how to elope in yosemite

a guide for brides

Yosemite is the most beautiful place on earth. If you’re eloping in Yosemite, HECK YES! We’re cartwheeling over here with excitement for you!!
 
We want you to have the best elopement ever, and know everything we have learned in the last few years of shooting at Yosemite. To be completely honest with you, we had no idea about a LOT of things when we first shot in Yosemite. So we want to share what we wish we knew, and want all brides to know as they plan for their day.


WHAT WE'RE GOING TO COVER:

click to jump to section

We eloped, and it was one of the best decisions we’ve made together. It took a lot of courage, and commitment to our vision for our marriage and the way we wanted it to begin. In fact, we loved the idea of elopements so much we had TWO! Our actual wedding day (here) and elopement photos on our honeymoon in Alaska (here). 

WHY ELOPE?

The quietness + intimacy of it was unparalleled. Whatever your personal, geographical, or familial reasons for eloping, the one reason we share with everyone is that it is an extremely intimate and special way to begin your marriage – PLUS it opens up incredible possibility to marry at an epic location very special to you.

what is the best time of year?

This is hugely significant to the vibe and feel of your day! If you choose to marry on a cold winters day in Yosemite, it’ll have to be in the valley (Glacier Point Road which takes you to the lookout points is CLOSED in winter). Also, it’s FREEZING and sometimes snowy in winter. If you to maximize the likelihood of having access to all roads, then shoot for a spring, summer or fall elopement!
 
    

PRO TIP:

June, July + August are the busiest times for Yosemite. Which means that even at sunrise the best areas will be packed!

If you can, aim for Spring or Fall (we love Yosemite in October, we personally think it’s the ideal time!).

SUNRISE OR SUNSET?

This is a key question to ask yourself when you are planning your Yosemite Elopement. Both of them are extremely beautiful, but provide a different feel. Here are our tips for sunrise + sunset:

sunrise

Pros:
Areas like Taft Point and Glacier Point invariably have less tourists, which means you’ll have more quietness + intimacy. Tourists can be so intense in the summer that if you are planning on eloping in those months we’d recommend a sunrise ceremony!

Cons:
You’ll be semi-asleep, you’ll have to get your make up done super early, and did we mention you’ll basically still be asleep at that hour? 😉 No but seriously, if you’re not a morning person this isn’t the best option for you.

PRO TIP:
If you are having a sunrise wedding, Glacier Point is your ideal location to START, because (depending on the time of year) the sun rises over Half Dome! After that head down the valley, as the sun won’t have hit many areas yet and it will still have soft morning light for gorgeous photos!

sunset

PROS:
You have all day to get ready, you can have your first look in the valley (always a beautiful choice) and portraits, then have your ceremony at one of the lookouts and sunset photos basically anywhere you want because it’s always so gorgeous!

CONS:
Lots of people, and if you want photos in both the valley and a lookout you HAVE to start in the valley, which means you’ve invariably locked in your first look there. 

PRO TIP:
If you have a sunset wedding, Taft Point is hands down the best location to end your time with epic sunset images. The lookout area is so large you can find your own space if there are a lot of people there.

Okay, let’s skip to the stuff you really want to know! You want to know where the best spots are to take photos, and tips on how to make the most of those spots.

WHAT ARE THE BEST LOCATIONS?

Use this interactive map to see our top locations, including a note and image to help you. Take a screen shot of where it is in the park, as there's little to no signal and this page won't load while you're there!

1.

glacier point

This spot is what dreams are made of. Your elopement won't feel complete until you've stood in front of Half Dome, the most iconic rock face in Yosemite, and stare at the beauty.

Glacier Point also happens to be the most tourist-filled lookout in the park, with easy access (a few minutes walk from your car!). If you want to go to Glacier, we recommend sunrise, as the sun peeps over Half Dome (and there may be less people around!).

2.

taft point

This spot is our favorite in the park. It is ideal for sunset, smells like heaven (seriously!) and has the most expansive views!

It is about a 20 minute walk from the Sentinel Dome Parking Lot (if you wanted to take your time and not rush, leave yourself 30-35 minutes). It is very easy and you could do it in your wedding dress, which would give your photographer opportunity to shoot you along the trail (it's beautiful too!). If you're not in a rush, consider walking the trail in your dress for the sake of those photos.

sunset at taft point

If you're lucky you may even get a crazy pink sunset like this!

SUNRISE at taft point

3.

el capitan meadow

This is the meadow of all meadows - BOTH directions are gorgeous.

