I’ve had the pleasure of performing over a thousand weddings as a Wedding Officiant and Justice of the Peace in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts since I began marrying couples back in 2000. The places to elope chosen by brides and grooms have varied from enormous, elegant wedding venues with hundreds of guests, to sites where it was just me and the eloping couple. Large weddings are fun and festive, but the elopements I’ve performed with folks have been just as special. And, eloping “ain’t what it used to be.”! In the last century, eloping meant running off in secret to get married - usually no one but the couple and the JP knew. Today, although it can certainly still be defined in that way, elopement has taken on a broader meaning. Many of the couples inquiring about my JP services use the term “elope” to indicate that they want to be married without any guests in attendance, but that it’s not a "secret." Especially in the Covid age, many couples are coming to me to “elope,” with the idea that they will celebrate with their family and friends at a later date. Some even “elope” with a few family or good friends in tow. (In Maine BTW, you need two witnesses, so that is how you have to “elope” there!) So, eloping is certainly in the eye of the beholder!
As far as marriage law is concerned, the laws are the same for eloping couples as they are for any other kind of marriage. One question I get a lot from out-of-state couples coming to our area to be married is about from where they should obtain their marriage license (e.g. "We're coming from Vermont to be married in New Hampshire. Should we get our marriage license in Vermont or in New Hampshire?") You ALWAYS get your license in the state where the wedding is taking place. If you're getting married in New Hampshire, it needs to be a New Hampshire license. If you're getting married in Massachusetts, it needs to be a Massachusetts license, etc. And both of you must be present, in-person, at the Town or City Clerk's office to apply for the license.
After that, marriage laws differ in the three states...
Maine: If both of you are residents of the state of Maine, you should apply at the town office where at least one of you is a resident. If you are residents of different Maine towns, you both should apply in one town or the other - you do not need to apply seperately in each town. If one of you is from out of state, then both of you should apply in the town where one holds residency. If neither of you is a Maine resident, you can apply in any Maine town office - It doesn't have to be in the same town where you plan to be married. Your marriage license is valid for 90 days. You'll need two witnesses at your ceremony who will sign the license at the completion of the ceremony. So, as I alluded to earlier, a true "elopement", where just the couple and officiant are present, is not possible in Maine.
Massachusetts: In Massachusetts, the license is called a Certificate of Marriage. Whether you are residents or not, you can apply for the Certificate of Marriage from any city or town office in the state - it doesn't have to be where you live or where the ceremony will take place. There is a three day waiting period once you apply for the marriage certificate. So you'll apply, and then pick up the certificate three days later. It is valid for 60 days. No witnesses are required.
New Hampshire: Like Massachusetts, in New Hampshire the license is called a Certificate of Marriage. You can apply for the certificate from any city or town office in the state - it doesn't have to be where you live or where the ceremony will take place. The certificate is valid for 90 days. There is no waiting period, and there are no witnesses required. As you can see, the process is simpler and easier in New Hampshire - Live free or die!
Over the years, couples have introduced me to many great places to steal away and just get married quietly. This page is a compendium of some of those places that are my favorites for performing elopement wedding ceremonies. Most (though not all) are free except, perhaps, for parking fees. If you’re considering eloping, I hope this page can offer you some ideas about where you might want to tie the knot! And if you consider any of these places, I hope you’ll consider my Justice of the Peace/Wedding Officiant Services
for your Elopement Marriage Ceremony.
Places to Elope in Rockingham County
•McDonnell Conservation Area
, Location: 113 Linden Street, Exeter, NH
- I start here because it is very close to me and, for that reason, warrants a reduced fee for all of my ceremonies - $55 for a Lite Ceremony, $95 for a Classic Ceremony, and $135 for a Theme Ceremony. It's a beautiful little spot on the banks of the Exeter River. I officiate weddings at the trailhead next to the parking lot. Conveniently, there is a little bench located there in case a couple of your guests need to be sitting for the ceremony. I included the FaceBook page because there is no official website yet. Pics: McDonnell Conservation Area
, Location: 615 Raymond Road, Chester, NH
- Performed my first ceremony here on a beautiful April afternoon. This is a great place for a ceremony. There is a covered bridge on the property that makes for a great setting for a wedding. My couple chose to have me officiate their ceremony directly in front of the bridge. If it's a hot day, you could choose to be wed under cover of the bridge, but the rushing water creates a lot of noise, so you'd have to have the JP speak up! Although, it is possible that the water current slows down in Summer, so the water might not be as brisk or as noisy. A few pictures: Wason Pond
•Swasey Park Bandstand Gazebo, Location: 316 Water Street, Exeter, NH
- Did a wedding here in January. Wonderful place with a view of the Squamscott River, and shelter from the elements if needed. In the winter I think you can do an elopement alone or with a handful of guests without notifying the town, but in summer I would call to make arrangements. Pics: Swasey Park Bandstand Gazebo
, Location: 38-2 Depot Road, Hampstead, NH
- Also know as Ordway Field, this is a pretty little spot on the corners of Main and Depot in Hampstead. There are a few places for a small ceremony here, and it's ideal for an elopement. The link above is where you can get a facility use agreement, although I think if you are eloping, you might not need one. Here are a few pictures... Ordway Park
•N.H. Marine Memorial At Hampton Beach, NH
, Location: 296 Ocean Blvd., Hampton, NH
- Really, any place on Hampton Beach is a popular (although crowded in the Summer) spot for an elopement, but couples tend to choose this location more than others. It's across the street from the Ashworth Hotel. Check it out to see if you'd like to be married in the presence of "The Lady."
