Eloping in Yosemite National Park
(Updated for 2023)
If you are wondering what is the best National Park to elope in, then you may have just found it! Yosemite National Park is grand with its beautiful forests with large granite walls surrounding a valley full of deer, bear and outdoor enthusiasts. If you are a climber, hiker, camper or national park lover, this is the perfect park for your adventure wedding in California.
The park has been drawing people to its beauty for so many years. Not just adventurers or couples getting married from all over the world, but even simply from the neighboring big cities. Did you know Free Solo was filmed literally in the heart of the park on El Cap? Did you know it was almost the location of the 1932 Winter Olympics?! Yeah, it’s that big of a place! This blog is to help you get an idea of what an elopement in Yosemite National Park would look like and how to plan your own very special day.
- The basics of Planning a Yosemite Elopement…
- Where to Elope in Yosemite National Park
- How to get married in Yosemite?
- How much does it cost to elope in Yosemite National park?
- We’d love to be your Yosemite Elopement Photographers!
The basics of Planning a Yosemite Elopement…
How to Get to Yosemite National Park?
The park is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. It is not super close to any one airport. You should consider flying into Los Angeles, Sacramento, even San Fransisco or San Jose, for the bigger city options. For a smaller, closer airport you can consider Fresno, but the cost is significantly higher. I also recommend pairing a trip to Yosemite with a trip to Lake Tahoe. In this case you may want to fly into Reno, Nevada. Yosemite National Park is also next to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon, so considering extending your trip for that too. California is home to 5 national parks, so the options are endless for exploring the state. From the airports you will for sure need to rent a car to drive to the park. Once in the park you can take the shuttles around to the trailheads/areas, bike or hike.
When Can You Elope in Yosemite?
You can elope in Yosemite National Park anytime of the year that you want! There is no specific days or seasons that eloping is allowed in Yosemite. So truly this comes down to when is it best for you to elope in Yosemite and what type of weather/experience you want to have. My top suggestion is Spring for the best overall time to elope in Yosemite.
Spring – This is the best time to enjoy the waterfalls in the park. I would recommend avoiding Spring Break dates. Some of the most popular elopement locations may not be accessible yet via car, but you can hike to them if you are up for the epic adventure (trust me it is WORTH IT!)
Summer – This is the busiest time in the park and the height of fire season, but also some of the sunniest predictable weather.
Fall – Great weather and truly one of the best times to visit. It is less busy than Spring and Summer which is great since traffic can get backed up in the valley. Smoke in the year is possible due to the yearly fires in the area, but don’t let that be a deterrent!
Winter – While a lot of the areas would be closed, the valley would be accessible + it would be more private and beautiful!!!!
Honestly, this depends on what you are wanting to do and if you care how busy the park will be. The general recommendation is early May to late October. The summer is very busy in the park and can be a a concern for fires in the park and around it. I highly recommend eloping here on a weekday no matter what time of year you pick.
One time we were photographing in the park at one of the popular locations, and there were six other couples having photos taken, so be prepared to share your space if picking a popular spot or if your visiting during busy season. I think late fall can be one of the prettiest times of year in the park and not as busy as others, but mid spring is when you can see all of the waterfalls flowing! I would also consider eloping at sunrise here to avoid crowds. If you’re looking for an idea on how Elopement Timeline’s look, then give this blog a read! Can you imagine watching the first days light shine on the granite walls below you to start off your wedding day?!
Where to stay when visiting Yosemite National Park?
Yosemite National Park has a few resorts you can consider staying right within the valley of the park. There are also camp sites all throughout the Valley. However, both of these options can book out even a year out, so you want to plan ahead! We recommend renting a cabin in the West Yosemite area. It is still in the park, but out of the valley and more tucked away from everyone else.
Again, these book out early too, so plan ahead!! It is also closer to areas like the grove and the Glacier point area. Recently, Yosemite National Park put into place that you need a ticket to enter which must be reserved ahead of time OR a reservation to stay within the park from camping, to Yosemite West or one of the hotels/resorts in the park. So outside of being closer to the park it is also beneficial to stay in one of these places to eliminate more travel planning and bookings.
Outside of the park you can stay at Rush Creek Lodge (which is also a great place to host a reception dinner or even a ceremony if you have a lot of people attending your adventurous wedding) or we love Autocamp for a more unique, glamping stay. Other ways to find a stay are checking out Hipcamp, Airbnb or VRBO.
Where to Elope in Yosemite National Park
An important note about Yosemite National Park is that for a ceremony you need a permit + can choose from a specific list of places to elope. For anything else in the park like a first look, vow writing/reading, letter reading, picnic, portraits, etc you can do almost anywhere in the park!
