Your guide to:

How to elope with family!

How to tell your Parents you are Eloping!

A groom's father hands him the rings during their elopement ceremony.

(This blog post has been updated for 2022 + 2023 elopements!)

This is so exciting and the absolute best choice for a connective, adventurous wedding day. You are super stoked, ready to go, but maybe you haven’t decided what to tell family or how to involve them. As I am always stating, every elopement looks different. The options are endless and eloping is really one of the only ways to have a wedding day that is fully about you and your partner’s love and relationship. Choosing to elope is a big step, but do not compromise on this special experience you have decided to have in any way. In this blog post we will explore ways to include your family and ways to help your family feel loved and included even if you do want an elopement day with just you two.

Before we totally dive in let’s answer this question first:

Can you elope with Family?

Heck yeah you can have your family at your elopement! Now, it is important to know that where you can elope with guests may be restricted to specific locations with in parks. They may also restrict guest count. We typically recommend planning to have no more than 10-15 guests at an elopement because it will allow you to have more locations to choose from and create less of a distraction to other people visiting the parks or public lands. It is also easier with smaller groups to continue to plan the elopement day you dream and keep stress down when planning and going through out the day.

Close family celebrate the newly wed couple.

Ways to Include your Family at your Elopement

First let’s chat about reasons to bring family. Eloping is deeply personal and emotive. You may not want to do this in front of family. There are ways to split up the day to have time alone together and time with family. If you have friends or family that are super important to your life, have helped shape your relationship or just folks you can’t imagine not being apart of this moment in your life then for sure bring them! No matter what you choose setting expectations with family up front is the best way to go. Before inviting family it is important to know how guest count will effect your ceremony location options. Every elopement location is different, but some restrict where you can get married depending on how many people will be in attendance, some areas charge more for the permit based on number of guests and some simply do not allow large groups. You want to keep in mind your guest count when planning. Check out these cool ideas for including those special folks to you:

Have a family or friend be your officiant.

Unless you plan to get married officially at the courthouse or in a similar fashion prior to your elopement day you will need an officiant to marry you. This is true in all fifty of the states except Wisconsin, Colorado, The District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Maine and Nevada. The process to get ordained is very easy and does not take long or cost much money. This is a great idea if you want your officiant to have a personal connection with you and can lead for a very meaningful ceremony. Be sure to check the state laws for where you are getting married for any specific requirements. Here is one website they can use to start the process: click here.

Example: Emily + Andrew eloped in Sedona, Arizona with their closest family + friends. They decided to have the friend that actually introduced them to officiate their ceremony, it was lovely to see all the personal touches their friend included during the ceremony.

Have a family or friend be your witnesses.

It most states you need one or two witnesses to sign your marriage license. Having a family member sign can be a special moment for them and be meaningful to you as the couple.

Give your elopement guests another duty!

If you are eloping and having your child or furry child present it may be a great help and stress relief to have another family member present to help watch over them during the vow reading/ceremony or during any big adventures you may be doing this day. This allows them to be at your special day and have something important to be apart of throughout it and gives you time to really connect with your partner. If not you can have a family member hold the flowers during the ceremony, be a ring barrier, do a toast or help keep everyone on time and orderly.

Or another example, could be to ask your guest to play an instrument. Cassie + Tyler asked her father to play a song on his guitar after their private dinner with their parents and siblings. It was a perfect way to end the evening, not a dry eye in the room. We also got the chance to use a recording of him playing for the back ground music of their elopement video!


Everyone loves eating right!? Maybe you want your elopement ceremony and adventures to be private and just the two of you. On one hand you still want to celebrate with friends and family. You could get up the morning of your elopement and have breakfast of brunch together. Or after you have said ‘I do’ you can come back and have a BBQ or go out for a nice meal with everyone important to you. If you are doing a meal after you can even take it a step further and share with them sneak peak photos from your photographer captured earlier on in the day or a video if you have chosen to have a videographer as well. A pot luck is also a great way to get everyone involved with day and bring to the table family recipes or favorite meals.

Getting Ready

Your mom has always wanted to help you get into your dress and your dad has always wanted to walk you down the isle. You may not want them there for the actual wedding part of your elopement, but they could still be apart of the process. Mom can help you with your hair or getting the dressed all button up and you could still do a first look with your dad before setting out to get married. These are special moments that they will cherish sharing with you. A groom’s mom could help him get his tie straight before setting out and dad could share a a few moments too! Even though their may not be a traditional aisle, you can still have someone walk you to the ceremony space.

An example of this is for Troy + Samantha’s elopement in Puerto Rico. Everyone stayed at the same Airbnb and got ready at that Airbnb which is also where their sunrise ceremony would take place before they went off and adventured all over the rainforest. There were so many beautiful moments before the ceremony, of just taking it all in together, helping each other with hair, make up, dresses and it was so relaxed. It was so cute capturing Samantha helping her daughters get into their flower dresses as well!

