Yosemite Elopement Guide – How to Elope in Yosemite National Park
Even driving through Yosemite National Park is an awe inspiring experience – but imagine saying your vows in front of the granite walls and towering peaks. Imagine hiking through dense forest and being rewarded with incredible views of the glacier-carved valley. For any adventurous couple who’s decided to ditch the traditional wedding and get married in a way that feels true to them, a Yosemite elopement might be the perfect choice. Not only do you get to tie the knot amongst some of the United States’ most incredible scenery, you will also get to avoid the pressure and expectations that often come with a big wedding. If you’re planning your elopement, or you still need a little convincing, this guide will teach you all about how to elope in Yosemite National Park!
About Yosemite National Park
The incredible views you see in Yosemite today were carved by melting glaciers, centuries ago. As the water ran through the valley, it slowly eroded the rock, forming the granite walls, domes, and peaks! In 1864, Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant, which was the very first time (in the US) that a piece of land was protected by the government for its natural beauty. This sparked the idea for national parks, and Yosemite became the country’s third national park in 1890.
Before you start getting into the details of your Yosemite elopement, here are a few things you should know!
If you’re traveling from outside of road trip distance, the closest airport to Yosemite National Park is the Fresno Yosemite International Airport. It will be a little over an hour drive to the south entrance of the park. Although sometimes, you will find cheaper and more frequent flights from the San Francisco International Airport, two hours from the entrance.
You can also fly into Los Angeles or San Diego, and take an Amtrak train to Merced, and rent a car there. You will need to rent an Uber because the train station is about 2 miles from Enterprise. Otherwise you can take an Amtrak bus all the way to Yosemite Valley.
Once you’re in California, you will need a rental car to explore the park. While there are public transportation options, they’re often crowded, and will limit where you can go on your elopement day!
Weather For Your Yosemite Elopement
Your elopement date will depend a lot on the weather! Like all mountainous regions, the weather in Yosemite National Park changes dramatically throughout the year.
Winters are great for skiers, and anyone who wants to elope in a winter wonderland! You will also need chains on your tires in order to access some of the roads. Some trails will also be inaccessible.
Spring can be a good time to explore the lower elevation areas of Yosemite National Park! This is because the snow begins to melt and this is an amazing time to see the waterfalls! But, the longer and higher elevation trails often stay snow covered into July.
Summer is a great time for a Yosemite elopement if you want to hike! This will be because the weather is warm and the snow is almost gone! All roads are usually open by late May or June, so you’ll be able to explore more of the park this time of year. However, it’s important to know that summer is also wildfire season in California. Yosemite’s wilderness means fires can reach the park and even some of the hotels. From June to October, the risk of fires can be high. Which means even if they don’t reach the park, nearby fires can create unhealthy air quality and a haze that blocks the views. While you can’t predict wildfires, it’s important to be aware that you may need a backup plan!
Early fall is one of my favorite times to visit Yosemite. The crowds will start to clear out, the weather is perfect and you can see the leaves change. The weather is less predictable, and snow can start to accumulate pretty early, so be prepared with extra layers!
On your elopement day, you probably don’t want an audience when you say your vows! But, the views in Yosemite draw thousands of visitors each day, and it can be hard to find a private spot.
The best way to avoid crowds is to elope in the winter, but eloping when the weather is a little more optimal, right before or right after the busy season (July and August) will help a lot too! No matter when you elope, I recommend planning your ceremony for a weekday, as weekends draw out more crowds. By eloping while most people are at work, you’ll get a lot more privacy!
Choosing A Yosemite Elopement Location
If your elopement includes 10 people or less (this includes the officiant, photographer, and other vendors), you can elope anywhere in the park – as long as you stay on trail. Nature is more fragile than we tend to think. It’s important to follow park rules, which include only walking on durable surfaces and avoiding any plant life!
For elopements that include 11 people or more, the park has limited spots where you can have a ceremony to reduce crowding. But, there are plenty of options, and you can always explore the rest of the park before or after the ceremony!
These are the location options for groups of 11 or more, but be sure to check out NPS.gov for the most up to date information.
