Congratulations!! If you’re here, that means you must be in the beginning stages of planning your wedding elopement. What an exciting time! Whether you’re looking for a grand elopement adventure, an intimate ceremony, shopping for elopement packages, or all-inclusive packages, there are so many amazing options out there that allow you to celebrate your love on your own terms without having the stress of a big wedding.
Eloping can be a wonderful way to get married fairly quickly and have a beautiful, intimate celebration. In this blog post, we will go over what you need to know before eloping, how to elope, ideas of where to elope, and what to keep in mind when choosing your elopement date, location, your wedding dream team, and more. This is your ultimate guide for your elopement checklist, so get ready to take some notes. Without further ado, here are 10 things to know before you elope!
Choose a date that works best for you! Make sure it fits in with your work schedule, and plan accordingly, so you have plenty of time leading up to your elopement and time to enjoy each other afterward as newlyweds. Be mindful of holidays or other events happening around town on your chosen day. This will avoid conflicts later down the road when planning transportation, hotels, permits, etc.
Also, be aware that the best season for your elopement greatly depends on the location. For example, if you want to elope in Glacier National Park Montana, you need to be aware of the dates the park opens and closes. You also need to be aware of elopement locations and elopement hours allowed within the park, the best season to elope in the park to have the best weather, and any possible roadblocks you could encounter (road closures, weather alerts, etc). It’s always best to be over-prepared!
As you read above, planning your date and your location go hand in hand. Choosing where to elope can be one of the biggest decisions when planning an elopement. Once the location and date are determined, you’ll be well on your way!
There are so many beautiful places to elope in the US and worldwide. Think about what you want from your wedding day, and then find a place that fits within your needs. It could be as simple as finding a park with beautiful trees, rolling hills or fields to get married in front of. The most important thing is to make sure it’s somewhere meaningful to both of you. It’s important that your location speaks to you and your significant other, as well as being able to accommodate your close friends and family (should you choose to include them). If you’re unsure and need some guidance, reach out to an elopement photographer or planner to help you determine the best places to elope.
Let’s brainstorm! Do you want the desert, sand dunes, mountains, waterfall, forest, or beach as our ceremony setting? Is there a specific place you’ve always dreamed of getting married? Is eloping in Asheville N.C. along the Blue Ridge Parkway what you’re envisioning, or maybe you’re dreaming of eloping in Montana (with so many scenic Montana elopement locations, it’s an amazing choice).
What about a desert-style Las Vegas elopement in the dry lake beds or a breathtaking micro wedding in the Tule Springs Fossil Beds just outside of Vegas? Maybe eloping in Colorado is more your vibe! With its alpine lakes, 14,000 ft mountains, quaint little mountain towns, famous Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, and jaw-dropping scenery, it’s easy to see why so many choose to elope in Colorado. You get the point…time to start brainstorming and see where your imagination takes you! Whether it’s a Montana elopement in Yellowstone National Park or an Asheville Elopement in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside downtown Asheville, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your intimate elopement and dream wedding!
After all, once everything is said and done, this scenery will be in the artwork hanging on your walls and in your wedding album. Your chosen backdrop will set the tone for your big day and for your elopement wedding photography.
Do we want an indoor or outdoor elopement, a national park, a private venue, a family home, etc.?
Do we want a location that is easy to access, or are we willing to hike a mile or so to get to an amazing view? Will elderly family members and/or friends attend who may not be able to hike?
If this is the case, maybe a private residence, a small wedding venue, or a weekday in a national park might be a better fit for you. Trying to avoid crowds means you’ll want to choose your season and location wisely as some months are busier than others. This is especially true in national parks. If eloping in a national park, I would recommend a sunrise or sunset ceremony (beginning a few hours prior to sunset). I would highly recommend avoiding the weekends to avoid crowds.
Is it in high elevation (like Glacier National Park) and covered in snow in the late spring-early summer, is it in a climate like Highlands N.C., where it happens to rain a lot or is it in the desert where it can be extremely hot and miserable in the late summer months? The date and time of the ceremony will revolve around several of these factors. If you’re planning on getting married outdoors, be sure to have a backup plan for the weather. If it happens to rain, have a photographer who is up for anything and willing to pivot to make the most out of your special day. Consider the time of year when choosing an elopement location.
