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How to Elope in Yosemite National Park

The Journal

Fun Fact: did you know that Yosemite National Park is the number 1 destination to elope? If you’ve ever been or have seen photos it’s not hard to see why. It’s BEAUTIFUL!!

Yosemite National Park is situated within the Sierra Nevada Mountains and surrounded by beautiful sequoia trees. It is an amazing place to vacation but, we think it’s an even better place to elope. If you’re considering Yosemite as your dream elopement location, you’re in the right place! We put together this detailed guide to help you figure out the big and small details to elope in Yosemite. Everything from your stay, to permits, to the best ceremony locations are covered here.

Let’s get started! 

The legal “mumbo jumbo” to elope in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park Elopement Portrait

Permits

Whether your elopement includes just you and your partner or guests, eloping inside any national park requires a special permit.

Note: The wedding permit fee at Yosemite is $150 dollars, with an additional $50/hour fee if your event will require monitoring. See the NPS Weddings and Commitment Ceremonies page here for detailed information about the types of events that require that additional monitoring inside Yosemite, as well as detailed instructions for filling out your permit application.

**Make sure that you also comply with the park’s coronavirus restrictions, which are subject to change based on current data.** 

Fees

All wedding events inside the park will require that $150 fee, even if you’re only taking photos in the park and not holding your ceremony there. The park also requires a film and photo permit to allow your photographer (and videographer) to capture your elopement. You can apply for your permits up to a year in advance, and must be at least 21 days prior to your elopement day. Of course, the earlier the better – you have a greater chance of being approved for the location and date that you want the sooner you send in your application, so don’t wait too long!  

Another important thing to note is that entrance fees into Yosemite DO NOT get waived with the wedding permit. You will still have to pay the $35 per vehicle fee to get into the park, so we recommend carpooling if you have guests attending your ceremony. You can check out the full list of applicable entrance fees and entrance options here.  

Licenses

And of course, don’t forget about your marriage license! You have the option to sign and turn in your marriage license at your local courthouse before you even show up to your elopement, or you can get a license in Mariposa County (where Yosemite is located) when you travel for your elopement. California does not require you to be a state resident to get married and file your marriage license here, so make sure you also factor in scheduling that appointment at the courthouse to get your license when you’re planning. 

Where exactly should I elope in Yosemite? 

Arguably the most important decision to make rather than how to elope in Yosemite National Park is where in the park should we elope? More specifically, where should we do our ceremony? What backdrop are we looking for? Etc…?

Let’s talk ceremony location but before we do… 

Regardless of where you choose to hold your elopement, there are some restrictions in place to preserve the landscape and wildlife that you should be aware and respectful of: 

  1. You will not be able to hold your ceremony around the base of any sequoia trees 
  2. Releasing any object as part of your ceremony (i.e. butterflies, throwing rice, birdseed, flower petals, etc) is prohibited 
  3. You won’t be able to put up decorations or signage 
  4. Chairs, tables, and any other furniture won’t be allowed (unless special accommodations are needed). You can use existing picnic tables and benches if they’re at your chosen ceremony site and unoccupied when you arrive 
  5. No amplified music 
  6. No off-roading in your vehicle – you must stick to designated roads and parking areas, so keep in mind the walking or hiking distance to your location 
  7. Pets are not allowed at any ceremony sites 
  8. Special conveyances like a hot air balloon or horses are not allowed 
  9. Formal wedding receptions aren’t allowed in picnic areas 
  10. Operating a drone is prohibited 
  11. No private locations: meaning other park visitors are still allowed to enjoy your ceremony location while you’re there 
  12. Permits will not be issued on holiday weekends or holidays

Now let’s dive into your options for where to hold your ceremony at Yosemite!

Fortunately, Yosemite has a pretty quick turnaround for reviewing your permit application, so if your location has been booked already by another couple, the park will work with you to find an alternate location that will suit you. Site use operates on a first come, first serve basis, and you have 2 hours maximum at your ceremony site. Also, keep in mind that if your party is fewer than 11 people, you are not limited to just the locations that Yosemite has listed online for your ceremony! (There are a few exceptions to this, so make sure you browse Yosemite’s ceremony location list to figure out what works best for you and your party.) Some locations can have up to 50 guests while others much fewer. Ask your photographer where you can elope in yosemite national park with your guests.

Here’s a rundown of just a few of our personal favorites: 

Bridalveil Fall 

NPS is just finishing up a Rehabilitation Project at Bridalveil Fall in autumn of 2021. Bridalveil flows year-round and is such a romantic location! If you’re looking for an epic waterfall in your photos and a boho vibe, this is the perfect place. 

Taft Point 

Taft Point has an incredible view and some iconic spots for photos. Not too far from Glacier point, these two locations are arguably the most popular in the park. The hike to taft is about 2.2 miles roundtrip and mild. The hike back is a bit steeper on the front end as you climb some large rock stairs to get to the forest trail. Taft is splendid during sunset and has a breathtaking view of the valley below. Not recommended for those who are scared of heights, some of the most iconic views take you out onto the cliff ledge. Taft point can be crowded, so prepare to wait in line to get your shot at the ledge, especially on weekends and summer months. Parking can be a bit troublesome so arrive early to secure a place to park. The closest bathroom sits at the trailhead.

Glacier Point 

Glacier Point has a few popular spots for weddings and elopements, so we suggest a weekday or sunrise elopement to avoid the crowds. The altitude here is around 8,000 feet, so make sure your accessories are on tight so you don’t lose anything! Glacier Point Amphitheater is closed to weddings in July and August. Additionally, the road to Glacier Point is scheduled to be closed for all of 2022 to rebuild. If you want to get here in 2022, there are 3 trails: Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono. These are all strenuous hikes, so take that into consideration when planning! 

