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Yosemite Elopement Guide

Mar 12

elopement

Groom twirls bride on a cliff in Yosemite

Preserved for its unique natural beauty, it’s hard to replicate the image of a Yosemite elopement. Every time you turn a corner in Yosemite, your jaw drops. It’s just stunning. The views are unreal and every hike is gorgeous. Beautiful photos can be taken the entire trip, even on the hike to your ceremony location. You’ll be tempted to pull over and elope right then and there, but when you reach your chosen location, everything will fall right into place. I have goosebumps already.

Yosemite elopement in front of Half Dome

Elopement guide table of contents

Getting a permit

Elopement locations

When to elope in Yosemite

Nearby airports

Where to stay

Elopement timeline

Honeymoon ideas

Hiring an elopement photographer

Getting a permit to elope in Yosemite

The permit cost for an elopement in Yosemite national park is $150 as of March, 2021. You can request a permit as far as a year in advance and no less than 21 days before the ceremony. Start the process of applying online here. As of right now, wedding permits for groups over 10 are not granted. 

Cliffside elopement photo in Yosemite

Where can I get married in Yosemite? 

With 761,266 acres and 115 trails, the elopement ceremony locations in Yosemite are nearly endless. I often encourage my couples to take into account the travel time, trail difficulty and necessary equipment, as well as the amount of tourist traffic to the area.

If you hike to the backcountry, you’ll likely have an entire vista to yourselves. However, it can be challenging to get family and friends to that kind of location.

Here are some questions to ask:

  1. How many people are in my party?
  2. Will they all be comfortable with a short hike? What about a long hike?
  3. What kind of backdrop do I want for my wedding photos? Cliff edges or wooded forests? Waterfalls?
  4. How intimate do I want the location to be? Will I be comfortable if there are tourists around us?
  5. Is it an option to elope in a secluded setting and host the reception in a more accessible location, or will I offend family members?
  6. What’s most important to me, and what will matter in the long run?

Bridalveil Fall

Usually, it’s taboo to wear white to someone else’s wedding. But you can’t fault a natural beauty like Bridalveil falls too much for breaking it. Waterfall weddings — wow, where do I begin?

One of the things that I love about the falls is how hushingly beautiful they are. This can drown out the noise of crowds, but it can also make it hard to hear one another, even when saying your vows! As a result, I often remind my couples that the falls will be the most powerful (and loud) in the spring! The rest of the year is preferred for the views and noise level.

As for accessing the falls, it’s an easy 20-minute hike, perfect for families that aren’t quite up for a full-day adventure. You should also note that there will be plenty of people.

Sound like a good time? And don’t forget that if you’re down for a little adventure at the falls for your elopement photos, your suit and gown are bound to get wet. #daringlovers

  • Glistening waterfall
  • Easily accessible with a short, 20-minute hike
  • Half a mile trail
  • Restrooms at the parking area 

Tunnel View

If you’re feeling up for a fantastic, ever-changing view without any hiking, Tunnel View could be your go-to spot. You can park incredibly close and just walk on over. Put all of your energy into your promises to your lover and the captivating photos for you to revisit afterwards. Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall, and El Capitan are all potentially viewable from this site depending on the season. Every wedding ceremony here will look different from the next given the transforming vista. 

  • No hiking necessary
  • Easily accessible
  • Views of Half Dome, Bridalveil and El Capitan
  • Extremely busy in the summers

Glacier Point

If the weather’s just right at Glacier Point, most of Yosemite Valley will be visible in your wedding photos. During the winter, Glacier Point Road is closed with some variation but that shouldn’t stop you once the snow and ice have cleared closer to the summer. If you want to go in the snow, the trail is reachable after 13 miles with skis making it one of the more difficult journeys to your Yosemite elopement site. It’s well worth it with the expansive horizon on offer. Or you can just wait for the warmer months and drive right to the top. 

  • Easy hike, accessible in summer with a 20-minute drive
  • 13 miles in winter, 1 mile when the road is open
  • Broad vista encompassing much of Yosemite 
  • 3,000+ feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley

Taft Point

The road to Taft Point is the same as Glacier Point meaning the same travel restrictions apply (no easy winter weddings). It’s a moderate hike to the top, taking 1 or 2 hours for the 2.2 mile round trip. Notable are the Fissures you’ll be crossing on your way.  No big steps or leaps required. Photos helping each other across these gaps could be so, so cute. 

  • Not for the faint of heart 
  • Medium difficulty hike
  • 2.2 mile hike
  • Only accessible by skis with a 13-mile trail in the winter
  • Outhouses at trailhead

Clouds Rest

A backcountry location, Clouds Rest offers an almost Olympian backdrop for your ceremony. Even the clouds can attend. However, Clouds Rest is an extremely difficult hike. Traveling in your wedding clothes can make that even more trying (or you can just change at the top). If you’ve got it in you, you’ll be rewarded with the best Yosemite has to offer — a sweeping view of the park in all directions. If you have a fear of heights, it might be best to consider another location.

