How to Plan Your Hiking Elopement
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
Planning Your Hiking Wedding- The Ultimate Guide
Thinking about hiking for your wedding day but have no idea where to start? Do you love the idea of saying your vows outside in a beautiful place instead of being confined within four walls? Would you rather have an incredible, intimate, fun adventure instead of a traditional wedding that doesn't really feel like you?
Then you're in the perfect place. As an avid hiker & backpacker myself, I absolutely LOVE hiking weddings. It is such a unique and incredible way to get married.
There are so many different ways a hiking elopement could look!
hike to a location just the two of you and say your vows completely surrounded in nature.
go on a backpacking adventure in the wilderness.
have a ceremony with your closest loved ones and then go on a sunset hike just the two of you (plus your photographer!)
hike at sunrise for a private vow exchange before meeting up with your loved ones for another ceremony at a different location.
hike with your family (usually on a more accessible trail) and have one ceremony with all of your guests there to see it!
But first off, since I'll be talking about elopements a lot in this resource, I wanted to touch on what they are, as the definition of an "elopement" has changed somewhat radically within the last few years.
I define an elopement as an intimate, experience-driven, intentional celebration of your relationship that focuses on what matters most- two people exchanging their vows and committing their lives to one another. There are many types of elopements, but adventure elopements are typically outside in nature and involve some element of adventure.
Eloping allows you to set aside stress, expectations, and throw out any traditions you don't feel connected to. You can elope just the two of you, or you can elope surrounded by your very closest family and friends. Want to see what a hiking elopement is really like? Check out this Mt. Baker Hiking Elopement Adventure.
If a hiking elopement sounds like something you're interested in, then this planning guide is just the thing for you!
(P.S. There is a LOT of information in this resource, so feel free to bookmark it and come back to it as often as you need)
Your Hiking Wedding Planning Checklist
Start thinking about the type of experience that you want to have for your elopement. Hiking weddings can look very different- there's no one "right" way to elope! Make a list of what you want, what would make you the happiest, what you're dreaming of, and go from there. Some good questions to start with are:
Would you prefer to elope at sunrise or sunset? (P.S. if you're looking for more seclusion, sunrise is often the way to go!)
What type of scenery do you want to be surrounded by?
Do you want to include family & friends on your elopement day? And if so, for how much of your elopement do you want them present for?
How long do you want to hike on your wedding day? How much elevation would you want to do? (This is NOT the time to push yourself to the limit! There are beautiful hikes out there for all abilities- don't pick one that will be miserable for you to complete. Be honest with yourself and you'll end up being the happiest!)
How important is seclusion to you on your elopement day?
Decide on a location
It can be tough deciding on a location for your elopement, the world is full of stunning places that would be perfect for an elopement or intimate wedding. Choosing your location is one of the first (and biggest) decisions you need to make when it comes to planning your elopement.
Your elopement spot should feel right for YOU. You deserve to say your vows somewhere that will make you feel excited, happy, at peace, and in-love. A place where you can be in the moment, enjoying every single bit of your experience.
If you could go anywhere in the world on your wedding day, where would you go?
What does the scenery look like? Are you in the mountains, on the beach, in a forest, by a waterfall, or in the desert?
Do you want to elope somewhere that you've been before and has personal significance to your relationship, or do you want to go somewhere totally new and make new memories?
Don't pick a location that isn't aligned with what you two really enjoy doing and that you won't actually love. The *most* important thing is that you both enjoy your day!
Pro-Tip: Some great resources I love to use to location scout include Google Maps/Earth, Alltrails, and Washington Trails Association. If you're still unsure of where you want to elope, check out my Choosing an Elopement Location Guide!
Decide on a time of year
Do you dream of eloping among stunning fall colors, wildflowers, or snow? When picking a time of year to elope in, I recommend researching average temperatures, precipitation, and weather for your chosen location so you can best decide. Check for any natural disasters that frequently occur, and for average dates of winter road closures if you're eloping in the mountains. Some more popular destinations have high and low traffic seasons which can impact how busy your elopement day is. Consider eloping during "off season" to avoid crowds and to have a more intimate experience.