Yosemite Elopement Locations
- Cascades Picnic Area
- Lower Yosemite Falls
- Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
- Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
- Sentinel Beach Picnic Area
- Bridalveil Falls
- Glacier Point Amphitheater
- Chilnualna Falls Parking Lot
- Tenaya Lake Beach
- Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area
- Tuolumne Grove
- Merced Grove
It’s also important to know that national parks are not very pet friendly. Dogs are not be allowed at the ceremony, but they can join you for photos in spots around the park! They will be allowed in parking lots, campgrounds, and on paved roads. You can check out paved overlooks and a few paved trails in the park where dogs are allowed. If you want to include your dog in your elopement day, check out these trails:
- Wawona Meadow Loop
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Lower Yosemite Fall Loop
- Cook’s Meadow
- Chowchilla Mountain Road
Legalities & Logistics For Your Yosemite Elopement
Amongst the excitement of planning your elopement and finding aceremony spot, there’s some less exciting stuff… like paperwork. But don’t worry, I’ve got everything you need to know to make sure you’re legally married!
Your marriage license needs to be obtained in the state your ceremony is taking place in – so for a Yosemite elopement, that’s California! You can go to any county clerk’s office in the state, but the closest one to the park is in Mariposa County. You’ll need your application (which you can find here), a photo ID, and $60 cash. Marriage license fees vary by county, so be sure to check with the office. Some offices only accept cash!
If you’re traveling from out of state, make sure to give yourself enough time to visit the office in person before your elopement. The marriage license expires after 90 days, but there is no waiting period!
You’ll need an officiant for your elopement. ULC.org makes it easy to get ordained, so if there’s someone you trust, having them perform your ceremony can add a personal touch to your elopement. But, hiring a professional officiant means they’ll be able to create a personalized ceremony – so decide what feels right to you.
In California, you only need one witness to sign your marriage license. If you don’t have any guests attending your elopement, you can ask any of your vendors to sign. You can even ask any two people you meet in the park! The only requirement is that they be at least 18.
Even if you’re having the tiniest two-person ceremony, you will need a permit for your Yosemite elopement. You can find the application here, and you’ll need to pay a $150 application fee as well. Applications must be turned in at least 21 days before the ceremony, but I recommend doing this earlier to give them enough time to process it, and to avoid any stress. You can apply up to a year in advance!
The park is now requiring a reservation to enter, due to how many people visit! These become available a month in advance, and you can grab a reservation here. There is a reservation fee, but it is the same as the cost of entry to the park, $35, so you won’t have to pay twice!
Where to Stay
You can stay anywhere from a campground to a luxury resort, so decide what you want to come back to after a day of adventures!
Yosemite Valley Lodge
Yosemite Valley Lodge is located near Yosemite Falls, and has options for different size rooms. The glass walls of the lodge allow you to see the views of the park!
Known for the spectacular views of Half Dome and Glacier Point that can be seen from The Ahwahnee, this hotel is even listed as a historic landmark!
Curry Village offers hotel rooms, cozy cabins, and canvas glamping tents! Located beneath Glacier Point, the park’s trails are easily accessible from the Village.
Tenaya Lodge has private cabins, guided tours, and even a spa! This is the best place to stay if your dog is coming along for your elopement. They have dog friendly rooms, offer doggy daycare, dog massages, and a pet concierge.
This unique spot is located right outside the park. At Autocamp Yosemite, you can stay in some futuristic Airstreams, luxury tents, or log cabins!
Activities For Your Elopement
Your elopement day should be an adventure – so this isn’t just a quick ceremony! There’s so much to do at Yosemite National Park, so plan something that will make this the best day ever. Here are a few things you can do.
Whether it’s a quick walk or a backpacking trip, there are tons of amazing hikes in Yosemite! If you’re feeling extra adventurous, this can be a good way to get away from the crowds. Explore on your own, or hire a hiking guide to create a totally customized hike! Travel Yosemite offers private and group tours, and Lasting Adventures provides guided hikes year round, from day trips to backpacking treks.
Yosemite’s remote location makes it incredible for stargazing! Imagine ending your elopement day with views of the night sky – what could be better?
You can rent rafts (or bring your own) at Yosemite National Park and explore the Merced River! Kayaks and canoes work too, and this can be a fun addition to your wedding day.
Hiring A Yosemite Elopement Photographer
Hiring an elopement photographer is one of the best things you can do for yourself on your elopement day – and that’s not just me tooting my own horn! Of course, there are the amazing photos you’ll get back to remember the day, but there’s also finding a location, building a timeline, and more. With an experienced elopement photographer, you’ll get a planning assistant, personal cheerleader, adventure buddy, and of course, photographer, all in one!
If you’re ready to elope in Yosemite, contact me, and let’s start planning your day!
Otherwise, if you want to browse through more photos from Yosemite, check out this elopement at Taft Point!
Written by Anna Tee | Edited by Leah Rivera