The Ultimate Guide to Eloping in Yosemite

The Ultimate Guide to Eloping in Yosemite

Aug 15

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If there’s one thing we want you to take away from this blog, it’s this: Yosemite National Park is undoubtedly one of the most magical places on Earth. And if you’re planning on eloping here, there are a handful of juicy tidbits you need to know beforehand in order to ensure your day in (what we like to call) the Narnia of the USA is totally flawless. We’ve photographed many weddings here — each of which was entirely unique yet equally stunning. We’ve guided each of these couples and their loved ones through the logistics and fine details of their day, which in turn has led us to become something like the elopement sherpas of Yosemite NP. So yes, hello, it is us, the sherpas you never knew you needed. Let’s begin, shall we?

History of Yosemite

According to resources from the National Park Service, the Ahwahneechee people called Yosemite Valley home for thousands of years, living beneath the magnificent protection of its towering granite cliffs and within the abundantly diverse ecosystem throughout. In 1849, however, the gold rush brought thousands of non-native settlers to the area, pushing the native people from their homelands and introducing tourism and unsustainable habitation — the damaging effects of which are still seen today.

The fast-moving and apparent deterioration of the stunning region caught the attention of various trailblazing conservationists of the time; in particular, John Muir (1838-1914). Muir and his colleagues prompted a campaign that called for congressional action to protect the Yosemite region. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln declared Yosemite Valley a public trust of California, marking the first time in history that the United States government protected land for the enjoyment of the public. This event set in place the establishment of both the national and state park systems, and eventually, on October 1, 1890, an act of Congress officially created Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite has a rich, tumultuous, and varied history. It serves as an iconic piece of the American landscape and the stomping grounds for monumental steps in conservation for future generations. We know, we know – uhhh, isn’t this article supposed to be about eloping in Yosemite? YES, it is, and we promise we’ll get there! But as long-time visitors of this marvelous place, it’s nearly impossible not to feel the magnitude of Yosemite’s past upon visiting. We feel we owe it to those who fought so hard to preserve the valley in all of its glory, so we can enjoy it today just as others did so long ago.

Why should I elope in Yosemite?

We won’t try to argue that there aren’t a million stunning places to elope in the world, because there are, and choosing the best one for your big, beautiful, elopetastic day can feel like a daunting decision.

Yosemite, unlike any other location, really, truly has something to offer every couple. Elopements are becoming more and more common, and with that, the goal of doing something that feels entirely you is becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve. Yosemite Valley is home to imposing cliff lines, flowered meadows, roaring waterfalls, rivers, mossy forests, and lakes. There are tricky-to-get-to lookout points for the adventurous duo, short hikes for accessible ceremonies, secluded paradises, wide-open spaces, indoor locations, and everything in between. It’s a blank canvas for your dream wedding, and the opportunities are endless for shaping it to suit your individuality.

We’ve yet to experience two Yosemite elopements that are anything alike (okay well except for the basics like permits and the snazzy outfits, but you get the point), and that’s the beauty of this place. Feel like gettin’ hitched at sunrise with Taft Point all to yourself? We’ll meet you there. Dreaming of saying “I do” in a pair of hiking boots? Yep, count us in. Want to get married in time to do some rock climbing before the end of the day? Sounds terrifying, but sign us up.

Permits and Restrictions

No matter how casual (or fancypants) your Yosemite elopement will be, you must must MUST get a permit beforehand. We assist our clients through this process to ensure everything goes smoothly, but if you’ve hired a different team for your day (gasp!), please ensure this imperative step makes it onto your to-do list. Your photographer/videographer also must acquire a film/photo permit beforehand.

We know, getting permits and going through all the red tape hullabaloo is the last thing you want to do when you’re planning your epic wedding, but these permits are necessary for maintaining the park. Once couples and vendors start abusing this privilege, ceremonies within the park will no longer be an option for us – so it’s the least we can do!

Here’s the complete guide from the National Park Service to weddings and commitment ceremonies within Yosemite National Park: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/weddings.htm

Keep in mind that weddings at Yosemite can be scheduled up to a year in advance, but no less than 3 weeks prior to your official date – so don’t dilly dally!

In order to get your wedding permit, download the application from the link above and mail it with your payment (check or money order) to:

Attn: Catherine Carlisle-McMullen

Special Park Uses/ Film and Weddings

Yosemite National Park, National Park Service

P.O. Box 700

El Portal, CA 95318

Upon review, a special use permit will be mailed back to you for a signature. Sign and return this permit to receive the final approval. Afterward, if your application is approved, you’ll receive an authorized copy. You’ll need to bring this copy along with you on the day of your elopement.