•Kingston On The Plains, Location: 152-148 Main Street, Kingston, NH
- Officiated a wedding near the bandstand on The Plains in Kingston recently. This is a nice, relatively quiet place for an elopement and even with a small group I don't believe you need any sort of permission.
•Great Island Common
, Location: 301 Wentworth Road, New Castle, NH
- This is truly a hidden gem on the New Hampshire seacoast and I have officiated many eloping ceremonies here. Also known as New Castle Common, it's a great alternative to the crowded beaches of Hampton, and never fails to delight the couples I work with. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, I believe I can say that I have never had a couple not choose this for their ceremony location after they've visited it. There is grass and trees, a small beach, and wonderful views of the ocean and two lighthouses. After the wedding, you can stay and have lunch/dinner on their picnic tables or cook up some food on their barbecue pits. And New Castle sits right next to Portsmouth so, if you choose, you can venture into town to one of the fine restaurants in the "San Francisco of the East Coast." I can say without exaggeration, that I have never seen the Common crowded. And, I've witnessed situations where the visitors there will get up and move to a different location if they see a wedding is about to take place. There is a fee to enter the park, but it is reasonable - I believe $10 per car. And if you choose to have your ceremony later in the day or off season - it's free. I highly recommend you consider Great Island Common if you are looking for a great place for your New Hampshire seacoast elopement. It's one of my favorites as a JP. You can see some wonderful images here: Great Island Common
•Harborwalk Park - Location: No specific address that I can find, but here's a map
. This is a great place for an elopement or a wedding with just a few guests. I was introduced to this place by a lovely couple whose elopment I performed on an early October afternoon. It's essentially a pier close to the base of the Memorial Bridge that extends out into the Piscataqua River and provides a fine view of the harbor. There's also lighting there, and benches for any guests who might want to take a seat for your ceremony. I would guess that there are going to be some people utlizing the benches and taking in the view here, so don't plan on being completely alone during the ceremony. Still, I can't imagine this place being swarmed with people, so if you don't mind a few onlookers this is a really nice location to elope.
, Location: 200-298 Peirce Island Road, Portsmouth, NH
- Yes, this is the dog park - or at least part of it is - in Portsmouth. Still, it's a great place to be married! If you don't mind the occasional canine wedding crasher, there are a few places to tie the knot here including some overlooks and a couple of beaches. You can choose one of those lovely spots for the ceremony itself, and then go into town for dinner. UPDATE: Pierce Island has closed as the city upgrades its wastewater treatment plant. But keep the faith elopers & dog lovers - it is slated to reopen in 2021!
Location: 105 Marcy Street, Portsmouth, NH
- When Dorothy Frances Gurney said "one is nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth" she may have been thinking about the Formal Garden at Prescott Park! If I had to pick a favorite place in Portsmouth to jp elopements and small outdoor weddings it would probably be Prescott Park, in the "Formal Garden." The Garden features flowers and a fountain. Lots of weddings go on here in the Summer, so you might have some competition for a particular spot, but if you're not too fussy we can usually find a more than acceptable place for a quick elopement ceremony. Also important to mention is that there are many other locations in the Park that are great sites for eloping, so if the Formal Garden isn't your choice, there are a variety of other choices.
•Boat Dock at Odiorne State Park, Location: 560-506 NH 1A, Rye, NH
- There are a couple of quiet beaches here that can serve well as an eloping site. A couple intoduced me to one of those beaches a few years ago. It was a cloudy but warm Sunday in July, and the couple and I were the only ones there. In fact, just about every time I've been there, there has been no one else there or, at most, a very few people. If you drive past the opening of the State Park (with the park on your right), not too far down you come to a white bridge. Immediately before the bridge is the opening to the boat dock area. Pull in there, and park in the dirt parking lot. Off to the right, you'll see a little brown colored bridge. If you walk over the bridge and follow the path around to the left, you'll eventually get to the beaches. It's a bit of a walk, but worth it. Now, there is one
catch... the beach disappears at high tide. So, if you choose this place, and you want some beach real estate, schedule your ceremony within a few hours of low tide!
Location: 2280 Ocean Blvd., Rye, NH
- Nice place for an elopement on the beach. There is a small parking fee, and finding a spot in the Summer may be difficult. Off season it's much easier to find a spot and there is no parking fee.
•Odiorne State Park,
Location: 570 Ocean Blvd., Rye, NH
- There are a few great places for an elopement here. One is at the Founder's Monument, which is about a five minute walk from the Science Center but, again, there are many other nice sites. There is a parking fee in Summer.
