Last Updated on December 6, 2022
Here’s the thing – you deserve to get hitched, tie the knot, say “I do,” get married, any damn way you please! And if hundreds of invitations, a wedding in a stuffy ballroom, and spending hours on color schemes and seating charts just doesn’t sound like your jam, you can elope instead! There’s no better place for an adventurous wedding day, one that’s anything but ordinary, than the cascading waterfalls, towering granite cliffs, huge sequoia trees, and lush forests of Yosemite National Park – so if you want to ditch tradition, shed expectations, and get married your way, this guide will tell you how to plan your Yosemite elopement, and how to get married in the park!
Here’s what you’ll find in this Yosemite elopement guide:
One of the first things you’ll need to do as you dive into planning your epic adventure is set a date for your wedding! Yosemite looks pretty different in the winter than it does in the summer, and the date you choose will have a big impact on the experience you have. Seasons and weather are a huge factor in choosing a date, so here’s what you need to know!
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Yosemite National Park. Seasonal road and trail closures usually last until May or June, so summer is when the park is most accessible, and you can get to (almost) all of the hikes and locations without having to make your way through the snow!
Temperatures are warm and sunny, usually in the 80s during the day – but keep in mind that as you drive through the park, or hike on the trails, you’ll find yourself at different elevations, which means conditions can vary. In high elevations it can feel a little cooler, while exposed lower elevation valleys can feel hotter. It also gets chilly at night, so always bring layers!
The good weather and open trails mean visitors come to Yosemite from all over the world in the summer, so you’ll need to be prepared for crowds. Make bookings and reservations early – like, at least six months in advance for lodging and accommodations early.
Early summer, in the beginning of June, can be an amazing time for a Yosemite elopement – though there can be some snow still hanging around, most roads will be open and there will be fewer people around! Plus, you’ll see the waterfalls at their most beautiful thanks to the melting snow, and blooming wildflowers make for a gorgeous backdrop.
One thing to keep in mind if you want to elope in the summer is the wildfire season. Unfortunately, wildfires have become pretty common in the area, affecting visitors just about every year. This usually happens towards the end of summer, after months of hot, dry weather – so if you plan your elopement for August or September, keep in mind that a Plan B is a good idea in case of smoke or fires.
Fall is pretty short in Yosemite – snow usually starts falling in October, so trails and roads start closing around this time. September is one of the best times for a Yosemite elopement, because the crowds start to dwindle, but the weather is still warm and sunny! September temperatures can be more comfortable than the heat of summer, but they drop quickly as winter gets closer.
You can spot a little bit of fall foliage in Yosemite, but most of the trees are evergreens – regardless, it’s a gorgeous time to tie the knot and get away from the summer crowds!
If you love snow, you’ll love the winter wonderland in Yosemite! Though most of the park is inaccessible, you can go skiing at Badger Pass, and you can visit the Yosemite Valley and Wawona areas for snowshoeing or for a wedding-day snowball fight. You’ll need snow chains for your car, but if you bundle up and bring some hot chocolate, you’ll enjoy a really unique view of the park, and you’ll have it nearly all to yourself!
Spring is pretty unpredictable at Yosemite – March and April are usually still cold and covered in snow, so you won’t be able to access most of the park. Things start to open up in May, and the park gets warmer! May, along with September, is one of the best times for a Yosemite elopement – it’s right before the busy season begins, so you’ll have more solitude. It’s an amazing time to see the waterfalls in full force, but be prepared for sudden storms or chilly days!
To get married in Yosemite National Park, you’ll need to get your butts over there!
The park is easy to get to from anywhere in the world – so if you need to fly here, you’ll likely land at the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport, the airport in San Francisco, or the one in Sacramento. The Fresno-Yosemite Airport is the closest to the park – a 2.5 hour drive. The San Francisco Airport is a lot bigger and usually has more flight options at better prices, but it’s four hours away from the park, while Sacramento is a three hour drive.
You can rent a car at either airport – which I definitely recommend doing! Though Yosemite does have a shuttle service, having your own transportation gives you the most flexibility, and allows you to go wherever, whenever.
The incredible scenery is probably the reason you decided to tie the knot in the park, so choosing your Yosemite elopement location is unbelievably exciting! With waterfalls, valleys, granite cliffs, and more, there are so many jaw dropping spots that you have to see to believe.
You can get married anywhere in the park (as long as you’re staying on established trails and not blocking other visitors) if your elopement is smaller than 11 people. This number includes the two of you, your vendors, and any guests – so if you decide to tie the knot with a few loved ones around, you’ll have to choose from a list of pre-approved locations. But, for smaller ceremonies, you have more options!
Part of my job as a Yosemite elopement photographer is recommending the perfect location to each of my couples – which means whether you’re looking for an easily accessible overlook or you want to hike, I’ll give you a personalized list of options! But, to get you inspired, here are a few of the best Yosemite elopement locations.
This is one of the most iconic overlooks in Yosemite National Park! It’s an easy place to exchange vows, since it’s a pull off right outside the Wawona Tunnel that doesn’t require any hiking. From here, you can see El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls!
I’ll let you in on a little secret – I know a spot that offers the same view, without the crowds! It’s a short, easy walk, and much more private.
El Capitan is one of the most incredible granite formations in the park, and the best place to see it is the El Capitan Meadow. From the meadow, you’ll see the gorgeous cliff towering over you, along with views of Cathedral Rock and Cathedral Spires.
The Cook’s Meadow Loop is an easy, mile long trail that takes you through jaw dropping views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. A boardwalk path takes you across the meadow, and it’s one of the best Yosemite elopement locations for amazing, easy to reach views!
