How to Elope in Olympic National Park
Eloping in Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Seriously! You could be on top of a mountain feeling straight out of the Sound of Music one moment, exploring a mossy rainforest or a stunningly blue lake the next, and ending the day watching the sunset on the rugged coastline (and that's not even mentioning all the gorgeous rivers and waterfalls!). Which is why the Olympic Peninsula holds a special place in my heart and makes an incredible elopement destination. And another great perk of eloping in ONP? There are plenty of lower elevation options- meaning that you can elope without fear of snow in spring or fall! As long as you don't mind getting a little potential rain on you, (because this is the PNW after all).
One of my favorite things to do is help couples plan their Olympic National Park elopement- it really is the quintessential "PNW" experience and there are so many beautiful, hidden gems that would be the perfect place to exchange your vows and get married! So... if you're looking to elope in Olympic National Park, I've got you covered! I'll help you step by step in giving you tons of advice so you can have your perfect day.
***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. 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. We're all in this together.
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...
Your Guide to Planning Your Olympic National Park Elopement- A checklist:
Find an Olympic National Park Elopement Photographer
Hiring your elopement photographer is without a doubt one of the most important things you can do when planning your elopement. It's important that you find someone that you truly connect with- you're going to be spending so much time on your elopement day with them! Make sure to choose someone that you both connect with and feel comfortable around. Trust me- if you don't feel comfortable around them that'll come through in your photos! Additionally, I highly recommend hiring a photographer that specializes in your type of elopement versus a photographer who does not. You want someone with experience in your corner! Elopement photographers are much more involved in the planning process than a typical photographer. They can either make planning a stressful situation or an absolute breeze. Find someone that is experienced, knows the area you are eloping in very well, can give you helpful advice, and help you with location scouting and navigating all the logistics that comes with planning an elopement. And lastly, you have to LOVE your photographer's work and it has to be the style that YOU are looking for. The images your photographer takes will most likely be the only photos you have of your elopement- especially if it will be just the two of you. Find someone who takes that responsibility seriously- who is experienced in all types of sceneries, weather, and lighting conditions. Trust me, your photography is something that you will want to invest in- these will be your living, physical memories of your elopement day for years and years to come.
Luckily, I know a pretty great Olympic National Park elopement photographer, and I'd love to connect with you and help you get started planning your elopement!
Pick a Date for Your Olympic National Park Elopement
Now that you have an incredible photographer, it's time to settle on a date! It is important to know what you're looking for and understand weather patterns, snowmelt, and past trends to best fit what you're looking for.
Do you want raging waterfalls, beautiful rivers, lakes, lush green rainforests, and stunning coastal beaches? Since these are at a lower elevation, these areas don't see much snow and are technically accessible year round with peak season to visit being April-October. If you don't mind the possibility of getting to play in the rain and want to avoid the crowds, I would recommend selecting a date in either April or October (April if you want to visit waterfalls!).
Do you want to see stunning mountain ranges, wildflowers, alpine lakes, meadows, and feel like you walked straight onto the set of the Sound of Music? Or go on an epic backpacking adventure out in the wilderness? Then I definitely recommend picking a summer date! The snow melts here sooner than other areas than Washington, so depending on the specific trail, I recommend a date in mid-June to September!
Do you want to be in a winter wonderland, up in the mountains completely surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains? I recommend choosing February or March as it's the best likelihood of getting a sunny day where you can see the mountains and still have the snow on them!
Best Elopement Locations in Olympic National Park
One of the big ways I help all my couples is through location scouting and helping them find their absolute perfect place to say their vows at. Whenever I first start talking to a couple about their elopement, I always start by asking them how they envision their day. One of the very important aspects to an elopement is the type of scenery a couple pictures getting married in. Do you want to elope on top of a mountain, by a lake or waterfall, in the middle of the rainforest or on the beach? Washington has endless places to adventure in and there are countless beautiful locations. The Olympic Peninsula is full of some of the most intense beauty I've seen in my life- lush green rainforests, flowing waterfalls, crystal blue lakes, towering mountains and ridges that look straight out of a fairytale loaded with wildlife, and rugged beaches lined with rocky sea stacks.