How many guests are you inviting (or is it just the two of you, the officiant, and the photographer, or are you also including your closest friends and family)? Keep in mind, some national parks only allow up to 15 people in more scenic areas of the park while others may allow up to 100 guests in dedicated wedding sites within the park. For example, if you’re hoping to have a Rocky Mountain National Park elopement, your guest size in most areas of the park will be limited to up to 30 people (this can vary depending on the specific site in the park). If you’re eloping in Glacier National Park, you will be limited to up to 15 guests in many areas of the park.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can start your search for the perfect location. There are countless amazing places to get married all over the world – so no matter what type of elopement you have in mind, there’s a place for you! If you’re having trouble finding the right spot, consider hiring an elopement planner who specializes in this type of adventure wedding. They can guide you on the best places to elope in the US and in the world.
Once you have a rough idea of where you want to elope, start exploring! There are so many beautiful places in this world; it can be hard to choose just one location. I recommend going somewhere that is meaningful for both of you and will allow you to have an epic adventure together as newlyweds!
Make sure you have all your identification ready. It can take anywhere from two weeks up to three months to have everything you need for an elopement. It’s definitely something that you don’t want to be scrambling for at the last minute!
You will need to bring your driver’s license, birth certificates, and passports when you go on your elopement adventure. If you’re planning an international destination wedding or a location outside of your hometown, this is important! If there are guests or a bridal party, make sure everyone has their valid travel documents with them, so there aren’t any issues while trying to cross borders.
Different marriage laws and rules exist in every country and state throughout the United States when it comes to being legally married and having a marriage license. Paperwork may not be the most exciting aspect of your elopement day, but it’s critical to understand all of the guidelines so that your marriage is recognized and lawful!
In the U.S., most states require an officiant and two witnesses, but this depends on where you choose to elope. Some states allow self solemnizing which doesn’t require oversight or a signature of a third-party judge or officiant. This means if you self-solemnize in a state that allows this (for example…you have a Colorado elopement), you won’t have to include an officiant on your wedding day if you don’t want to. You’ll need to check with the country/state you are eloping in about marriage license requirements – some countries require a blood test or other special documentation. Be sure to do your research, so you don’t run into any surprises.
Apply for your marriage certificate at least two-three weeks in advance from the time you plan on eloping. If you are traveling internationally, make sure to have all the necessary paperwork ready before leaving! Also don’t forget to check the requirements of the country you are eloping in, as some may have different rules and regulations.
If you’re planning on getting married in a national or state park, be sure to check the rules and regulations for your specific location. You can find this information online or reach out to the park. Most parks require permits while some don’t allow weddings at all – this is something that should be researched before planning an elopement and booking your accommodations and creative vendors. In addition, each park has different rules on what they will allow you to bring into the park. I highly suggest you do your research to make sure you choose a park that will meet your needs. With the increase in micro weddings and elopements, I would recommend filling out an application and purchasing a permit immediately as many parks only allow a limited number of permits. Typically this is a few hundred dollars depending on the park. This money helps support our national parks.
Once you determine your location and apply for your permit, you will need to begin booking accommodations for your elopement. This will ensure that you and your wedding party have somewhere to stay since many cities near national parks book far in advance. You will need to book your flights, rental car and make your hotel reservations immediately.
Now, this is where the fun begins! Once you’ve chosen the perfect location and date, it’s time to book all other wedding day details. You’ll need to begin by selecting your vendors. This includes your photographer, planner, creative stylist, officiant, hair and makeup artist, caterer or private chef (if desired), florist (if the ceremony location allows), etc. Many vendors in the wedding industry often book up quickly, so be sure to get on their calendar as soon as possible.
There are three important things to keep in mind when hiring vendors for your elopement: style, expertise, and personality! Are you in love with their work, and does their aesthetic appeal to you? What is their personality like? Do you click with this person? Are you wanting to hire a highly sought-after acoustic guitarist, or maybe you’re wanting to splurge on a professional luxury photographer who offers boutique services and custom heirloom albums, framing, and products. Are you wanting an experienced, dependable, professional, and talented team of creatives focused on doing a wonderful job to make your dream day a reality? Hiring your dream team of creatives who can turn your vision into a reality and assist you along the way is the key to a successful, beautiful, happy, stress-free day!
Choosing a location and date are significant choices when planning your dream elopement, but alongside that, choosing the best elopement photographer for you is going to be one of the most significant choices you make. After all….these are the photographs and the memories you will cherish for the rest of your life…well after your wedding day high!
A professional photographer may book a year or so in advance, so it’s important to make that decision as soon as you decide to elope (especially if you have your heart set on hiring one of the best elopement photographers). For some, hiring an intimate wedding photographer might be the first priority of the planning process (above choosing the location and date). This can often be the case for two reasons: the photographer is the client’s top priority as they strongly cherish and value the vision of the artist and the other reason is that the elopement photographer may be able to lend a helping hand by giving their client advice and steering them in the right direction when it comes to planning an elopement.
