Eloping with family | How to plan an elopement with family

(updated for 2024 elopements!)

This is so exciting and the absolute best choice for a fully connective and adventurous elopement day. You are super stoked, ready to go, but maybe you haven’t decided what to tell family or how to involve them. As we are always saying, every elopement looks different. The options are endless and while the subject of this blog is to dive deep into eloping with family, eloping in general is the best way 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 we will explore ways to include your family while eloping and ways to help your family feel loved and included even if you want an elopement day with just the two of you.

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. This is true for all public access areas, regardless if it’s a national park, bureau of land management, national parks, or any other publicly designated space. There are some areas, although rare and few between, where you can have groups of fifty or larger, so be sure that you know the area that has captured your heart can accommodate all of your loved ones. If you aren’t sure, reach out to the park, locals, or your photographer who is familiar with the area (Meet us here!).

So while some areas may allow larger parties, the logistics of navigating big groups in small and fragile spaces can quickly become unrealistic. We recommend planning to have no more than 10-15 guests at an elopement because this allows you to have many more locations to choose from and it create less stress during a day that should be all about celebrating your love. We 100% think the most important part of the entire elopement day is meeting your vision for the experience you’re looking to capture. This may mean that renting a private space or small venue for the ceremony could be the best option, and then going elsewhere with just yourself and your partner or a small group to tag along.

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 share this moment in front of family. When it comes to sharing vows (Looking for advice on writing your own vows?), many of our couples who have families at their elopements spend some time alone to share their private vows before joining up with their closest loved ones during their elopement ceremony. All of that to say there are so many 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 who have helped shape your relationship or just folks you can’t imagine not being a part of this moment in your life then do not compromise on having them at your elopement! 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 ideas we’ve witnessed past couples include with their loved ones:

Have a family member officiate your elopement

Unless you plan to get married officially at the courthouse or in a similar fashion prior to your elopement day you will likely 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 becoming ordained is very easy and does not take long or cost much money. For family elopements, this is a fantastic idea if you want your officiant to have a deep and personal connection with you and someone who can carry the atmosphere for a very meaningful ceremony. Be sure to check the state laws for where you are getting married for any specific requirements.

Example: Emily + Andrew eloped in Sedona, Arizona with their closest family + friends. They decided to have Andrew’s best 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 be your witnesses.

In most states you need two witnesses to be present at and to sign your marriage license. Having a family member at your elopement sign the paperwork can offers a special moment for them and can also be meaningful to you as the couple.

Involve your family in your elopement planning

If you are eloping with family and have your child or pets present, which we have a great blog that dives deep into eloping with your dogs, it may be both agreat help and fun to have a family member present to help watch over your kid or pet 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 gives them something important to be a part of throughout and gives you and your partner time to really connect. If not, you can have a family member hold the flowers during the ceremony, be a ring barrier, share a toast or help keep everyone on time and orderly.

Or another example, could be to ask your guest to play an instrument. Cassie (the bride in the elopement story linked in the last sentence!) asked her father to play a song on his guitar during their private dinner celebration that followed the elopement day. It was a perfect way to end the evening leaving 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!

Eloping with family and food

Everyone loves eating right!? Maybe you want your elopement ceremony and adventures to be private and just the two of you, but still want your family to be a part of your elopement day. You could get up the morning of your elopement and have breakfast or brunch with your family before heading out on an adventure. Or after you have shared your ‘I do’s’, you can come back and have a BBQ or go out for a nice meal with everyone important to you.

One option that we’ve watched our couples implement is to have their family and friends work together to prepare dinner for the evening while the couple is out adventuring alone. This gives the family something to do together, it’s purposeful, it’s fun, and is an all around fantastic way to bring two separate families together.

Getting Ready at your elopement with family

Some very common elements from traditional weddings that often come into play for eloping with family, are the mother of the bride helping her into her wedding dress and the father of the bride walking her down the aisle. Talking about walking down the “aisle”, check out this blog that goes over everything to do with hiking during your wedding day!

