How to Elope in Moab
The Ultimate Moab Wedding Planning Guide
There's something so magical and wild about Moab. It's a truly magnetizing place that draws you in and makes you feel alive. It's a feeling that's hard to describe until you've experienced it for yourself, but it's a place that will keep you coming back for more.
With two National Parks, various state parks and plenty of BLM land surrounding Moab, there are countless adventures to be had. I grew up in the desert and am forever enchanted by it, but anyone who spends a few hours here will tell you that it's a special place. As a Moab wedding photographer, this is one of my very favorite locations for couples to elope.
An adventure lover's paradise, there are endless trails to explore and things to do. Whether you love to hike, stand up paddle board, go off-roading in a Jeep, go canyoneering, or something a little crazier like BASE jumping- there's something in Moab for everyone.
That's not even mentioning Moab's incredible natural beauty. Stunning red rock formations contrast with the blue sky and the lush green landscape. The La Sal mountains sit distantly on the horizon, capped in a dusting of snow in the winter. Impressive canyons stretch on for miles and massively tall arches tower above you that are sure to take your breath away. (Not to mention the fact that the desert has the most stunning sunrises & sunsets ever!) There are countless locations where you can elope in Moab that would be absolutely incredible! I'd love to help you find your perfect Moab elopement spot.
Another bonus to eloping in Moab? Everything is fairly close to town! You can access these phenomenal outdoor locations, have fun adventures, and come back into town for a great meal and have plenty of options of places to stay.
The search for the best place to elope in Moab ends here- I got you covered. Lets plan your dream desert elopement!
***Leave No Trace Disclaimer***
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.
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!
Why should you care?
If you're getting married outside, it's probably because you're drawn to nature's beauty and love being outdoors. To keep nature beautiful, we must ensure that we enjoy it sustainably and responsibly. We're all in this together.
One of the biggest things to note in Moab is the living biocrust! As they say, "don't bust the crust".
This cryptobiotic soil is not only alive, but functions as an important part of the desert ecosystem! It isn't just dirt like you may be used to in other places, so it is important to be able to identify what it looks like and to stay on established trails to ensure you don't crush the crust as it can take years to regenerate.
Here are a few websites expanding more on what it looks like and why it's so important to preserve that I encourage you check out! One, Two, Three.
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 and best practices for recreating outdoors at https://lnt.org/.
Alright, now into the good stuff...
Planning Checklist for Your Moab Wedding:
Find a Moab Elopement Photographer
Hands down, one of the most important decisions you can make when planning your adventure elopement is choosing your elopement photographer. It's SO important to find someone that you both truly connect with, get along with, and feel comfortable being yourselves around. You're going to be spending your entire wedding day with them and elopements are a lot more of an intimate experience, so a good fit with your photographer, both personally and professionally, can really make or break your day.
I would highly recommend hiring a photographer that only specializes in elopements instead of a photographer who doesn't and only does them occasionally. Elopement photographers are much more involved in the planning process than a typical photographer is, and a lot more is expected of an elopement photographer versus a traditional wedding photographer! Find someone that is experienced in both photography and in the type of adventure you wish to have. Your photographer should know the area you're eloping in, give you helpful advice, and help with location scouting and figuring out logistics.
Lastly, your photographer's images will most likely be the only photos you have of your elopement- especially if you are eloping just the two of you. Find someone who takes that honor and responsibility seriously and who is experienced with photographing in different sceneries, weather, and lighting conditions. Trust me, photography is something that you want to invest in- these images will be your living memories of your wedding day for years to come. Luckily, I know a pretty great Moab wedding photographer and I'd love to connect with you and help you get started planning your elopement. Contact me for more information on my Moab elopement packages and we can get started!
Pick a Date for Your Moab Elopement
After you choose a photographer that's the perfect fit for you, it's time to choose a date! The best time of the year to elope in Moab is either March-May or September-November. Summers in Moab are very hot- not something that is ideal for your wedding day in my opinion! Eloping in these months allows you to take advantage of more mild temperatures. Spring will bring wildflowers and lots of greenery (however it also brings a higher likelihood of winds) and in the fall you will experience similar beautiful weather and can even find some beautiful fall colors (although be prepared for other adventurers as this is a popular time to visit)!
