How to Elope in Yosemite National Park
KATIE BERG PHOTO || Yosemite elopement photographer - Updated guide for 2023
Whether it's basking in the mystical sunsets on Half Dome and El Capitan, exploring the beauty of Yosemite Falls or running through the green, grassy meadows of the Valley floor. I'll be there to capture every second of your love in one of the most mesmerizing parts of our country. Because you deserve more than just incredible photos, you deserve the ultimate adventure in the most perfect and memorable place imaginable.
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An epic place for epic love
It’s no secret.
Yosemite is not only one of the most beautiful locations in Northern California, but also one of the most beautiful and magical places on this planet! And it just so happens to also be a personal favorite of mine! In fact, it’s a place I hold very dear to my heart.
I remember growing up and road tripping through this magnificent park with my family in absolute awe of the grandiose vistas and the glow from the evening sun shining through the valley. Yosemite National Park is also the first place my boyfriend and I travel together, where he proposed to me between El Capitan and Half Dome with the soft morning light basking down on us. I left Yosemite with a fiance and a bunch of new, sweet and treasured memories. If you’re eloping in Yosemite, or thinking about doing so, let me be the first to say “HECK YES!” I’m head over heels with excitement for you guys and rest assured that no matter the season, the time of day or weather, this sprawling landscape full of waterfalls, cliff sides, woodlands and more will ALWAYS deliver.
In this guide, we will cover:
My husband and I eloped! It’s true! We made the decision to have a small, intimate, intentional and meaningful wedding day in a national park with only 25 of our closest family members. And it was magic!
Eloping isn't about saving money or the stress of a bigger, more traditional wedding. It's all about YOU and the connection you share. It's about creating the most meaningful and incredible experience for you and your relationship. It's beautiful, emotional, intimate and unforgettable.
Whatever your reasons are for eloping, it truly is the most incredible way to start your new life together with a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the most special and unique way and as an extra added bonus — it opens up all the possibilities of marrying in an absolutely EPIC location!
Still not sold on whether or not you should elope? Check out my blog post below!
FOR THAT ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME “JUST THE TWO OF US” EXPERIENCE
How to elope in Yosemite national Park
1. Send me an inquiry for a FREE elopement consultation
2. Choose your dates and length of trip
3. Hire me to help you plan your epic day — I’ll help you plan EVERYTHING from locations, vendors and timelines to day-of activities, permits, accommodations and anything in between
4. Apply for a marriage license
5. We’ll have an adventure in the location you chose in Yosemite National Park, create some epic pics and celebrate the start of a new chapter of your lives together!
Best time to elope in Yosemite national Park
When planning your elopement, one of the biggest things to take into consideration is the time of year! While it’s true that there’s no time of the year where you won’t get the most amazing experience of your life, each season will still bring its own unique set of elements to the day that you might want to consider when choosing your elopement date.
SPRING: Yosemite in the Spring time is so so beautiful! This is when the park is at its most green and the waterfalls are gushing like crazy! One thing to keep in mind with springtime in Yosemite is that the valley meadows and fields are often left a little muddy from all the rain. If you're not afraid to get a little dirty, this shouldn't be a problem! When it does rain, it's usually light but it's still a good idea to bring umbrellas just in case. The clear kind are my favs and make for super cute rainy pics as well.
SUMMER: Yosemite National Park is by far one of the most popular National Parks in the United States, especially in the summer. Between school being out for the summer, families vacations and visitors coming from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the park majesty, June, July, August become the absolute busiest time for tourists in the park. Which means even at sunrise, it can get pretty crazy and crowded.
FALL: Late summer - fall is my personal favorite time of the year to elope in Yosemite! The roads are all still open and the weather is still pleasant while most of the tourists have begun to diminish.
WINTER: Some of the most monumental, iconic viewpoints in Yosemite (ie: Glacier Point and Taft Point) are CLOSED in the winter. If these are two locations that are strongly on your heart to experience, consider aiming for an elopement in the late spring, summer or early fall if possible to maximize the likelihood of the road access.
Make sure to check out their Current Conditions page for all things weather, road closure and wildfire related.
Sunrise or Sunset?
PROS: Do you want to hit up some of Yosemite's most prime locations like Glacier Point and Taft Point without much, if any, disturbance from other tourists? If so, plan on doing a sunrise ceremony! Especially during the summer time when foot traffic is at an all-time high, places like these can get extremely crowded extremely fast. At sunrise, you'll have a better chance of privacy and get to experience some of the soft light perfect for photos.