Other locations for ceremonies:

  • Wawona
  • Tunnel View
  • Yosemite Falls
  • Cathedral Beach
  • El Capitan Meadow
  • Valley View
  • Cascades Picnic Area
  • Swinging Bridge
  • Sentinel Beach
  • Tenaya Lake Beach
  • Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area
  • Tuolumne Grove
  • Merced Grove
Bride and Groom in yosemite national park

Eloping in Yosemite National Park – Sunrise or Sunset?

Both are great options! How early do you want to wake up to do your hair and makeup? Are you and your partner morning people, or will you be too tired by midafternoon? Sunrise elopements can be great in the warmer months – fewer people will be out in the mornings, and you can beat the heat. A sunset elopement will allow you to relax in the morning, get ready at a slower pace, and explore a little beforehand. The only downside is that sunset tends to be more crowded overall.

NPS has recommended dates and times for each location based on peak visitor seasons, so again be sure to browse that full list before you decide!

**Wintertime in Yosemite means frequent road closures, so the best time overall to visit are spring and fall as June-August is the peak visitor season.** 

Elopement at Glacier point, Yosemite

WHERE TO STAY 

Now that you’ve thought about how to elope in Yosemite National Park, you’ll need to consider where you’re booking your lodging for your elopement! Whether you’re just looking to book a stay during your elopement experience, or you plan to extend your stay for a honeymoon-like vacation, there are lots of great options in the Yosemite area both for the budget-friendly and those looking to splurge and get luxurious. Here’s a list of our recommendations: 

Ahwahnee Hotel 

1 Ahwahnee Drive, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389 

A registered historical landmark, the Ahwahnee is built to highlight the beauty of the park around it, including Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. They have a gift shop, sweet shop, a bar, and an outdoor swimming pool. You can book standard hotel stays, suite options, or a private cottage stay. Prices range anywhere from around $500-$1100 per night depending on available spaces. Ahwahnee is open year-round. 

Tenaya Lodge  

1122 Highway 41, Fish Camp, CA 93623 

Tenaya Lodge is located on the south side of Yosemite and offers a ton of recreational activities alongside your regular stay. Hikes, movie screenings, spa packages, fine dining, etc.! You can book a private room or an entire cabin for yourselves at Tenaya. Prices range from $300-$980 per night depending on the number of guests and the specific package you choose to book.  

Yosemite Valley Lodge 

9006 Yosemite Lodge Drive, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389 

Yosemite Valley Lodge is a perfect budget friendly option for your stay. It’s a nice central location close to Yosemite Falls. Room cost is $278 per night and there are some nice amenities and dining options here as well.  

Campgrounds in Yosemite 

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds, most of which operate using a reservation system. You can chance it with the first come, first serve campsites as well, but NPS states that they usually fill up before noon from April to September. NPS also states that reservations typically fill up within minutes (and sometimes seconds) after opening. Visit NPS’s campground page for Yosemite to figure out the best way to get a reservation if that’s the way you’d like to go! 

Airbnb  

Airbnbs are always an option too! Depending on when you travel, there are entire rental units or private rooms available on Airbnb. Be sure to double check the location if you don’t want to be driving for a long time through the park from your Airbnb to your ceremony location, etc. 

Autocamp Yosemite 

6323 CA-140, Midpines, CA 95345 

If you’re looking to splurge, Autocamp serves the Yosemite area with fully outfitted Airstream campers, tents, and suites gathered around a central clubhouse. They can also be your liaison for activities inside the park if you’re looking for more adventure after your elopement! Price per night ranges from $246 to about $770 depending on what options you book. 

SUGGESTED ELOPEMENT PACKING LIST 

Lastly, it’s time to get into our suggestions for what to include on your packing list for your elopement. There are a few things that are frequently forgotten or overlooked, and we want you to be as prepared as possible so that you can focus on enjoying your day with your partner and any loved ones who come along.  

For attire: 

  • Shoes with good tread for hiking or walking are a must. If you want to pack an extra pair of shoes for hiking and change into your ceremony shoes once you arrive, that’s great! But you don’t want to risk slipping, tripping, or rolling an ankle right before you get married. 
  • Layers! If you hike to your location before sunrise or are hiking back to your place to stay after sunset, it’s probably going to get chilly. In case of unpredictable weather like rain, etc., it’s always a good idea to bring a few layers along.  
  • Wear a dress or suit that’s comfortable to move around in, or prepare to wear other hiking gear and change into your formal wedding attire once you reach your ceremony spot! 

Don’t forget: 

  • Water: bring more than you think you’ll need! 
  • Snacks! Adrenaline and excitement can make it easy to forget to eat, so pack those trail snacks and make sure you’re eating throughout the day. 
  • Flashlights or headlamps if you’ll be hiking pre-sunrise or post-sunset 
  • Bug spray and sunscreen as needed 
hiking boots on a bride and groom in Yosemite National Park

How to elope in Yosemite National Park | Final Tips

  • There is only one main road that goes through the valley, so prepare for some traffic even on non-busy days in the park. 
  • Plan your day with your photographer! What location do you want? What type of photos do you want? Your photographer can help with your elopement day timeline based on your vision, especially when it comes to finding the best light, etc. We want to help make sure your day runs smoothly and your vision for your perfect day is fulfilled! 
Glacier point background in yosemite national park

We hope that this guide helps you plan all the details to elope in Yosemite. Be sure to check out our 7 tips for planning the perfect elopement here:

7 ELOPEMENT PLANNING TIPS

lace wedding gown and orange tux on bride and groom in Yosemite.

If you have more questions, comments, or concerns, reach out to us! Send us an email at [email protected]. We’d love to chat or work with you to plan the best day!

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