On one side you have the huge white face of El Capitan (it's shaded in the morning but too bright in the afternoon). And then behind you on the other side is Cathedral rocks (ideal all day, but best in the morning and just before sunset).

sunrise in the meadow

4.

valley view yosemite

Don't miss this spot! It's everything!

We had been to the park a few times before we noticed this spot. You pull off the side of the road to a small parking lot (about 5 spots), and you walk out to a small river that perfectly reflects El Capitan and Half Dome! 

Hike your dress up, be brave, and venture out onto any fallen logs!

5.

half dome field

You HAVE to go to this spot! It's worth the drive to the end (not just for pizza at Half Dome Village!). There is ample space to pull over, and actually two fields to choose from (we love the first one after you turn the bend to go west). 

6.

cathedral rocks

As you're driving toward the village there's a parking lot on the left. It's usually quite busy, with bathrooms and a long bridge/board walk. If you walk out to the field, you'll see the gorgeous Cathedral Rocks behind you. In the morning time, it's the IDEAL light to shoot!

7.

tunnel view

This is the most photographed point in the whole National Park. It is invariably packed with tourists, so it is impossible for a ceremony and not ideal for lengthy portraits, BUT, we would recommend you pull over on your way up from the valley (or down) and have your photographer shoot you here!

8.

woods - majestic yosemite hotel

There are obviously thousands of choices if you want a woodsy vibe, but an area we fell in love with was just next to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. The woods attached to that are gorgeous (and super easy to get to!). A great place to end the day if you elope at sunrise. We recommend booking a reservation for breakfast at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel restaurant - it's SO good! Keep your wedding gear on for a potential discount (you didn't hear it from us!).

9.

wooden walkways

All throughout Yosemite valley are these beautiful wooden walkways across fields. We have shot at a few different ones - it just depends on the light and what your photographer is thinking will work best. We wanted to throw this in because it's something a bit outside the box and could be something you and your fiance really love!

other great spots:

Yosemite Falls
(lower falls accessed via Yosemite Falls' Trail)

Vernal Falls
(1.5 mile hike but so worth it!)

Sentinel Bridge
(super easy, view of Half Dome)

DIFFICULTIES WITH YOSEMITE ELOPEMENTS:

COST
It is EXPENSIVE! Staying in the park itself it expensive, let alone the inflated price of food and gas. The permit itself is $150. Be mindful when you’re budgeting that your accommodation (and that of your photographer/videographer) will be the largest portion of your travel fee. 

PRO TIP:
Do your own make up and create your own bouquet! There are SO many tutorials on youtube to help with this. I (Athena) spent 4 months learning how to do my own make up so I could do it myself when we eloped in Alaska! It was so fun and a special part of my day. And putting a bouquet together is NOT that difficult if you’ve practiced through a youtube video! It will lower your cost significantly and mean you can do everything to exactly how you want!

VENDORS
If you want a florist/make up artist on your wedding day, it’s tricky to have them come all the way out to Yosemite. There are some florists and make up artists just outside of Yosemite, but our personal recommendation is to invest in paying the extra travel fee for a make up artist located in San Jose or Sacramento etc. As for flowers, if you (or one of your guests) pick them up the day before from a major city, they’ll be perfectly fine the next day!

PRO TIP:
If you’re on a low budget, or have a low budget for your photographer, we recommend you tell them to book Yosemite West - it is remarkably affordable (for the location!), it has a kitchen so they can bring some awesome food and do a bit of cooking to cut costs of eating out, and it’s SO close to the Glacier Point turnoff and the valley (about 30-40 minutes to each). We always stay here to keep costs down and love it!

the fine print

Read all the fine print here on the National Parks website. For a wedding permit, download the application - it costs $150 and can be applied for up to a year out from your wedding date (but you need to have it sent 21 days before your wedding day!).
 

a piece of advice

We wanted to share how to elope in a healthy way. There are plenty of unhealthy reasons to elope, and also unhealthy motivations. We want to address one way to have a healthy elopement - and that’s what LOCATION you choose. 
 
Don’t just choose a location because it looks good on Instagram.
 
Don’t go and ‘use’ somewhere for your photos without actually looking at it, being present, enjoying it. So often we see couples go to a gorgeous place for photos, but that’s it. It’s just for the photos. Try and choose somewhere significant to you! Somewhere you are connected! Don’t use the earth - especially a preserved national park like Yosemite. For us, we eloped at the exact place we had our very first photo taken together, a place we have been to dozens of times (and dozens since our wedding!), a place we will take our kids one day!

we just had to add this!