Location scouting for my clients is one of my biggest passions, and in my free time you can probably find me hitting the trails and chasing new views. I only give away my very best locations to my couples, so get in contact with me if you want to become one of them. I can't wait to show you around!
What does "location scouting" mean exactly? Do you have to know exactly where you want to elope before you want to book me? Short answer- NO! I'll help you find an incredible, private location for you and your partner to exchange your vows that fits everything you're looking for. When I location scout, some things I keep in mind are:
What kind of views you want & scenery you want to be immersed in
Whether or not you want to hike (and how long & how much elevation gain if you do)
Any fear of heights
Accessibility needs of guests (and if we want to do a separate ceremony site and a hike just us three afterwards that they aren't too far apart from one another)
Access via roads and if you/guests are comfortable driving off-road
Weather patterns/road closure patterns for your chosen date
How close it is to any other activities you want to do to reduce driving times
Any permits required
How popular a trail is (I try and avoid suggesting the most popular trails so you can be fully immersed in nature and have a relaxed experience and enjoy some solitude saying your vows)
Is the location sustainable to have a ceremony there (taking guests into account) to follow Leave no Trace Principles, not impact other's experience, and to allow you to have privacy while exchanging your vows?
What other activities do you want to do? Do you want to have a picnic, kayak, jump in an alpine lake, backpack overnight, go to a brewery, or look at the stars?
Things from a photography standpoint (is it a wide enough trail, are there places I can get shots where I can still follow LNT? Are there multiple views/angles that I can get? What does it look like? Will the best light be for sunrise or sunset? Etc)
Olympic National Park truly has a trail for everyone. Whether you want to see indescribable beauty just steps from your car, take an incredible day hike out into the wilderness, or even go on an overnight or multi-day backpacking adventure, there is a perfect trail for you to explore and say your vows here! If you're down for even more adventure, considering having a backpacking elopement!! There are SO many trails in Olympic National Park that will bring you into some of the most stunning, pristine wilderness areas I've ever seen. So, if you're looking for more privacy and want to hike & camp for your elopement, I definitely recommend checking out some of the longer trails in the area!
Hire Other Vendors for Your Olympic National Park 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 Olympic National Park Wedding
If you're going to be eloping in Olympic National Park, you may need a permit for your elopement or you may not. Best thing to do? Email the park directly and ask for yourself! Rules change all the time and as frustrating as it is, different people can get different answers. That being said, the most up to date information that I have is if you have LESS than 5 people in your party TOTAL (including any and all vendors such as photographers, videographers, officiant) then you do not need a permit. If you have more than 5 people, then you will need to apply for a permit!
Special Use Permit for Actual Wedding Ceremony
A special use permit is required to be submitted by the couple getting married. The application fee is $50. Submit within 3-4 weeks prior to your date.
A permit is also required for the wedding to be photographed, and costs $100.
Why is having a permit for your elopement so important? While you may be tempted to skip this step, I sincerely urge you to not and to reconsider working with any vendor who tries to encourage you otherwise. Check out my blog talking all about why permits are so important for your elopement and why you should take them seriously!!
Making Your Olympic National Park Wedding Legal
If you're signing your paperwork on the day of your elopement, you want to ensure it's legal! Washington marriage license fees vary by county, and are required at the time you apply. They must be obtained at any County Auditor's office in the state. There is a 3 day waiting period in Washington- meaning you have to get your license at minimum 3 full days before your elopement date or it is invalid. Washington marriage licenses are valid for 60 days after the 3 day waiting period ends. To obtain a Washington marriage license you do not have to be a resident of the state. One or both parties need to appear in person for marriage license application, however there is an alternative method enabling absentee application via mail. You do not need to get married in the same county you receive your license in, it is valid for the entire state.
An ordained officiant must perform a ceremony for you to be legally married. I am an ordained officiant and can perform a short, legal ceremony if you choose. If you desire a longer ceremony, you will need to also hire an officiant. All marriage licenses must be signed by the officiant and two witnesses (min. age is 12). If I'm not acting as the officiant, I can sign as a witness if needed. 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.