Permits and Passes for Your Hiking Elopement
Most public lands (and all national parks) require a permit for you to get married there (a special use permit), and some require another permit for your photographer to document it (a commercial use permit). Your photographer should help you with this process as it can be confusing and information can be difficult to obtain.
Always make sure to get the necessary permits well in advance of your elopement day as it can be a tedious process and could take some time. Don't skip getting a permit and risk the possibility of getting kicked off your planned location, getting fined and severely impacting your wedding day. It's not worth it! Plus, purchasing the needed permits will help support the conservation of public lands and help preserve them for years to come.
You'll also want to look into any necessary passes to access and park on any public lands or national parks that you plan to visit (like the America the Beautiful pass, the Discover Pass, or the Northwest Forest Pass or permits to access the area in general).
Leave no Trace
If you're eloping outside, you'll definitely want to research the Leave No Trace Principles and determine how to best integrate them into your elopement. Leave No Trace is a set of outdoor ethics and best practices that we should all follow to not only enjoy our public lands, but to protect them as well.
The way we ensure that nature stays beautiful (so we can continue coming back to these places over and over again) is to make sure that we enjoy them sustainably and responsibly. Simply put, leave it better than you found it!
For example, if you're eloping in the mountains amongst a field of wildflowers, it's really important to stay on the established trails and to not trample the meadows.
Or if you're eloping somewhere like Moab, its important to not step on the cryptobiotic crust!
There's a saying "grows by an inch, dies by the foot"- it can take years for these fragile environments to recover so be conscientious of where you step.
Additionally, there are some principles you'll always want to follow such as always packing out what you pack in and respecting other visitors and their experiences!
I encourage you to learn more about how to keep our outdoors safe and best practices for recreating outdoors at https://lnt.org/.
The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
We have a massive privilege in being able to access such amazing public lands in general and for your elopement day. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a wedding venue, public lands are able to be used for nearly free. With that comes great responsibility- not only to care for the land, but to ensure it's protection and longevity.
Choosing amazing vendors & lodging
While it's certainly not required to hire any particular vendors for your day, hiring a few, high quality, amazing vendors can absolutely elevate your experience and help you have an incredible day. It is really important to find trustworthy, reliable vendors that truly care about helping you have the best elopement day possible!
Make sure to read past reviews before hiring any vendor, speak to them on the phone to get a feel for their personality, and to read contracts carefully to make sure you know what you're agreeing to.
So, what are some of the most common elopement vendors?
Photographer (P.S. find a photographer that 1. You feel comfortable around and truly connect with. 2. Who's photos and style you LOVE. 3. Is an experienced hiker & adventurer. You don't want someone inexperienced with you on your wedding day! Just because they're a great photographer doesn't mean they are a great hiking photographer.)
Hair & Makeup Artist
Videographer (The same advice I gave for a photographer applies here!)
Catering + Private Chefs + Dessert
Then it's time to choose your lodging. Personally, I recommend thinking of it as a part of your entire elopement experience! Pick somewhere fun that you two will love spending time together- think outside the box (like cute Airbnbs, treehouses, yurts, or A-frames)! If you're having photos where you're staying, consider the natural light and aesthetics. I recommend trying to stay as close to your location as possible so you don't spend too much of your day driving.
Choose your hiking elopement attire
Ultimately, the best elopement attire is the one that makes you feel confident, beautiful, and happy. There's no one "perfect" dress or style to elope in, only you can decide what's best for you.
However, there are some general tips that will help you in your search, especially if you plan to have a hiking elopement!
The most important thing in my opinion when choosing a hiking wedding dress is to choose something that is easy to move around in. If you're uncomfortable, you absolutely will not have as much fun! Certain styles of dresses will make hiking easier while other dresses (like ones that are tight around your hips and legs or are made of too heavy of a material) will make it impossible.
When trying on dresses:
Do lots of movement! Make sure that you can hike and move (and breathe!) in comfort
Lift your legs high, like you would if you were climbing over a rock or stepping on a high ledge
Try picking it up and twirling it around
Raise both hands while twisting and twirling around
Pick it up in one or two hands and try running & skipping
Grab a handful of the dress from the bottom and then hold your hand straight out at about waist level or higher and swish it around
Ask yourself- Can I wear this all day and be comfortable?
