Sleeping bag: rolled. Swimsuit: Packed. Cornhole: In the car. Bug spray: Applied.
It may sound like the checklist for your annual camping trip—but it’s increasingly what wedding guests are packing. From venues like kids’ summer camps to remote cabins and working farms, brides are ditching heels for hiking boots and a whole weekend’s worth of rustic festivities.
“We wanted something that would be really special and low-key that none of our friends had really done before. We looked at barns but ended up falling in love with a weekendlong thing,” says Gillian Carter Feld, who married Jonah Feld at Windsor Mountain International Summer Camp last year. “Jonah really didn’t want a wedding that was dance floor-focused.” Instead, their guests spent a weekend in the woods of New Hampshire, plunging into the lake, kayaking and playing tetherball.
Beyond the fun factor, couples say having a lot of out-of-town guests in a single location can be less complicated than organizing hotel room blocks and activities in the city. Dylan and Keri Wise of Arlington were instantly enamored by the outdoor ceremony space and lakeside deck at Whispering Pines in West Greenwich, Rhode Island. Dylan says the charming cabins were just the accommodations they were looking for to host family making the trek from Ohio. “It would be such a bummer for them to drive out to Rhode Island and stay at a Holiday Inn.”
What did their nearest and dearest think of roughing it? Although initial reactions were mixed (Keri’s aunt asked if she “should wear a mosquito net”), by the end of the weekend most of the traditional folks had been won over. “It’s difficult for some people to comprehend [the concept] at first,” Dylan says. “In Ohio, weddings take place in churches and receptions in church basements. But Grandma was cool with it!” At Windsor, some of Gillian’s relatives got in the spirit and even moved from their cabin into a tent.
YOU’RE INVITED! These themed invitations were created by local architect turned graphic designer Chelsey Emery.
Stephanie Yoder of Melrose, who was a bridesmaid in September at Camp Mataponi on Maine’s Sebago Lake, said the only drawback was not being able to experience all of the activities as a guest. “It was my best friend’s wedding, so of course I wanted to be in it,” she says. “But my parents [who attended] got to go in a canoe on Saturday and got lobster rolls, whereas I was doing hair and makeup!” Yoder had initial concerns about what to pack for her parents, who flew in and couldn’t bring much baggage, so she brought extra layers in case of chilly weather, along with sheets for the amusingly short bunk beds, sized for tween campers.
Accommodations for those getting wed in the woods can range from spartan setups with shared bathhouses to cozier quarters with linens, heat and private showers. So guests should definitely be advised via a detailed invitation and wedding website about what to expect, says local lawyer turned event planner Jennifer Cox of Esq.Events.
“Letting the guests know what they’re getting into is really important, especially if they’re getting on a boat and coming onto an island. You can’t just run into CVS in the middle of nowhere,” Cox says, reflecting on fetes she’s organized at Sandy Island Family Camp on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Couples there have exclusive use of the island for a weekend, but have to barge in everything from cakes to makeup artists—and of course the guests themselves.
A thoughtful welcome bag can make all of the difference, Carter Feld adds.
“Ours wasn’t just the typical water and aspirin. Each cabin had bug spray, sunscreen and flip-flops for the grody shower house!”
Despite the expense of extra supplies, camp weddings can be more cost-effective than paying a cost per head at a traditional venue, since fees usually include housing and food, and alcohol can often be brought in wholesale. “You’re creating a whole wedding weekend without paying to create individual events, and you really have that communal feel of sharing traditions with friends and new family,” says Cox, who notes that such weekends are especially inclusive for children, since many camps’ primary function is to keep little ones entertained.
Many of the couples Cox has worked with have fond memories of camping as kids and are excited about marking the milestone in a location with personal significance. That was certainly the case for Mathew and Bethany Hall of Whitman—the bride jokes that securing Camp Kiwanee in Hanson is part of what led Mathew to actually put a ring on it. “I think he finally got his act together 80 percent because he was ready to marry and 20 percent because he wanted to make sure we had Kiwanee locked down!”