If you have any guests attending, you will need to choose from a specific location listed within the parks guidelines. The good news is with a permit, you would be the only couple holding a ceremony at the time + place you are approved for. Below are our favorite Ceremony location options:
Glacier Point is a stunning elopement location! It is best at sunrise for the lighting and also to avoid the crowds as it is a popular location within the park for photos. This is accessible for almost anyone, making it a perfect ceremony location with guests. The road to this location is closed due to snow for a large part of the year, so it is important to keep that in mind when planning. However, you can hike to this for a ceremony if it is just you two, which I highly recommend for privacy in a surreal place!
Tenaya Lake Beach
We love this location for a Fall elopement ceremony! The road here is closed also due to snow part of the year. This can be a popular swimming area in the park in the summer. So if you want to elope here then we would recommend sunrise, but overall the water is beautiful, the surrounding area is beautiful and the Tenaya Lodge is near by for a great place to stay! This side of the park can be quieter than the valley which is nice too! There is lots of room + picnic tables to enjoy a meal after with your guests.
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
If you are looking for a location for your ceremony (Looking for Advice on your Elopement Ceremony?) in the valley, then we love Cathedral Beach Picnic area. The time of day is for sure important for the best lighting among the trees by the river. This location offers a great view of El Captain. There is lots of room and picnic tables. This is also close to El Cap meadows for portraits.
Tuolumne and Merced Grove
Do you love larger than life trees? Then eloping under the tall sequoias in the park. Yosemite recommends an early morning elopement from 8 am to noon starting the tuesday after Memorial Day until September 30th due to weather and traffic within the area. You do have to to take a shuttle bus to this location. The important thing about this location is that you can not go off of trail, so the earlier you go the better to avoid too much traffic.
Yosemite Elopement Venue – Yosemite Valley Chapel
If you are looking for more of an indoor space for the ceremony portion of your elopement you can reach out to the Yosemite Valley Chapel to get permission to hold you ceremony inside of the chapel. This ceremony option is located in the valley floor near great views of El Cap and the chapel itself is beautiful, and historic.
Portraits in Yosemite National Park
Now let’s talk about where would you want to do your portraits in the park. There are countless locations that are stunning in Yosemite, but there are a few that just hit different. For example, the meadows with any of the falls in the background or El Cap. Some of the lakes found by hiking in the more remote areas, or the iconic hikes like the top of Half Dome.
Glacier Point is a classic along with Taft Point. However it is important to note the road up to Taft point and Glacier point is scheduled to have 30 minute delays throughout 2023 due to the road construction. If you want to elope or have portraits captured at these locations you might want to do a pretty big hike like this couple did, that is well worth it. Don’t limit yourself, the park is huge with tons of beautiful areas, you don’t have to follow the masses, you can always find your own special spot that is just as beautiful.
When considering a location for portraits, it is important to think of experience, not just a pretty place for photos. Do you want to go on an epic hike? Do you want to backpack, rock climb, swim in a river or lake? Thinking about these things will help you pick a location(s) for portraits.
Pets are not allowed at any location within the park for an elopement ceremony. However, pets are allowed on certain paved pathways in the valley and at Glacier point. So if you wanted to include your dog during the day you can do so for portraits!
How to get married in Yosemite?
Yosemite National Park Wedding Permit
To get married in Yosemite National Park you need to pull a permit with a forest service ranger. You do this by downloading the application from their site, filling it out, mailing it in with your money order. Note – they are very specific about their process and it must be done correctly. Also know that your money order is not refundable and must be for the correct amount for exactly what you are applying for. You need to apply for your permit at least 45 days in advance, but we recommend doing this as soon as you have decided which location in the park you want to get married at. Your permit will cost around $150 for getting married in the park.
Legally get married in the State of California
Outside of the permit for the park, you will need your marriage certificate. This is the state of California, so you will need to obtain your marriage license from a local clerk office together with your partner. You will need an officiant to perform/sign the paperwork and one witness. You can have a second witness sign, but it is not required.
When should I get my marriage license in California? Since the paperwork is only valid for 90 days and since there is no holding period in California, we recommend getting your marriage license as soon as you can before your elopement day. Keep in mind most clerk offices have bank hours, so be sure your travel schedule takes this into account when planning to obtain your license.
The closest clerk office to Yosemite National Park is Mariposa Grove office, so be sure to contact them by visiting the office’s website.
What to do during your elopement in Yosemite National Park
For your adventure wedding you may already know exactly what things you want to do, what things are special to you two that you want to incorporate on this special day. Or you may be open! Adventures in the park include, but are not limited to:
- Horseback riding
- Rock climbing
- Swimming in the river or lakes
- Biking around the valley
Yosemite has been famous for its big wall granite climbing for decades before ‘Free Solo’ came out, which put it on the world map for everyone else too. There are of course those insanely epic big wall climbs, but there are also many shorter/easier climbs.