How far in advance should you plan a Yosemite elopement?

This varies depending on what you envision for your special day. At the very least, you MUST (have we said this enough?) allow the minimum 4 weeks for your permit to process before your elopement date. Typically, the couples we’ve worked with begin planning their elopement about a year in advance to allow for possible changes, vacation time, informing family, coordinating other vendors, etc. As we said before, every elopement is unique!

Within Yosemite, the ceremony locations are available on a first-come-first-served basis. If the location you list on your application is unavailable, you’ll be contacted to choose a different location or date. You are allowed two hours at whichever location you end up booking. Some locations within the park are limited to certain group sizes.

Yosemite is an adventurers paradise, with countless hikes and outdoor activities for everyone

Ceremony and Elopement Locations

Eloping in the valley vs. the top

The Valley

Yosemite Valley is exactly what you might be thinking it is – a valley! Buuuut, it’s not like the other valleys. No, no. Yosemite Valley is full of flowered meadows, engulfed by towering granite cliffs and bursting with captivating foliage and wildlife in every corner. There are plenty of reasons couples choose to elope in the Valley, but let us provide you with a few that should help in your decision-making process …

Elopement locations within the valley are much more accessible. This means shorter drives, a handful of wheelchair-accessible options, and venues capable of hosting larger groups (11+ guests).

The views in the valley are breathtaking! There are plenty of wide-open spaces, lakes, rivers, and forests that can serve as breathtaking locations for your elopement ceremony. Honestly, the opportunities are endless both within the Valley and below, but if you plan on hosting a larger group and prioritizing accessibility for your ceremony, locations within the Valley will be the best options for you.

Yosemite has ceremony locations to suit every couple

The Top

When we say “the top” of Yosemite, we’re referring to the lookout points above the Valley. And they’re not like any old run-of-the-mill lookout points. They’re the sort of picturesque views that make you want to toss your cowboy hat in the air and holler “I’M QUEEN OF THE WORLD! THIS IS MY KINGDOM! BEHOLD THE UNPARALLELED BEAUTY!”

Let us get the cons out of the way first, so we can get stoked together on all the positives afterward …

These locations tend to be significantly less accessible (extremely difficult or impossible to reach by wheelchair) and require moderate to high levels of physical exertion to reach. Aaaaaand because they’re so stunning, these views are coveted. Large crowds tend to collect here after sunrise, and these areas remain busy throughout the day. For this reason, large groups are prohibited in these areas and intimate ceremonies are the best option.

If you’re up for a trek, the lookout points above Yosemite offer experiences unlike anything else in the park. We’ll elaborate further on sunrise/sunset later on in this article, but for now, we’ll say this: if you value intimacy and adventure, the stillness and serenity a private moment atop Yosemite can offer is simply unparalleled.

A gorgeous sunrise elopement overlooking Yosemite Valley and Half Dome

Sunrise vs. sunset

The option that will be best suited for your elopement depends primarily on the season. The sun rises and sets at different times throughout the year in addition to shifting locations, which means it’s very important to hire a photographer who’s experienced shooting in the area.

Objectively, both sunrise and sunset sessions will look better at the top of Yosemite. Those lookouts are the best places to see the sun clearly since those magnificent cliffs will all be below you. BUT, if you plan on having your ceremony a few hours before sunset you’re in for a treat! The valley is stunning at this time. The light begins leaking through the mountaintops and shining beautiful pools of golden hour sunshine on the meadows below.

Sunrise and sunset are your two options for a flawless Yosemite wedding. Both are stunning, so you really can’t go wrong, buuuut we have a pretty strong preference for one of the two. Here’s why:

At Ascend Together, our goal is to create a day for you that’s entirely free of stress – a day that feels effortless, flawless, and entirely unique to your personalities, priorities, and relationship. With this goal in mind, we try to the best of our ability to steer away from crowds and allow each of our couples a more intimate, peaceful experience.

Frankly, there’s no better way to do this than by eloping at sunrise. Mind if we tell you a story?

From Dana Shular, professional elopement photographer and founder of Ascend Together …

My couple and I got up at 3:00 in the morning and drove in the dark to the top at Taft Point Trailhead. The air was crisp, the sky was clear and the stars were still shining brightly above us. Everything was quiet except for the sound of birds (early birds … literally) and us rustling around to get ready. We grabbed the flowers, gathered their clothing, and tossed the rest of our gear into backpacks. We started off on the trail by the light of our headlamps – soaking up the stillness and letting the cool morning air fill our lungs. Behind me, they held hands and giggled at the excitement and anticipation we were all sharing.