For East Boston newlyweds Stella Dubish and Bryan Ennis, a true camp-out wedding with tents pitched at Round the Bend Farm represented a return to their roots, since the South Dartmouth spot was where they had their third date. The goal? “To be as little like a wedding as possible,” Dubish says. She also eschewed the bridal shower—quite literally—since there weren’t bathing facilities at their remote location. What that did mean, though, were fewer restrictions on partying late into the night with a bonfire, s’mores, sparklers and a singing competition. Although only 25 of the 160 guests chose to truly “rough it” (the others headed back to hotels), those who did enjoyed one of Dubish’s favorite wedding memories. “We loved waking up in our tent to the sound of every single creature on the farm shouting out in joy at sunrise,” she recalls. “Every bug, bird, chicken and sheep was just belting it out…it gave us a feeling of intense joy and celebration at living in this beautiful world.”
From roughing it to glamping, New England has plenty of options for getting wed in the woods. Here are a few base camps to consider.
This nonprofit sleepaway summer camp welcomes kids ages 5 to 16 when not being used for special events.
Special features: The Stockade, a Colonial-era fort replica, sleeps about 150 and serves as a courtyard with a fire pit.
Accommodations: Cabins sleep up to 300 and have electricity but no air conditioning. The Stockade, the Duplexes and the Union House have indoor bathrooms; bathhouses serve the other cabins. Guests should bring their own linens.
Activities: Boating, archery, a climbing wall and more.
Grub: There’s an industrial kitchen with catering available; any licensed vendor is welcome.
This 110-acre facility on Sebago Lake got its start as a girls’ overnight summer camp in 1910.
Location: Naples, Maine
Special features: An indoor reception hall with floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking the lake seats 50 to 300 and has a dance floor.
Accommodations: Cabins have electricity, hot water and private stall showers. Guests may want to bring extra linens. Tenting is also available.
Activities: Sailing, canoeing, kayaking, volleyball and basketball courts, softball and soccer fields, tennis and more.
Grub: Catering is available, and there’s a 3,800-square-foot dining facility; any licensed vendor is welcome.
A former private home that served as a summer camp for girls from 1923 to 1979, Kiwanee is now run by the town of Hanson as a campground and function facility.
Special features: Needles Lodge was built as the home of a turn-of-the-century Boston industrialist and can hold events for up to 200.
Accommodations: There are 18 cabins that sleep up to six people each and are served by a communal bathhouse with showers and hot water. There’s also a cottage that sleeps six with a kitchen, a bedroom and a newly renovated bathroom. Guests should bring their own linens.
Activities: Swimming, kayaking and canoeing.
Grub: Any licensed vendor is welcome.
This dream project of a millionaire was built during the apex of the Great Camp era prior to the Great Depression and originally featured a lodge, a dam, a waterfall and a rose garden.
Location: Stoddard, New Hampshire
Special features: This 250-acre estate on a private lake is surrounded by 10,000 acres of conservation land, meaning couples can have fireworks and late after-parties with privacy.
Accommodations: Three cabins with showers and heat can accommodate up to 18. Tenting is also available.
Activities: Canoeing, hiking and lawn games.
Grub: Outside vendors are welcome.
Loch Lyme Lodge
This eco-friendly lodge on 120 acres of woodland features a mix of traditional and bed-and-breakfast cabins.
Location: Lyme, New Hampshire
Special features: Cabins include linens and blankets, towels and firewood; B&B cabins include housekeeping and daily breakfast.
Accommodations: The 20 cabins sleep one to eight people; all feature indoor plumbing.
Activities: Canoeing, kayaking, tennis, basketball, hiking, horseshoe pits and campfires.
Grub: Referrals for vendors are provided; the on-site restaurant is also open to the general public.
Windsor Mountain International Summer Camp
When not hosting weddings, this coed camp for ages 7-16 focuses on noncompetitive ways to foster creativity and self-esteem.
Location: Windsor, New Hampshire
Special features: The 365-acre camp on a private lake is surrounded by a 1,000-acre wilderness preserve and has a secluded area for after-parties. Babysitting is also offered.
Activities: Water sports, rope courses, archery and more.
Accommodations: Cabins with electricity sleep eight to 10; there are also Adirondack-like shelters, tents on raised platforms and a bunkhouse. Shower facilities are available near all accommodations.
Grub: Catering is offered; licensed outside vendors are welcome.