There are so many different styles of photography, and it’s important to choose an elopement photographer that resonates with you. It’s also important that they’re experienced, well-traveled, confident in their ability, and easy to work with! Be sure to book your photographer early, so you don’t miss out on your favorite artist documenting your special day. When choosing a photographer, I recommend staying away from trends and choosing a photographer with an aesthetic that will stand the test of time.
Once your photographer delivers your gallery, you will be able to relive your wedding day through their eyes. Choose a photographer who will go the extra mile for you and assist you during the ordering process if questions arise. Your photographer should be able to help guide you along the way whether it’s helping you choose wall art for your home, framed prints for parents and grandparents, or designing a gorgeous heirloom album of your wedding day!
A wedding planner is an event manager who focuses solely on your wedding. Their job is to organize and execute all of the details surrounding your celebration. Wedding planners are renowned for their attention to detail.
If you don’t want to stress about all the details leading up to your intimate wedding elopement, I highly suggest hiring a planner with experience in small marriage ceremonies and elopements. This person will handle everything for you and make sure that the day of your wedding elopement goes smoothly. They can help with location scouting, contracts, communication with vendors, the elopement ceremony, timeline creation and execution, legal marriage documentation & filing paperwork after the wedding, and more.
Stylists can be a fantastic addition to your team! Wedding stylists have design and decorating skills, and they’re in charge of the look and feel of your special day. A stylist might create a lovely ceremony atmosphere, a beautiful altar, arrange your flowers, have a gorgeous candlelit reception table ready for you after your exciting day, and so on.
A stylist’s job is to turn your vision into reality by planning and managing all of the visual elements at your event. They are responsible for everything from planning and controlling all of the visual aspects to running things down if needed. The stylist is there to make your day extra special by making it creative and beautiful. They make sure everything looks just right!
When hiring a wedding stylist, be sure to give them as much information as possible including your vision, likes and dislikes, color palette, wedding style (formal or casual), and any other important details. It can be helpful to brainstorm and create a mood board together to have a clear direction. This will help the stylist create an unforgettable day for you!
If you don’t have a friend or family member who can officiate your wedding, be sure to hire one. If the state you choose to marry in requires an officiant, there are many online services that can connect you with an ordained officiant in your area.
While some prefer to bring their favorite hair and makeup artists with them, others may choose to hire a local. Choosing a hairstylist and makeup artist for your wedding elopement can be tricky, especially if you’re traveling to a new city. Since you may not have the ability to meet with them in person before booking, it’s important to do your research, read reviews, and look at before and after pictures. I highly recommend booking a trial for a few days prior to your elopement, so you can discuss your needs with them. You’ll want to do a test to see what your hair and makeup will look like before your elopement day. This will prevent you from running into any unwanted surprises on the day of the wedding.
I’d recommend choosing a hairstylist and makeup artist who specializes in enhancing natural beauty for a timeless look. You may want to share an inspirational mood board with your hairstylist and makeup artist. This will help them have a sense of the look and vibe you are trying to achieve for your wedding. For example, is it romantic, classic, boho, etc. It’s also important to find someone who is easy to work with, willing to make corrections, and can provide you with the look you’re going for on your wedding day.
Depending on the location you choose to elope, you may or may not be able to bring flowers. Many national parks do not allow flowers, bird seeds, arbors, etc. However silk flowers are allowed in some of these locations. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the rules before your elopement.
If you’re allowed to include flowers, I’d recommend connecting with a local florist or asking your planner, stylist or photographer if they have any recommendations. If you’re eloping at a small venue, there is a good chance the venue will have some recommendations too. Regardless you’ll want to see pictures of their arrangements to get a feel for their style to be sure you’re a good fit.
If you decide to celebrate with close friends and family with an elopement reception, you’ll want to do some research to find a good local caterer or private chef in the area. Renting a private room and having a nice dinner at a restaurant is also a great choice. You can read more about this below in the “plan your elopement reception” section.
If you’re looking for a great way to enhance the atmosphere at your wedding or elopement reception, consider hiring a musician. You may want to hire them to play during cocktail hour or dinner.
