How to Elope in Washington
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
Washington Elopement Planning Guide
Do you want to elope in Washington? Well, you've come to the right place. Stunning mountain ranges, jagged peaks, peaceful alpine lakes, volcanoes, rugged coastal beaches, mossy rainforests, wildflowers, waterfalls, and glaciers, - Washington truly has all the best places to elope.
Home to incredibly diverse scenery, and some of the most breath-taking, stunning views around- Washington is an adventure lover's paradise and the perfect elopement destination. Whether you want to hike, go off-roading, climb, ski, backpack, camp, skydive, kayak, star gaze, or white water raft, there are endless activities you can do on your elopement day.
The search for how to elope in Washington ends here- I got you covered!
Hi, I'm Kathleen, a Washington elopement photographer, and your new friend. I put together this comprehensive Washington elopement planning guide with adventurers like you in mind, informing you on everything you should know before having your elopement in Washington state.
Washington is hands down one of the most underrated states (and elopement destinations) out there. There's incredible beauty to be discovered, adventures to be had, and endless places to explore! Filled with the best and prettiest scenery that nature has to offer, Washington is the perfect place for your 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.
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 Washington Elopement Planning Checklist
1. Find a Washington elopement photographer
Choosing an elopement photographer is one of the most important things to do when planning your Washington elopement! It is important that you find someone that you truly connect with- after all you're going to be spending your entire wedding day with them. Choose somebody that you both get along with and feel comfortable around.
Additionally, I would suggest hiring a photographer that specializes in elopements, as elopement photographers are much more involved in the planning process than a typical photographer is. They should be able to help you with location scouting, logistics, planning, and give you helpful advice. It's also important to choose someone who knows the Washington area well and is experienced not only with elopements, but with the type of adventure you're looking to have (you don't want a beginner hiker or backpacker on your wedding day!).
Lastly, find someone who takes telling the story of your elopement seriously and is experienced with photographing in different sceneries, weather, and lighting conditions. Trust me, your photography is something that you will want to invest in- these will be your tangible memories of your day for years to come. Luckily, I know a pretty great Washington elopement photographer, and I'd love to connect with you and help you get started on planning your elopement or adventure wedding. If you want to elope with me, contact me and we can get started!
2. Pick a date
After you find a photographer, set a date! The best time to visit Washington is June-September. However, it really varies on where you want to elope, what type of scenery and weather you're looking for, and what elevation your desired elopement area is in. It's always important to research the weather for the specific region in where you want to elope! Snow can still be in the mountains well into the summer, which is an important factor to consider when planning. (Check out below where I go more in depth for the best times to elope in different areas around Washington)
If you want to elope in the prime, absolute best months out of the year, then I would suggest July, August and early September. This is when you'll have the best weather, a low chance of rain, the higher elevation trails in the mountains will be accessible, wildflowers will be blooming, and the PNW is a paradise.
Note: it's always best to have a Plan B location, just in case! While these are the best months to elope in the mountains, and the only months many trails are accessible, it is also wildfire season- which is impossible to predict. Having a Plan B in a different region of the state is the best way to be prepared for any situation that comes your way!
Pro-Tip: When eloping in the prime, summer months, consider eloping on a weekday! This will help significantly with helping you get some privacy and seclusion for your elopement compared to choosing a weekend date.
If you want to elope in the shoulder season for a higher probability of seclusion (a lot less tourists & locals are on the trails at this time), I would suggest April-June and Late September- October. While not all locations will be accessible during that timeframe, you can find many beautiful, lower elevation spots that are (many of my favorites for this time are on the Olympic Peninsula!).
3. Pick a location
Now, you should start deciding on a specific location to elope! Where you have your elopement 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.
This is a huge part of how I help in the planning process. For every single one of my couples, I do customized location scouting and send a variety of ideas that align with their vision & wants. I've listed my favorite generalized locations in this guide to help get you started!
To find amazing locations, I love using Washington Trail Association, local hiking Facebook Groups, AllTrails, Google Maps, and state directories to find spots. These resources are fantastic for you to utilize as well! Note: I only disclose my "local secret", most favorite spots to my couples- you can become one of them by contacting me.
4. Decide your timeline and work out the details
Next, it's time to start working on more of the nitty, gritty details.
Decide if you want to elope with guests or just the two of you
Figure out what you want your ceremony to look like, and start writing your vows
Get ideas of How to Make Your Elopement Ceremony Extra Special
Go shopping for your elopement dress or attire
Add in any extra adventures you want to do on your day (more on that at the end of this blog)
Think about whether or not you want to have a "first look", and if you want any celebratory drinks or food
Book any necessary travel, rental cars, and lodging
Consider planning a special surprise for your partner, and think about any personal details you may want to include.