CONS: Don't let Google Maps fool you - unless you're staying inside the park itself, be prepared to drive 1-2+ hours into the park to get to the best locations in Yosemite. In order to get there before sunrise, means a super early, before-the-crack-of-dawn start time so you can get ready and be prepared to leave your lodging in time. If you aren't a morning person, this isn't always the most ideal and can also be harder if you have guests.
Nailing down your timeline for your ceremony is absolutely essential to giving yourselves the best chance at having the best lighting, most comfortable weather, privacy and a good experience overall. As an elopement photographer, I specialize in finding the most perfect light for my couples and unless its an overcast or cloudy day, I ALWAYS recommend having a sunrise elopement or sunset elopement because this is when you'll get the most beautiful and golden light imaginable! Still, there's some pros and cons - so let's go over those together!
PROS: Take your time, kick back, explore and relax because have the whole day to take your time, enjoy yourselves! If you have any guests with you, this is usually the best option to make sure everyone can arrive on time and be ready to go. Plus you can include other events in your day like getting ready photo or a first look with you partner, parent or even with your pup!
CONS: If you aren't wanting to do a first look with your partner but are also wanting to explore multiple spots within Yosemite National Park, this might not be the best choice for you. Light goes away quickly in the park and the best locations take some time getting to meaning you'll likely be limited to only one location for your ceremony and portraits.
Do I actually need to have one?
Yes! If you plan to elope in Yosemite National Park, you will need a special use permit, which costs $150. Whether you’re having an official ceremony or not, this permit will be required.
You can apply for this permit up to one year in advance and no more than 21 days prior to your elopement.
the best locations in Yosemite national park
It can be difficult to figure out what would make the perfect place for your ceremony site when there are so many gorgeous options to be found in yosemite national park. ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION THAT THE NATIONAL PARK SPANS OVER 1,169 MILES! WHEN PLANNING YOUR LOCATIONS, MAKE SURE TO DO YOUR RESEARCH. NOT ALL SPOTS ARE CREATED EQUAL AND SOME CAN TAKE OVER AN HOUR TO ACTUALLY GET TOO! BELOW ARE SOME OF MY FAVORITE OPTIONS TO GET YOU STARTED.
Taft Point is ideal for sunset. The hike to the top is just a short uphill walk through a lush, green forest that opens up to a viewpoint of the Yosemite Valley. Here you will have your breath taken away by an overlook of the sheer, massive granite walls the valley is made out of, dipped in golden sunlight as the sun sets. It’s about a 15-25 minute walk from the parking lot and open usually from late May through October or November. This lookout is CLOSED in winter. I recommend eloping here on a weekday and to make sure to bring headlamps / flashlights for when it gets dark!
[Glacier Point Road will be closed to all traffic in 2022 to rehabilitate and improve the road. During this time, there will be no vehicle access to wedding sites; the only access will be via a long, strenuous hike.]
Glacier Point is often considered one of the most gorgeous places in Yosemite which is no surprise as it offers insanely majestic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Yosemite’s high country. It’s just a short walk up a paved trail to the main viewpoint which is great for family member accessibility. It’s also the perfect location for a sunrise elopement! Although it can get pretty crowded up here in the summer. The head of the trail is accessible by car usually from late May through October or November depending on the weather and how soon winter hits. Once it does, this lookout is CLOSED for the winter. I recommend eloping on a weekday and in the late summer / early fall.
This location is a classic favorite for many reasons! It’s one of the most famous, iconic, dramatic and most photographed landmarks in the whole park due to its expansive views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Three Brothers and Bridalveil Falls and on the way from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point, which means it can have a tendency to attract a lot of tourists. But it also holds so many unique, hidden locations within it and away from all the hustle and bustle of others, which is why it’s one of my favorite spots. Unlike Glacier Point and Taft Point which closes once winter hits, Tunnel View is accessible by car year-round.
This location has a similar view to Tunnel View but it's significantly more private! I recommend trying to come here at sunrise instead of sunset, because the sunrise will light up the valley just over Half Dome and will give you the most gorgeous light ever! The trail isn't very long either, which is a plus, however it can be a bit slippery from the melting snow in the early spring / winter months. This trail also has the potential to be closed due to snow, fires or other weather concerns so keep an eye out for this.
