How to Decide Where to Elope
A Guide to Choosing an Elopement Location-Best Places to Elope
Choosing your location is one of the first (and biggest) decisions you need to make when it comes to planning your elopement.
Your location should feel right for YOU. You should choose somewhere you & your partner will feel incredibly happy, excited, and in love. You want to be fully present in the moment and enjoy every bit of your experience.
But with SO many choices on our beautiful planet, how do you actually decide on a location?
There's no one "perfect" elopement spot out there. I truly believe that it's different for everyone! Take some time to really think about what's most important to you and what you want to incorporate into your experience.
The world is full of stunning places that would be perfect to have an elopement or intimate wedding at. But with so many choices, it can be hard to decide where to elope! So I created this comprehensive guide to help you decide on your perfect location.
Here are the biggest factors you should consider when choosing an elopement spot:
Scenery & Views
Time of Year & Weather
Activities & Experience
So let's get into it!
Scenery & Views
Do you imagine saying your vows surrounded by mountains or on top of a peak overlooking a sea of mountains as far as you can see? Maybe you imagine wandering through fields of colorful wildflowers in the summer, or stunning fall foliage in autumn. The mountains are so inspirational and indescribably beautiful- making them a perfect place to have an elopement.
Best Places to Elope in the Mountains:
North Cascades National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
Do you imagine saying your vows in the desert? Maybe you want to off-road to an incredible overlook or to a unique rock structure. Or explore a slot canyon, the red rocks, or the arches. Maybe you want to hike or backpack to one of a kind destinations or kayak on Lake Powell. Or watch the most beautiful sunrise or sunset imaginable (the desert has the best in the world!). There are countless adventures you can have in the desert, it's such an enchanting, beautiful place.
Best Places to Elope in the Desert:
Moab (Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, BLM land)
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Atacama Desert in Chile
Do you imagine saying your vows in front of the face of an incredible glacier? You could take a helicopter ride and land on a remote area of a glacier and explore the blue ice. You could walk and explore a more easily accessible glacier and marvel at it's beauty. You could even go kayaking in a glacier lagoon among giant icebergs! Glaciers are mesmerizing and are unbelievably cool (pun intended!), the first time I ever experienced being on one I was absolutely hooked. Eloping on a glacier would be a unique and fun way to say your vows!
Best Places to Elope with Glaciers:
Svalbard (maybe you could see a polar bear?!)
Antarctica (you could see some penguins!)
Do you love water and want to say your vows next to an alpine lake? You could kayak, paddleboard, packraft or even jump in and swim in a lake for some added adventure to your elopement day! Plus, when the water is calm & the light is right you can see some pretty incredible reflections which is just a phenomenal experience to witness.
Best Places to Elope with Lakes:
Alpine Lakes Wilderness
What if for your elopement you decide to go chasing waterfalls instead?! Waterfalls are SO incredibly magical. Depending on what size of falls you go to, it can be a relaxing and calming experience listening to the babbling creek as the water rushes over the rocks. Or it can be a more enchanting experience as the water crashes over the rocks, the mist hitting your face, and this pure energy coursing through the air. If you want to say your vows near a waterfall I recommend springtime when they are at their peak!
Best Places to Elope with Waterfalls:
Colombia River Gorge (Oregon)
If you love the ocean, the fresh sea breeze, the waves crashing along the shore, the sand underneath your toes, or even stunning cliffs or giant rocks towering out of the ocean, an elopement on the coast may be for you! There are so many different types of beaches and coastlines, each with their own beauties and advantages.
Best Places to Elope on the Coast/Beach:
Do you love greenery and feel at peace within the trees? Maybe you want to elope in a rainforest or between pine trees or in a grove of redwoods. The forest is so magical and fairytale like, it would be a beautiful place for your elopement!
Best Places to Elope in the Forest:
Time of Year & Weather
Before deciding on a date, research what time of year is best for your general location or landscape that you want to elope in. Certain types of sceneries really shine in some parts of the year and not as much in others. (Note: months correspond to Northern Hemisphere)
Spring/early Summer: There is still lots of snow pack in higher elevations in the mountains, leaving many trails inaccessible (and even some roads closed) or not at their prime. This is a great time to elope in the desert, the coast, low-land rainforest elopements, or for waterfalls when they are flowing at their peak. March-June
Mid Summer: If you want to elope in the mountains or somewhere that is a higher elevation, this is the perfect time to do it! By now the snow is melted, the trails are accessible and dry, the weather is perfect, and colorful wildflowers are blooming everywhere. July-early September
Fall: Consider eloping somewhere where there will be spectacular fall foliage! Then, as the weather gets cooler and it starts snowing in the mountains, fall becomes one of my favorite times to elope in the desert. Mid September- November
Winter (in Northern Hemisphere): Consider eloping either in the desert (like Arizona for example) for beautiful weather where you can exchange your vows among the red rocks or the sand dunes. Or consider eloping somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere (like Patagonia!) during that region's summer. December-February
Activities & Experience
Besides just saying your vows, what else do you want to do on your elopement day? Your elopement day should be so much more than just your vows and some quick portraits- you deserve to have the best day (and for your entire story to be documented so you can relive it for years to come)! Your wedding day will be your anniversary for the rest of your life, and it only happens once. Your elopement is so incredibly special. So why not make the day you get married the best day you can possibly imagine?!