Take several deep breaths like you're hiking- it should be easy to breathe
Try and take note if anything is itchy, poky, or if anything is digging into you in any way
Ask yourself if it's easy to get in and out of, especially if you plan to change into it at your destination
Keep in mind what the weather will be like when you're eloping and whether or not you'll need to bring layers. (When in doubt, bring layers!) Think about jackets, gloves, shawls, ear muffs, hats, etc. that you wouldn't mind being photographed in. For under your dress to help keep you warm, nude fleece leggings are a lifesaver!
It's completely up to you whether or not you want to hike in your wedding clothes. Most people decide to hike in their wedding attire for shorter hikes (generally under 2-3 miles one way). If your dress has a long train, you can choose to get it altered to have a bustle, or you can secure it in your pack's hip belts or drape it over your arm so you don't trip.
For longer hikes or for sunrise hikes when we start in the dark, generally couples opt to start in hiking clothes and change into their wedding garb at the top or once we reach our destination! Depending on how big your dress is and the material, you can either fold it up and strap it on top of your pack, put it in a dry bag (if it's rainy), or put it in a garment bag and attach it to your hiking backpack. When at your destination, you can change behind a big rock, a tree, a fire lookout, behind a blanket, or you can pack up a pop-up changing stall! Then, oftentimes couples choose to hike down in their wedding clothes as it is a less rigorous endeavor.
Lastly, embrace the dirty dress! If you're hiking in your dress or will be outside in your dress- it's going to get dirty (and if you're eloping here in the PNW, there's a good chance it'll get wet!). My biggest advice? EMBRACE IT! I think the dirt ombre (and probably some sticks, leaves or twigs) your dress will get on it is awesome, it's part of your elopement story now! It's the perfect representation of your adventure. You only get to wear this dress once and you may as well really wear it!
Check out this resource for more advice on what to wear on your elopement and elopement wedding dress ideas!
Planning your ceremony
When you elope, you can design your ceremony however you want, it is COMPLETELY up to you! You can elope just the two of you, or include your closest family and friends. Legally, you only need three things (in most states): an ordained officiant, to state a declaration of intent, and two witnesses.
However many couples who elope still choose to incorporate traditions into their ceremony such as handwritten vows, a ring exchange, or even a unity ceremony. Check out this resource for everything you need to know about elopement ceremonies and how to make it extra special.
Marriage Licensing requirements
If you are filling out your paperwork and getting legally married on your elopement day, make sure to research local marriage licensing requirements! You want to make sure that you get your license in time, and that you have everything necessary to make it legal.
Marriage License requirements you'll want to research:
Waiting Period & Validity Time- Is there a minimum waiting period from the time you obtain the marriage license before it is valid? This is especially important if you are traveling out of state because it will affect your travel plans. For example, in Washington there is a 3 day waiting period (meaning that you have to wait 3 entire calendar days before the license is valid). Additionally, you will want to know how long your license is valid for so you don't get it too far in advance.
Residency Requirements- Make sure that it isn't required that you are a resident of the state to get married there!
Location Restrictions- It is important to know if your marriage license is valid for the entire state, or only in the county you obtain it in.
Witnesses- How many witnesses are necessary to sign your marriage license? What are the age requirements for witnesses? Some states require 2 witnesses to be present, while other states (like Colorado) allow you to "self-solemnize" without any witnesses present.
Officiant Requirements- Make sure to research what the requirements for your officiant are. I am ordained and can legally sign as your officiant for most US states (but not all of them!). If you're having your photographer, friend, or relative officiate your ceremony make sure that it is legally allowed in your elopement destination!
Any Additional Requirements- Research what paperwork you will need to bring, if any blood tests are necessary, and what fees you will need to pay. Do you have to apply in person or can you mail in an absentee application? If you are coming from out of state and can mail in via absentee application this helps significantly with travel plans if your chosen destination has a waiting period!
However, don't let paperwork and technical logistics get in the way of your dream elopement day. Many couples choose to complete the legal paperwork at home if they are eloping out of state/country either before or after their actual elopement day for ease of mind and simplicity.
Especially if you're eloping abroad, the paperwork in different states and countries can require vastly different things. If you want to make it simple, sign the paperwork at home before your actual elopement day. This is also known as a "commitment ceremony"
The day you say your vows and commit your life to your partner is your wedding day- not when you submitted your paperwork.
