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  • Writer's pictureBear Tomlinson

Chris Park Campground - Durango Mountain Wedding DIY Guide

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Planning a wedding or special event at Chris Park Campground or Haviland Lake in Durango, Colorado? Look no further, we have you covered with our Chris Park DIY Wedding Guide!

Experience: My wife and I first discovered Chris Park Campground in the Fall of 2016 after searching endlessly for a large yet affordable, covered outdoor wedding venue in Durango, Colorado. After walking and exploring the Chris Park Campgrounds and working with our shoestring DIY budget, we discovered how great and how much potential the Chris Park Campgrounds have. We got married at Chris Park in September of 2017, took our 3 week European Honeymoon, then came back and I launched our business of professional balloon decor and party rentals later that year. Today, we have worked with close to 10 other happily married couples at the Chris Park venue, or have rented equipment and lights from us for the Chris Park venue. We continue to frequent the campgrounds and even stage our Mountain Party Rental storage trailer located close to the entrance of Haviland lake road on Bears Ranch property.

What we did: We had originally planned and sent close to 150 invites for our wedding day at Chris Park. We actually lost count and control of this (wouldn't recommend) as we happened to have a lot of friends in and out of the state. We also lost control of our RSVP list (wouldn't recommend either) and probably got half of our guests who attended to RSVP. All in all, we originally thought 150, that dropped to 100-120, then the attendance number was closer to 85-100, we never took a head count. This was both good and bad as we had a huge excess amount of food, drinks and just enough cake for everyone.

Park Reservation: Reserving Chris Park Campgrounds online was one of the first things we did after walking the grounds and deciding we would have our ceremony there. With there being 3 group sites offered, we rented out only site #3, due to their close proximity and #3 has the group shelter pavilion with it. Site 3 allows 150 guests to camp around the area. We rented the site for both Friday night and our Saturday ceremony night so our guests arriving early could camp up there the night before as well as the night of our ceremony. Earlier in the Spring before our September wedding, we walked the grounds and introduced ourselves to the campsite hosts (staying in a RV continue after the gate entrance) and let them know our wedding plans (recommend). They were very friendly and accomodating, and really didn't care at all about our noise concerns or big event. In total we spent $500 for both 2 nights of the venue use and camping. Chris Park Campground reservations can be found here;

Save the date: We sent out our kitchen 'save the date' fridge magnets with a fun photo of us almost 10 months out which seemed to be a big hit, and gave everyone ample amount of time to prepare and get sick of our faces on their kitchen fridges.

Rehearsal Dinner: We had our Rehearsal Dinner with immediate friends, family and wedding party up at Lions Den at the top of Rim Drive across from the Hillcrest Golf Course. We made it a sunset, casual 'home slice' pizza party and brought up a cooler of drinks and finger food for sides. We did rent out the space through the City of Durango and the Parks and Rec department, just in case there was another function happening, but we were the only ones up there. It was a beautiful successful afternoon, we had perfect weather for our labor day weekend wedding Sept.1st and 2nd, 2017. Everyone loved the sweeping views of Downtown Durango and the La Plata Mountains. We kept it a short 2-3 hour event, with a quick casual rehearsal with friends and family then called it a early night to get ready for our big ceremony day.

Signage: As you may or may not know, when you get down to the campgrounds, there arn't too many helpful signs and it is pretty primitive. We spent an afternoon making fun signage for our wedding guests to greet them and point them in the right direction for things. We used some thin plywood and wood stakes, along with some brown spray paint and white acrlyic paint we used for the stencils.

Ceremony: Our ceremony was short and sweet and overlooked the beautiful San Juan National Forest. We found a spot about a 4 minute walk to the South East hillside that was easily accessible for everyone and had a overlook in the pine trees. Our marriage officiant was a close friend and friends dad, who also made our beautiful Aspen Arbor that we added some green foliage and flowers to. We used the same PA for our danefloor as the ceremony and the wireless mic setup worked great for us and our officiant. We kept the ceremony short and decided to exchange our vows in private earlier that day.