After a mile walk, we arrived at Taft Point. There, they got dressed and I set up for their first look in the serenity of Yosemite. Peace, quiet, and complete tranquility seemed to float over the entire valley. As she walked toward him and he turned around, his eyes were filled with tears. Their love for one another radiated so strongly in that intimate moment, and that’s what I want all of my couples to have. With a crowd of 20 other couples nearby, an experience like that wouldn’t be possible.

Yosemite Valley Elopement Locations

Below, you’ll find some of our favorite locations within the Valley. We know we’ve said it before, but let us just reiterate ooooone more time: YOU CAN’T GO WRONG. Yosemite is freakin’ magical, man. Every Yosemite location we’ve shot in has had us swooning – and to be fair, we do swoon a lot, but Yosemite makes us swoon an extra special swoon.

Descriptions of the below locations in quotation marks (” “) have been provided by the National Park Service.

El Capitan Meadow

This is one of the most popular ceremony spots in the Valley, and for a good reason! El Capitan Meadow offers a stunning view of the magnificent El Capitan and Cathedral Rock cliff lines. In this vast and lush meadow, it’s like jumping right into a Bob Ross painting. El Capitan Meadow is open all year round except for extreme weather conditions, and the location is easily accessible if you plan on having some loved ones join you on your big day. Plus, El Capitan Meadow isn’t just a meadow.

There are dozens of stunning (more secluded) spots nearby you can sneak away to in case the crowds are dense. And that’s just one of the many beautiful things about Yosemite – if the crowds are in any way a hindrance, just round a corner and bring your hiking boots, and you’re bound to find an (equally gorgeous) little hideaway all to yourself.

There are countless ways to include your loved ones in your Yosemite elopement

Cascades Picnic Area

“Located west of Yosemite Valley on the south side of El Portal Road and one block southwest of The Cascades viewing area; 30 people maximum; restroom facilities (pit toilets) nearby; ceremonies may occur within the designated picnic site and at least 6 feet away from the river’s edge; picnic tables first-come, first-served; parking limited to 8 vehicles; Open year-round. Ceremonies are prohibited at the falls viewing platform.”

Tunnel View

Tunnel View offers a glimpse of Yosemite unlike any other – and for that reason, this location is pop-u-lar! However, if you get yourself a team who knows a thing or two about Yosemite elopements cough cough, there are plenty of ways you can navigate this and make Tunnel View your perfect place to get hitched. When it comes to planning an elopement within the Valley, it’s important to go into your big day with the expectation that you’ll be sharing your corner of beautiful Yosemite with a few others. Think of it this way: how lucky are they to be a part of the best day of your life?! 😉

Lower Yosemite Falls Paved Trail – Wheelchair Accessible

“From Yosemite Valley Lodge and Northside Drive intersection, take the paved path towards Yosemite Falls; continue straight/follow rock wall; at bronze relief sculpture veer right and loop around to the site where you see a sign and two wooden benches; ceremonies must occur in this area. Or, from the Yosemite Falls shuttle stop, take a paved path to the west that parallels Northside Drive; walk over the bridge, turn right and pass the restroom, staying straight ahead (don’t take paths to the right or left), continue on to the rock wall and follow directions listed above. 50 people maximum. Ceremonies are not allowed on Yosemite Creek Bridge or the base of the waterfall. Restroom facilities are nearby and there is no parking on-site; the shuttle bus recommended. Monitoring is required for groups of 50. Open year-round except on holiday weekends (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday).”

Half Dome Field

Half Dome field is yet another stunning, wide-open space wrapped up in granite cliffs. If you’d like a first-row seat to a view of the famous Half Dome rock formation, this is your spot. You can see waterfalls from here, and there are plenty of stunning wooded areas to sneak off to for some photos and some privacy!

Swinging Bridge Picnic Area – Wheelchair Accessible

“The site is located on the beach northeast of the bridge; 20 people maximum. No ceremonies are allowed on the bridge or in the meadows. Restroom facilities are nearby and there is limited parking; carpooling recommended. Open year-round except on holiday weekends (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday).”

Cathedral Beach Picnic Area

“Area closed November through Memorial Day Weekend. From Tuesday after Memorial Day through October 31st, the location closes at dusk; 50 people maximum. Monitoring is required for groups of 35–50 people. Restroom facilities are nearby and there is limited parking (6 vehicles max); carpooling recommended.”

Sentinel Beach Picnic Area – Wheelchair Accessible

“Area closed November through Memorial Day Weekend. From Tuesday after Memorial Day through October 31st, the location closes at dusk; 100 people maximum. Monitoring is required for groups of 50 people or more. Restroom facilities are nearby and there is limited parking (8 vehicles max); carpooling recommended.”