Sanders Poynt, Location: 25 Wentworth Road, Rye, NH
- This is a cute place located about half way between the Wentworth By The Sea Country Club and Wentworth By The Sea Hotel on the Rye side of the bridge leading into New Castle. I discovered it recently when searching (with a couple) for a spot to do their ceremony on the beach. It's a quick pull-off on the right, off Route 1B, with not a lot of parking, but you'll also have not a lot of company. There's a tiny beach there that serves as a nice location for a ceremony.
Places to Elope in Strafford, Essex, and York Counties
Location: 127 Longmarsh Road, Durham, NH
- Performed a small wedding on the trail for the first time in late March. The trail itself is about four miles long, and I can't vouch for any particular spot on the trail other than the one my couple brought me to. If you park on Longmarsh Road and head into the trail, maybe about 1 minute in there is a small trail on the right. If you follow it down about three minutes, you'll come to a lovely site overlooking the marsh. Quiet, peaceful, serene... all of these words can be used to describe this place. It's ideal if you're trying to find an out-of-the-way, private location in nature to elope.
•Hale Memorial Park, Location: 210-212 Water Street, Newburyport, MA - This is really a beautiful park. It features a fountain, and many couples choose to get married in front of the fountain. There is a small section of the park, located across the street from the main park, with a view of the ocean that is also prime ground for a ceremony. If you're eloping, I don't believe there's a charge for using the park. The only drawback is that you have to find parking on the side streets around the park, although this is usually not that difficult to do. All in all, this is a pretty place for a wedding! Pics... Hale Memorial Park
•Maudslay State Park, Location: 74 Curzon Mill Road, Newburyport, MA - There are many very picturesque spots in the park that can accommodate a wedding. Maudslay is not big as far as State Parks are concerned - you can cover just about the entire park in a two or three hour hike. I recommend you take a day to walk around and scout out some potential places for your elopement. There is a parking fee. Some pics... Maudslay State Park
•Rear Range Lighthouse, Location: 61 Water Street, Newburyport, MA - Want to get married in a really unique place?... try the top of a lighthouse! I performed a wedding here on Valentine's Day for a couple who were eloping. Good thing they were, because there wasn't a lot of room for guests! Very romantic site with a great view of Newburyport and the ocean. There is a fee for use of the Lighthouse, and I believe there are packages that include dinner. Check out images of the lighthouse here: Rear Range Lighthouse
•Fort Foster, Location: 51 Pocahontas Road, Kittery, Maine - This is a great location for an elopement. I did a vow renewal here in the off season. The couple and I and a few close friends/family parked at the gate, and walked about 10 minutes to the beach. It was worth it... we were the only ones on the beach, and the scenery is beautiful. When open, you can park a lot closer to the beach but, of course, you'll have more company. There are three beaches at Fort Foster - each is worthy of an elopement. You can also choose to be wed at the end of a pier with great views. In any case, if you're looking for a great place to elope in Maine, on the beach, you owe it to yourself to check out Fort Foster. You can get a taste of its beauty here: Fort Foster
•Fort McClary State Park, Location: 45-31 Pepperrell Road, Kittery Point, Maine - Kind of a cool place for eloping. There are a few locations to have a small ceremony - most outside, but a few inside in case the weather is not cooperating. This is an old fort, so it's not the most beautiful site, but you can definitely get a feel for the history, and you can view the ocean from many vantage points. Just officiated my first wedding here, and the couple chose this place for their ceremony. There also appear to be some spots at the shore to have a ceremony. Enjoy these images from the historic fort... Fort McClary
•Short Sands Beach, Location: 31-37 Ocean Ave., York, Maine - A great place for an elopement. In fact, most of the beach ceremonies I officiate in York are at Short Sands. There is a gazebo available that is used extensively for weddings in the Summer but, if you're feeling lucky, you can try to sneak your elopement ceremony in there. And, of course, you can always choose the beach itself for your ceremony.
•Mount Agamenticus, Location: 21 Mount Agamenticus Road, York, Maine - This is just a beautiful place to tie the knot! It's only about a .6 mile drive to the top of the mountain and breathtaking views for the backdrop of your ceremony. If you're coming with a group, I've provided the Group Registration Request Form in the link above. If you're coming with just yourselves or a few people (i.e. less than 10), I don't think the form would be necessary, but you might want to contact them just in case. Here are some pics courtesy of Google, but I don't think images do it justice... Mount Agamenticus
•York Harbor Beach, Location: 2 Harbor Beach Road, York, Maine - Officiated a wedding here on the beach in February! Surprisingly, the weather was pretty good! This is a nice smaller beach in York for an elopement, but two things you need to know... First, there is permit parking only in the small lot that leads to the beach - so if you're not a York resident, you could have trouble finding a parking place near the beach that's not off limits - especially in summer. Second, you may want to schedule your elopement for low tide. The wedding I performed was at low tide. When I went there afterward for a walk with my dog Susie, it was high tide, and there was literally no beach to walk on. So plan accordingly! York Harbor Beach
So there you have it - some of my favorite places to jp elopements in the local area. If you have any additional suggestions on great places to elope be sure to email me and I'll include them on this list.