Food: Again, fortunate to have a good friend and private chef at the time, Chef Pat, cook us up tasty pork and chicken tacos, along with a fresh salad, apps, chips, dips, and deserts. We asked him to plan to cook for 120 heads just in case and with our lower than expected attendance, we have an excess of food that we bagged and gave away to our friends. The tacos and food came out great thanks to Pat, and he fired up the outside charcoal grills and had everything ready to go while we had our short ceremony just up on the hillside. In hindsight we wish our friend Pat could have had less stress on cooking and the days of prep ahead of the big day, (cold storage for all the food proved to be challenging (we were fortunate to use the breweries walk-in cooler the night before to cool things before moving up the mountain the next day) and in the end it probably would have been easier on everyone to just get it catered (i.e. Zias Cantina).

Drinks: At the time I was fortunate to be working at one of our local breweries in town, Durango Brewing Company, and I got a good deal on a keg of beer, full use of a 2 tap jockey box, and 2 pop up tents for our live bluegrass music band. I also had to support my other favorite brewery in town, Ska Brewing, and picked up 2 kegs from them as well. We also had a friend who was attended our wedding, get us a good deal on some house red and white wines along with a case of Champagne from the liquor store they worked at. As far as a bar went, we didn't have anyone work the bar (not recommended), and it was a self serve, pour your own station full of beer and wine. Our wedding party proceeded to have a wild night that night. Note: Because of the elevation at 8,000ft, we stayed away from hard liquor and we didn't have a on-site bartender to control the drinks being served.

Centerpieces / Flowers: We were fortunate to have both our landlord who grew beautiful Dahlia and Sunflowers, along with another friend who worked at Twin Buttes Farm at the time, provide us with beautiful flowers, arrangements, and even a refrigerated box truck to drive them up and keep cool before the ceremony. All of the flowers and arrangements looked great and they were our main centerpieces in simple yet classy Ball mason jars.

Balloon Decor / Party Rentals: We purchased and strung up all of the lights, linens, speakers and rentals ourselves, aside from the 6 wedding aisle benches (for immediate/older family to sit during ceremony) that we rented from Durango Party Rental. We also used our 3ft LED balloons from Durango Balloon Company, and used our Rockville PA Wireless Mic system, Wedding Light strands, Table linen rentals, Horse trough drink cooler, Whiskey barrel guest check in table, and keg taps from what is now - Mountain Party Rental. We eventually brought on farmhouse style wedding benches that we rent for party rental equipment for other Durango Area Weddings.

Firepit / Smores: Just to the south of the Chris Park Pavillion there is a large firepit ring with bench style seating around it. We brought our own firewood (recommended) and set up some smores' with marshmellows, chocolate and graham crackers that we got in bulk at Sams club/walmart.

Music: We asked a friends moms bluegrass band to play just after the ceremony and had them staged just to the south outside of the pavillion under a large pop-up brewery tent. Unfortunately, they got a bit rained out with a passing rain squal and most of our wedding guests stayed under the covered pavillion during the time they played. They got a few fun songs in before they had to shut down due to the rainy weather. We also bought a nice PA system with wireless mics that we used for both the pavillion dance floor and wedding speeches that were fun. We created a 'wedding playlist' on Spotify and let it play for the rest of the dance floor night.

Photography: Again, we were very fortunate to have great friends with great generosity and skills, we hired a college friend who attended our wedding and took care of all of our wedding photos. We started our family and wedding party photos at beautiful Haviland Lake just up the road from Chris Park, and ended it with some fun dance floor shots and nighttime shots. Shoutout @benjamin_kraushaar

Budget: Again, we were very fortunate to have great friends with great generosity and skills to help us pull it all off. We put in a lot of work in to the prepping, logistics and DIY determination of getting it don ourselves. To be honest, after the wedding weekend, we were so tired and exhausted, we agreed that if we ever had to do it again or redo it, we would pay the extra for a proper wedding planner, caterer, bartender, dj, etc to the amount of work and stress on our special wedding day. Fortunately we were able to do it within our 3-5k budget (don't remember all the numbers exactly), not including the rental items bought, and we were able to take our European destination honeymoon trip to London Paris and Rome for three weeks.

All in all, our wedding at Chris Park was a wonderful and special day that we will continue to cherish, remember, and relive as we continue to help new Chris Park wedding couples with their Mountain Party Rental and Durango Balloon Company needs. :)

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