Yosemite National Park is often thought of as California’s playground. This expanse of beautiful, wild country is full of wildlife, the most stunning granite faces, mountains to hike + climb, and adventures to be had. I started visiting Yosemite as a child when my family would go camping in the valley. I began to have an intensely deep relationship with the land that I had never experienced anywhere else. Being there brings such a sense of peacefulness and of humbleness as you look up at Half Dome’s lovely face. It really is like nowhere else in this world. Maybe you also grew up venturing to the park or perhaps you’ve never been but it has always been at the top of your list. No matter your relationship with Yosemite, it’s dynamic landscape makes a perfect backdrop for your National Park elopement. Now, let’s talk about bringing this vision to life.
Choose a Season
When planning an elopement in Yosemite, one of the first things you’ll want to think about is a date. The time of year greatly impacts what trails and vistas are available to you as a backdrop as well as how crowded the park might be.
Winter – In the winter, the park is far less crowded with most travelers being intimidated by camping + exploring in the snow and cold weather. The waterfalls also may or may not be flowing as well in the winter. Additionally, the road to Glacier + Taft Points is closed along with the Tioga Pass and higher elevation areas of the park. However, the valley is open and it is extremely pretty with a blanket of snow. Imagine staying at the Ahwahnee Hotel on your elopement evening, enjoying a crackling fire and snuggling up in cozy blankets. Yep, pretty amazing! My husband and I are renewing our vows in Yosemite this year and chose winter because we love the valley most of all and I especially love snow on Half Dome. Of course, every winter is different and there may or may not be snow, rain, or other elements so it’s best to trust nature and go with the flow. Valley trails are open this time of year and you can often make it to Inspiration Point, but 4 Mile Trail is often closed as is the Mist Trail and parts of the John Muir Trail.
Spring – Springtime in Yosemite is STUNNING. I have had elopements in March and April that were absolutely breathtaking in the valley with a little snow left and the waterfalls absolutely brimming because of the melting snow at higher elevations. Again, the roads to Tioga, Glacier + Taft Point are not likely to be open in the earlier parts of spring but the valley is simply incredible. Many of the trails will be open, weather permitting. You can also think about staying at the Yosemite Valley Lodge to wake up to the amazing view of Yosemite Falls in all her glory. The crowds are just beginning to trickle in at this time of year, but it won’t be too crazy until May.
Summer – This is the busiest time of year to visit. That’s because generally all of the routes to higher elevations are open and you can take in sunrise views at Glacier Point or traverse Tuolumne Meadows. The park is much warmer, making camping a bit easier. You can try for campground reservations at Upper or Lower Pines campgrounds and wake up to valley views or have pizza over at Curry Village. The weather is more consistent, but drier years have seen the falls almost empty (or completely empty) by August. You’ll have more availability for trails and spots at this time of year, though!
Fall – It’s pretty tough to beat Yosemite in the fall. The trees have turned colors, it’s warm during the day and crisp during the evening, and most routes + trails are still open. The falls are less likely to be flowing at the beginning of fall, but this varies from year to year. You could aim to go for a fun adventure by staying at the Auto Camp in an airstream perfect for photos and venture up to Inspiration Point later on. There are a lot of possibilities for the fall and it is a beautiful time of year! There are still some crowds but things begin to trail off the later in the year it gets. October is usually quieter in the park.
It’s best to think in terms of what you really want to see and where you would love to have your ceremony. If you are in love with the valley and don’t really need to go up to higher elevations, then spring, winter, and late fall will do wonders for you as you avoid some of the most crowded times. If you really want waterfalls, plan to go in late winter after some snow melt or in the spring. If you really like to plan ahead, try to keep an eye on the webcams to see what the falls are doing and how things look at different times. If Glacier Point, Taft Point, or any of the areas up above the valley interest you, the safest time of year to do this is going to be summer and early fall. The roads often open in June and close around November, but it’s great to keep an eye on things via the Yosemite current conditions site. If there is heavy snow over the winter, Glacier Point road has opened as late as August!
