How to Elope

What is an elopement?

Over the years the definition of “eloping” has changed drastically. Most people think of a couple running away to a courthouse, or getting hitched in a casino on a whim (and hey – if this is you, that is totally an awesome way to get married too!). The modern-day elopement has become so much more and can be anything that you dream of. Deciding how to elope is entirely up to you. An elopement is a direct reflection of who you are as a couple. It is all about shifting the focus to you, as opposed to creating a guest experience. Think about what lights you up the most, how do you like to spend time together? An elopement is the day of your dreams and anything that you choose to make it!

Your Dream Wedding

Close your eyes and imagine the wedding of your dreams. What does the scenery look like? What does the weather feel like? Who is there? Is it just you and your partner or is there a small group of your most special people there. Don’t be afraid to dream big here! This is an opportunity of a lifetime to create a magical day that is all about your love story. This day can be jam-packed with activities and adventure, or it can be laid back and slow, feeling into every moment as it arrives. The important part is that it feels authentic to who you are as a couple.

elope in the redwoods

The Location

Alright, remember that dream wedding we talked about? Where was it? What does the scenery look like? What season is it and what kind of weather? Write out the answers to these questions or look to pinterest for photo inspiration. From there you can research locations that fit this vision so you can find the best place to elope. Maybe you have a destination elopement in mind? Or perhaps a National Park wedding. Is there a location that is special to you two and your story?

How accessible does your location need to be? This all depends on how far you want to go and how many people are attending. If you are having a small guest list you likely do not want them to hike long distances to your ceremony location. Whereas if it is just the two of you (and your photographer!) you can hike a few miles or even make it a backpacking trip.

When considering your ideal location, think about how important seclusion is to you. A lot of popular National Park locations will be full of people. This can be solved by choosing a date that falls on a weekday in the slow-season. You can also get a bit more creative and find lesser known spots that may require a bit more effort to get to. Consider national forests and wilderness areas over State and National Parks if avoiding crowds is important to you.

Be sure to take into account the climate and seasons when researching locations. It is not uncommon for there to be wildfire in the late summer in Yosemite National Park, or flash flooding in Zion between July and September. Weigh the options of traveling during peak season vs slow season. What kind of weather do you imagine? Are you loving the idea of a moody, rainy day or would you prefer a more temperate feel? Maybe the two of you are a fan of the extremes and want to elope in the desert or rather in Iceland?

Another key thing to consider when researching the perfect location for your intimate wedding is permits. It is important to know what kind of permits are needed and how far in advance you need to apply for them. Some areas may be more competitive for permits, so having a backup location in this case is good.

california elopement photographer

Elopement Ideas

Elopements deserve the same amount of energy as a big wedding, and everything should be documented so that you can remember all of the details!

I have included some ideas below to make an adventure-filled day for you and your partner to remember forever!

  • first look
  • hike to an alpine lake, waterfall, mountain peak, etc.
  • sharing vows
  • exchanging of rings (or other symbolic gestures)
  • cultural traditions that are important to you
  • picnic
  • champagne celebration
  • cake cutting (or cupcakes, donuts, etc.!)
  • hire a private chef for dinner
  • watch the sunrise & the sunset in different locations
  • spend the first half of the day with just the two of you and finish the day with a ceremony for you and up to 20 family and friends to enjoy
  • read letters sent from loved ones
  • kayaking
  • backpacking

What does a full-day elopement look like?

Once you have figured out what you want your intimate wedding to look and feel like, you can start to put together a timeline. This is something I love to help my couples with! Usually an elopement timeline is much more relaxed and allows for much more flexibility to go with the flow of the day.

A big wedding celebration tends to follow the same general timeline, but with micro weddings and elopements the rules for timeline creation go out the window! You will of course need to account for travel times between locations and consider how much time you want to spend doing each activity. Here are a few example timelines to give you an idea on what a full day adventure elopement can look like.

  • 8 Hour Alpine Lake Elopement | Mt Shasta, CA
    • 2:00-3:30pm – Get ready in cabin at Lake Siskiyou Resort
    • 3:00pm – Photography coverage begins
    • 3:30-4:00pm – First Look & Vow Exchange at Lake Siskiyou Beach
    • 4:00-5:00pm – Dinner at cabin
    • 5:00-5:30pm – Travel to Castle Lake
    • 5:30-7:30pm – Hike from Castle Lake to Heart Lake
    • 7:30-8:30pm – Golden Hour Bridal Portraits at Heart Lake
    • 8:30-10:30pm – Hike back to trailhead by headlamp
    • 10:30-11:00pm – Travel back to cabin