The road to the trailhead is open usually from June to October. And during the spring, there’s a troublesome outlet that has to be forded. 

  • Sweeping views of Yosemite: Half DomeTenaya LakeMt. HoffmanSentinel DomeNorth Dome and more
  • Difficult, 14.5 mile hike
  • Open June to October (check national park dates while planning!)
  • Bathroom at the trailhead
  • Steep edges
  • Popular hike
  • Small parking lot with overflow room on the road

What time of day is best for my elopement?

This will depend on your location. If your location is east facing, sunrise will be best. If it’s west facing, sunset will be best. And of course, we have to consider the tourists! Sunrise will give you the entire place (almost) to yourselves if you choose a popular destination.

Bride kisses groom on the forehead with the sun setting over the trees in Yosemite

What seasons are most suitable: Fall & Spring

Fall is the best time for elopements in Yosemite. Kids are back in school and Yosemite is far less busy, but it’s not snowing yet. Spring is nice though when the snow melts enough and you can see the waterfall beginning to flow more. Summer is hot and crowded. For those reasons,  I don’t recommend summer for wedding ceremonies. Winter is really snowy and can be beautiful, but it’s challenging to get through the roads.

An all-day elopement lets you do a sunrise ceremony, a picnic later and then sunset photos. You can drive and see the valley and take in so many different feels and sights just by driving around and hiking.

Yosemite elopement photo

Nearby airports

Merced Airport (MCE) is 2 hours away from Yosemite Valley and has public transportation year round. Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT) is 2.5 hours from Yosemite Valley with public transportation from May 15 to September 15. Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH) is 2.5 hours from Yosemite Valley between May/June and November when Tioga Road is open. When Tioga is closed, it can take seven hours to get there. Public transport is available between June and September. All three airports feature convenient and nearby rental cars as well.  More info on travel and airports close to Yosemite can be found on the National Park Service’s website.

Where to stay during your Yosemite Elopement

I would highly recommend the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. It’s the closest place to South Gate, which is the entrance we will need to use. Tanaya is nice. There’s everything from a lodge  to cottages and separate suites to choose from. It’s the closest thing you can get to South Gate, but is on the pricier side of things.

Another place to consider is the Narrow Gage Inn. Older, charming, and quaint are how I’d describe it. You’d be staying in an older mountain location. It’s classic in that way, filled with pine trees and their distinctive savor. From when I’ve stayed here, it’s very, very country, not so modern or hip if that’s what you’re more interested in something fresh and new. 

Oakhurst, California is an hour from the gate. Once you’re in the gate, any elopement location is another hour drive. This makes it a two hour drive for your elopement. Keep in mind: that makes it a four-hour round trip for your elopement day. So, if you don’t mind the drive, there are tons of Airbnbs in Oakhurst.

Yosemite elopement photo

Yosemite Elopement Timeline Samples

2 Day Timeline (Yosemite + Mammoth Lakes) 

Day One

4:00 am Getting ready begins. The couple gets ready separately at their rented cabin. 

5:00  Arrive at South Gate  

6 :00 Hike to Ceremony spot 

6:30 Change into dress and suit 

6:45 First look 

7:00 Ceremony 

8:00 Hike out and drive to 2 nd location 

9:00 Drive to 2nd location but stop at the road outside Glacier Point for photos

9:30 Photos at Glacier Point 

10:00 Drive to 3rd location + stop st Tunnel View for a quick epic photo 

11:00 Hike + Picnic in the valley with family and friends 

 12:00 pm The first day ends, we all hike out, and we look forward to the adventure tomorrow promises to bring

Day Two (just for the couple) 

4:00pm  Hike to lake they wanted to explore together and spend a few hours hiking, enjoying the lake and the waterfalls in mammoth – Stunning sunset photos at the lake

8:00 pm  The two-day elopement adventure is over

Honeymoon ideas 

The best time to perform the elopement ceremony is, by far, in the morning. Fewer crowds, great lighting. This leaves plenty of time afterwards for honeymoon activities like hiking and picnics. You’re already in Yosemite and took all that time to get there after all! So, I find it’s ideal to take the wedding photos and honeymoon photos all in one day. 

If you don’t mind a bit more traveling, Mammoth Lake is on just the other side of Yosemite.

For off-roading, jeeping and the more adventurous side of things, go to the Sierras on the other side which are more remote.

Hiring an elopement photographer

If this is our first introduction, I am stoked to meet you! I’m Heather Anderson, a California elopement photographer for adventurous couples who want to say their vows in the wild outdoors. I work as a photographer, location guide and elopement expert so you can take in the views and rich feelings of your special day without any distractions. 

No matter what, I encourage you to find a photographer who gets you and your vision — whose adrenaline will be pumping almost as much as yours when the sun rises over Half Dome and vows are whispered.

And of course, you should love the photographer’s work, musing over what your adventure elopement could look like.

If you’re up for a wildly romantic adventure, run to my contact page so we can get the process started. 

Yosemite elopement photos

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