Choose a Location
This, in conjunction with choosing a season, is the other top aspect to consider when planning a Yosemite elopement. Location really plays into date and vice versa. There are many beautiful places to have your elopement in Yosemite, so many that it can be really hard to choose! I have helped couples plan elopements that took them from the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias all the way up to Taft Point. Some couples are like me and love the valley most, so we planned a day that would take them to all of the most beautiful meadows and spots along the valley floor. You can choose to go your own way and elope up top near Tuolumne Meadows or Tenaya Lake. You can plan an adventure to May Lake! You can even spend your elopement day hiking + exploring the Hetch Hetchy Resevoir area. There are falls and reservoir views that are SO beautiful and less commonly seen than the sights in the valley. The possibilities are endless and when we get together to chat about your elopement, I can help narrow down which is best for your vision. One thing to keep in mind is that while we can explore many areas for photos after your ceremony, the park does have a list of allowed ceremony locations. I can also help you choose which one is right based on where else you want to go!
Sunrise or Sunset?
This is an important question to consider! Some locations look more striking at sunrise and others at sunset. Both have an impact on what you can expect in terms of crowds, as well. You’ll want to take into consideration what type of light you prefer. Do you love the soft intensity of the sun peeking over the tops of the mountains and greeting the world, followed by the interest that direct light and shadow bring? Do you prefer quiet and solitude? Opt for sunrise. If you don’t mind the potential of a few sunset chasers and you love the glow of a sunset followed by the moody hues of blue hour, opt for sunset. We can create a timeline for your elopement day based on when the light best hits your chosen locations!
Wedding Ceremonies in Yosemite
Now that you have a date + time chosen, you’ll want to start thinking about the official side of the process. Having a ceremony in Yosemite National Park requires a permit. You can learn more about obtaining the permit here on their page. You’ll need to plan in advance and get the permit squared away at least 21 days before your wedding or elopement, but you can’t apply for the permit until you are within one year of your date. The permit fee is $150. There are some rules to be followed to keep the park safe, so be sure to read up on those while visiting the permit page linked above. In addition to obtaining a permit from the park, you will also need to arrange for an officiant to perform your ceremony unless you are planning to have the legal side done prior to the elopement. I can recommend some great officiants who are familiar with the park and enjoy the trails just as soon as we’ve booked your elopement!
Choose Your Team
This one is important. Your elopement team could be just your photographer and officiant, or maybe you want a florist and a videographer as well. In any case, it’s important to choose vendors who are familiar with Yosemite. You’ll want to think carefully on who will best capture the beauty of the park and of your connection! Whether you decide to inquire with me or continue to look around, keep in mind a handful of things. These photos are forever. They are the way that you will remember the day once the years have gone by. You will also find that the photos are a reflection of all the things you felt and experienced that day. Finding someone who you connect with and enjoy talking to will make all the difference in how the day goes. You want to feel comfortable and able to trust their knowledge of the park. You also want to feel confident that their style will suit you. Be sure to see how they capture the park and determine if that fits with your vision. Photographers often have favorites among other vendors that they work with and will be happy to put together referrals to help you put together your team.
The Fun Part
This is where your vision starts to come to life! You can start thinking about the colors you want to incorporate into your bouquet, the things you want to do during the day to celebrate marrying your love, and all of the fun details that go along. I’m often asked about Yosemite bridal styles and I have to say that the dress designers who best fit the feel and vibe of the park are Rue de Seine, Dreamers and Lovers, Daci Gowns, and Daughter’s of Simone. Put together a mood board of the styles you love and things you’d like to incorporate into your day. Or don’t… because that’s the other thing, you can literally just get into what you want to wear and show up with nothing else and it’ll be perfect because it will be yours! Elopements really are the best.
We Love What You Said, How Do We Get in Touch?
I am SO stoked to hear that. I would love to chat with you about your Yosemite elopement and would love even more to be your Yosemite guide + elopement photographer. Simply fill out the contact form below and I will be in touch within 48 hours Monday – Friday!
Check out some real Yosemite National Park elopements on my blog – Springtime Yosemite Valley Elopement, Glacier Point Sunrise Elopement, Taft Point Sunset Elopement, Autumn Yosemite Valley Elopement.