Have a backup plan for your hiking wedding
Nothing is guaranteed with the outdoors and absolutely anything can happen. You should have at least one solid backup location (one that you are just as excited about if you are unable to elope at your primary location). Weather can be unpredictable, roads can unexpectedly shut down, a wildfire may make your area unsafe to visit, late snow melt can leave trails inaccessible, and it may be necessary to change your plans at the last minute.
To have an amazing experience, be spontaneous, go with the flow, and be okay with a backup plan. Hiking elopements are very unpredictable and your plans can change a lot (but that's part of the fun and excitement!).
Pro-Tip: Hire a photographer who is an experienced adventurer and who is knowledgeable in the area you're eloping in and with elopements in general! This will help you majorly if you need to pivot to a Plan B (or C).
Planning your hiking elopement timeline & activities
When planning your elopement, be sure to create a relaxed timeline! Chances are, one of the reasons you decided to elope was to eliminate stress- so don't create a timeline that will make you feel rushed! I recommend allotting approximately 1 hour per mile of hiking (perhaps even longer if it is a more challenging hike). That way you don't feel rushed, and you can take your time. If you see a somewhere on the trail you want to explore further, or you want to stop and take some portraits, you'll have enough time to do so. Leave lots of time to be spontaneous, to explore, and to celebrate and enjoy every moment.
Work with your photographer to decide the best time of day and lighting for photos. Decide if you want to have a sunrise or a sunset elopement (or maybe even both) and how you want to plan your day, including any fun activities you have planned.
Activity Ideas for Your Hiking Elopement
Hike with family
Private chef catered dinner
Kayaking or Packrafting
Bring your dog along
Write letters to each other to open on an anniversary
Jump in an alpine lake
Campfire with s'mores
Relax in a hammock
Play an instrument or listen to music
Watch the sunrise or sunset
Have a first look
Exchange gifts with one another
Sea Plane or Helicopter tour
Sample Hiking Elopement Day Timeline
To help you imagine what your elopement day could look like, here is an example timeline to give you a rough idea!
3:00am- Meet at trailhead, get ready to go
3:15- Start hiking up & stargazing
5:00- Arrive at summit, get changed & ready for sunrise
5:15- Alpenglow begins, first look, private vow reading
5:45- Finish watching sunrise, drink coffee & eat pastries, then explore around while taking fun & relaxed couples photos. Could listen to music, play a board game, sit in hammock, have a first dance.
7:30- Start hiking back down, taking photos along the way
8:15- Arrive at trailhead, head to ceremony area
9:00- Meet family at ceremony TH, get ready to go, short walk to ceremony spot
9:30- Ceremony with family & friends present
10:00- Ceremony finished! Celebrate with family- family photos, explore around ceremony area
10:45-Head back to Airbnb
11:30- Arrive at Airbnb for celebration with family- meal, dessert, toasts, games, etc
1:00- Photo coverage wraps up
What to pack for your hiking elopement
Deciding what to pack for your hiking elopement is SO important. You don't want to forget anything you may need, but you also don't want to weigh down your pack with unnecessary gear. So, to help get you started, I created a checklist of what you should bring on your hiking elopement. Just remember, depending on your location, the weather, the activities you plan to do, and the length of your hike, you may need to add more to your list! Don't underestimate the cold in the mountains (especially if you plan to hike up or down in the dark!). Remember that you lose approximately 5 degrees in temperature for every 1000 ft. you gain in elevation.
Pro-Tip: Start packing early and pack over a few days so you remember everything you want to bring and don't forget anything important!
Ultimate Checklist For Your Hiking Elopement:
Your wedding attire
Hiking boots (make sure they are comfortable, broken in, and have good tread)
Extra makeup and hair supplies for touch-ups
Any important details or accessories (veil, bouquet, jewelry, any letters or gifts, etc.)
Champagne or any celebratory drinks you want to include
Marriage License (if you're choosing to fill out your paperwork that day) + a pen
Blanket to sit on
A comfortable hiking pack (REI will help you pick a properly fitted pack for you!)
Nude, fleece lined leggings (you won't be able to see them under your dress and you can stay nice and warm!)
Warm jacket (bring lots of layers!)
Bug spray or these amazing, natural wipes!
