Sometimes, words hardly seem enough to capture how love feels. When looking at your loved one steals the sounds out of your mouth and being with them makes your breath feel heavy and short at the same time – you might wonder how to express those overwhelming emotions.
Within Yosemite’s drenching mists and subalpine wilderness, your Yosemite elopement is the perfect statement! The sight of the skyscraping, jewel-toned Yosemite Valley leaves you in awe; just like the love you’re celebrating.
Eloping in Yosemite is for the romantic and adventurous, thanks to both landscapes and varied outdoor activities. Read on as I outline the limitless possibilities at Yosemite!
What Makes Yosemite Special?
Set within the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Yosemite National Park was first declared a public trust in 1800s. 1,500 acres of wilderness give new meaning to the word ‘freedom’, spoiling us with granite cliffs, ancient Sequoia groves, ever-changing landscapes and unfettered views of the skies.
Its deep valleys seem almost endless, like a magical portal! The sheer scale and depth of this national park never fails to inspire awe. Standing inside, you often feel like the tiniest ant in a HUGE universe!
It is no wonder that Yosemite has become a top five elopement destination for many couples who seek both adventure and intimacy.
Tip: In order to enter Yosemite during 2022 peak season and hours you’ll need to get a reservation. This is in addition to the typical park entrance fee. This starts May 20 through September 30, 2022. You can find all the information regarding reservations here.
Where to Elope in Yosemite
Generally, your ceremony and portraits can take place in any nook and cranny, but only if the wedding party is fewer than 11 people. Open meadows and riparian environments are off limits!
Read more about Yosemite’s policies here.
Open all year round, Yosemite Valley is the crème of the crop when it comes to elopement ceremony locations!
- El Capitan
El Capitan may not be the explosive, deep-seated awe that Glacier and Taft evokes, but the tranquil atmosphere makes you feel warm in the best way. Soft meadows, beautiful trees and waterfalls make for a fairy tale-like setting, while the towering granite gives it the needed drama. There’s nothing like this Yosemite elopement location to capture those ‘us in the big wide world’ vibes.
- Yosemite Falls
The roar of Yosemite Falls may drown out the hollers of any friends and family you bring along, but not enough to mute those vows. Alpine trees shoot up as high as those white cliffs but the paved roads and stone barriers give this location a ‘rustic lodge’ charm. Located right next to Yosemite Valley Lodge, it’s an extremely popular elopement spot in Yosemite due to accessibility. Book early!
- Bridalveil Falls
Speaking of thundering waterfalls, Bridalveil Falls is yet another Yosemite icon. Rainbows are frequently spotted thanks to the misty air, and the woodsy copse below the falls offers intimate photos.
The fall does dry up by mid-summer, so a spring elopement ceremony would be best here.
- Tunnel View
Like a viewfinder positioned just right, Tunnel View is one of the most stunning elopement spots in Yosemite! I love that all elements are present: the rich valley below, rocky edges for you to pose on, El Capitan and Half Dome spread out before you. You can even hear Bridalveil Falls gushing on the right!
It is a very popular spot so be prepared to arrive early.
- Cook’s Meadow Loop
Hidden in plain sight, Cook’s Meadow Loop is a Yosemite gem! Flat grounds make it easy to access; the trail is open year round. There are plenty of photo opportunities as Half Dome, Glacier Point and Sentinel Rock are spotted along the way!
Your elopement location would be furthest from boring too. Large rock formations and sky-high mountains frame the place you’ll be exchanging your vows, making it an intimate and secure location.
- Yosemite Chapel
If you appreciate a taste of traditional, Yosemite Chapel is the perfect elopement location. The dark browns of the exterior and its single spire is set within dark green canopies, further shielded by the cliff behind it. It’s also open to larger wedding parties for convenience.
- Half Dome
Wishing for a marriage full of adventure? Start with the trophy hike up to Half Dome, a striking 16-mile round trip – including climbing a steep rock face! Not many attempt it for an elopement ceremony but the results are worth it. Imagine standing on jutting rock cropping with the brown and grey-hued range around you; absolutely breathtaking.
Glacier Point Road
Closing late fall, the elopement sites along Glacier Point Road are nonetheless extremely popular choices for summer weddings. Try going earlier in the day or risk sharing the space with 9 other couples!
- Glacier Point
At 8000 feet, Glacier Point offers some of the most epic views over Yosemite National Park! Best of all, these scenic canyon panoramas are just steps away from the parking lot. Catch the sun rising over Half Dome before walking down the paved trail; the 4-mile Panorama Trail also yields stunning photos of the valley.
- Taft Point
Many prefer the hike to Taft Point over Half Dome as the views are equally amazing. The trek itself brings you through a magical forestscape, which opens up to clifftop photo spots.
