Here's a complete guide on everything you need to know on how to elope in Yosemite National Park!
1. You can save a ton of money
2. Have infinite more time to spend with your person
3. The freedom and flexibility to choose where and how you want your day together to look
4. The ability to slow down and remember every little detail
5. Quality time to spend with your favorite people
Light-wise, sunrise and sunset are typically the most beautiful, soft, and flattering!
For the least amount of crowds, I recommend sunrise (because no one typically wants to wake up at 3am). In the summer months, this is almost crucial! The best part about a sunrise elopement is that not only do you get to beat the crowds, you get the whole rest of the day to spend together, married! And let me tell you, sunrises in Yosemite are 100% worth waking up early for!
On the flip side, sunsets are some of the most incredible i've witnessed in Yosemite too, and you don't have to wake up early for them! Not to mention, the beautiful golden meadows in the late afternoons... evening sessions are easily some of my favorite times to shoot in Yosemite.
Something to keep in mind about the Sierra Nevada mountain rage, is that the light can hit differently due to the variety of altitudes. Sunrise times can be slightly later, as the sun takes longer to come over the peaks. Times of year can affect this too, as well as where you witness the sun come up.
One of the most important first steps to elope in Yosemite, is choosing the right ceremony location! A big key thing to note: If your party is 11 people total or under, you are free to pick a ceremony location that is not on the official Yosemite National Park Service's list. If your party exceeds this number, then you must choose from one of their pre-picked locations on their list. Be sure to check out the website for a full breakdown of each location's rules, regulations, and seasonal accessibility!
*In 2023, Glacier Point Road will have 30 minute delays due to road rehabilitation and repairs*
Best time of day: Sunrise
There is good reason why I'm listing this location as my number one. The fact that you can get this incredible view of Half Dome and the valley floor from a short distance from the parking lot, makes it perfect for ANYONE to enjoy!
The way the sun comes up behind Half Dome and filters down into the valley.. there's just nothing like it! There's so much diversity in terms of shooting locations too, so we can easily enjoy it anywhere, away from people!
Best time of day: Sunrise
I love this location because you can get a wide vantage over the whole valley! With views of Half Dome, El Cap and Bridal Veil, you can really get a full essence of Yosemite. It's one of the most popular locations, because it's one of the first glimpses most people have when coming out of the tunnel from the south entrance, and you can view it right from the parking lot!
It can be a fairly crowded place throughout the day, with few places to park. But with a very short/easy walk from the parking lot, we can have this view nearly all to ourselves, and read your vows in almost complete privacy!
Best time of day: Early Morning
This is one of my favorite locations on Yosemite's NPS list, because it offers so much diversity! From tall trees, to open meadows, to the famous swinging bridge that crosses over the Merced river, to the views of Yosemite Falls! My favorite time of year here is spring, when the falls are at it's peak, as well as autumn for all the nearby colorful aspens and oaks!
One thing to note is that this location can get fairly crowded throughout the day and has very limited parking. Early mornings is generally the best time to beat the crowds!
Best time of day: Late afternoon
This spot is another location on Yosemite's NPS list. It runs along the Merced River, and has a beautiful view of El Cap! It's the perfect location for larger groups/ceremonies. It even has nearby picnic tables for a casual reception for your friends and family to celebrate, post ceremony! Though, in the springtime, this beach can be completely flooded.
Best time of day: Morning and late afternoon
I may be biased, but my husband asked me out on our first official date in this meadow! So as you can imagine, it's a special place to us. It's also a popular viewing spot to watch rock climbers on El Cap! The light here is always so beautiful too, as the sun bounces light off El Cap, acting as a giant reflector. I also love how light pours through the two cathedral rocks. It's by far one of my favorite meadows in the park.
Best time of day: Sunset
With cliffs as high as 3500 feet, Taft Point is probably one of the most popular locations in the world, in most recent years.. and for obvious reason! We've met many people around the world that'll travel far and wide, just to see this very spot that they've seen all over Instagram!
