How to Plan Your Hiking Elopement
Updated: Jun 28
Hey there all you adventurous souls! I'm an adventure wedding and elopement photographer based in Washington who loves photographing couples who are madly in love and who aren't afraid to do something a little different and crazy for their wedding day. I love helping couples in the planning process, so I wanted to put together a post filled will tons of advice and everything you need to know before planning your own hiking elopement.
But first off, what even is an elopement? Well, elopements are an intentionally intimate, authentic, deeply meaningful way to celebrate your marriage. They can be just the two of you, or with your closet friends and family. Eloping allows you to set aside stress and expectations. Instead, elopements focus on what's most important on your wedding day- celebrating your love! Want to see what a hiking elopement is really like? Check out this Epic Mt. Baker Hiking Elopement Adventure.
Now, onto everything you need to know before your own adventure wedding:
Permits and Passes
Most public lands (and all national parks) require a permit for you to get married there, and some require another permit for your photographer to document it. Always make sure to get the necessary permits well in advance of your elopement day (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. Also, 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). For more information regarding permits for eloping in Washington, click here!
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. In Washington, the marriage license waiting period is three days- meaning that you have to get your marriage license at LEAST three days before the day you plan to perform your ceremony for it to be legal and valid. Washington has a marriage license validity period of 60 days, meaning you need to get married withing 60 days of receiving your license for your marriage to be legal. To get legally married in Washington (and most states), you need 2 witnesses, plus an ordained officiant to fill out your paperwork and to perform your ceremony.
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 either before or after their actual elopement day for ease of mind and simplicity. The day you say your vows and commit your life to your partner is your wedding day- regardless of when you submitted your paperwork.
Deciding on a location
It can be tough deciding on a location for your elopement, there are endless options of amazing destinations to choose from. Ask yourself. if you could go anywhere in the world on your wedding day, where would you go? What is that one spot in the world that has an indescribable pull on you, the place that you could explore countless times- without ever growing tired of it? What does the scenery look like (are you in the mountains, on the beach, in a forest, by a waterfall, or in the desert)? Is there a new place you want to explore, or is there a place that is a fundamental part of who you are and your relationship with your partner?
Pick somewhere that is meaningful for the both of you, somewhere of personal significance- whether that means exploring a new trail or one that you have adventured on in the past. Some great resources I love to use to location scout include Google Maps, Alltrails, and Washington Trails Association. If you're considering eloping in the PNW, check out my blog post on the Top Places To Elope To in Washington.
Deciding 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.
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: an ordained officiant, to state a declaration of intent, and two witnesses. Or in some states, like Colorado, you can self-solemnize and your dog can be your witness! (Yes, that’s really true!). But, many couples who elope still choose to incorporate traditions into their wedding such as handwritten vows, a ring exchange, or even a unity ceremony.
Choosing amazing vendors
It is really important to find trustworthy, reliable vendors that truly care about helping you have the best elopement day possible! Finding a photographer that you truly connect with and who aligns with your vision is SO important! Your photographer will be with you your entire elopement day- documenting your whole adventure. Find someone that makes you feel comfortable and you can have fun with- not only will it help you have an amazing time, but it will truly produce the best photos! Other vendors to consider for your elopement include a videographer, an officiant (check out @officiantjimmie for a super rad officiant based in the PNW!), a florist, or a hair and makeup artist.
Have a backup plan
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, 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!).
Planning your timeline
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. Also, 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.
What to pack
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.
Ultimate Checklist For Your Hiking Elopement:
Your wedding attire- Check out this Adventure Elopement Wedding Dress Guide
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 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
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.
The Day Before
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. 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. Get stoked and prepare to the best day ever. Get out there and enjoy every little bit of your elopement day!
After Your 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 video with others so you can relive the experience over and over again.
Ready to start planning your own adventure wedding?
Reach out to me today and we can start talking about your dream wedding day. I can't wait to talk with you and start planning your own amazing adventure.