Then, compose your timeline- leaving lots of time for spontaneity, so you don't feel rushed or stressed. Work with your photographer to decide the best time of day and lighting for photos. Make sure to leave lots of time to celebrate and enjoy the moment! If you're struggling to create a timeline, check out What do You Do on Your Elopement Day for timeline examples & activity ideas!
5. Hire other vendors
Decide what other vendors you want to hire to help with your elopement. Examples of good vendors to consider are: an officiant, videographer, hair & makeup artist, florist, elopement announcements, food & drink, and any additional adventure activities. You can include whichever vendors you'd like, and skip the ones you don't want- it's your day!
6. Get your permits & apply for your marriage license
Make sure to research what permits you need to visit, park and hike at a location. Additionally, some locations will require you to have a special use permit to get married there or for your photographer to take photos of your elopement. Don't skip getting your permits! You don't want to risk getting a hefty fine, not being able to have your elopement documented and even thrown out of a location simply because you didn't take the necessary steps. Learn more information on permits for Washington elopements to make sure you're covered!
If you're getting legally married on your elopement day- don't forget to get a marriage license. Keep reading below to find out how to make sure your elopement is legal! Alternatively, many couples choose to complete the legal paperwork at home (if you're traveling from another state) 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! Don't let paperwork and technical logistics get in the way.
7. Get married
It's finally here! This is the day you commit your lives to one another and get married. Get ready for an incredible day full of fun, love, and adventure.
Best Time of Year to Elope in Washington
Below you will find the best time of year to elope for different regions around Washington. This is based on average temperatures, average precipitation, average snowmelt, average road openings & closures, and past trends.
It's important to note that summer in the mountains & at higher elevations is different and much later than summer at sea level! Temperatures drop significantly and precipitation may vary the higher you go into the mountains. In some higher elevation mountain locations, snow can be present well into the summer and can make access to trail heads difficult.
Always do specific location research and read past trip reports online. Not only do they give you updated information on the trail, they're helpful in determining past weather & condition trends. Knowing what conditions you should encounter will allow you to be the most prepared before travelling to a location. (It's also why hiring an experienced adventurer as a photographer is important!)
Best time to elope in Mount Rainier National Park
The best time to elope in Mount Rainier is from mid-July through September. This is when the snow has melted off the trails, leaving them dry & accessible, the roads are open, and everything is lush and blooming. Mid-July through Mid-August is best for wildflowers! While it may seem late, the area receives quite a bit of snow that takes time to melt! Summer in the mountains is later than summer at sea level.
Best time to elope in North Cascades National Park & Mount Baker Wilderness
The best time to elope in the North Cascades & Mount Baker Wilderness is July-September. That being said, there are a very wide range of elevations in this region. Some locations may be snow-free and able to be visited in June, while others will be inaccessible until the end of July. So it's best to do location specific research and know what you're looking for before deciding on a date.
Best time to elope in Olympic National Park
The best time to elope in Olympic National Park is April-October. Since this area is at a much lower elevation, the timeframe in which you can elope is much longer. That being said, there are certain higher elevation spots in the mountains that are best from mid/late June-September. Additionally, if you go during the "shoulder season" you have a higher chance of having precipitation on your elopement day: April (~11 days per month), May (~13 days per month), June (~10 days per month), October (~14 days per month).
Best time to elope in Snoqualmie Pass, Central Cascades, & Alpine Lakes Wilderness
The best time to elope in Snoqualmie Pass, the Central Cascades, & the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is June-September. This does come with a caveat that some higher elevation locations may not be best in June, so be sure to do research on any specific spots as this is very general advice on a very broad area. However, many parts of this region melt out sooner than the North Cascades & Mount Rainier, so you can visit them earlier in the season. June & September will have a higher chance of precipitation (~10 & 9 days per month) than July or August (~5 days per month).
Making It 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 in person or by mail in absentee application (this is especially helpful if you are applying from out of 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.
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.
All marriage licenses must be signed by the officiant and two witnesses (min. age is 12).
Note: 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.
Best Places to Elope in Washington
Washington has some of the best trails in the US, and is a paradise for adventure enthusiasts and outdoor lovers alike. With countless trails to choose from, there is something to please everyone, whether you're looking for a beautiful spot to drive up to, a short hike, a backpacking trip, or something in between. From the rugged coast, lush rain forests, towering volcanoes, stunning mountain ranges, serene alpine lakes, and waterfalls- Washington truly has it all. Check out some of my favorite regions to explore! I only share my top favorite, secret locations with my couples- become one of them by contacting me!
