There’s a reason why people are obsessed with Yosemite National Park. The first time I could remember being in Yosemite, the feelings I experienced was utter amazement and joy that such a place existed. All of the valleys and mountains create a very freeing experience.
Exploring Yosemite changed my life, and I’m so excited you’re thinking about using such a profound place to set the scene for your elopement.
Weather and the level of crowds (or peak times) could affect when you want to get eloped. Let’s look at some data. According to U.S news, the best time to visit the park is right before it gets crowded during the summer, and right when it starts to dip back into the 50’s and starts to snow. They suggest that time is May and September-October.
May is usually when the road to Glacier point opens up (which is typically the spot everyone should visit and be photographed for their elopement). Which means that if you want to experience Glacier point then I would wait until middle of May so you can be sure that the roads will be open by then. The roads vary on date when they open back up again and when they close. If you want to wait until September or October you’ll be in the clear until November when the roads start to close for winter.
There are two really important things to consider when choosing on a date/month to elope in Yosemite.
- The first is that there’ll be a bigger chance for you to say your vows at your ideal spot during the week. For Yosemite specifically, you have to reserve the place you want to get married at. What this means if you want to say your vows at either Glacier Point or Taft Point, I’d call ahead of time to the Wedding Permit office in Yosemite. You can connect with Cat and she can tell you if there’s availability for a sunrise or sunset ceremony. To reach the office, Cat will be the best person to help you. Here’s her number: 209-379-1858
- For 2021 brides who want to get married at Glacier Point. The park will be doing some construction on the road and trails to Glacier Point. According to the park website, the closure will start in Spring 2021 and will last through 2022. Which means that Glacier Point won’t be accessible through road or trials. But there are so MANY beautiful locations in the park. Don’t lose hope if Glacier Point isn’t available to us. We might just end up finding a secret location where there are just as epic views.
Let’s start walking you through the Wedding Park Permit & Fees.
Yosemite Wedding Permit & Fees
Did you know that you have to have a permit in order to get married in the national park? This section is to help you walk you through the entire permit application process, so you can feel confident about the permit application.
Let’s talk about the fees for a second. Yosemite National Park does require a non-refundable $150 fee for the permit. Also, there’s a day of small entrance fee of $35 per vehicle to get in the park. GREAT NEWS FOR YOU THOUGH! If you choose me as your Elopement Photographer—the entrance fee is waived due to me having an annual national park pass.
Now that the fee portion is out of the way—let’s get started. Step 1: Click this link and scroll down to where the ‘Permit Application Process’ heading is. The screen will look like this.
Step 2: Click the “download the application” link and it’ll open the form in a word document. It should look like this:
If you decide to choose me as your Elopement photographer, I can 100% help you out if you get stuck. I’ve filled out my fair share of these!
Please note: If you are going to have video coverage for your ceremony, you have to fill out an additional film/photo permit. However, you don’t have to fill out that application if you are only wanting photography for your elopement.
Finding Your Location
Ceremony locations are first come first serve. I can help you nail down the dream spot for having your ceremony, but there are only a few locations that they allow you to get married at. You’ll want to choose from one of the permitted locations:
Yosemite Valley Locations
- Cascades Picnic Area
- Lower Yosemite Fall Paved Trail
- Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
- Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
- Sentinel Beach Picnic Area
- Bridalveil Fall
- Glacier Point Amphitheater
- Chilnualna Falls Trailhead Parking Lot
Tuolumne Meadows Locations
- Tenaya Lake Beach
- Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area
Big Oak Flat Area
- Tuolumne Grove
- Merced Grove
All of this information can be found on the park website—I just want to make sure all of the information is right in front of you while filling out the permit application.
If you’ve decided to choose me as your photographer, I’ll give a few of my recommendations on ideal spots that will make for the most incredible backdrop. Just a tidbit on that!
Mailing the Permit Application
Once you’ve finished filling out the application, you’ll send in the application along with the $150 permit fee by check either by USPS mail or by overnight Fedex.
My personal preference is shipping them out overnight to Fedex since it’s first come first serve with the locations for your date. The fedex fee is $50 which in my mind secures your location because it takes the president when Cat gets it the next day.
