters incorporate add-ins like Funfetti cake, pretzels, and caramel on frigid metal surfaces and shape the ice cream into creamy swirls that are almost too pretty to eat.

Photograph by Sarah Boyum

Rustic

For DIY outdoor receptions, toast-your-own s’mores are a delicious and interactive nod to the Centennial State’s camping obsession. Keep the setup simple with Fort Collins–made Stuff’n Mallows, which come already infused with chocolate chips. Just add graham crackers.

wedding flowers
Photograph courtesy of Karen Obrist

Nix: The Imported Flowers

Store-bought roses may be red—but for most of the year, they’re not very green, as they’re most likely being shipped in from South America. Plus, they’re just so expected. Take a walk on the wild—but responsible!—side by using locally cultivated (outdoors or in greenhouses) flora in your decor. Cornelia Peterson of Golden Triangle floral shop Sacred Thistle gave us her recommendations for ethical whimsy in every season. —EW

Summer
Pampas grass, bee balm, cosmos, and hops

Fall
Dahlias, sunflowers, grasses, oak bushes,
and tree leaves

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Winter
Pine trees, ranunculus, tulips, and hellebore

Spring
Hyacinth, magnolia, forsythia, and spirea

“Wild hops grow abundantly here. They’re so beautiful and underappreciated.”—Cornelia Peterson

Nix: The Bouquet Toss

Just…don’t. And while you’re at it, do everyone a favor and axe the cringe-inducing garter retrieval too. Calling out your single friends like there’s something wrong with being unattached is passé, and given Colorado’s widely acknowledged Peter Pan effect (young professionals here are too busy skiing, climbing, biking, and hiking to “grow up” and spend their weekends seriously dating), things have the potential to get even more awkward when everyone dives out of the way of the airborne adornments.

Nix: The Plated Dinner

Just as many of Denver’s buzziest restaurant experiences lean more backyard-barbecue casual than French Laundry fussy, there are tastier—and often less expensive—options for feeding your crowd than going the full-service, steak-chicken-or-veggie route.

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weddings flow chart
Clockwise from top left: Photograph Courtesy of Brittany McLachlan Photography; Photograph Courtesy of Epicurean Group; Photograph Courtesy of Jennifer Olson; Photograph Courtesy of Carrie Swails Photography
istock china
Image via istock

Nix: Anything Else That Stresses You Out

A nonexhaustive list of other customs to skip if the joy they will bring you does not match the anxiety or cost involved.

Snail-Mail Invites
Enough with the Russian nesting doll–like multitude of envelopes. Greenvelope lets you customize e-vites from indie artists for less than a dollar per invitee; use the National Park Foundation’s Rocky Mountain design and the NPF will get $5.

Registering For China
Go to REI and ask for that camping stove you’ve been eyeing instead. Plus, if Aunt Kathy provides your REI co-op member info, her purchase will count toward your dividend.

The Everybody’s-Invited Rehearsal Dinner
It’s nice to see your guests the night before, but there’s no need to feed everyone. Instead, rent space at Great Divide Brewing Company’s two-year-old RiNo facility—and yes, it’s fine to let people pay for their beers.

The Wedding Itself
Nuptials in Colorado currently average $31,435 (per valuepenguin.com). That’s a lot of dough. No one would blame you if you decided to spend it on a down payment for a house—or, you know, a bucket-list heli-skiing trip—instead.

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Additional reporting by Emily Williams

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