EL CAPITAN MEADOW
This little meadow is smack in the middle of Yosemite Valley with a stunning view of El Capitan in the background. Depending on which view you want, El Capitan will be best visited in the morning (it’s too bright in the afternoon) or Cathedral Rocks which will best best visited in the morning or right before sunset. I highly recommend visiting this spot in late summer - fall. It’s also accessible by car year-round!
This spot is INSANELY gorgeous and often overlooked because it can be easy to miss. You pull of onto the side of the road into a super small parking lot (there’s less than 10 spots) and walk out to a little river that will give you the most perfect jaw-dropping reflection of Half Dome and El Capitan.
HALF DOME MEADOW
This spot is stunning! It’s a bit of a drive but it’s so worth it! You get two giant fields to choose from and it's super easy to get to if you're trying to find somewhere in the valley to stay. During the summer though, it can sometimes be hard to find parking and isn't always the most private due to its proximity to Curry Village.
Betcha didn't think Yosemite had a lake didja?! Honestly though, Yosemite's got it all and Tenaya Lake is no exception. This beautiful alpine lake is tucked away along Tioga Road which takes you from Yosemite Valley through the Sierra Nevadas and into the end of the Mammoth area. It's about 50-60 minutes from the valley area, but insanely beautiful and crystal clear, especially in the mornings. I definitely recommend sunrise here, but just make sure to check with the park first as it's often closed completely between November through May depending on the weather.
WHAT ABOUT THE WIFI?
WHAT TO WEAR TO YOUR ELOPEMENT
Prepare to lose service on around the beginning of your drive into the park. If you have Verizon, you’ll have the best service inside the park, but even still, it will be spotty at best. Make sure to keep this in mind when planning out how you will communicate with family, guests or vendors when it comes to the elopement day! If you need too you are able to find wifi in the following spots in the valley:
Big Trees Lodge Sun Room
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Lobby & Restaurant
Half Dome Village Clubhouse
At the end of the day — wear whatever the heck you want! Part of the beauty of eloping is getting to do things your own way. So whether it's a a ball gown, a flowy boho number, a black dress or your mother's vintage gown — where whatever feels like YOU. An elopement is all about you two and whatever makes you feel comfy, confident and hot as hell. Oh — and make sure to wear comfortable shoes with good traction and grip! You'll most likely be exploring, climbing on rocks, walking through fields and hiking up mountains all day and the last thing you want is to have ill-fitting footwear ruin the mood
Where to stay
The Ahwahnee Hotel (also known as The Majestic Yosemite Hotel) is the pinnacle of luxury in Yosemite National Park. It's definitely one of the higher-end hotels, but if you can swing it, it's absolutely worth visiting! Buried deep within the valley, it's one of Yosemite's most iconic buildings. It's got everything from incredible dining to wine tasting to tasteful decor and architecture.
YOSEMITE VALLEY LODGE
Yosemite Valley Lodge is the second nicest hotel in Yosemite Valley apart from the Ahwahnee Hotel. It's more budget friendly and has an excellent restaurant and bar. It also has a stunning view of Yosemite Falls and serves as a hub for bus tours of Glacier Point and the Mariposa Groves.
Want something in between the of luxury lodging and full on camping? AutoCamp Yosemite might be for you! AutoCamp Yosemite is complete with cute custom Airstreams with spa-inspired bathrooms, modern cabins with chic interiors and kitchens and thoughtfully created tents with wood burning stoves. Plus private patios and campfires and all the sites as well! What could be better?
WHITE WOLF LODGE
White Wolf Lodge has 24 canvas tent cabins and four wooden cabins to choose from. It's similar to Curry Village, but is significantly less crowded and less noisy which is why I choose White Wolf Lodge over Curry Village. If you're into spending the night in a rustic cabin while getting away from the crowds, White Wolf might be for you! It also provides easy access to some great hikes within the park (Clouds Rest, North Dome, 10 Lakes) that start off of Tioga Road. Each tent comes with bed, bed linens, towels and a cute wood burning stove.
Where to eat
This is super important because ya gotta eat on your wedding day! 🙂 Food inside Yosemite can be a little pricey so make sure to bring lots of snacks while we run around the park! If you’re looking for some options for dinner with your guests after your ceremony, breakfast to start off the day or something in between (looking at you lunch!) then here are some of the best places in Yosemite to chow down at.