Just make sure to get to your Fedex location before 11am so the overnight fee is worth your money. Otherwise you might be paying an overnight fee when it gets to the wedding permit office in two days time if you don’t get there in time.
From there, Cat will respond back to you by email in the next 1-2 days. She’ll be in contact with you about the approval of your permit! This is a big step forward! Wohoo.
I think it’s also important to talk about some of the things that aren’t allowed at your ceremony since it’s a national park. I know it’s not the most fun thing to talk about, but I think it’s important to respect our time at the park. So let’s dive in!
What You Can Bring Into The Park, What You Can’t & Leave No Trace
I’m going to be quoting exactly what is permitted and what isn’t straight from the website. It’s important to know that this isn’t a list of regulations or rules to break because they have a purpose. We all love our national parks, and these are just guidelines to make sure our parks are taken care of so we can fully enjoy them!
Also, just in general, let’s make sure we respect the park and pick up our trash and not hurt any of the beautiful landscape. These rules are like giving a hug to Yosemite National Park so you can experience all the magic it has to offer.
Here are a few more notes what the park has restrictions on for your ceremony:
- Wedding permits are not granted for holiday weekends or holidays (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday). (I had to look this up to make sure that I understood this clause, but it’s only saying you can’t have a ceremony if it lands on a holiday or if the holiday lands on a weekend.)
- Pets are not allowed to attend any wedding ceremonies.
- Visitor use may impact your ceremony: we recommend morning time frames at all locations (before 10 am).
- The use of amplified music (& microphones); speakers (with exception of iPods with 2- to 3-inch, portable speakers); throwing of bird seed, rice and flower petals; decorations, and the use of drones are prohibited.
- Avoid standing or walking on plants, grasses and tree roots.
- Ceremonies are not allowed around the bases of sequoia trees.
- The use of hardy flower bouquets and boutonnières are preferable, to ensure seeds do not fall and germinate. Baby’s breath is prohibited.
- The use of native flower arrangements is also preferred.
- If your party is fewer than 11 people, you are not limited to the following locations with exception of open meadows and riparian environments.
- Butterfly releases, and all other living and/or inanimate object releases or dispersal, including birdseed and rice, are prohibited. Food items provide an unnatural food source for park wildlife.
- Formal receptions are not allowed in picnic areas.
- Please respect park resources and tread lightly.
I just wanted to make a quick note on first looks in regards to your getting ready options.There are a few ways I’ve seen couples approach first looks when you have to drive together after you’ve already gotten ready.
Here are a few:
OPTION 1: The True Adventurous Type
You don’t wear your wedding dress until we’ve hiked/gotten to the spot where you’re going to say your vows (or really ANYWHERE in the park you want to do your first look). I like this option because you can still get ready to an extent (hair, makeup, etc.) but you get to be in your comfy clothes until we found a spot for you guys to share your first look.
Although it doesn’t sound glamorous, I have a portable changing room for you to feel like you can put on your wedding dress (comfortably). Again, I know it sounds like roughing it, BUT this way you guys get to experience an EPIC location for your first look.
OPTION 2: The All-in-One option
This option doesn’t work unless you’re choosing one of the accommodations (hotel room, glamping option, or cabin) in the park. (You can choose to stay in the park and it’s also something I recommend in the section below.) Here’s why: you can choose to get ready where you’re staying in the park, and then I could pick up your significant other and drive them to the location.
During the time I’m driving them to the park, you could then put on your wedding attire. Then I could come and pick you up and drive us to the location to meet your person. And then we continue into the first look with the right song and him turning around to see you. This option really wouldn’t work outside of staying in the park since the drive is far. But it’s an option!
OPTION 3: Keeping it Simple
This option is straightforward and still really fun. You could either get ready together in one room or have two separate rooms so you can have completely your own space. When he’s finished getting ready (and you have only your dress to put on), I could find a location near your accommodations (airstream or airbnb) and set him up for the first look. Then when you have your wedding dress on and are ready for him, I could walk you toward him, toward the place where he’ll turn around and see you for the first time.
Why You Should Still Consider a First Look
Those are all of the options I’ve thought of for your first look. I believe in this moment and don’t think it should be skipped. My brides who have skipped it, later tell me that they regret it. I think why I’m so passionate about this moment is because it’s so intimate and a moment you’ll never experience again.