While these are common things to include while eloping with family, you may not want them there for the actual wedding part of your elopement or they sadly may no longer be around. This doesn’t mean they could not still be a part of the process. Mom can help you with your hair or getting the dressed all button up and you could still share 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 of advice too. Even though their may not be a traditional aisle, you can still have someone walk you to the ceremony space. For a very special moment we’ve witnessed one groom whose mother had passed, they brought along a chair for her presence and one of her favorite readings to have a front row seat of the ceremony. Important takeaway here is that there always a way to include family in your elopement that is both meaningful and feels right to you.

An example of getting ready with family is captured here 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 the couple 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 the day was just so relaxed and powerful. 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 a part of the entire thing if you want them to. I know this sounds somewhat contrary to what we’ve mostly been talking about, but again and most importantly, 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. 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 your family on your elopement day.

Maybe you do not want any of your friends and family there but you still want them to be involved in some way. So what do you do?? You hop on a call! Face-timing them from the top of a mountain top in all of your wedding clothes 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 still be a part 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 explains this 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, ask ahead of time if anyone gets motion sickness.
  • Let your family know ahead of time if they will need to purchase any type of 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 Be sure to dive into each to help you narrow down the best location for your own elopement with family:

What elopement package should you consider 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 recommend to our couples who have other folks attending to choose the sunrise/sunset or the two day package depending what all the couple is envisioning. The sunrise/sunset package is a great option to spend half the day with your partner enjoying quality time over the adventure of your choice and the other half of the day spent with guests celebrating your marriage! 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 you two you are wanting to go somewhere super remote, go on a larger adventure or simply to 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 the 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

And with these real elopement stories and timelines above, here is a blog that goes over everything there is to know when it comes to elopement timelines!

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

How to tell family you want to elope

Regardless if you’re involving family or not, you will likely have to have the conversation of “we are eloping instead of having a traditional wedding”. Totally your choice if you tell your friends and family prior to the elopement or after you already tied the knot. 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. If you’re family is trying to encourage you not to elope, here is a great blog dispelling common arguments against eloping.

Telling your family ahead of time gives you a chance for them to be involved with your elopement day, even without being present! Family 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 of your elopement. Or if you are bringing your pets to your elopement and you have a crafty friend or family member, they could make flower or bow tie collars for them! This bride had a custom macrame collar made for her dog! There are many ways for your family to get creative or be involved some way without being there.

If you do not want any family at your elopement, they can still be a part 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 solidifies them being a part 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 a part of your wedding. Check out this sample announcement below!

Bill and myself 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 over the holidays by sharing our wedding video that we filmed ourselves. However, after some deep conversations, we decided to let them in on the plan about a week before the big day. Since we were in Washington (Check out this blog all about eloping in Washington state!) we decided to tell them 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 for us, but a little sad not to be there. We were a bit nervous to tell them, but all in all it went super well. Since our own elopement, we did host a getaway for a reception with family in Tennessee!

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 your ceremony, you can always share photos with them, your elopement video, a heartfelt note about the day or have a reception afterwards (Like we did!).

We can not stress enough that eloping is about you and your love. This day is to help you have a wedding day that is deeply connective and emotive. Staying 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 elopement day and there should be no judgement there.

We are also always telling our couples how important communication is with their elopement photographer for the best experience during an elopement day! 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 that will photograph amazingly and to build everything into the timeline for the best lighting. If you have chosen to elope and hired your photographer, but haven’t told your family yet or you are not sure the best way to navigate the choices when it comes to family and eloping, ask your photographer! We are always happy to help in any way we can and you never know the 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! We love helping our couple’s plan their elopements and we are always happy to design an announcement for you to send their way to share this special moment!

A man and a woman stand together in a red rock slot canyon, him above her while using the wall to gain height above the ground.

Your Family Elopement Photographers!

Hey there! We’re Traci and Bill, a husband and wife team who eat, sleep, and breathe elopement photography and planning! We travel all over the western US and beyond capturing love stories in beautiful landscapes while couples share breathtaking moments out in nature. Nothing is more exciting to us than being a part of this intimate and adventurous space. We can’t wait to hear more about what you’ve been envisioning and to help bring your elopement dreams to life!

We’d Love To Hear About Your Plan For Eloping With Your Family Along!

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Check out a recent review a couple left us from their elopement with 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 blogs below for real elopement story inspiration!