  • 8 Hour Redwood & Oregon Coast Elopement | Brookings, OR
    • 12:00-1:30pm – Getting ready at AirBNB in Brookings
    • 1:30-2:30pm – Travel to Stout Grove
    • 2:30-3:00pm – Get dressed for first look
    • 3:00-4:00pm – First look & vow reading in redwoods
    • 4:00-5:00pm – Drive to Brookings
    • 5:00-6:00pm – Catered dinner at AirBNB in Brookings
    • 6:00-6:30pm – Hot chocolate & s’mores by fire
    • 6:30-7:00pm – Drive and hike to location
    • 7:00-8:00pm – Golden Hour Bridal Portraits on coastal cliffs

A common misconception about elopements is that they are just a quick ceremony with some pictures afterwards, but your wedding day shouldn’t be limited to 1-2 hours. A lot of couples opt for a full, 8 or 12-hour day or even plan out 2 days of activities (catch that sunrise & sunset!). Most photographers offer a wide range of elopement packages so that you can find the perfect fit.


The amount of guests – or lack thereof – is entirely up to you! Maybe you want it to just be the two of you, or maybe there are some family and friends that you REALLY want to have present.

Elopements can involve:

  • Just the two of you
  • Your closest family & friends (up to 20 people)
  • The two of you + an officiant and 2 witnesses

When deciding on whether or not to incorporate guests, remember what you dreamed up in the beginning. Who was there? Was it just the two of you? Will the people you invite be supportive of your decision to elope and be a positive addition to your special day? A lot of couples feel obligated to invite family and friends, but there are other ways to incorporate them into your day that makes them feel included while also keeping the focus on you and your partner. Remember, the focus is on you two and your dream!

wedding ring box detail photo

The Details

Details, decor, and vendors are entirely up to you when planning your intimate wedding. There are so many different ways to make your wedding day unique and special. Don’t be afraid to get creative and think outside of the box! Here are a few detail ideas to inspire you:

  • Florals
  • Hair & makeup
  • Caterer / Private Chef
  • Vow books
  • Ring boxes
  • “We Eloped!” sign
  • Desserts & sweets
  • Family heirlooms
  • Archway

intimate wedding ceremony mount shasta

The Ceremony

What kind of ceremony do you want to have? Are there special cultural traditions to incorporate? Do you want to exchange vows and rings, or maybe a hand-fasting ceremony?

The legality of your marriage will vary greatly depending on the desired location. It is important to check with the local jurisdiction at the location of your choice. Some places require an officiant and two witnesses at the ceremony while others allow for self-solemnization.

Alternatively, you can choose to deal with the legalities on a different day entirely and not worry about them on the day of your elopement. Some choose to have a commitment ceremony and not legally get married at all! It is entirely up to you and what suits you best as a couple!

Witnesses can be your photographer/videographer, a random hiker found out on the trail, or even your dog (in some states)!

the bluff wedding venue

The Wedding Attire

Whether you are planning on wearing a dress or suit, you want to make sure that your wedding attire is a good match for your elopement day. Consider the following when choosing your wedding day attire:

  • Fabric thickness and climate/season
  • Fabric and mobility if you are going to be hiking in your attire
  • Packability of your dress/suit if you are planning to get changed on location
  • Comfortable footwear

Wedding dresses with lots of movement, texture, and long trains always photograph well. Start to search online for dresses that you love and find a bridal boutique near you to try them on. Make sure that you feel comfortable and beautiful in your dress and consider the wear and tear it may experience on the day of your wedding. If you are planning to hike in your dress, does the fabric allow for good leg mobility? Practice bundling the train up and carrying it in one hand off to the side. If the dress is tight around the legs it may not be a good fit if you plan to be moving a lot.

For suits it is generally a good rule of thumb to avoid patterns and stripes and to choose a color that compliments the landscape. Think about the colors of the landscape in the location you have chosen. Mountains have a lot of blues, trees – greens, open grassy fields lots of yellows and greens. Do you want to stand out in the landscape or compliment and blend in?

The Photos

In general I like to plan for a section of your elopement day for couples portraits. During activities, vows, and ceremonies I take a more quiet approach and photograph moments as they happen. It’s like I am not even there! It’s important to me that this day feels like a celebration of your love story and not a photoshoot. When the time comes for couples portraits, whether they are scheduled or we happen to find an amazing spot on our adventures, I help guide you through prompts and poses so that you are never left not knowing what to do. I prefer a more candid approach and always encourage lots of laughter, movement, and interaction between the two of you. You do not need to be a professional model to have amazing photos!

Not sure where to start with elopement planning? Or maybe you have some further questions and want to get a conversation started?

I am more than happy to help you figure out the perfect location, permits needed, recommend vendors, and whatever else you need to plan your elopement!

UTV Adventure Elopement in the Mountains

Oregon Coast Elopement