Some locations are better for certain activities than others. If you really want to do a particular activity on your elopement day, this could help you narrow down where you choose to elope!
Pro-Tip: When you're planning these activities as a part of your day and your trip, keep in mind how long they will take realistically and how long it may take to get from one spot to the next. I always recommend adding some buffer time in your elopement day timeline to leave you feeling stress-free instead of rushed!
When you elope you're deciding to get married your way. There's no pre set expectations or "rules" that you have to follow. You can do anything you want! Here are a few activity ideas at my favorite locations to give you some ideas & inspiration as you begin planning your day:
Can't decide between mountains and desert? Elope in Moab and have stunning red desert for part of the day, and the beautiful La Sal Mountains for the other part of the day.
Go BASE jumping or skydiving in Moab
Love to off-road? There are so many 4x4 roads in Utah that lead to spectacularly beautiful places.
Go rock climbing
Rent a house boat on Lake Powell and kayak to a hidden slot canyon
Take a helicopter or plane tour above the desert
Go canyoneering and explore a slot canyon
Watch the sunrise or sunset (the desert has the best ones!)
Paddleboard or kayak in Lake Powell
Go horseback riding through the desert
Take a helicopter tour above Sedona
Go on a backpacking trip in Northern Arizona (so many great ones to choose from!)
Go off-roading on a back road to a beautiful location in the desert
Go on a hot air balloon ride outside of Sedona
Watch the sunrise or sunset (the desert has the best ones!)
*Technically* not in Arizona, but cross the border into California and explore the sand dunes of the beautiful Mojave Desert! Perhaps you could even go sand sledding!
Elopement Adventures Outside the U.S.:
Exchange your vows in front of huge, jagged granite mountain peaks or impossibly blue lakes in Patagonia!
Explore waterfalls, beaches, icebergs, and beautiful green canyons in Iceland before choosing the perfect place to get married.
Experience stunning views of waterfalls, mountains, lupines, and the water in New Zealand! Maybe even go whale watching?!
Get married in the sand dunes of Namibia before going on a safari to see some of the most stunning animals around!
Witness fog rolling over lush, green mountains and hills with seemingly endless views in Peru.
Take a hike in the The Dolomites and exchange your vows in front of some of the most beautiful mountains around.
Experience the beauty of the artic in Svalbard, with stunning mountains, glaciers, the aurora at certain times of year, and perhaps if you get lucky- a polar bear sighting!
A few of my favorite non-location specific activity ideas:
Relax in a hammock
Play an instrument or listen to music together
Have a first dance or first look
Play a board game
Have a fire & cook s'mores
Soak in a hot tub
Have a picnic
Hire a private chef to cook a special meal for you
Read letters from your closest family & friends who aren't present
Write your vows in vow books together while drinking coffee or making breakfast
Other Things to Consider
Once you decide on a general location and start thinking about a more specific spot, there are a few other factors you will want to consider before making your final decision.
Do you want to elope just the two of you, or do you want to include guests? Deciding how many guests you want to invite and what their physical abilities are is important before deciding on a ceremony location. Not all locations will be able to accommodate all group sizes. Additionally, not all locations will be easily accessible by everyone. But remember, you can always split up your day by having an easily accessible ceremony location with your loved ones and going on a hike somewhere else just the two of you for another part of the day!
How accessible does your location need to be? Do you have guests? Will you be hiking, taking a 4x4 road, flying in a helicopter, driving long distances from your lodging, etc.?
Do you want to elope somewhere you've been before that has meaning to you and your partner's relationship? Or do you want to go somewhere you've always wanted to go to make new memories?
Generally I tell my couples when it comes to choosing a location, you can choose 2 things about it: it's easy to access, it's super secluded, or it's incredibly scenic and beautiful. The locations that are easily accessible are (for the most part) going to have less privacy and vice versa. So, really think about how important privacy is to you and how comfortable you would feel having other people around. There are also plenty of beautiful trails that are just as gorgeous as the trendiest Instagram spots and are much less known.