There are trails that are short and sweet in the park, but a lot of the park has long steep hikes that take you to wild vistas on top of the granite walls. We have met couples that eloped after completing the climb up the nose on El Capitan and we have met couples who eloped at Taft point after a short 2.5 mile hike. The adventure is truly what you want to make it. Because the park is so big and vast and the hikes can be long we typically recommend a split(full) day or a multi-day elopement here.
We are here to help you figure that out!
How much does it cost to elope in Yosemite National park?
The cost to get married in Yosemite National Park is $225. This is the fee for the permit and the California marriage license. So from there it is truly up to you how much you spend on your elopement in Yosemite. The cost of an elopement always varies, because as we say every single elopement is different. Some elopements are really simple and adventure based where as some elopements have guests, more decor etc. Either way, eloping in Yosemite is for sure more affordable than a large venue with 100 people as guests for a wedding in California. It is important to keep in mind that California is one of the most expensive states in general, so gas prices, food, rentals, and stay locations will all cost more than the national average.
Depending on what you are doing, be prepared to spend $8000 to $17,000 on an elopement in Yosemite. There are a few things that factor into this expense, partly is that Yosemite is pretty remote making it more expensive to elope there especially the more items or services you’d like to include in your big day. Here is a simple break down in costs to help you determine your cost for an elopement in Yosemite:
- Permit: $150
- Marriage License: $70
- Photographer: (These are our packages that range from 6 hour to multi-day)
- Video: (We offer video as an add on to our packages!)
- Officiant: (This is included in our packages if you utilize us as your officiant) $300 – $1000
- Stay: this depends greatly on the number of nights and how upscale you are staying but on average it’s safe to say between $300 to $500 per night.
- Travel (flight, car, gas, etc – Travel in California can be more expensive than a lot of areas of the United States so keep that in mind when planning your budget.)
- Food: again this depends on if youre cooking, hiring a chef or catering
- Florals: The next three are hard to put a price on because they vary so greatly, but around $500
- HMUA: $300 – $1000
- Attire: This could be $300 if you thrift or $1000’s if you’re looking into designer wear!
- MISC: who knows here ya know?! Some couples have nothing in Misc and some (like us) spend most of their budget on this! Depends on what you are doing for your elopement and what you need/want
How to prepare for a Yosemite National Park Elopement
If you are visiting Yosemite National Park for the first time for your elopement here are some key notes to think about:
- Be prepared for traffic. The main road in the park is a loop around the valley floor to the main trailhead areas. Parking can be difficult to find as well at any time of the day. Just allow for extra time and consider off season or sunrise if you don’t want to deal with the traffic on your elopement day.
- There are bears. You will probably see a bear, but you will also probably see a deer and often pretty up close!! Keep wildlife wild, do not try to get closer or disturb them. Enjoy the moment from where you are. If you are hiking more remotely and not in a group be sure to have bear bells. If you are backpacking for your elopement you need proper food storage. If having a picnic be sure to pack out all food, do not leave anything behind.
- Bring your food! There are a couple of places to eat in the valley, the lines can be long and the food options aren’t the best. We recommend bringing in snacks, sandwiches, etc. Also, be sure to pack it out! It can be challenging to book a chef or catering in the area, so I recommend figuring that out asap after setting your elopement date!
- Depending on the time of year, wildfires and controlled burns are pretty normal occurrences in the area. Be sure to have a back up plan in case the smoke is too bad to continue on with your plans. Or you may even want to select your elopement date based around trying to avoid fires in general.
- If you are going to be visiting over a couple of days or going into any of the other nearby parks, we recommend purchasing a year pass for the National Parks! A seven day entry pass into a National Park is $35 and a year pass is $80 it can easily pay itself off. Yosemite National Park also has a reservation system for visiting the park. Your wedding permit allows you and your photographer in the park for that day, but you need to plan ahead of time for any other day you want to go into the park.
We’d love to be your Yosemite Elopement Photographers!
We are a photo video husband and wife team that travel all over the Western part of the United States. We are both very familiar with Yosemite National Park and would love to capture your day here! We actually got engaged in Yosemite in the spring of 2021 after a full day of exploring all the best spots in the park!
We are typically available in Yosemite yearly in April, May, October and in the winter! We are also both ordained and can help you take care of the legal parts of getting married in California. We think Yosemite has so much to offer for so many different type of elopements and are so stoked to help our couples bring their visions to life here!!!