Bridalveil Falls – Wheelchair Accessible

Can your elopement location get a better name than Bridalveil Falls? This spot is pretty idyllic – a booming, breathtaking waterfall with a short and accessible approach. Since this is one of the quickest and most mild hikes in the valley, you can expect to share this location with a few other visitors (especially during peak season and hours). It’s pretty hard to beat saying “I do” in front of an impressive waterfall like this one!

“From the parking lot, take the paved path and continue straight (do not turn right) until you are beyond the second stone bridge. The location lies at the forest clearing on your right where the fall comes into view. 50 people maximum; monitoring is required for groups of 50 people. Restroom facilities are nearby.”

Cooks Meadow

Cooks Meadow? Ooooh, baby, are you in for a treat. Do you like wide-open spaces? Imposing granite cliff faces? Tranquil ponds? WATERFALLS?! Cooks Meadow is like an infomercial. Just when you think the deal can’t get any better, someone screams “But wait! There’s more!” and you realize this stunning location has yet another feature for you to look forward to. Cooks Meadow, like most locations in the Valley, is accessible and easy to get to.

Elopement Locations Above the Valley

Descriptions of the below locations in quotation marks (” “) have been provided by the National Park Service.

Glacier Point

Want to get up close and personal with some of the great cliffs of Yosemite? From Glacier Point, you can admire Half Dome from a bird’s eye view, while soaking up the enchantment the rest of the valley has to offer. This lookout is absolutely surreal, and (in our ~professional~ opinion) one of the greatest elopement locations in the park. During the day this spot gets busy, but that’s what sunrise is for! If you have the chutzpah to wake up early, you may just snag this spot all to yourself for a bit (and the same goes for the other lookout points in this section!).

Taft Point

Similar to Glacier Point, Taft Point offers unbelievable views of the valley below. This lookout features sheer dropoffs into the valley below, making it a dangerous location for couples, photographers, and any other tourists who may be visiting. Please be careful and make sure to hire an experienced and cautious photographer. This is an incredible spot to get a look at El Capitan, and if you play your cards right (and don’t press your snooze button) you can enjoy the stillness and serenity of this magical place at sunrise. Sunset, too, is absolutely stunning from Taft point – it just tends to be significantly busier!

Sentinel Dome

Sentinel Dome offers magnificent views of Half Dome similar to Glacier Point. It’s completely breathtaking, and if you’re hoping to catch an intimate moment before the crowds show up, this may just be your place to do it. Sentinel Dome tends to be a bit less busy than Glacier Point, but keep in mind that this lookout does require a hike that (paired with the elevation gain) may leave you feeling a bit winded. However, all of the tippy top locations do require some hiking, so it’s impossible to go wrong.

Wawona Locations

Descriptions of the below locations in quotation marks (” “) have been provided by the National Park Service

Glacier Point Amphitheater – Wheelchair Accessible

“ Due to high elevations, storms that could occur may cause the road to close. The earliest availability is the Tuesday after Memorial Day (please consult road conditions for updates) through September 30th due to the annual Glacier Point road closure. Please visit the following website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tiogaopen.htm. Weddings are not scheduled here in July and August.”

Chilnualna Falls Trailhead Parking Lot

“Location is located to the west of a large house (personally owned inholding), at the southwest end of the parking area, downslope from the parking lot. 50 people maximum, monitoring is required for groups of 35-50 people. 10 vehicles maximum allowed.”

Tuolumne Meadows Locations

Descriptions of the below locations in quotation marks (” “) have been provided by the National Park Service.

Tenaya Lake Beach

“Available from: Road opening until September 30th. There may be snow still in the area. This site is located on the east end of Tenaya Lake Beach Picnic Area. From the parking lot, take the trail to the intersection. Turn left and walk 100 yards (90 meters) to reach the site. 50 people maximum, monitoring is required for groups of 50 people.”

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area

“Available from: Road opening until September 30th. There may be snow still in the area. The site is located upstream from Tuolumne Meadows Lodge on the Dana Fork granite slab. Take a dirt path toward the river, stay left, and follow for approximately 250 yards (300 meters) until you reach the cascade area. 25 people maximum; limited parking at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, carpooling required.”

Big Oak Flat Area

Descriptions of the below locations in quotation marks (” “) have been provided by the National Park Service.

Tuolumne Grove

“Location is a 2.5 miles (4 km) hike round trip. The trail is paved and steep. Elevation loss to the grove is 400 feet (120 meters) and then a 400 foot (120 meters) gain back to the parking lot. From late October to June there may be snow on the trail. Please bring lots of water. The ceremony must remain on the footpath. No standing on sequoia roots or near sequoia trees. 30 people maximum.”