Places to Stay in Olympic National Park
I highly recommend holding off on booking your lodging until after you choose your location, it can take longer than you would expect to get from one side of the park to the other. To reduce the amount of travel time on your elopement day, I highly encourage that you stay somewhere close to your location (especially if you want to do getting ready photos). Personally, I love staying in Airbnb's and cabins when I travel. Check out a few of my favorite options:
Forks (Near the coast and Hoh):
Lake Crescent/Port Angeles Area:
Choose Your Activities and Other Details
Now that you have all the major and important decisions made, it's time to decide on the smaller details. Do you want to elope with guests, or just the two of you? If you're eloping just the two of you but want to include family or friends in some way, consider having your closest loved ones write you letters to read on your elopement or Facetime them when you're getting ready. How do you want your ceremony to look like? Begin thinking about what 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). What activities do you want to include on your elopement? Ideas include: hiking, having a picnic, kayaking, taking a helicopter or airplane tour, backpacking, stargazing, having a private chef cook you a meal at your Airbnb, or having a campfire with smores. Do you want to have a first look, or get ready together? Do you want any celebratory drinks or food? Would you like a first dance? Consider planning a special surprise for your partner or of any special, sentimental details that are unique to you or your relationship that you would like to include.
Create Your Olympic National Park Elopement Timeline
Now, with the help of your photographer, it is time to compose your timeline. Leave room for spontaneity and extra time so you don't feel rushed or stressed. Don't underestimate transition times or how long it takes to hike somewhere. Make sure to leave lots of time to celebrate and enjoy the moment! Let yourself soak in every bit of the sunset and breeze, take time to really live in the moment and experience every 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.
Sample Timelines for Your Olympic National Park Elopement:
2 Person Elopement with 2 mile hike
1:30- Photographer arrives at Airbnb, getting ready and detail photos
2:15- First look on the dock, some couples portraits, get ready to go
2:45- Leave Airbnb
3:00- Arrive at trailhead, explore lakeshore, hike to waterfall (taking photos along way)
4:30- Hike pack to car
5:15-Arrive back at car, get ready to go, drive to beach
6:45- Arrive at beach, walk down
7:00- Explore beach, couples portraits
7:45- Ceremony! First dance, picnic with dessert & wine, watch sunset
8:20- Sunset, sit by fire
10:00- Photo coverage ends
Ceremony with Friends and Family followed by Intimate Hike (4-5 miles)
9:15- Photographer arrives at Airbnb, getting ready and detail photos
10:15- First look in forest, some couples photos and get ready to go
10:45- Leave Airbnb
11:15- Arrive at lake, get ready for ceremony and short walk to site
12:00- Ceremony! Some couple photos after
12:45- Family/Friend photos
1:15- Lunch with guests, toasts/champagne pop, celebrate with them
4:00- Arrive at second location, explore around taking photos and having fun
4:45- Leave second location
5:15- Arrive at trailhead, get geared up and ready to go
5:30- Start hiking, taking photos along the way
7:30- Arrive at top, explore around, taking fun relaxed couples photos, first dance
8:30- Picnic with beers and favorite foods to watch sunset overlooking mountain views
9:30- Start hiking back (stopping to take some photos with the stars)
11:30- Photo coverage ends
2 Person Elopement with No Hiking
2:00- Photographer arrives, getting ready & detail photos
3:00- First look, couples portraits, get ready to go
3:30- Leave Airbnb
4:00- Arrive at lake, kayak around, explore and have fun
6:00- Arrive at ceremony location, get ready to go, get to main spot and set up
6:15- Read letters from friends and family
6:45- Ceremony ends, sign paperwork, pop champagne to celebrate, first dance, couples portraits
8:30- Head back to Airbnb
9:00- Arrive at Airbnb, have dinner catered by private chef
10:00- Have campfire and smores, stargaze
10:30- Photography coverage ends
Overnight Backpacking Adventure (~18 miles)
10:00- Arrive at trailhead, gear up and start hiking
Hiking ~9 miles, stopping for photos, water fill-up and lunch