It's by far the most incredible (and my personal favorite) spot to witness sunsets. It's a fairly easy to moderate, one mile hike out, one mile hike back. It's usually pretty heavily trafficked, with extremely limited parking. But the area itself is fairly vast, and has many beautiful locations along the hike out to take photos!
Once you've chosen your desired date and location, it's time to get a wedding permit to lock it all in! To do this, all you need to do is download the application, fill it out, and mail it to the address on their website, along with $150. Once approved, they'll email you a copy of your permit, and that's it!!
These can be requested up to one year in advance or as little as 21 days in advance. Though you'll wanna do this ASAP, as it's on a first come, first serve basis!
If you're celebrating with a slightly larger number of guests, and are looking for a wedding reception for your intimate wedding or elopement, these are a few I recommend inside or nearby the park! These are all places I'd also recommend for anyone who's looking for a place to stay while visiting Yosemite!
- The Ahwahnee Hotel: One of the most stunning and historic hotels, built in 1927, located in the heart of Yosemite valley! Offers both outdoor ceremony spaces, as well as an indoor reception spaces
- Yosemite Valley Lodge: This lodge offers a banquet room, and located within the valley, just walking distance from Yosemite Falls!
- Wawona Hotel: Built in 1876, this beautiful historic hotel is located within the park, about 10 minutes past the south entrance
- Autocamp: Definitely the most stylish venue around, located in Midpines, where you and your guests can stay in cool, modern airstreams and cabins!
- Tenaya Lodge: This four star hotel is located just off highway 41, less than 10 minutes from the south entrance. Offers both indoor and outdoor ceremony and reception spaces
- The Evergreen Lodge: Luxurious cabins with gorgeous outdoor ceremony and reception spaces, located 40 minutes outside the north entrance of the park
- Rushcreek Lodge: Sister lodge to the Evergreen, just 15 minutes apart from each other. Has a beautiful forest ceremony space, and an indoor reception space with tons of window lighting
- Paradise Springs: One of my personal favorite venues, tucked deep within the lush green forest. Located about 35 minutes from Yosemite's south entrance
- Airbnb: There are tons of airbnb's that allow for smaller events! If you're looking for one's within the park, i'd recommend Yosemite West or Wawona. Otherwise, try looking anywhere within Fish Camp, Mariposa, Midpines, Bass Lake, and Oakhurst
There are 13 total campgrounds in Yosemite National Park, four of which are in Yosemite Valley! Some campgrounds are reservable, while others are on a first come, first serve basis, and fill up very quickly and early each day. Totally worth all the hassle though, if given the lucky opportunity to camp in Yosemite!
This is one of my favorite activities to do in Yosemite! I used to do all the time back when my husband used to live in the park. In my opinion, this is one of the BEST ways to explore the valley, and really take in all the sights! There are a few different bike rentals available in the park too, so you don't even have to bring your own! *PRO TIP* In Yosemite's busier season, this is almost necessary to avoid all the traffic!
Bet you didn't expect me to mention shopping, now did ya?! If you love Yosemite, then chances are you'll love all the merchandise that many of the convenient stores have to offer! No matter how many times I frequent Yosemite, I always somehow find myself buying more cute Yosemite knick-knacks! There's so many different stores throughout the park, but my favorite two are the Village Store and the Yosemite Valley Lodge Gift Shop.
There are so many different bus tours you can take, both through private companies and through the national park services. There are even hiking tours, as well as night tours in the summer that can show you all the constellations! I may be biased, but I HIGHLY recommend checking out Discover Yosemite and requesting my husband Chad, as your tour guide! ;)
There are a plethora of hikes to take in Yosemite! A few of my favorite easier hikes are: Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, Mirror Lake, & Lower Yosemite Falls. If you're feeling a tad more adventurous, I recommend The Mist Trail (in spring) and The Four Mile Trail (if you want to access Glacier Point when the road is closed). And if you REALLY wanna challenge yourself, I'd recommend Half Dome (which you'll need to get a permit for), and Clouds Rest.