Merced Grove

“Location is a 3 mile (4.8 km) hike round trip. The trail is unpaved and rated easy to moderate. Elevation loss to the grove is 600 feet (180 meters) and then a 600 foot (180 meters) gain back to the parking lot. From late October to June there may be snow on the trail. Please bring lots of water. The ceremony must remain on the footpath. No standing on sequoia roots or near sequoia trees. 30 people maximum.”

When is the best time to elope in Yosemite?

Winter

If you’re looking to elope in Yosemite in the winter months, your options will be fewer than any other time of year. Glacier Point road, which leads to the lookout points, is closed this time of year to the snow. BUT, with the winter closures, there are also some benefits. There will be fewer crowds, and (if you can bear the cold), you can score some parts of the park all to yourself. There’s really nothing quite like Yosemite in the wintertime. Imagine the most strikingly beautiful place on Earth, then just … turn it into a snowglobe. It’s a freakin’ winter wonderland! Does it get any better than that?

Fall

This is, in our opinion, prime time for a Yosemite elopement. You can get stunning fall colors, beautiful weather, and minimal crowds in the month of October. All the lookout points will be open for access, too, until the start of November! There’s something so cozy and romantic about fall, and when you bring that autumn lovebird energy to Yosemite Valley … swoon.

Spring/Summer

Everything is lush in Yosemite during the spring and summer. There’s stunning greenery everywhere and consistently beautiful weather. The only drawback is the crowds, as this is the busiest time of the year in Yosemite. But that’s only a minor drawback because in spring and summer everything in Yosemite is bursting with beauty. Oh, you like waterfalls? Good, because the snowmelt this time year has all the falls in Yosemite FLOWIN’ LIKE CRAZY. Winter closures tend to open up again in May, but the exact date fluctuates depending on the weather.

Why hire an all-inclusive elopement service for your day?

When you choose to elope, you choose to simplify your wedding day. No crazy expensive venues, no DJ, no acrobats, or tigers or whatever it is that traditional weddings include. By simplifying your day, you can focus wholly on the thing that matters most: your love. No stress, no last-minute disasters involving dozens of centerpieces and cupcakes, just romance, adventure, and unfiltered togetherness.

All-inclusive elopement services were designed for couples who want to be present for every moment of their elopement — from the engagement to the honeymoon. Think of it this way: it’s one investment for everything you could possibly need to make your dream elopement a reality, without the stress. Once you and your partner choose to work with an all-inclusive service, you can simply sit back and trust that you’re in good hands. Just show up, be in love, and soak it all up!

The logistics, timing, and potential opportunities for red tape are stressors that still arise even in an elopement. Why bother with them? If you have a a team who knows what they’re doing, there shouldn’t be any opportunities for potential hiccups in your day (weather permitting, of course, because no one stops Mama Nature). We’ve heard far too many tragic stories about forgotten permits, unbooked locations, and getting lost not to know how important it is to be experienced and well-prepared. We’ll just say it one more time for the people in the back: YOUR ELOPEMENT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE STRESSFUL. MAKE IT EASY FOR YOURSELVES, LOVEBIRDS. HIRE AN ALL-INCLUSIVE SERVICE.

Thank you for coming to OUR TED Talk.

One last thing …

Yosemite is unlike anywhere in the world for a number of reasons, but we want you to walk away with this: when we tell you you can’t go wrong with a Yosemite elopement location, we mean it. There’s an unparalleled beauty in Yosemite National Park that goes beyond the scenery. Truly, wherever you choose to hold your ceremony, you’ll be met with nothing but marvelous, dazzling scenery. For all of those who choose to visit Yosemite, there is something that makes it feel unquestionably perfect for them.

In addition to lifting the stress from your day, your team should know how to respect and maintain the environment you’re in. As a Leave No Trace (LNT) aware team, we provide each of our clients with the education and guidance to experience a place like Yosemite without impeding its natural growth and beauty. Practicing LNT principles is an important part of our process, because we want to continue enjoying these stunning places FOREVER! It’s the least we could do for Mama Nature.

If you’re feeling ready to move forward with your Yosemite elopement, let’s chat!

I hope this blog was helpful in answering your Yosemite-related questions! If you’re still on the fence, go ahead and check out some of the photos below for an idea of what your day in Yosemite could look like. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to submit a contact form so we can chat! Still looking for a photographer for your big day? Feel free to view my elopement packages by following this link. Happy elopement planning!

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