How To Plan An Elopement

How to plan an elopement has become a very popular question of late. This year has increased elopement popularity to an all time level. With smaller gatherings required  but couples still wanting the wedding experience I wanted to put together a simple guide on how to start planning your dream elopement and help them understand why you’re not going the traditional route.

Let’s get that out of the way real quick. Eloping is your choice. Be open and honest with your family about your desire to not have a traditional wedding. It’s YOUR day, not theirs. And while some feelings might initially be hurt being able to bring them along with the photos and video of your day will definitely help smooth things over and make them understand why you wanted to be true to yourselves.

Decide your Elopement Location

Here’s a couple things you want to think through before deciding your location:

1) What kind of backdrop do I want for my photos?

2) Do I want to hike or have the ceremony with easy access

3) How many family members/friends do I want to attend

4) Weather

1) What kind of backdrop do I want for my photos?

Background scenery might be the most important of all. It’s going to reflect in all of your photos and it’ll have an impact on everything else. For instance if you want to get married on a mountain peak  that involves a 8 mile hike…chances are your grandma might not be able to attend(But how badass would that be if she did!?).

From a photography point of view the background scenery will reflect in almost all of the moments throughout the day. So think through this one carefully and if you aren’t sure your photographer can definitely help guide you.

2) Do I want to hike or have the ceremony with easy access

Hiking to beautiful locations usually makes for the best backdrops. But with that said you must prepare. If the hike is more than a few miles you’re going to need to bring a pack with all of the usual hiking gear plus your wedding clothes and anything else you want to include in the elopement. I’m always happy to throw extras in my bag. When the hike is really long I often make sure we’re just bringing the essentials for the ceremony to be safe. You want to make sure you leave room for champagne and post ceremony snacks though!

3) How many family members/friends do I want to attend

Most elopements only have the officiant and me(as the other witness). But you can have smaller gatherings which have really gained steam this year with the restrictions in size. If you want to have family and friends attend maybe a mountaintop elopement isn’t the best choice but instead pick something more accessible like a beautiful waterfall or the rocky Oregon coastline at sunset. These find a balance between beautiful locations and having family and friends be there to witness your day.

4) Weather

Weather plays a huge role. Summer elopements are probably the most popular because you have long days of sunshine and the chance of rain/snow is far less. With that said, some people want the snowy look of Mt. Hood in winter or a ice filled waterfall in December. This connects back to location at the top. Think long and hard about how you want the weather to be. I love winter elopements but be prepared for the colder temperatures and base layer up!

Planners aren’t necessary for elopements. They can come in handy if you’re doing a larger one. But for the vast majority and especially with adventure sessions your photographer(me) will play that role. Because so much of the day revolves around lighting and location we step in and take over the traditional planner role.

It’s a win win. You save money and time from not having to involve another party into the planning and the photographer gets to really hone in on making your day as perfect as possible.


Let’s talk numbers. Elopements are typically far more affordable than a traditional wedding because you don’t have as many moving parts(Venue/catering/alcohol). But don’t get me wrong you can still splurge on an elopement. Don’t feel like you have to cheap out. But you have the freedom to allocate the money where you want it to go and not where you feel pressured to put it.

I recently made a simple cost breakdown of an elopement vs traditional wedding which you can view here:

Elopement Cost VS Traditional Wedding Cost

Make It Legal


Make sure you check where you’re eloping to get everything official and legal.

Every county/state will have different requirements so make sure to check on what you need to do to apply for a marriage license BEFORE your ceremony. This is vital and quite easy if you go to your local government’s website.


Depending on where you decide to elope you’ll most likely need a permit. They’re usually quite cheap. Often times you won’t need one at all except maybe a backcountry hiking permit or parks pass. But just like the official marriage certificate this is one aspect you definitely want to make sure you check off before having your ceremony.

Invest In Photography

Banff National Park Adventure Wedding

Ok, so I am definitely biased on this point. BUT elopements are all about those little moments and big moment with beautiful nature inspired backdrops. You want to make sure all of that is captured beautifully. But more importantly because often times all of your friends and family won’t be there to witness it you want to make sure you have amazing badass photos to share with everyone once it’s over. Grandma might not be able to make the 8 mile hike, but we damn well want to make sure she feels like she was there for the moment with the photos.

Have Fun!

I know this is last on the chronological order but it’s probably the most important out of all of the tips.

Eloping is about being true to yourself and making the most out of your wedding day.  I’m hoping this simple how to plan an elopement guide is putting your on the right path. You want to make it one of the best days ever and enjoy the hell out of it. Elopements are so much less stress than a traditional wedding and that’s why I love them. Couples seem to enjoy themselves so much more when they don’t have the pressure of a giant wedding day. That doesn’t mean you won’t stress, that’s normal. But I always tell my couples to focus on the important things and let the silly stuff fall away. Drink champagne, go hike that damn mountain and let’s rock out some amazing photos for grandma.