Campgrounds offer Scenic Settings for Intimate Wedding Celebrations

Having a wedding in a campground made a lot of sense to Tara and Scott Garcia of Milwaukee.

After all, they met at Willow Mill Campsite in Rio, Wis. when they were 13 and spent every summer camping there with their families while they were growing up.

Scott Garcia even proposed to Tara at the campground — in a scenic spot where the Jennings Trout Stream meets with another stream and flows over a dam.

But when it came to planning their wedding, the Garcias liked the idea of taking what is normally a 5 or 6 hour event and transforming it into a weekend celebration at the campground where they had so many fond memories with their family and friends.

“People started arriving as early as Thursday night,” Tara Garcia said, adding that the rest of the group arrived on Friday. Most of their guests camped in tents or RVs, while the areas stayed overnight at a nearby hotel.

“By having our wedding in a campground, we were able to celebrate the whole weekend,” Garcia said. “We even had our rehearsal dinner at the campground. People could socialize by campfires in between the different events, and during the day some of our guests were able to go fishing.”

While the Garcia’s wedding was certainly unique, growing numbers of couples are getting married in campgrounds, particularly during the spring and fall, when fewer people travel and campgrounds can more easily accommodate large wedding parties.

Campground weddings are also becoming more common as campgrounds step up their investments in rental accommodations, such as cabins, park models and yurts, which can accommodate people who don’t have an RV and don’t want to sleep in a tent.

In addition to being in scenic locations, many campgrounds also have banquet facilities, which can easily be used for wedding receptions.

Wisconsin Riverside Resort in Spring Green, Wis., for example, has a 400-capacity banquet facility as well as a restaurant and bar. “We just rebuilt the restaurant and bar and added the banquet room in 2011,” said park co-owner Suzanne Shifflet, adding that the campground is a popular location for weddings.

Some families also like the idea of having a wedding and reception in a campground because it can be a more affordable venue than a hotel. Many also like being able to having a lengthy reception and not have to worry about their guests drinking and driving, since they can simply spend the night at the campground.

While some campgrounds can provide meals for wedding receptions, others have kitchen facilities that they can make available to wedding parties that prefer to do their own cooking. Still other wedding parties opt to have their meals provided by outside caterers.

Seth and Madison Capps used a Dallas-based caterer when they got married in November 2011 at Mill Creek Ranch Resort in Canton, Texas. Some guests arrived at the resort as early as Thursday night and stayed through Sunday — either in their own RVs or in the resort’s park model rental accommodations. Madison’s father, Kevin Gattis, said the wedding was “very reasonably priced.”

But while campgrounds can be relatively affordable venues for weddings and receptions, some couples spare no expense when it comes to celebrating one of the most memorable days of their lives.

Consider Franny Teran and Charlie Freund. When they got married at at El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara, Calif. in 2011, they kicked off their weekend festivities with a sing-along around a bonfire on Friday night as their guests enjoyed tacos and margaritas.

On Saturday, they recruited some of their guests to make floral arrangements 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.

Their Saturday night 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.

The actual wedding ceremony took place late Sunday morning and was followed by a brunch reception.

Franny Teran said they had about 150 guests at their weekend wedding celebration. Many came in their RVs, while others stayed in El Capitan Canyon’s park models and yurts. A handful of guests also pitched tents.

But while it may be hard to beat Franny and Charlie Freund’s wedding for the sheer variety of activities, meals and entertainment they provided, the Garcias’ wedding might set a standard for an elegant yet rustic, nature themed wedding.

They had their mid-September 2012 wedding ceremony outside in an area of Willow Mill Campsite where a narrow sliver of the campground sticks out into a 40-acre spring fed fishing pond. With fall colors sweeping across the campground, the guests were seated on folding chairs, while members of the wedding party were brought two by two to the wedding site by horse-drawn wagon.

Tara and her father then surprised their guests by arriving at the ceremony on a two-person pontoon boat, which they paddled to shore as a guitarist played “Lullaby” by the Dixie Chics.

“My dad and I are very close and I wanted to do something special with him,” Tara Garcia said.

After the wedding, the Garcias had their reception inside a huge white tent that was filled with round tables covered with white table linens, burlap placements and handmade table decorations, which the Garcias made using small logs, twigs and branches from trees that had fallen during a recent tornado. Each center piece log was branded with a heart that included Scott and Tara’s initials.

A local caterer provided the reception meal, which included beef tips and chicken, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.

“Our wedding cake was made by my sister’s mother-in-law and had M&Ms in the frosting because they are my favorite candy ever,” Tara Garcia said. “We also had little bags of M&Ms in fall colors at each table setting. Our favors were s’mores on a stick with a marshmallow dipped in chocolate and rolled in Graham cracker crumbs. Each one had a tag with the guest’s name and table number and on the other side it said ‘Enjoy s’more love.’”

Thinking back to the days when she was a teenager, Tara Garcia said she never dreamed she’d fall in love at Willow Mill Campsite, but she always felt she would want to get married there.

“At that time, of course, I had no idea that (the campground) would be where my love story would begin. Although I saw myself standing at the alter with Scott for many years, I never knew how much the venue would mean to me once we started our planning. To be able to marry my best friend at my favorite place in the world that holds so many great memories for us truly was remarkable beyond words.”