Pro-Tip: Eloping at sunrise is another fantastic way to help get seclusion at even a typically busy spot! Sunset will also be less crowded, especially if there is a hike involved and if you stay out until blue hour.
It's important to think about having a Plan B (or even a Plan C) because with outdoor elopements, things can be unpredictable. Your original location may be inaccessible due to an unexpected road closure, mudslides, late snow melt, fires, bad weather, etc. If you have a flexible attitude and roll with whatever comes your way, the better experience you'll have on your elopement day (no matter what happens!).
Picking the Best Location For *You*
One of the reasons you probably decided to elope was so you could have an intimate, experience-driven, intentional celebration of your relationship that focuses on what matters the most- the two of you exchanging your vows and committing the rest of your lives to one another. You probably want a day where you can be stress-free, have fun, and feel free to be your true, authentic selves. So don't pick a location that isn't aligned with what you two really enjoy doing and that you won't actually love.
There are SO many beautiful places in the world. Don't feel the need to travel or hike too far or do anything that isn't you just to get a certain scenery as a backdrop. Honestly, the *most* important thing is that you both enjoy your day! So be sure to choose a spot that will allow for that.
If you can't choose just one spot for your elopement, maybe you don't have to! Going to more than one location is a phenomenal way to see multiple different sceneries, do different activities and have an incredible experience. You also don't necessarily have to fit your elopement experience into a single day, you can always spread it across multiple days to make sure you can have a relaxed experience while also being able to do everything you want to do!
Permits, Marriage Licenses & Leave No Trace
If you're going to elope outdoors, you may need a Special Use Permit to hold your ceremony and to have professional photographs taken of you. National Parks, National Forests, State Parks, and BLM offices all have different rules and regulations surrounding permits and whether or not you need one for your elopement. Your photographer should help you with this process as it can be confusing, information can be difficult to obtain, and it can be hard to get in contact with some land agencies.
Permits help maintain our parks and employ the people who protect it. If you are eloping somewhere that a permit is required, failure to do so can result in undesirable consequences such as fines and getting kicked out of the area. Additionally, in some areas a permit will mean you're the only couple (legally) allowed to be married there at that time. Save yourself any stress, hassle and fines and get a permit! On average they only cost around $50-$150 with the pricier ones being around $300 (the most expensive I've seen is $800 for very remote locations).
Generally you want to apply for a permit four weeks in advance, however some locations require more notice so be sure to plan in advance if you're eloping somewhere that does require a permit! The earlier you apply the better.
First, I want to address a common misconception surrounding legalities on your elopement day. If they're eloping out of state/country, 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 get married is when you say your vows to your partner and commit the rest of your life to them- not necessarily when you fill out a bunch of paperwork.
While you can choose to get legally married on the day you say your vows, you definitely don't have to. 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.
However, if you do want to get legally married on your elopement day, it is essential that you have everything in order. So be sure to research local marriage laws of your chosen elopement destination as these vary greatly!
If you have to apply in person or if you can apply via absentee application
Location Restrictions (i.e. is it valid for the entire state or just the county you obtain it in?)
Additional Requirements: ID requirements, additional paperwork, if any blood tests are needed, what fees you will need to pay, how much a certified copy is, etc.
Leave No Trace
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.
If you're getting married outside, it's probably because you're drawn to nature's beauty and love being outdoors. The way we ensure that nature stays beautiful (so we can continue to come back to these places over and over again) is to make sure that we enjoy them sustainably and responsibly. We're all in this together!
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. Simply put, leave it better than you found it!
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
I encourage you to learn more about how to keep our outdoors safe & best practices for recreating outdoors at https://lnt.org/.
Note: if you haven't done LNT perfectly in the past, it's okay! There's always an opportunity to grow and to learn. Nobody's perfect! :)
Elopements are truly the best way to get married
The experience in which you say your vows to your partner and commit the rest of your life to them matters! You deserve to have a wedding experience that is authentically you and everything you've ever dreamed of (and more).
If you need any help planning your elopement, finding the perfect place to say your vows, or are looking for someone to document your story, I'd love to help you!
Want More Resources?
Get a budget breakdown and learn how much an elopement costs in comparison to a traditional wedding.
Still deciding between an elopement & a wedding? Read these Stories & Advice from Couples who've eloped here.
Hire an Adventure Elopement Photographer for Your Elopement
Hi! My name is Kathleen and I'm an adventure wedding and elopement photographer (and your new friend!) photographing love stories in Arizona, Utah, Washington & beyond. I'm here to help you have the best elopement day experience for *you* and to document every single moment of it. I would love to help you in any way I can and answer any questions you may have! Learn more about me or my Elopement Packages.
Get in touch with me and let's start planning your dream adventure.