BIG TREES LODGE DINING ROOM ($$)
This is consistently a favorite with visitors. It's in an upscale Victorian hotel (how cool?!) and has a sweet little fireplace perfect for enjoying a glass of wine or champagne. Make sure to make reservations though! This place is also gluten-free and vegan friendly.
THE AHWAHNEE DINING ROOM ($$$)
Located inside the The Ahwahnee Hotel (The Majestic Yosemite Hotel). They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and is a great option for a luxury, upscale experience and perfect for a pre or post wedding dinner. With vaulted ceilings, stained glass, rich wood and massive chandelier, it's super romantic and guaranteed to WOW. Their dinner service books up pretty quick so make sure to make reservations if you can. This place is also gluten-free and vegan friendly.
HALF DOME VILLAGE PIZZA PATIO ($$)
Did you know that there's a climbing tradition in Yosemite that revolves around coming down to the valley, taking over the Pizza Patio and swapping climbing stories? If you visit, chances are you'll be able to listen to some and they're pretty fun! The pizza is sooo good too. Perfect for after a hike or a quick pick-me-up snack. Stay away from the gluten free pizza though - it's a no go for suuuure. Trust me on that.
BASE CAMP EATERY ($)
Base Camp Eatery, formerly Food Court, can be found inside the Yosemite Valley Lodge. The serve breakfast, lunch and dinner using a variety of local / seasonal ingredients in the menu. Bonus: there's also a Starbucks coffee bar - you're welcome in advance.
Okay guys -- I’m gonna get real here. No matter how beautiful Yosemite is, I promise you the bathrooms are the exact opposite. It’s bad. Most of the bathrooms inside the park are outhouse-style which (I’m just gonna be honest) means that there will be a lot of... for lack of a better word...smell. Not only is it a precarious hand-over-mouth-and-nose situation, it can also very unsanitary. If you need to use the bathroom, I’d personally recommend on having a list mapped out beforehand of all of the flushable, clean bathroom options within the park. Here’s a list of all of them!
THE AHWAHNEE HOTEL (this is by far the best one with the best lighting! Perfect for make-up touches!)
BIG TREES LODGE (these are inside the lobby of the Wawona Hotel)
HALF DOME VILLAGE (these are right next to the restaurant inside the Curry Village)
YOSEMITE VALLEY LODGE (the second best option you can have besides the Ahwahnee Hotel)
YOSEMITE VILLAGE (they’re basic at best. Better than the outhouse-styled ones but still not great, so don’t use these if you’re wearing your wedding dress.)
MARIPOSA GROVE (these ones are the most recent and brand new ones available!)
Bathrooms... cuz we gotta talk about it
Altitude sickness is no joke and not something to mess around with. Hiking up certain places in Yosemite National Park (like Glacier Point which is over 7,500ft in elevation) can be a shock to someone who's never experienced higher altitudes before. Altitude sickness aka "mountain sickness" usually happens when you walk or climb to a higher elevation, or altitude, too quickly. The symptoms can feel like a really bad hangover -- dizziness, headaches, muscles aches, vomiting and nausea. Not a fun time.
Typically this is more likely to happen in the summer months because of what the heat does to the air, but it's always safe to sit in the shade, sip some water and snack on some pieces of dried ginger or Gatorade the second you begin to feel not so great.
Choosing the right photographer
As an adventure elopement photographer with lots of experience in Yosemite National Park, trust me when I say that skimping out on a photographer is something you should definitely not too. Especially not in Yosemite and ESPECIALLY not on your most beloved and special day.
Yosemite is gorgeous, but can be difficult to shoot in if you don't know what you're doing. You want someone who knows the in's and out's of the park so well that you can just relax and have the most fun, stress-free, adventure-filled day the two of you deserve!
I'm more than just a photographer. I'm your wedding planner, cheerleader, travel guide, pack mule, best friend and more. Why? Because I'm 110% in this for you! Whatever you need, no matter what, I've got you. I'm the photographer who wants to be with you every step of the way because you deserve a someone who will go all out for you and get to know the REAL you.
Let's create something beautiful together and bring your most wild wedding day dreams to life!
So whaddya say? Are ya ready to start planning your ultimate dream elopement?!
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