Sarah & Aaron's rustic forest camp-out wedding

February 21 |
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Photos by Jessica Watson Photography

The offbeat bride: Sarah, drafter and seasonal park ranger

Her offbeat partner: Aaron, construction manager and student

Date and location of wedding: Camp Wilkerson, Rainier, Oregon — September 11, 2011

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: Aaron and I had a three-day campout with lots of family and friends in a forested county park about an hour from Portland. We were thinking something more primitive, like 12 miles into Eagle Cap Wilderness, but we also wanted our families of all ages to be able to attend. So we picked a place accessible by paved roads. And Camp Wilkerson was a great mixture of isolation with amenities!

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We spent 20 dollars on our invitations by picking through old post cards at a second hand store and typing out the invite. Then we had an invitation making party!

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Family and friends emerged with major support and generosity. Our best man was the DJ (note: a dance party in the middle of the forest kicks ass!). Our photographer, ceremony musician, and hair stylist were all friends too. My aunts made the bouquets and altered my dress to fit me and my personality just perfectly. Our friend Mark even became ordained just to marry us! Our photographer, Jessica Watson, was amazing as well! Despite her knee surgery four days beforehand, she worked really hard for 10 hours and we were so happy with the pictures.

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My maid of honor and I found almost all of the china, glasses, salt and pepper shakers, and linens at thrift stores. It was a ton of work, but so worth it to help save the planet, one disposable plate at a time. And they are already getting more use! It made all the difference in the world to have someone with the same values as myself planning the wedding. She made signs out of scrap wood to let people know where to put their recycling and compost. Aaron's grandma loaned us antique silverware. The flowers came from our friend Jennifer and the Milwaukie Farmer's Market. The bridesmaid dresses were made by hand from Elyse Originals and the maid of honor's mom.

My parents made up a game called "Monster" when I was a kid. You turn off all the lights in the house and your monster parents hide while you tip-toe scared out of your mind to find them in the dark. This game has made its way to many other families and new generations. So when people actually wanted to play Monster in the woods at midnight, it was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

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Tell us about the ceremony: Our ceremony took place on a huge fire pit. Thank goodness Aaron made a platform for us to stand on. Our friend Mark was the perfect person to marry us. We had gone over the ceremony with him a couple of times, but he was saving the final draft for a surprise. We had a moment of silence for the 9/11 tragedy. And as I expected, he threw in something that was hilarious and fit us perfectly. Something about the one ring to bind them. ;)

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Beka, my maid of honor, read this quote from John Muir at the reception:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

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My favorite moment: I witnessed the generosity and selflessness that people can have that weekend. Just the thought of all the people who not only helped get everything ready and set up for the wedding, but stayed the day after to clean, brings a tear to my eye. So many people helped in so many ways. My maid of honor worked endlessly for those three months. We are forever grateful.

Watching the tears slide down Aaron's face while we were getting married melts my heart. I felt like the luckiest person on earth. The world was the wonderful place we all imagine it could be, for that one weekend.

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? The reception dinner was a potluck. I was a bit nervous because not everyone had signed up to bring something, and we were supposed to feed 165 people. And the closest major store was almost an hour away. But it turned out really well!

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I was also very afraid of all the work to be done to set food out and wash the dishes. Luckily, my mom hooked me up with a caterer just a few days before the wedding. They did all the labor and worked their butts off for eight hours straight. Money well spent.

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My advice for offbeat brides: Don't buy all the beer in kegs unless you have a plan for them afterwards. We had almost two full kegs of good beer go to waste. And that was a lot of money. It would have been better to buy two kegs instead of four and then buy a bunch of cases or half racks that will last a long time after the wedding. Drink the kegs first, then bust out the bottles.

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What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? If you're doing an out-of-town wedding and doing all the setup yourselves, arrive at your location more than one day before the wedding. Our wedding was on a Sunday and we should have arrived on Friday because Saturday was almost a nightmare.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

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  1. I really love the postcard invitation idea, that is really ingenious and cute! I also love the idea of a camp-out for the wedding. Congratulations!