Pro-tip: No matter what month you elope, I *always* suggest eloping on a weekday so you have the absolute best chance of seclusion and privacy! I also recommend avoiding any holiday weekends (including Jeep Week!).
Best Places to Elope in Moab- Moab Wedding Venues
One of the biggest ways that I help my couples is through location scouting and helping them find their absolute perfect place to say their vows. Whenever I first begin speaking with a couple about their elopement, I always start by asking them how they envision their day and try and get a clear idea of what they want.
Location scouting for my couples is one of my biggest passions, I truly believe that there is a perfectly unique spot for everybody. Which is why I don't give the same, standard, curated list of 5 spots to every couple that comes my way. I really work to get to know YOU- your needs, desires, wants and expectations. From there, I build a customized location list with options that I believe fit everything you're looking for and more. But, I only do this and give away my very best locations to my couples, so get in contact with me if you want to become one of them!
Moab is hands down one of my absolute favorite corners of the desert, with so many beautiful places to enjoy and adventures to be had. Moab is truly the perfect place to elope! Here are just a few of the many places to consider for your Moab wedding:
Dead Horse Point State Park (Check out this Dead Horse Point Wedding!)
BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land (various locations, like Castle Valley!)
Private Venue (like the Red Earth Venue or other resorts. You could even have your wedding at Moab Under Canvas!)
Hire Other Vendors for Your Moab Elopement
Now it's time to decide what other vendors you want to hire to help you with your elopement and what you want to DIY. The vendors you choose are completely up to you- one of the best parts of eloping is that you can do whatever you want. Common vendors you can consider include: an officiant, hair & makeup artist, florist, a videographer, private chef, elopement announcements, and any additional adventure activities. Pick and choose whomever you'd like- it's your day!
Permits for Your Moab Elopement
Depending on where you want to elope, you may or may not need a permit for your elopement day. The permitting process can be incredibly confusing and overwhelming- let your photographer help you! Permits are SO important to get and are a necessary part of the experience. Permits help protect the lands we love and recreate in. They are not very expensive- especially when you compare the price of a permit to the price of a traditional wedding venue. Additionally, if you don't get the required permits you are risking your elopement day. If you run into a Ranger patrolling, they WILL ask to see your permit. Failure to have a permit can result in fines and you getting kicked out of the park- essentially ruining your elopement day. Trust me, it's not worth it.
The two most common types of permits are a Special Use Permit (required for the actual wedding ceremony and submitted by the couple getting married) and a Photography Permit (covering professional photography, may be covered under Special Use Permit or may be separate). The cost of permits range greatly (from $0-$800) but in my experience the vast majority range around $100-$200.
**FYI: Pretty much every spot in Moab requires at least one of these permits! But not to worry, I've dealt with helping couples acquire permits many times (and have my own required permits to shoot around Moab), so I'm here to help you as well.**
Making Your Moab Elopement Legal
If you decide to sign your paperwork on the day of your elopement, you want to ensure it's legal! A Utah marriage license fee varies by county (~$50) and it must be paid when the license is issued. The marriage license application must be completed and submitted to a local Utah Court to get a marriage license issued. Each party must be present to fill out part of the application. If you're out of state, you can contact the court for further instructions to apply via absentee application. There is no waiting period required and your license is valid for 30 days. You do not have to be a resident of Utah.
An ordained officiant must perform a ceremony for you to be legally married. All marriage licenses must be signed by the officiant and two witnesses (over the age of 18). If you're eloping with just the two of you, witnesses can be fellow hikers or visitors (most people will be more than happy to be a witness for you!). We can do the legal ceremony with witnesses, and then you two can exchange your vows privately. Your officiant files your paperwork for you.
And remember- don't let paperwork stop you from having your dream day! If this is stressing you out and you're coming in from out of state, you can always sign the paperwork at home and say your vows on your elopement day. Your wedding day is the day you commit the rest of your life to your partner, not when you sign paperwork. If that's all that's standing in your way- it doesn't have to be that way.
