Eloping in Yosemite
(Updated for 2022-2023)
If you are wondering what is the best National Park to elope in, then you may have just found it! The Yosemite National Park is grand with its beautiful forests and 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, or 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 once was at the location of the 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…
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 or Sacramento or even San Fransisco or San Jose, for the bigger city options. 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 should you elope in Yosemite National Park?
Quick thoughts on each season and the park….
Spring – This is the best time to enjoy the waterfalls in the park.
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, truly one of the best times to visit. Less busy than Spring.
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 during 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. 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.
How to Elope in Yosemite
Places you can get married in Yosemite National Park
If you have any guests attending, you will need to choose from a specific location listed within the parks guidelines. For example, one of their ceremony locations with guests is the red chapel located in the valley across from El Capitan. The locations within the park that you can get married at range from the valley floor, to overlooks, to the groves and by the beautiful lakes or waterfalls. Know that some of the roads to some of the locations are closed due to snow until mid to late spring. So have a back up plan in place if you are considering one of the locations effected by road closures. However, you can take your just you two portraits almost anywhere within the park.
Taft Point and Glacier Point Elopements
Easily, the most popular places to elope in the park are Taft Point and/or Glacier point. These locations are not open in the Winter months due to road closure. Also for the year of 2022 this road is closed due to construction and this may be going into 2023. However, these locations are still do-able for your ceremony/elopement via a couple of different big hikes.
Portraits in the 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. Glacier Point (also another pre-approved location for a ceremony) 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 be closed for the above mentioned 2022 for road construction. If you want to elope or do portraits at these locations you will need to prepare to do a pretty big hike. The good news though is that it will for sure be more private than it usually is!! 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.
It is important to note that as of 2021 the park is requiring a day-of pass to enter the park, or a permit or registered camping/stay within the park limits. Your wedding permit would allow you, your photographer and your guests in for that day only. So if you want to go to the park for more days than that, you need to plan ahead to book those reservations. Also be sure that everyone in your party has a copy of your wedding permit to be able to get into the park. (Expert tip: carpool, the fewer cars the better)
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 the day of or day after you land, before your elopement as long as you set an appointment.
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 in the park for an adventure elopement?
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, camping, hiking, getting into the river, bouldering, back packing, biking and rock climbing. 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 is long steep hikes that take you to wild vistas on top of the granite walls. We have met couples that eloped after completed 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. We are here to help you figure that out!
How much does it cost to elope in Yosemite National park?
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. Depending on what you are doing to 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 if you want all the things. 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: $4000-$8300
- Video: $1500-?
- Officiant: (Free if you use us as your efficient because it is included in our services) $300
- Stay: this depends on number of nights and how you are staying but on average I would say $500 per night
- Travel (flight, car, gas, etc)
- Food: again this depends on if youre cooking, hiring a chef or catering
- 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 hard to find 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 if the fire is too close. 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 epic parks, we recommend just going ahead and purchasing a year pass for the National Parks! A daily entrance into a National Park is $35 and a year pass is $80 so it can easily pay itself off if you are going to many parks at different times.
Book us as 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 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 so many different type of elopements and are so stoked to help our couples bring their elopement visions to life here!!!