Taft Point is one of the most incredible, and most popular, Yosemite elopement locations! The overlook towers over views of Yosemite Valley, so you’ll see El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. The hike to taft point is a fairly easy 2.2 mile hike, but you can extend it to 4.9 miles if you want to do a loop and see Sentinel Dome too!
This is another incredible overlook, and a really popular Yosemite elopement location! A short, paved trail will take you from the parking lot to a breathtaking viewpoint over Curry Village.
One thing to note is that Glacier Point Road, which you drive on to get to both Taft and Glacier Point, is currently closed for rehabilitation – it will reopen in 2023, but until then, you can only access both overlooks from the Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono Trails, which are all pretty strenuous hikes.
To get married in Yosemite National Park, no matter how small your ceremony is, you’ll need to get a permit!
You can apply for your Yosemite elopement permit up to a year in advance, and you need to apply at least 21 days before your ceremony date, to give them time to process and issue your permit. The park is pretty popular for elopements and wedding ceremonies, so I recommend applying as early as possible!
You can find the permit application here, and there is a nonrefundable application fee of $150. When you apply, you’ll need to name your preferred location, so choose the spot where you want to tie the knot first! For groups of 11 or more, you will need to stick to these pre-approved locations.
The park will review your application, and mail it to you – then, you’ll need to sign it and return it to the office for final approval. Be sure to carry the permit with you during the ceremony, in case a ranger asks to see it!
Even with a wedding permit, you still need to pay the entrance fees, so be sure to read the next section!
In the past few years, Yosemite National Park has become even more popular, so a reservation system has been implemented during peak visitation times to reduce traffic and to protect the environment!
If you have a wedding permit, you and your guests do not need a reservation. Every person will need a copy of the wedding permit, and a copy of a government-issued ID that matches one of the people getting married on the permit.
But, if you want to visit the park before or after your elopement day, a reservation is required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park from May 20 to September 30 (these dates can vary slightly depending on the year, but they fall during peak season) if you plan to drive between 6am and 4pm.
Reservations get booked fast! 70% of reservations become available in March on Recreation.gov, and the other 30% are available seven days before the date of the reservation. They are available at 8 AM Pacific time, and they get taken early – so make an account and be ready to snag your reservation as soon as they become available.
Even with a wedding permit, and with a reservation, you still need to pay the entrance fee! This costs $35 per car. If you visit national parks often, get an America the Beautiful Pass for $80 – this will get you into every national park in the country for an entire year. You can pay the entrance fee or get a pass at every entrance into the park!
For your elopement in Yosemite National Park, you’ll need a place to stay! Having somewhere to get ready, and a home away from home to come back to after your day of unforgettable adventures is an important part of your experience, and there are options in the park, and just outside of it where you can stay.
Remember to make bookings as early as possible – they fill up fast!
Staying inside the park is really convenient, since you can get there early and avoid having to wait in line to enter the park on your elopement day! The national park has everything from simple tent sites to luxurious rooms in its lodges.
Here are your options for lodging inside the park!
Hotels and Lodges:
Cabins and Glamping:
Yosemite has 13 campgrounds, for couples who want to get outside and have a really down-n-dirty elopement day! Campgrounds require reservations during peak seasons (usually April through September). Check out all the campgrounds in the park here!
Lodging outside of the park can be more private, and is often easier to book since the park accommodations tend to fill up first.
Check out adorable bed and breakfasts, find cabins and vacation rentals of all sizes, and search Airbnb for unique, private accomodations – like this gorgeous cabin! I also recommend AutoCamp, which offers really unique lodging (cabins, Airstreams, luxury tents, and more) and really adds to your experience.
Everyone’s gotta eat, and if you want to bring back a souvenir or a gift for your loved ones, the gift shop is a good place to stop for some quirky pins, fun socks, and more!
You can definitely bring your own food from outside the park, but Yosemite has several options, ranging from groceries to a quick bite of pizza to a fine dining restaurant.
The Village Store is a great place to stop if you need groceries for a snack or want to make a picnic. Meadow Grill and Village Grill are amazing for a quick bite, with casual burgers, sandwiches, and salads. For a more luxurious dining experience (like to celebrate after you tie the knot!) make a reservation for The Ahwahnee Dining Room or the Mountain Room.
For gifts, you can check out the Glacier Point Gift Shop, the Village Store, Wawona Store, Curry Village Gift and Grocery – but the biggest gift shops with the most options are the Ahwahnee Gift Shop (which has amazing Native American pottery and jewelry) and the Yosemite Valley Lodge Gift Shop.
Are you ready to break the rules, and write your own version of what it means to get married? Ready for a wedding day that feels down-to-earth, honest, and real?
My Yosemite elopement packages are made for couples like you! As your elopement photographer, I’ll deliver the photos that will make you do a little happy dance in front of the computer, but my job starts way before that.
So, are we doing this thing, or what? Contact me to learn more about Yosemite elopement packages, to start planning your dream wedding, and to get started on the biggest adventure of your life (so far).
Come and wander in the Sequoias between the tree groves and say your vows surrounded by some of the tallest trees in the world.
Want to climb a mountain and say I Do at the top? Celebrate with a shot of tequila and a big ol’ joint? Hop into a hot air balloon and have a once in a lifetime adventure?
Then do it. I’m not gonna stop you. In fact, I encourage it.
If you want to ditch tradition, shed expectations, and get married your way, this guide will tell you how to plan your Yosemite elopement, and how to get married in the park!