Be sure to create an elopement timeline to share with everyone who will be involved in your wedding. This is something your planner will be able to assist you with, but you may also want to include your photographer to discuss the time of the ceremony. As a photographer, I appreciate being part of this discussion to help better serve my clients and produce beautiful imagery. Sometimes it’s as simple as a slight tweak or adjustment to place my clients in a direction where the light will be flattering to them. Light is a huge priority for me, and it’s one of the most important factors to achieving beautiful, dreamy images.
Your photographer can give you insight regarding the best times of the day for the most flattering, beautiful light. It’s important to have a walk-through with the planner, stylist, and photographer (and any other vendors who will be at the ceremony site) prior to the big day. A timeline is a great way to keep everyone on track and organized on the day of the elopement. It’s important to give clear direction to your vendors, so everyone is on the same page. Once you’ve decided on your wedding details above, it’s time to start preparing for your wedding. Below are some tips to start your wedding planning.
If you are inviting guests to your elopement, be sure to send out save-the-dates at least three months in advance. That way your friends and family will have plenty of time to mark their calendars to be part of your special day.
This is the fun part! Your planner and stylist will be heavily involved in the wedding planning. You’ll also want to keep your officiant, photographer, and other vendors in the loop. Everyone involved should know what to expect the day of. On a side note…some national park locations will not allow chairs, arbors, etc. Be sure to check the rules before planning your ceremony.
Deciding what you’re going to wear is one of the most exciting parts of planning an elopement! This can be a wedding dress or something more casual – anything goes when it comes to elopement fashion! You may want to keep the location in mind when choosing a dress. Choose something that will be comfortable throughout the day, as well as reflect your personal style.
You will exchange rings during the marriage ceremony, so be sure to keep them close by.
You can write your own vows or use traditional vows. If you’re writing your own vows, be sure to start practicing early. This is a very special moment. You’ll want to make sure your vows are perfect for you and your fiance.
Just because your eloping, it doesn’t mean you can’t include some of your closest family members and best friends. The number of guests you will be able to include will depend on the location you choose. As mentioned before, some national park locations will only allow 15 guests. You may want to keep this in mind when planning.
Even though you aren’t hosting a traditional wedding reception, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a celebration afterward if desired. Plan a small get-together with your closest family and friends, and have an intimate romantic dinner party to celebrate your nuptials. This is also a great way to show off your amazing elopement photos!
If you choose to have your elopement at a small wedding venue, ask if they offer small wedding or elopement packages. Some venues offer all-inclusive packages for intimate wedding elopements and receptions. Often you’ll receive better rates at venues when booking a weekday elopement or micro wedding.
Enjoy this time, and take advantage of being in a gorgeous location. Consider taking time to be pampered before your wedding day by scheduling a massage at a local spa. This is a great excuse for you and your closest friend or your significant other to enjoy some relaxation. Then after your amazing day, you may want to carve out some time for adventurous activities. If you’re near a national park, you should be able to find plenty of fun things to do. Exploring a nearby national forest, hiking trails, lush forests, or desert mountains are just a few activities that come to mind. Horseback riding, fly fishing, golfing, and rafting are also wonderful things to consider. Talk to your photographer about possibly photographing some of your pre and post-wedding activities. Including these memories in your wedding photos could be a wonderful addition to your wedding package.
The best part about eloping is that you get to spend the entire day with your loved one. You’re able to focus on each other instead of worrying about hundreds of other people. Whether it’s an adventure wedding or a laidback, intimate ceremony, just enjoy each other. Take in the beauty of your elopement destination! Once all of these important steps are taken care of, it’s time to relax and enjoy the planning process. After all, this is your wedding day! Don’t get caught up in the small details, and try not to stress over things that aren’t as important. Remember, couples elope to avoid the intense pressure of a traditional wedding. To truly be mindful and present in a beautiful moment with their loved ones is a gift. You’re creating an experience for yourself and those closest to you – so have fun with it!
Phew! I’ve thrown a lot at ya, but I truly believe knowledge is power. The more prepared you are for your wedding elopement ceremony, the fewer reasons you’ll have to stress. My goal, as a photographer, is to educate my clients, so they make informed decisions regarding their big day. Now that you know how to plan your dream adventure elopement, it’s time to get the ball rolling!
I’d love to hear more about your special day! If you think we’d be a good fit, feel free to reach out. If you’d like to know more about me, you can follow me on Instagram at instagram.com/emilyfleming_photographer or reach out to me here: https://ehfphotography.com/wedding.
Meet Emily, a wedding & elopement + portrait photographer who is wildly passionate about capturing timeless images for her clients in beautiful, scenic, and/or sentimental locations that speak to their heart.
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