Logistics: Arriving, Getting Transportation, and Booking Your Lodging
If you're flying into Utah, the closest international airport is Salt Lake City. This will be the closest, most economical option for flying into Moab. However, you will still need to rent a car and drive ~4 hours. There is a regional airport, Canyonlands Field Airport, however it is smaller- meaning less flights available that are generally more expensive.
Pro-tip: check Google Flights for flight deals, they have a feature that allows you to see flight prices based on the day and you can easily choose the cheapest dates to fly. For renting a car, I suggest checking out Turo! I've had pleasant experiences in the past and it is usually much cheaper than a standard rental company- think of it as Airbnb but with vehicles.
When it comes to planning your elopement, picking where you’ll stay is almost as fun as choosing your ceremony spot. It’s the place you’ll wake up on your wedding day and where you’ll come back to after you’re married.
When you're ready to book your lodging, I suggest viewing it as part of your whole elopement experience. Stay somewhere that you'll really enjoy spending time together and having fun at, it is your wedding day after all! I love Airbnb's, cabins, treehouses- just to name a few. Think about any special amenities or splurges you may want to have (hot tub, pool table, firepit, nice bathtub) and take that into consideration when choosing a spot!
Here are some of my favorite Moab lodging recommendations:
Choose Your Moab Elopement Activities and Other Details
Alright, now that you've handled all of the biggest decisions and settled on the main things, its time to get to work on some of the smaller details. Do you want to elope with guests, or just the two of you? If you decide to have an elopement just the two of you, but want to include family and friends who aren't physically present, consider having your closest loved ones write you letters to read sometime during your elopement or Facetime them when you're getting ready.
Start thinking about what traditions you want to include in your ceremony, how you want it to be structured, and ideas to make your ceremony extra special. What do you want to say in your vows (and on that note whether or not you want to write them in vow books as keepsakes from the day). Go shopping for your elopement attire (if you need inspiration, check out this Best Elopement Wedding Dress Guide). Consider if you want to have a first look or if you want to get ready together. What would you like to drink and eat throughout your day? Do you want to do a first dance? Consider planning a special surprise for your partner or think of any special, sentimental details that are unique to you and your relationship that you want to include in your experience.
What activities do you want to include on your elopement? I always suggest to do something that makes you feel the most alive, happy, excited, and in love! It's your wedding day after all- you should enjoy it to it's fullest. Do something that feels right to YOU, not what you feel like you *should* do. Whatever you want to do, whatever fills you up the most- is 100% valid. There's SO much to do and explore in Moab, so I wanted to provide a few ideas of what you could do during your elopement that are specifically unique to Moab:
Rent a Jeep and go off-roading to an incredible, remote location in the desert to watch an amazing sunset or sunrise (the desert has the best around!)
Go stand up paddle boarding or kayaking in the river to cool off during the day
Take a hot air balloon ride over the desert and admire the views from above
Ride horses together through the desert and take a picnic to enjoy
Charter a private airplane to fly to a remote airstrip in the desert to enjoy complete privacy and incredible views
Go BASE jumping! (You could go on the Moab Spacenet!)
Go canyoneering, rock climbing, or just explore the beautiful desert features Moab has to offer.
Stargaze in some of the most incredible, clear, night skies around
Check out local Moab breweries & restaurants
And that's just the beginning!
Create Your Moab Elopement Timeline
You're getting so close, you're almost there! Now, with the help of your photographer, it's time to start putting together your timeline for your day. Leave lots of room for spontaneity and extra time so you don't feel rushed or stressed. Make sure you don't underestimate transition times or how long it takes to hike somewhere. Ultimately, it's important to leave ample time to celebrate and enjoy the moment! Let yourself soak in every last drop of the sunset and the breeze, take time to really live in the moment and experience every single second. I also recommend working with your photographer to decide the best time of day and lighting for your photos based on the location you choose. Some locations photograph better at sunset while others are best at sunrise. Still need help visualizing what a real elopement day timeline looks like? Check out these sample timelines for more inspiration! *Note: these are not based on a particular time of year and times and sunset/sunrises are completely made up for informational purposes*
Sample Timelines for Your Moab Wedding:
Off-Roading Jeep Adventure Elopement
3:45 AM- Photographer arrives. Getting ready & detail photos. Have coffee together & finish writing vows
5:45 AM- Leave Airbnb and travel to Ceremony location
6:45 AM- Arrive at location, get ready, find ceremony spot
7:00 AM- Ceremony!
