10 Tips for Planning a Wedding in the Ozarks

If you're lucky enough to live in Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas, then you may already know that our region is one of the most beautiful areas of the country to hold a wedding. Our gorgeous river valleys, rolling mountains, and soft, grassy plains make it possible for just about any bride to have the wedding of her dreams. Our rich history, family-friendly activities, and abundance of talented vendors and photographers makes the Ozarks a dream wedding destination for couples from all across the country! 

1. First - and most important - don't rush yourself.
Here's the hard truth I think every bride learns when she starts researching her dream wedding: a lot of things are going to cost more money and take more time than expected. The national average cost for wedding photography in 2014 was $2,556, for starters.
It's okay!
Take a deep breath.
Take a step back, and ask yourself if you REALLY need to set your wedding date for only 4 months from now.
Researching all of your options can be exhausting, especially if you have decided not to use a planner or you are planning a destination wedding from outside the area. The popular vendors sometimes book their most requested wedding dates a year or more in advance, and all of them require deposits before they will hold anything. Give yourself plenty of time so you can lock down the baker, florist, photographer, etc., that you REALLY want. If you try to book all of these too closely to your wedding date, you'll be picking from what's left over.


2. Start by choosing a venue - there are so many!
Here in the Ozarks, there is really no limit to the imagination when it comes to having a unique wedding, and the low average cost of wedding expenses makes our beloved region attractive to brides seeking a family oriented wedding destination. It's easy to plan your wedding and your honeymoon all in one place!
Want to get married in a beautiful historic firehouse? We have a venue for that. 
A classy vineyard? There are several. 
Maybe your wedding style is a sleek, luxurious hotel in the heart of downtown Springfield, Missouri. 
Or the romantic stone chapel ruins at Sassafras Springs Vineyard in Springdale, Arkansas! 
Branson, Missouri has several wedding venues that can be all-inclusive, like Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock. Bring the family along, and enjoy the many family friendly shows. Or go shopping, ride roller coasters and go-karts, relax, fish, or water ski on the lake, or visit an aquarium.
For our nature-loving friends, there is no lack of beautiful hiking trails
waterfalls, mountaintops, wildlife conservation areas, and caves to explore. Plan a spectacular outdoor ceremony along the Buffalo River so you can wake up in a rustic cabin on your wedding day and watch the elk graze Boxley Valley or plan a float trip with your wedding party as a honeymoon adventure. 


3. After you've found your location, pick a photographer whose portfolio matches the style of wedding you are planning.
Are you having your ceremony in a vintage barn or a large, open church or your family's creek-side property? When looking through a website or portfolio, keep details like this in mind. Some photographers excel at outdoor ceremonies, but their indoor reception coverage may not be to your liking. Some have mastered downtown and urban venues, while others are obviously more comfortable in natural settings. Some photographers are amazing at both! Don't be afraid to ask to see a full wedding he or she has covered, from beginning to end. Highlights are great to get a sense of a photographer's style, but you want to be sure to see a complete wedding collection before you sign a contract. Anyone can get lucky and fire off a handful of great shots during a wedding.

4. Do your homework and compare photographers and other wedding service vendors. 
 It is rare that any two photographers’ pricing structure is EXACTLY the same. Vendors who are located within larger cities tend to be priced a little higher than their rural counterparts. Look at the pricing structure of several of your favorites before contacting them for details instead of sending out mass emails to every photographer you kind of like with a long list of your photography needs. 
If you try to narrow down which ones are within your budget, first, you'll save time and catch more in your net. Also, comparison of several pricing structures and shooting styles is really the only way to know if you're getting the best deal for your wedding day. After you've found a short list of photographers who you think might be a great fit for you, start reaching out to them to find out how they operate. 

5. Fall colors arrive in the Ozarks a little later than you may think.
When we think of the Autumn months, September, October, and November usually come to mind. However, if you desire a wedding in the peak of gorgeous Ozark Fall colors, it's a good idea to stay away from any day in September or the first 2-3 weeks of October. Every year, Kent & Carolyn Photography has a wedding scheduled on the weekend of October 19th, or whichever date falls near there (this year, that weekend falls on the 15th), and every year, the leaves start turning beautiful colors the very next week. Our poor brides were crossing their fingers the colors would arrive in time, but it's always just a few days or a week too soon. (But of course, now that I've said that, Mother Nature will prove me wrong this year, just to keep me humble.) 
With the exception of the odd weather year here and there, the vibrant Fall colors are usually in their full glory during the last two weeks of October, and they last until the first or second weekend in November, sometimes a little longer. 