To have someone look at you as if they’ve finally found what they’ve been searching for all their life. And to feel that it’s moving into a life of “us” instead of “me”. Besides the ceremony itself, this is my favorite moment of an elopement. I hope this does encourage you to keep the first look for your elopement!
Getting Ready Location and Possible Reception Afterwards
Yay! Now that we’ve finished with some of the logistics for the day, we’re moving on to the “vendors” part. Yes, booking your accommodations is considered a vendor to me! There’s so many exciting and untraditional options for what kind of “stay” you’re looking for. I even have some Airbnb’s for you if you’re considering a larger party for your reception afterwards.
Hotels, Cabins, & Glamping in the Park
Staying in the park is my number one option for you guys! Here’s the reason: you don’t have to waste time driving an extra 1 ½ to get into the park from Oakhurst (the town over). You have so much more time to explore. And luckily Yosemite offers really awesome accommodation options. And for the extra adventurous type, I’d consider the High Sierra Camps.
You get to camp on one of the mountains & back country of the High Sierras which would be PERFECT for the couple who loves hiking where you can probably get the best views of the park. The website says that this option has “limitless adventure” and I believe it!
Have you ever seen those really trendy airstreams and thought you wished you could experience something like that? Well lucky for you, there’s an airstream experience, called AutoCamp and they have lodging really close to Yosemite! The space itself is really cool. They have an awesome clubhouse where there’s a mini shop where to get food, fire pits, and a shuttle that takes you straight to Yosemite (no need to take an uber or rental car). It really does photograph well too (if you’re considering a first look!).
Airbnbs in Oakhurst
For those wanting a bigger party celebration afterwards, this is your airbnb:
Luxury Circle W Retreat
What I love about this Airbnb/retreat center are the open windows. It really is a massive space so that people can be both inside if it gets too cold and outside dancing the night away for your reception. This is the best option if you want to have a celebration with the people you love after the ceremony.
The property is massive and you could have your guests pitch in for the rooms so that they can stay here while you enjoy another lodging experience for just the two of you. It’s a win-win for everyone. All that’s needed is you, your partner and your people to dance the night away!
For a place to stay for just the two of you:
Even the name for this Airbnb is magical. It has everything a cozy cabin could ever need! The aesthetic, the trees, the trials for lots of small walks. It’s kind of perfect for a getaway and for you two to focus on each other. The only thing is that this airbnb is pretty strict on enforcing the amount of people that are allowed. I would say this is an Airbnb for just the two of you. Besides that it’s perfect! Maybe that’s a good thing that they are strict on the amount of people allowed in this Airbnb if you’re hosting a reception after your ceremony. Maybe it really is the perfect getaway option for you two to have a mini honeymoon.
Florals, HMUA, & All Other Vendors
Full disclosure—I love flowers. I’m lucky to have amazing vendor friends who I would recommend for some STUNNING flower arrangements. BUT, if you think you want to DIY your flower arrangement, my biggest tip for this is Trader Joes. Trader Joes is my go-to choice for creating a flower arrangement, but in the city closest to Yosemite, Oakhurst, the most immediate grocery store they have is Raley’s or Vons.
My recommendation is to create a Pinterest board for inspiration. Then talk to either Vons or Raley’s to see what flowers are in season to see if you can recreate something similar. Just remember, baby’s breath isn’t allowed in the park. I’d also test it to see if you can recreate a small bouquet once. Testing and practicing are beneficial for the day of!
If you’re staying in the park, the park services even suggest picking flowers that are in the park! How romantic would that be? A Yosemite bouquet! If you’re not confident about creating your own bouquet I wouldn’t mind creating one for you.
For the rest of the vendor team such as HMUA and the officiants and anything else you might need, I have a few recommendations on officiants that would truly make your ultimate elopement dreams come true. Regardless of all the other vendors, you want this moment to reflect you as a couple. When thinking about capturing some of your most intimate moments you’ll experience on your elopement day makes me excited.
I genuinely believe in freeing couples from obligations and expectations so that they feel celebrated & fully loved while saying their vows on their terms—in the most adventurous way they want.