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  2. This is kind of creepy… this wedding is almost exactly what we've been planning for this coming June! Talk about some serious inspo. It looks like it was fabulous, which gives me great hope for what we have planned!

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    • It turned out better than I ever dreamed, thanks to my maid of honor Beka. I probably would not have attempted that much work in three months on my own, but she came up with most of the ideas and I loved them! Then she proceeded to do all of the work too! I hope your wedding turns out better than you imagine too!

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  3. Jessica did an excellent job on the photos! Her website is Jessicawatsonphotography.com.

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    • Yes she did! I truly can't thank her enough! She has such a uniqueness to her photos, she captures moments unbelievably, and is great to work with! I highly recommend her!

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  4. We are looking to use vintage postcards as invitations. Did you repurpose used post card? If so, how did you go about doing it? By the way, I really love your wedding! Rustic, but with nice, simple yet elegant touches to make it special and personal.

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    • Thank you! We bought about half of them pre-owned but unused at Scrap, this great second hand store in North Portland. http://scrappdx.org/
      The other half are postcards I bought on trips to National Parks and other places in the last 15 years. And for the thank you cards, we purchased postcards from our honeymoon in Yosemite National Park.

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  5. Beautiful wedding. If I was more outdoorsy I would do this in a heartbeat.

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  6. Thank you everyone for the sweet comments and compliments! Let me know if you have any other questions and I'd be happy to answer them!

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  7. Sarah, if you could give a bit of a "how-to" on the vintage postcard invites, I would be so grateful. It makes me laugh that those of us with limited craft skills often are the ones with the lowest wedding budget! LOL! But if I can get some pointers, I believe I can make this work. I can craft with good instructions!

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    • Sorry Tamara, I thought I had replied to your question, but I see that i did not. So sorry, I'm sure it is probably too late now, so I hope you figured it out ok. I just used Word to type out our invite and printed them out and cut and paste them onto the back of the post cards. The post cards had no writing on them yet. And then we put them in envelopes with a map and some wedding info. Best of wishes for your marriage!!!!

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  8. That is one of the most beautiful wedding dresses I have ever seen.

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    • :) Thank you sooo much!!! It took me a long time to find it and I finally found it on Etsy not long before the wedding. And then my aunt altered the arms to create my dream wedding dress :) I was truly blessed.

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  9. Hey Sarah,
    I just wanted to congratulate you on your beautiful marriage and creative wedding. My dude pal and I are hoping to have a weekend camp-out slash commitment ceremony slash bonfire slash raging kegger. This post was one of the first posts I found on Offbeat Bride, and I've come back to it again and again. It's really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing! I will probably have specific questions at some point, but I wanted to write a comment before I forgot (again). :-)

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    • Thank you Nico. I hope your wedding turns out better than you could ever dream :) Congrats!

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  10. Wow, great idea! My brother is looking for a location in Oregon for a very similar type of wedding, do you mind sending me some info on the location you used?

    Thank you!

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    • Sure! Here is the official webpage for Camp Wilkerson. If I recall it was about 900 dollars for two nights of all three cabins, a group of adirondacks, all the campsites next to the Lodge, the Lodge itself and parking for everyone. One suggestion if you choose this park (which I totally recommend!!!!!) is to rent the lodge for the day before the wedding so that you can spend the day setting up and decorating. It was a lot of work to rent a uhaul and haul everything up there but totally worth it!!! Oh and I would check before you haul a bunch of wood up there for a fire because we did that only to find out there were no fires allowed because of the dry fire season. Oh and one last thing… if your brother wants the white xmas lights he can probably have them, I just need to check with my friend who used them for her wedding.
      http://www.co.columbia.or.us/departments/county-parks/camp-wilkerson-park

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      • Wonderful, thank you so much! I will pass the info along!