Bring your close family on your entire elopement adventure!

Just because you are choosing to elope doesn’t mean that loved ones can’t be apart of the entire thing if you want them to. Eloping is really just all about what you want and having a day that is fit for your love. So if you want your closest friends and family to be there and you want to stand on a cliff overlooking the grandest view, you can! Bring them along for the hike! This depends a lot on the planning process with location and more, but this is for sure a way that you can share your elopement day with all your loved ones. Even though they hike with you to your location and enjoy the ceremony with you doesn’t mean they have stay the whole time either. They can hike back afterwards and still allow you two to share some privacy together. When bringing them along for the whole adventure be sure to know everyone’s hiking comfort level so we can plan for the right timing to get up or down the trail or help us select which area your ceremony can be. Once the area is selected be sure to share trail information with them and make sure they know how to be prepared for the adventure.

Facetime/Phone Call to your family if you plan to elope just the two of you.

Maybe you do not want any of your friends and family there and that is fine too. Including them may still be important to you though. So what do you do?? You hop on a call! Facetiming them from the top of a mountain top in all of your wedding gear as a newly wed couple will bring them so much excitement. If a video chat isn’t an option you can always give them a call and say “Hey, you’re the first to know we are officially married!!” Since you’re already paused take the time to snap a selfie or have your photographer take a photo on the phone that you can text them. This way they can some what still be apart of the wedding in real time.

How to Plan an Elopement with Family:

You 100% need to make sure you family is aware of Leave No Trace and understand the principals before setting out for the big day! Do not worry though! While we send all of our couples a Leave No Trace guide, we also have a separate simple one page brochure we send if you have guests attending that lay this out for them. Here are some of our other top tips for eloping with family and keeping them prepared!

  • Plan to shuttle, you want as little cars as possible to take to the trailhead.
  • Give them a packing list: sunscreen, water, snacks, etc. Being prepared is key.
  • Make sure they have the right shoes to get to the location you are eloping at.
  • If you are off roading or boating make ask ahead of time if anyone gets motion sickness.
  • Let your family know ahead of time if they will need to purchase a parks pass.

The Most Family Friendly Elopement Locations

What makes an elopement location family friendly? You do not have to skip out on the adventure when inviting your friends or family to your elopement location. However, you may want a location for the ceremony that is super easily accessibly! These are our favorite adventurous wedding locations + full guides on how to elope in each area, that also have very easy places to hold a ceremony without too many restrictions on guest count:

What elopement package should you book if you are including family at your elopement?

It is important to remember you do not have to compromise on your dream adventure elopement just because you are inviting guests! We typically recommend to our couples who have other folks attending to book the sunrise/sunset or the two day package depending what all they are wanting to do. The sunrise/sunset package is a great option to get to spend half the day together enjoying quality time over the adventure of your chose and the other half with guests celebrating that you got married! Typically this will be sunrise just the couple + sunset with the family. Here is an example timeline from a sunrise/sunset elopement day with family:

Couple + Photo/Video meet at trailhead for sunrise hike

Couple Changes + shares first look

Private letter reading together

Hike back out + drive to second location

Board games at waterfall + breakfast snacks

Hike to final location to walk through the Groves then break

Photo/Video arrive for final getting ready and detail photos of arch mom set up

Ceremony + Family photos

Toasts + cake cutting

We also suggest the two day elopement option depending on where you are eloping and what you plan to do! This is a great option if you have a larger group which is harder to gather out in the wilderness. This is also a great option if for just you two you are wanting to go somewhere super remote, go on a larger adventure or simply get the chance to celebrate your elopement in two different regions! Here is an example timeline of a multi-day elopement:

Everyone meets up at camp near the boat launch night before

Sunrise head to boat launch for back haul + to kayak to the camp/ceremony location

Set up camp + get ready

Ceremony, group photos + couple explores ledges for portraits

Dinner at camp fire + sign marriage paperwork

Next morning kayak back to cars + take family to the top of the mountain for photos overlooking where camp was

Couple + photo + video off road to second location for camp

Sunrise hike to location for ring exchange and private vows

A man and woman perform the couples elopement ceremony by a river.

How to tell family you want to elope!

So involving family or not you have to have the conversation of we are eloping over the traditional wedding. Totally your choice if you tell your friends and family prior to the elopement or after you already tied the know. Telling them in person is for sure the best way to communicate this choice if possible. If you are looking to tell your family why this is the way you want to get married here is a whole blog post full of reasons to elope. Sharing this information with them may help them understand your choice better and get behind you with full support! Many of our couples have also said that once they showed their families photos they understood.

