Here’s a fun fact about Mammoth Mountain’s venerable Forest Chapel ceremony site to start: My parents got married there in 1974.
It’s been built up, knocked down by snow, and built up better in the last 40 years, but the vibe remains the same.
Forest Chapel is exactly what it sounds like; a raised altar overlooking several rows of rustic wooden benches in a secluded and idyllic forest setting. You access the site via a short walk across the iconic Twin Lakes bridge followed by a winding trail that skirts the lake.
Check out the mediocre but occasionally entertaining Netflix original film Rim of the World for a beautiful look at the site (just disregard the alien warfare and hacky tropes about the “native” people there).
In many ways it lives up to the Hollywoodized version of it in the film—you could very well see bears and deer around the site while bald eagles soar over the waterfall that you see from the bridge.
It’s a classic Mammoth site.
Forest Chapel is on Forest Service land leased by Mammoth Mountain so events there go through the Mammoth Mountain Weddings crew.
A typical summer wedding day at Forest Chapel looks something like this:
- 5:00-5:30: Ceremony
- 5:40: Entire group photo on the bridge
- 5:45: Family photos near Twin Lakes
- 6:15: Depart Forest Chapel for McCoy Station or The Mill
Here are some of the reasons I think Forest Chapel is an ideal spot to lock down your person:
- One of my favorite aspects of this site is its protection from the wind. It can be howling out on the lake but the trees keep the zone pretty much wind-free.
- The cabins at Tamarack Lodge are a short walk from the bridge and are a great place to get ready. It’s super convenient to be able to walk from the preparation area to the ceremony site.
- The cabins there cover the spectrum from old school and rustic to luxurious and spacious. There’s something for everyone.
- The entire site is located just five minutes from town and The Village (where couples and guests often choose to stay).
- The bridge is an epic spot for a shot of the entire wedding group (I think the biggest group we’ve done there is about 125 people).
- One of my favorite things to do after leaving Forest Chapel for the reception (if there’s time) is to caravan up with the couple to my secret portrait spot in the woods on Mammoth Mountain on the way to the ceremony. We’ve got a trip to get there and couples usually love taking a quiet minute to walk around in this beautiful spot for a few minutes on the way and the photos there are spectacular.
Things to keep in mind for Forest Chapel ceremonies:
- This is one of the higher-elevation (8600 feet) established ceremony sites in the area (and the state!) and can be subject to colder weather, especially early and late in the season. Fall weddings here tend to be chilly and I’d recommend making wardrobe choices based on that possibility starting in mid September.
- It gets a lot of snow in the winter and, since it sits under a thick forest canopy, can be slow to melt out. There can still be snow in the venue for early season weddings after big winters (like 2018-2019).
- Most weddings here head to McCoy Station, Parallax or The Mill immediately after family photos and this can create a tight timeline. It takes 20-30 minutes to get from Twin Lakes to the Main Lodge gondola (access to McCoy Station), so I stress to couples the necessity to be efficient with our timing here and to create a solid plan for how to do post-ceremony formalities as quickly as possible.
- You’ll need to arrange transportation from Twin Lakes to the reception site. Mammoth Mountain’s shuttles are a great option for moving big groups. Also check out Mammoth All Weather Shuttle for another (or an additional) option to get everybody to the next spot.
- Like most Mammoth venues, the mosquitos can be aggressive in the early summer. Plan for it!
- Here’s my #hirelocal tip for this venue: there’s no power out there and it can be tricky to get generators and gear to the site. I’ve seen imported DJ’s have major problems there because they didn’t know what to expect. Local DJ’s and musicians know the logistics and likely have gear specifically for Forest Chapel.
THE BRIDGE SHOT:
The aforementioned shot of everybody on the bridge only happens in the summer months and requires a tricky, occasionally hilarious process. There’s only one proper angle to get that shot and it requires me to be in the lake.
Everybody has their own way of doing it and I’ve tried most of them but here’s the process I’ve developed:
I start the day wearing board shorts under my slacks and keep a towel, a T-shirt and underwear in my car. As soon as the ceremony ends and the recessional is over, I’ll run back to the car and ditch my pants and dress shirt and head to the lake. The water in Twin Lakes has already been through several lakes higher up towards the source so it’s not too cold in the summer. Usually by the time I’ve waded out into position, the group has worked its way on to the bridge and we can get the shot done pretty quickly. When I’m satisfied, I’ll direct everybody off the bridge and I’ll run back to the car to gear up for the family photos.
——–I switch cards after the ceremony to be sure I don’t fall in and lose everything. I have a photographer friend who fell in while doing this. They switched cards out before going in but the camera was destroyed.
There you have my take on the classic Forest Chapel. I love shooting ceremonies there—the light is phenomenal and the vibe is quintessential Mammoth. Have a look below to get an idea of what a typical day looks like out there. After you’ve check that, continue on with the Mammoth Wedding Venue Guide to learn more about the venues you’ll likely be working with if you do your ceremony here.
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