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  11. Sarah,
    You and your husband's wedding looked absolutely lovely and my fiance and I are hoping to create something similar next fall in the same location (your pictures and suggestions have already been the source of loads of inspiration).
    One question however – if you didn't end up renting the entire camp area for the evening (ie ALL of the adirondacks, etc.) did you have any trouble w/ noise ordinances/curfews? I'm mainly concerned about how late the music and dance party can go on without troubling other campers.
    Thank you so much!
    Kyla

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    • Thank you! I'm so glad it helped you with ideas! Sorry, I haven't checked comments in a long time. That is a very good question. I think we got pretty lucky and no one else was in the park, except a group up at the horse camp and I don't think they complained. We brought them some food to get on their good side :) If your wedding is this fall there probably won't be anyone in the park…. hopefully! The camp host lives up by the paved road and he never made us turn it down, but he said the next day he could hear us all the way up there! I don't think we turned the music off until 3am! But we turned it down a bit. Let me know how it turns out!!!!!

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  12. Hi Sarah,

    Great wedding! So beautiful and inspiring for us as we try to plan a multi-day, large, camping wedding. I was wondering if you could give a little more advice/breakdown on how the potluck went. Did you have someone head it and organize who was bringing what? Did you already figure out what you wanted and just invite anyone to bring those items? Did you assign family/groups to certain things?

    We're looking at having 250 people for the actual wedding reception (which will be catered), but we want to do potluck for the night before when we expect there to be about 100-150 people there. Just looking for any and all advice!

    Thanks!
    Rica

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    • I'm trying to remember now how it went exactly. We had a wedding facebook page and we put a note on there that if people could bring a dish it would be much appreciated. I had a friend in charge of keeping track. Then we made a list of categories and set up some webpage thing where people could sign up, but we didn't get a good response. We only had like 10 people signed up so we were very nervous but we ended up having plenty of food. My friend ended up calling some family members and a few friends I think and asking them if they were going to bring food and if so, what. Someone even brought a hundred dollar tray of shrimp and crab unexpectedly! We ended up finding a great caterer who we had bring salad and deviled eggs too. Sorry I can't remember more. But we were nervous about the food situation and it turned out great so I'm sure yours will too!! Let me know how it goes.

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  13. Hi Sarah,

    I love this location! Could you give me a little more detail about the site e.g. cabin occupancy, reserving (I haven't been able to get a hold of anyone), access for the disabled, setting up a dance floor and is there a river or lake near by? Any more details would be great! Thanks :)

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    • There are three cabins and each one has like three bunk beds and a double bed so they each sleep about 8 people. They don't have bathrooms but they share a porta potty outside. I just called the number on their website and didn't have any problem getting a hold of them so i bet they will get back to you soon. At least one of the cabins has a ramp if I remember correctly. The dance floor was easy, we just moved the tables in front of the big fireplace and it worked great. There is no stream or lake nearby unfortunately but there is a lot of space to set up sports etc. It was a great setup for us! The kitchen is large with a big flat topped grill, sink and fridge. Best of luck!!!

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  14. Hi Sarah,
    Beautiful pictures! I am thinking about reserving this place, but had a few questions, similar to the last person that posted. Do the two small cabins have restrooms? Is there space for dancing in the lodge?

    Thanks!
    Amber

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    • Hey Amber,
      Yes as I mentioned in the last reply, there is enough room for dancing in the lodge if you move the tables that are in front of the fireplace. The way we had it set up I think we only had 4 tables to move. Although at the beginning of the dancing there were a lot more people there than later on and people mainly danced outside in front of the lodge. If it is raining though you could move more tables if you had too.

      One other thing that I don't think I've mentioned is that we were a bit unsure if the parking area was going to be large enough for 160 people. It was plenty big, tons of spare room. We had people assigned to parking because we thought we were going to have to squeeze them all in, but there was no need for parking attendants :) 130 people showed up instead of 160 and I think that is to be expected, especially since it's kind of far out there. A little over an hour from downtown Portland.
      Cheers!

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