6. Spring arrives in the Ozarks a little later than you may think. 
Punxsutawney Phil told us that Spring will be here early this year, and frankly, this is the first year in a long time that I think I believe him! Although the first day of Spring is technically March 20th, the flowers are usually going great by mid-late April, and trees aren't completely full until around May. I remember it even snowed on the first weekend of May a few years ago! But by the end of May, it's hot!! Most years you can't tell much of a difference between the end of May and the rest of Summer. 

7. The sun sets earlier in Arkansas than it does in Missouri.
I swear, it does! 
Okay, maybe not really. However, the terrain makes a huge difference on how soon you will lose that beautiful, soft, golden sun in the evening. We all know that Springfield and surrounding towns are pretty well flat because we live on the Ozark Plateau. However, if your venue is located in a little more south, like Branson, Missouri, Harrison, Arkansas, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, or along the Buffalo National River, you are deeper into hilly terrain, and low-lying areas get dark more quickly as sunset approaches. This is important if you are deciding the start time of your outdoor ceremony based on the time the sun sets. If your venue is flexible on your start time, and you're not sure what light would be best, ask your photographer for advice!

8. Was that a large mosquito or a small drone?
The mosquitoes are no joke in Missouri and Arkansas. If you've seen any recent news reports, you know they can also carry some pretty nasty viruses. Ticks and chiggers are an issue during the warm months, too. It's common for couples who have outdoor events in the warmer months to hand out small bottles of repellent to keep them at bay. This can be done tastefully and in coordination with your wedding decor. Your wedding guests may think of you when they smell citronella for years to come, but it's better than the alternative of having itchy bites or something worse. 

9. If having an outdoor ceremony/reception, always, always, always, have a back-up indoor location! 
"If you don't like the weather in Arkansas or Missouri, just wait five minutes and it will change."
If you grew up here in the Ozarks, there's no doubt you've heard this saying. A lot of local vendors who have water-sensitive equipment will have a section about weather and outdoor venues in their contracts. Don't just have a plan in mind. Make sure your weather plan is clearly communicated to your vendors, wedding party, and guests. 

10. Steer clear of the "friend with a camera." Don't skimp on the professionals!
We live in such a beautiful region that it's no wonder so many people feel compelled to buy a camera and start selling their photography as a hobby or to make ends meet. Everyone has to start somewhere, and asking friends to let you practice with them is definitely a good one. As a bride, please be respectfully cautious of your friends with cameras.
Your friends mean well, they really do! They are going to approach you before your wedding and say, "I just got this great camera, I can help you save some money on your wedding pics!" Or your future mother-in-law is going to pull you aside and say, "My cousin's daughter is taking a photography course at the college, and she's got a great eye! I bet she would do your wedding for cheap to get started!"
They are only trying to help, but following their advice might turn into a regrettable decision.
It takes experience and education to correctly and artfully document a wedding day fully, from beginning to end, without missing a moment. It takes more than a good eye or an expensive camera to know how to deal with problems when they arise, such as chaotic lighting, unexpected weather, unexpected gear failure, etc. It takes grace under pressure to make sure someone else's wedding day goes off without a hitch.


Just for a moment, don't think about your wedding day. Instead, think about the weeks, months, and years AFTER your wedding day. What tangible objects have you taken away from it  to display in your home? The cake is eaten (or frozen, in some cases), all flowers (even preserved ones) eventually turn to dust, the catering was delicious but now gone, and the dress gets stuffed in a bag in the back of the closet. Maybe it will get passed down, maybe it won't. What else do you have to show off all of your hard work, planning, and literal blood, sweat, and tears?
Your spouse, of course!
And those three, giant, beautiful canvases that hang above the mantle.
And that amazing album on your coffee table that your friends gush over every time they stop by.
And that collage on the bedroom wall that has all your favorite shots of you and your bridesmaids in the dressing room, all laughing and prepping for the ceremony.
After all is said and done, your photos will be the wedding day purchase that lasts you the longest. Make sure this job is in the hands of an experienced professional. You will be ever so glad you did!

Do you have any of your own advice for couples who are planning a wedding in the Ozarks? Do you have questions about your upcoming wedding in the area? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!