Telling your family ahead of time gives you a chance to be involved with your elopement day even without being present! They could write you letters of love, advice and support to read the day of your elopement. Or they could send flowers or champagne to wherever you are staying or a restaurant you may choose to dine at the evening before or of your elopement. Or if you are bringing your furry childern to your elopement and you have a crafty friend and family member they could make flower or bow tie collars for them! There are many ways for your family to get creative or be involved some way without being there if they know prior.

If you do not want any family there the day of they can still be apart of planning or helping you find the right dress or suit, which will help them visualize this special day you two are going to have and have been apart of it in some way!

If you wish to share with friends and distant family not in person prior to the elopement date you can always share via text, email or mail. This is a great way to let people know that you were thinking of them that may have expected to be apart of or be at your wedding. Check out this sample announcement below!

Bill and myself also eloped and we decided to elope just us two. We initially were planning on not telling anyone at all until we saw them in person, after the big day, over the holidays by sharing our wedding video. However, I am awful at keeping secrets lol. Since we were in WA and our family on the East coast we decided to tell them one week before over Facetime. Really no one was surprised, eloping just aligns so much with who we are and hiking a big trail like we were planning to do they kind of thought it was coming. Everyone was happy and a little sad, but we do plan to have a family trip later, we included them in shopping, our plans, got them to send us letters to read after and sent them tons of photos. Overall telling family had us nervous but went super well!

A elopement invitation example.

If you are looking to surprise everyone to skip any family drama or just want to let close friends and family know prior and then tell everyone else after you could send out something similar via text, email or mail. This is a great idea because you get to share a little piece of your day with them and let them see a little bit of the awesome experience you had if you add a photo. If you are not involving anyone at all until after you can always share photos with them, video, a brief note about the day or have a reception afterwards.

I can not stress enough that eloping is about you and your love. This day is to help you have a wedding day that is connected and emotive. Stay true to yourselves and what you want when planning. If you want family there, do not want family there or want to tell them or do not want to tell them is all up to you. What you choose to do is what is right for your wedding day and there is no judgement here.

I am also always telling you how important communication is with your elopement photographer is for the best experience the day of as possible! It is super important to communicate the guest count, guest hiking abilities and more with your photographer so that you can plan for a hike or location that everyone can access and build everything into the timeline of action. If you have chosen to elope and hired your photographer, but haven’t told your family yet or not sure the best way to navigate the choices when it comes to family and eloping ask your photographer! I am always happy to help in any way I can and you never know new ideas you can bounce back and forth together. Communication goes a long way.

If you are looking for more advice or help in telling your family or planning how to involve your family feel free to reach out! I love helping my couple’s plan their elopements and I am always happy to design an announcement for you to send their way to share this special moment!

An elopement ceremony on a cliff in the forest.
A couple shares a dip kiss as their guests congratulate them.

Check out a recent review a couple left us that shared their elopement with close family:

Five golden stars.

“We had a tiny pandemic wedding at JTNP in Spring 2021 and Traci + Bill were absolutely incredible! I didn’t realize when we hired Traci for photography that she would also essentially handle all of the wedding planning for our day. Traci is extremely detail-oriented, organized, and professional, and her knowledge of the wedding day process and planning abilities made sure that our day went exactly the way that we had envisioned. Even though all we did was a ceremony in the national park with a private dinner afterwards (with a group of ~10 people), Traci still put together a schedule/itinerary and did an amazing job of keeping everybody on track to make sure that the day went smoothly. She and Bill did a scouting trip for ceremony sites for us the week beforehand (we had a permit for a general area in JTNP but hadn’t picked out a specific site), and they also stopped by our AirBnB the day before the wedding to scout out lighting for our portraits. They really invested a lot more of their time and energy into our day beyond the photography package that we had paid for. We also got our wedding photos back with very quick turnaround, and we absolutely love them. Beyond their professionalism and photography products, Traci and Bill are just genuinely wonderful people to spend time with and were a real joy to work with. If you’re looking for some incredible photography for your elopement or tiny wedding, I really can’t recommend them highly enough!” – Annelise’s elopement in Joshua Tree NP

Check out the pages below to go to Family Elopement Stories from Past Elopements

18 Responses

  1. I love all the different ideas you included for elopement plans!! Especially the food part – everyone really does love food, and including a unique meal with your family can be a really special way to have your family included in the whole shabang.

    1. Yes!! I think it would be so cute for a family pot luck of favorite family recipes after you get back from your elopement!

  2. This is awesome!
    Family is super important, so being able to include them, even in the smallest of ways makes a big difference.
    Thanks for the tips Tracie!

    1. Yes, I think this newer version is sometimes hard to understand for folks that grew up hearing elopements as a running away type marriage.

  3. So many great tips here for elopement planning and sharing the news! I love that tip about having someone help out with children or pets. It makes the day flow so much better! And you’re totally right, communication is key but it can be done on the couple’s terms!

    1. YES! Someone to watch the pups or kiddos helps with timing, stress, adventuring and so much more!

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