You do have to be careful here as people have fallen to their deaths off the edge. I recommend taking photos away from the edge (you can still capture the sheer scale of Yosemite, no worries), and two-way radios are a must for additional security.
- Sentinel Dome
Sharing the same parking lot as Taft Point, Sentinel Dome is another hike-to trip. Honestly, I find Sentinel Dome offers some of the moodiest, most romantic lighting for both sunrise and sunset shoots. It is 360-degree views up top and the trail is easy to navigate, even in your wedding best!
- Wawona Meadow Loop
Quiet Wawona is all about the woods and meandering creeks. For a picturesque and cozy ceremony, I suggest taking the Wawona Meadow Loop. It’s a simple trail that offers views across the Wawona Basin, filled with wildflowers and lush grass. If you like country charms, this is it!
- Mariposa Grove
The amazing site of Giant Sequoias is a highlight of Yosemite – and a lovely spot for your elopement ceremony. These centuries-old giants stand witness to your vows; make sure you respect them too. While we won’t be allowed to stand on Sequoia roots or near the tree bases due to how fragile they are, there’s plenty of space along the foot paths.
- Chilnualna Falls
Pass the gentler cascades along Chilnualna Creek and make your way past at least 5 waterfalls before reaching the final stop: 180 feet-tall Chilnualna Falls. Unlike the other popular waterfall locations, Chilnualna opens up to the skies with moderately-high cliffs. The path is rocky, dusty, and everything an adventurous spirit seeks!
Yosemite High Country
- Tuolumne Meadows
Peaking at an elevation of 8,600 feet, Tuolumne Meadows is literally, breath-stealing. The beautiful spread of meadow glows under the sunlight; think Sound of Music Vibes but a little more travelled. Spacious copses of trees, mountain ranges, winding paths and hushing rivers gift you with some of the best backdrops in Yosemite for elopements.
- Tenaya Lake
Seeking a more elegant, gentle setting for your Yosemite elopement? Tenaya Lake lists among the most beautiful you’ll ever see, with a backdrop of granite promontories for those wedding photos. You can also throw off the wedding gear and hop into the lake for a delightful float, or simply relax on the beach with a cocktail. Go from ceremony, straight to your honeymoon!
For a less common elopement experience, hop over to Hetch Hetchy instead. This reservoir area is less travelled but carries the same stunning views throughout the park. It’s a great alternative for couples who like hiking.
Crane Flat/White Wolf
Plenty of trailheads can be found in the Crane Flat and White Wolf areas. I definitely recommend one of the short hiking paths in these areas for a dreamy, woodsy elopement.
- Merced Grove
One of Yosemite’s three sequoia groves, Merced Grove is the smallest and most secluded of them all. The darker woods here sit in a tightknit weave – they’re like secret witnesses to your happiest moments. In spring, keep an eye out for the dogwoods! Their blossoms add a soft touch to the photos.
- Lukens Lake Trail
The path is wet and muddy until August, but if you’re down to earth (hah!), the trail will be up your alley! What I love about this trail is how vibrant and alive the woods are; you’ll be led through a mixed conifer forest, which eventually opens up to a small mountain lake. There, shooting stars and other wildflowers color things up!
- May Lake
Why not combine your elopement ceremony and honeymoon? May Lake features some stellar backdrops for both ceremony and photo, but what makes it stand out are the tent cabins for rent. It’s a much-loved spot for backpackers due to the High Sierra setting, and Mount Hoffman is within eye’s reach.
Ultimately, it’s all up to what you’re looking for!
Yosemite Ceremony Locations
The designated wedding ceremony locations really only apply if your wedding party is more than 11 people. You can read more about them on the National Park website!
In order to have your ceremony inside Yosemite, you’ll need to apply for a permit regardless of your group size. The cost for the special use permit is $150.
To summarize the 13 locations for you:
- The Cascades Picnic Area
- Lower Yosemite Fall
- Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
- Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
- Sentinel Beach Picnic Area
- Bridalveil Fall (closed through fall 2022)
- Glacier Point Amphitheater
- Chilnualna Falls Trailhead Parking Lot
While you’re not permitted to host weddings within the meadows, there are a few suitable areas such as:
- Tenaya Lake Beach
- Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area
Big Oak Flat Area
- Tuolumne Grove
- Merced Grove
Glacier Point Road
Unfortunately, Glacier Point Road is closed to traffic in 2022! This means access to wedding sites is only available via long, strenuous hikes.
Tip: Keep in mind that since these sites are dedicated elopement locations, they may be less private than you hope. Your ceremony permit won’t restrict other park visitors from your chosen area, so try schedule your ceremony for earlier or later in the day.