A fun way to take in some of the sights and you can get a personal tour along with it! If you happen to have a horse, you can even bring your own! Horseback riding is only available May - September.
There are tons of amazing places to eat along the way up, especially in Oakhurst! Besides all the fast food options, here are a couple of me and my husband's favorite places to grab a bite for the road, or after a long day of adventuring!
The Pizza Factory- Probably the best pizza you'll find anywhere in the Yosemite area! If you happen to be driving back down the 41, I recommend saving your appetite until you can make it here.
* PRO TIP* On the way down from Yosemite, my husband and I like to call and order ahead the moment we get cell service, so it's ready for pickup by the time we get there!
Pete's Place- They have a huge variety of breakfast and lunch options, and there's food is AMAZING! Though expect a long wait if you pick the drive through option - totally worth it though!
Tacos Sonora- Literally the BEST Mexican food you'll find in the Mariposa area!! Located across the street from the parking lot of the Pioneer Market.
You might be surprised to discover just how many restaurants and places there are to grab a quick bite to eat in the park! Here are a few I recommend checking out:
Pizza Deck (Open January through November) - A great place to sit down and enjoy pizza, salads and cold drinks on the deck, with views of Glacier Point and the Royal Arches! From a personal experience, the pizza is not the most amazing in the world, especially for the price, but it sure hits the spot after a day of adventuring! Definitely the best pizza you'll find anywhere in the park!
Coffee Corner - Lots of coffee options, and even fresh scooped ice cream!
Meadow Grill - breakfast burritos, burgers, rice bowls, salads, and even lots of vegan options
Seven Tents Pavilion- an indoor food court with lots of home cooked meal varieties!
Base Camp Eatery - Lots of variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner options!
Starbucks - Yep, you read that right! This is located just off to the right of the Base Camp Eatery entrance. Definitely worth stopping in to grab your favorite Starbucks order! Though, do expect a long wait to get it.
Mountain Room - A more luxurious sit down dinning option, with stunning views of the falls while you enjoy your steak or seafood.
Mountain Lounge- One of my favorite lounges for the vibes and the overall atmosphere! There's a giant fireplace in the middle of the room to keep ya cozy in the colder months, good music, furniture to relax in, and appetizers & cocktails to enjoy!
Degnan's Kitchen - lots of sandwiches, salads, soft drinks, pastries, pizza, and coffee is served here
The Loft at Degnans - walk upstairs to the loft to watch a game on TV, enjoy a beer or wine, BBQ, wings, ect
Village Grill Deck - available only in the warmer months - with burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs!
Village Store - One of the largest grocery stores within the park! Plenty of snacks, drinks, sandwiches, and produce to grab!
If you're feeling extraaaa fancy and wanna celebrate your honeymoon or anniversary with some fine dinning and a cocktail, I highly recommend The Ahwahnee! Just know there will be a higher price tag for it it.
It can be overwhelming when trying to navigate all the factors that go into planning an elopement. That's why vendors can be a huge help in minimizing some of the stress! The beauty with elopements is that you don't need to hire as many vendors as you would with a big wedding, but here are a few local vendors I recommend, that you might wanna consider!
This isn't always necessary to have, especially the more low-key your elopement is. Plus you have me, your photographer, to help plan the majority of it with you! However, if you are planning a slightly larger wedding or a reception that has a lot of details that you'd rather leave up to a planner or event stylist, then you might wanna consider having one!
What I've seen most couples do, and I recommend doing, is having one of your friends or family members officiant your wedding, so that it's more personal to the two of you! From what I heard, it's pretty easy to get ordained online. Here is an article that may be helpful if you want to have someone you know get ordained for you!
+ Shane Ham
+ (lighting) @lightupthewalls