7:45 AM- Ceremony finishes, celebrate being married! Explore around area, taking fun & relaxed couples photos
9:30 AM- Leave & head back to Airbnb
10:30 AM- Arrive back to Airbnb
5:00 PM- Photographer arrives back at Airbnb. Play music for each other or play games.
5:45 PM- Private Chef catered dinner
7:00 PM- Travel from lodging to sunset spot
7:30 PM- Explore around, take fun & relaxed couples photos, first dance, watch the sunset
9:00 PM- Head back to Airbnb
9:30 PM- Arrive back at Airbnb, roast s'mores over a firepit and stargaze
10:15 PM- Photographer departs, coverage ends
Hot Air Balloon Moab Wedding
4:15 AM- Photographer arrives. Getting ready & detail photos. Have coffee together & finish writing vows
6:15 AM- Drive to hot air balloon launch site
6:45 AM- Arrive at meeting spot for hot air balloon launch
7:00 AM- Hot Air Balloon over Moab
9:00 AM- Land, some fun couples photos w/ hot air balloon, breakfast picnic and read letters from loved ones that aren't present
4:45 PM- Meet at sunset/ceremony location. Get ready to go.
5:15 PM- Ceremony!
6:00 PM- Explore around, take fun & relaxed couples photos, first dance, watch the sunset
8:00 PM- Sunset
8:30 PM-Head back to cars, drive to Airbnb
9:15 PM- Enjoy hot tub, drinks & dessert
10:00 PM- Photo coverage ends
Intimate Wedding with Friends & Family
11:00 AM- Photographer arrives. Getting ready & detail photos. Have coffee together & finish writing vows
1:00 PM- Leave Airbnb
1:45 PM- Arrive at first look location
2:00 PM- First look, explore around and take a few fun couples photos
3:00 PM- Leave for ceremony site
3:15 PM- Arrive at ceremony site, get geared up and ready to go
3:30 PM- Short walk/hike to ceremony spot
4:00 PM- Arrive at top, freshen up and get ready for ceremony
4:15 PM- Ceremony!
5:00 PM- Ceremony ends, celebrate! Photos with family & friends
5:30 PM- Explore around, take fun & relaxed couples photos, first dance, watch the sunset
7:00 PM- Sunset
7:15 PM- Start walking down to cars
7:40 PM- Arrive at cars, drive back to Airbnb
8:30 PM- Arrive at Airbnb, private chef catered meal with guests
9:30 PM- Dinner ends, s'mores over firepit, listen to music, play games, etc.
10:15 PM- Photo coverage ends
What to Pack for Your Moab Elopement
Wondering what to bring with you? I've got you covered with this packing list
Wedding Permit (if applicable)
Marriage License (and pen!)
Parking Pass (if applicable)
Vows and any other sentimental details
Snacks and lots of water
Extra layers of clothing (the weather can change drastically very quickly! It gets pretty dang cold out in the dark so you want to be prepared!)
Bug spray!! (especially in the height of summer when the bugs are at their worst)
Headlamps (for hiking in the dark for sunrise or sunset elopements)
Trash bag (Leave no Trace!)
And that's it (well, unless you decide to go backpacking or on another adventure. Then you'll need a lot more supplies). I'll bring all the rest. I am a chronic over packer when it comes to elopements and will have everything that you need (including the stuff you didn't even think about!). I'll have lots and lots of snacks, energy/coffee shots, extra layers and blankets if you need to borrow them, a first aid kit, my elopement emergency kit (basically my Mary Poppins bag ranging from medicine, hair and makeup touch up supplies, to a Tide to go pen!).
Yay! It's finally here, the day you've been waiting for. You and your partner get to go and get married, say your vows and commit the rest of your lives to one another! I hope it's everything you've dreamed of. So relax, have fun and enjoy the absolute best day ever.