Fun Things to Do for your Yosemite Elopement
Honestly, Yosemite is stunning everywhere! The varied landscape plays into your favor as there are plenty of fun things to do for your Yosemite elopement.
- Bike rides
Trade your car for bikes instead, whipping down the long pavements with the wind in your hair! Bike rides are a great way to sightsee as you can stop off anywhere. Apart from regular roads, you can ride on 12 miles of paved bike paths through Yosemite Valley.
You bet Yosemite is full of splendid hiking trails! From gushing waterfalls to placid lakes, alpine forests to soft meadows; Yosemite’s hiking brings you every piece of nature. Some favorites include the Mist Trail, Lower Yosemite Fall Loop, Panorama Trail and Wild Pacific Crest Trail.
Spring and early summer gifts you with an exciting sport: rafting! Opt between the smoother ride through Yosemite Valley and the rougher waters around Merced River. Either way, you’ll have a blast.
- Walk among the sequoias
These massive, ancient giants are must-sees when visiting Yosemite. Boardwalks take you through Mariposa Grove, the largest of three. Try to see the tree tops!
- Horseback rides
Say yes to horseback riding at Yosemite to see it all, off your feet. Various trails take you through Wawona’s thick pine forests while Mariposa offers up its great sequoias.
Why not turn your elopement into a 2-day adventure? Sleep under the stars for a night (or two) as the universe shines away from light pollution. Not only can you take pictures of the starry sky, the vastness of space makes you feel all the smaller – perfect set-up for a cuddle.
- Rock climbing
Extreme landscapes call for extreme sports! Test your rock climbing skills against the might of the stalwart El Capitan, or the polished Half Dome. Beginner rock climbing classes are also available at more comfortable heights.
- Delve into history
There’s more history in Yosemite than one expects! Once the wild, wild West, Yosemite housed Native American inhabitants then witnessed the California Gold Rush. Step into the Pioneer Yosemite History Center or embark on the John Muir Hiking Trail. Nearby is the California State Mining and Mineral Museum where a 13.8-pound gold nugget rests!
When to Elope in Yosemite
Every season in Yosemite brings unique sights and backdrops – you can’t really go wrong with any destination wedding plans here! That said; weather changes will affect certain locations as some areas close off due to snowfall.
Wildflowers heaven and prime waterfall season, spring in Yosemite is one of my favorite times of the year! With snow having just melted and pops of color springing out everywhere, it really feels like you’re stepping into something new. It’s a fitting season for elopements (and the right temperature for hiking in those wedding layers too)!
Summer sees a huge influx of visitors as the woods, the meadows, the lakes and beaches come alive under the sun. With plenty of activities to do, summer elopements are made for couples who love the outdoors. On the flip side, the heat and crowd combo may not be the quiet ceremony you were looking for. In my opinion, shoulder seasons fair better.
Fall foliage is always a yes for any photographer! The layered oranges and yellows, the crunch of fallen leaves, the rustic and nostalgic vibe… what better season to celebrate your love? October is one of Yosemite’s best months to visit as the valley becomes magical. You’ll also want to avoid road closures starting in November.
Winter weddings at Yosemite Valley are a sight to behold! Expect snow and winter wonderland vibes and better yet – the park to yourself. Since many popular locations such as Glacier and Taft Point are closed, the number of visitors peters out. This means intimacy and privacy become the theme of elopements.
Sunrise V.S Sunset Yosemite Elopement
After picking the time of the year, it’s time to decide whether you want a sunrise or sunset elopement at Yosemite! The lighting makes drastic changes to the landscape and the mood of your photos. But don’t worry; I can walk you through the specifics so that we capture the exact tone you’re looking for!
Typically, sunrise evokes a very gentle, ethereal feel. On the practical side of things, sunrise elopements are better in the hotter months since you’ll beat the heat and avoid the crowds. The caveat of course, is that you have to wake up EXTRA early! Apart from hair and makeup, you also have to allocate time for travel, especially if your ceremony location requires a hike.
For a moodier setting, sunset elopements are often preferred. Certain locations such as Taft Point also photograph better at sunset; I’d happily discuss which periods of the day work best at which location. Most importantly, sunset elopements allow couples more time to get ready and explore the area. If you want to take photos in a variety of locations or take on a longer hike, this may be the better arrangement for you.
Yosemite Elopement Photographer
I would be so stoked to help you create your dream elopement in Yosemite National Park! I’m here to guide you through the whole process and keep it fun and easy for you – cause, ya know, that’s how it should be! 🙂 You can contact me >HERE< and I can’t wait to get to know you!
Check out these related blogs!