Snacks and food
Plenty of Water
Trekking poles if you're hiking on rough terrain or with major elevation
Microspikes if you'll be encountering ice/snow
Espresso shots or 5 hour energies (especially if you're doing a sunrise elopement!)
Makeup and Hair Tips
If you plan to hike with your hair and makeup already done, you will want to pick up a really good setting spray to keep your makeup in place and looking flawless all day! I recommend Urban Decay's setting spray- it truly works miracles. For best results, set with a powder first before spraying on the setting spray. For your hair, proactively use dry shampoo to soak up any sweat or moisture. Then, use a strong hairspray to hold it in place. You can also bring along any makeup, hairspray, bobby pins, etc. for any necessary last minute touch-ups.
Pro-Tip: There are hair & makeup artists who specialize in this and can help you create a look that will last all day- even with hiking!
How to Pack Your Bouquet in Your Pack
If you decide to have a bouquet for your hiking elopement, you probably don't want to be carrying it with you the entire time! The easiest way to handle it is by packing it in your pack and hiking it up with you!
Pack everything else in your backpack first
Take your bouquet and wrap damp paper towels or a wet terry cloth (more eco-friendly!) around the bottom of the stems to help keep them fresh for your hike and prevent them from becoming wilted
Gently place your wrapped bouquet in a gallon plastic Ziploc bag or a dry bag
Lastly, place your bouquet in the main compartment (or if you have an outer compartment it may work) and secure your pack with the flowers sticking out of the top of the bag. *Make sure there is stuff on either side of the stems so they are securely situated in your bag and not loosely being jostled around!*
This method can also work for dried florals! Just don't wrap up the stems before hand. :)
Pro-Tip: Choose florals that are sturdy and are less likely to drop petals, wilt, or have their stems break!
Food & Drinks to Celebrate Your Hiking Elopement
If you're planning to hike on your wedding day, you'll definitely want to make sure to bring enough water & food to stay hydrated and prevent getting hangry!
I recommend bringing PLENTY of water with you, especially if you'll be hiking at higher elevations than you are normally used to. But besides just your typical trail snacks and food, feel free to think outside the box on what you might like to bring to celebrate!
Consider bringing along your favorite drink- whether that's coffee, tea, cocoa, beer, whiskey, etc. Having something to sip on while you watch the sunrise or sunset is always a relaxing way to start or end your day!
For food, you could pack a picnic to enjoy at the end of your hike full of all of your favorite foods (or even bring along a JetBoil and have something nice & warm!). You could also go to a local restaurant after your hike to grab a bite to eat and to celebrate or go back to your Airbnb and have a private chef cook you a customized meal!
The Day Before Your Hiking Wedding
It is essential to make sure you take care of yourself the week before you elope! Take some time to relax, unwind, and indulge in some self care. Not only will this help you get in a good head space, it can also help prevent you from getting sick. The day before your hiking elopement, make sure you drink tons of water, get a good night's sleep, and eat a solid, hearty meal- you'll want plenty of energy on your day. If you're eloping somewhere that is at a higher elevation that what you are normally used to, take a couple days to be in the area beforehand to get acclimated.
Take some time the day before to connect with your partner, go on a date and soak in the fact that you're getting married tomorrow! You want to start your wedding day well-rested, energized, and ready to be fully present in the moment.
The Day of Your Elopement Day
Yay! It's finally here, today is the day you're getting married to the person you love more than anyone else. Remember to be present, be you and to soak in every single moment of this incredible experience you planned together. Relax, breathe, and don't stress about anything- just have fun and get married to the love of your life.
Get out there and enjoy every little bit of your elopement day!
After Your Hiking Elopement Day
If you haven't already, share your exciting news that you're married with your friends and family! You can celebrate with your loved ones with a party, casual dinner, or a reception. Share your photos and memories with others (and print your photos!) so you can relive the experience over and over again.
Ready to start planning your own hiking wedding?
Reach out to me today and we can start talking about your dream elopement day. I can't wait to talk with you and start planning your own amazing adventure!
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Want More Resources?
Curious about what people actually do all day when they elope? Read what do you do on your elopement day- 80+ fun elopement activity ideas.
Learn what it's really like to elope with these stories & helpful advice from couples who've previously eloped!