Mount Baker Wilderness and North Cascades National Park
The Mount Baker Wilderness & North Cascades are my absolute favorite spots in the entire world. I love to hike & camp here as much as possible in the summers! The North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks (although it is becoming a much more popular place to visit within recent years), making it the perfect place for those who seek seclusion and the wild.
Want to elope in the North Cascades? Check out my North Cascades Elopement Guide for a more detailed review & advice for planning your elopement there.
Olympic National Park
From lush rain forests, beautiful mountain ranges, waterfalls, rivers, and the rugged coast- Olympic National Park is the most diverse option for those wanting a variety of sceneries on their elopement day. You could realistically visit the beach, forest, a waterfall, and the beach in one (admittedly very long) day. The beach pictured below is one of my favorite beaches I've ever visited. The sea stacks were unlike anything I'd ever seen before!
Want to elope in Olympic National Park? Check out my Olympic National Park Elopement Guide for a more detailed review & advice for planning your elopement there.
Mount Rainier National Park
Home to arguably the most famous mountain in the state, Mount Rainier National Park is a sight to behold. Another one of my favorite places in the world (and hands down my favorite mountain ever!), Rainier is captivating. A truly magical place, Mount Rainier would be another excellent choice for any adventure wedding or elopement.
Pro-tip: Summers in Mount Rainier are absolutely phenomenal! The wildflowers are unbelievably beautiful, it's like an explosion of color. This is also a very popular and well visited park, so I suggest eloping on a weekday to get the highest chance of seclusion!
Want to elope in Mount Rainier National Park? Check out my Mount Rainier National Park Elopement Guide for a more detailed review & advice for planning your elopement there.
Close to Seattle, the Snoqualmie National Forest has many unique treasures and locations to explore. There are many lakes, waterfalls, and mountain trails that would be perfect to exchange your vows at!
Other areas in Washington that I love to explore include the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (if you like to backpack, there are SO many great spots here!) & the Central Cascades!
Logistics: Getting Here, Places to Eat, Places to Stay, & Things to Do
If you're flying into Washington, chances are you'll be flying into the Seattle-Tacoma International (SEATAC) Airport. 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 by looking at the monthly view. Depending on your elopement location, you may want to rent a car that is 4WD & high clearance. A lot of the best spots have the worst roads and require a car that can handle it with ease. When deciding on a location, know your comfort level with tricky roads and make decisions accordingly. Don't drive on any roads that you don't feel comfortable on and get yourself into any bad situations!
If you know me, you know I love to eat (and drink craft beer)- and luckily Washington has tons of delicious food and brews. Here are some of my favorite places to go after a day of hiking and adventuring:
Toshi Teriyaki- People in Washington each have their loyalties to different teriyaki joints, and this one is mine. The food is delicious and a hearty meal after a day of adventuring!
The North Fork Brewery- A great stop for a beer and some food after hiking around Mount Baker or the North Cascades!
Voff Bark and Brew- If you have a furry friend, you both will adore this place! There's tons of craft beers on tap and it doubles as an off-leash dog park.
Beechers- I love everything about cheese, and Beechers makes the best mac and cheese ever, hands down.
Lady Yum- I'm also a sucker for macarons. Lady Yum makes some of the best macarons I've had.
Nourish- They grow a lot of the food they make, and everything I've had here is delicious! This makes a great pit stop in Sequim on the way to Olympic National Park.
Dicks Drive-in- A cheap drive-in, Dick's burgers are satisfying for any late night craving!
Rainier Base Camp- A great stop in Ashford after visiting Rainier for drinks and some food. It has a fun atmosphere and has great food!
Washington is a large state, with many different regions that would be perfect to elope in. To reduce travel time on your elopement day, I recommend staying somewhere close to your location (especially if you want getting ready photos). Personally, I love staying in Airbnbs and cabins (check out all these beautiful A-frame cabins near Mount Rainier National Park!) when I travel. Here are some cute options for you to consider:
Mount Rainier National Park:
Little Blu A-Frame at Mount Rainer
Cozy A-frame cabin at Mount Rainer where nature and adventure awaits
The Little Owl Cabin at Mount Rainier
Chateau Marmot at Mount Rainier
Betsy's Cabins at Mount Rainier
Olympic National Park: