How to Elope in Yosemite

A couple who eloped in Southern California in Yosemite National Park face each other and share a moment after their elopement in Yosemite National Park.

How to Elope in Yosemite

So you want to elope in Yosemite National Park?

Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. It’s actually the first national park we visited (and fell in love with). From breathtaking views to towering waterfalls, there’s so much beauty to admire. In our opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful places to elope!

First things first: What is an elopement?

When you think of the word elopement, the image of a quick trip to Vegas or a local courthouse may pop into mind. Nowadays, elopements have also taken on a completely new meaning.

Elopements don’t have to just mean a quick marriage ceremony in Vegas or a courthouse, but it can be a wildly beautiful day centered around simply being together & starting your new adventure together (minus what a traditional wedding day may include).

Elopements are typically more of a private and intimate affair. It can either be just the two of you OR it can also include a handful of your closest friends and family. They also typically take place in a more non-traditional setting – so instead of choosing to get married in a wedding venue, you may be considering getting married within a national park (like Yosemite!). Basically, elopements allow you the flexibility and freedom to craft a day completely centered around what’s important to you.

We are personally in love with all the elopements we’ve photographed. In our opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful ways to get married.

IMAGINE IF YOUR YOSEMITE WEDDING WERE LIKE THIS:

Saying your vows in a tranquil spot, overlooking the gorgeous valley views.
Spending your first married moments together, adventuring and exploring trails.
Being able to actually spend time together – without feeling rushed or anxious.
Having your first dance together – in an intimate setting. Feeling the wind, the quietness.
Being completely together.
These are some of the pros that eloping can bring.

WHY YOU SHOULD ELOPE AT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Yosemite is about a 4 hour drive from San Francisco, or a 5-6 hour drive from Los Angeles. If you are considering eloping in California, is a gorgeous spot that is far away enough to have a private, intimate and secluded experience.

Yosemite National Park is SUCH a breathtaking spot, and because it’s so huge (748,436 acres!), there’s plenty of options for you to choose from when considering eloping here.

What you need to know about eloping in Yosemite National Park

Site use: In order to have a ceremony at Yosemite, you must submit a permit application. Site use is on a first-come, first-serve basis, and has a 2 hour maximum limit at all locations. While submitting a permit may take anywhere between 2-7 business days, applying as soon as you decide to elope is recommended! If your requested location has already been booked or is unavailable, you’ll need to choose a different location within the park, or a alternate date.

You can’t bring pets. While we all love our fur-babies, they aren’t allowed at any ceremony sites. Make sure you are okay with not bringing fido if you decide to elope here.

Group size: If you have a group of fewer than 11 people, you are NOT limited to their ceremony locations list. This group count includes any vendors, such as your photographer, videographer, officiant, etc.

Waterfalls: Waterfalls are strongest approximately March through June. If you are hoping to have your ceremony at a location with a waterfall, and would like guests to be present, it may be difficult for them to hear. Waterfalls will have little to no water from approximately late July to November (depending on snow or the weather).

Weather: Yosemite weather varies, and can be rainy, snowing, or sunny. For current road and weather conditions, call (209) 372-0200 (x1).

Tips on how to have a Yosemite Elopement

Maybe you’re sold on the idea, but now you’re wondering “how do I get married at Yosemite?!” Here’s a few things to consider.

What part of Yosemite you want to elope in.

Yosemite is HUGE, and also has a variety of different locations to choose from. Here are some questions to think through when deciding:

Will it just be the two of you, or will you have guests?
If you’re having guests, what’s your guest size?
Do you need it to be easily accessible?
What type of scenery are you more drawn to?

Consider your guests (& your guest count).

Eloping at Yosemite National Park does NOT have to mean you can’t have family & friends present. Depending on where you decide to hold your ceremony, you can have anywhere from 2-50 people total.

Here is a quick location list. For more information on each location, click here.

Yosemite Valley
Cascades Picnic Area
Lower Yosemite Fall Paved Trail
Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
Sentinel Beach Picnic Area

Wawona Locations
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

Here are a few other things to note for your guests:

There is an entrance fee that all guests will have to pay when getting into the park. Currently, the fee is per vehicle and is $35 (or $30 for a motorcycle). You can also use a national parks pass to get inside. Payment will be required at the gate to get in. Since it’s per vehicle, you can encourage carpooling to save on fees!
There is limited to no cell service within the park. Yosemite is huge – so make sure to communicate exactly where and what time guests are supposed to meet you for the ceremony. If they get lost, they may not be able to reach you if you are already in the park.
Chairs are not allowed (unless exceptions have been made for the elderly or persons of disabilities – this needs to be approved ahead of time). Consider a location that may have picnic tables – although these are first-come, first-served bases.
Parking can be difficult to find, especially if you’re going during weekends or a busy season. Encouraging carpool is recommended.
TIP: Visit Yosemite beforehand, go to the Visitor’s Center, and ask if you can take a handful of maps to pass out before your wedding day. Indicate on the map where exactly your ceremony will be held. You can also find the map online, and print out copies for guests!

Apply for a permit

This can sound intimidating, but we promise you it’s not as scary as it sounds. Choosing to elope in ANY national park will typically require permit(s). Here’s what you need to know.

Special Use Permit: This permit is absolutely required if you are planning to get married in Yosemite National Park. Applying for a special use permit will cost you $150 USD.

The permit application is non-refundable and is required for ANY wedding or ceremony held at any location within Yosemite (regardless of your group size).
If event monitoring is required, you’ll be charged an additional $50/hour. You’ll need an event monitor for groups of 35+ people.
After reviewing your application, a permit will be prepared and mailed over for you to sign. You’ll need to sign and return this back.
After this, you will receive an authorized copy, which you’ll need to have in your possession at the time of your ceremony.
Note: Permits are not granted on holidays or holiday weekends (Sat, Sun, Mon).
Photography/Videography Special Use Permit: If you are bringing along a professional photographer and/or videographer with you, they are required to obtain a separate Special Use permit. This is also a non-refundable $150.

TIP: Hire an all-inclusive photo & video team! This can save you in permit fees, since a permit is typically required per vendor.

How to apply for the permit: Weddings or ceremonies may be scheduled 21 days prior to your event, and up to one year in advance. To apply, visit their website , and print & fill out their application form. Include any special needs (i.e. access for elderly guests, persons with disabilities, etc.). You will need to mail this in (along with the $150 application fee) to the address below.

Postal Address:
Yosemite National Park, National Park service
P.O. Box 700
El Portal, CA 95318

Overnight (FedEx/UPS):
Attn: Catherine Carlisle-McMullen
Special Park Uses/Film & Weddings
Yosemite National Park
5083 Foresta Fd.
El Portal, CA 95318

Make sure to apply for your permit well in advance to ensure you get it in time for your ceremony!

For any additional questions on permits, you can contact Yosemite National Park’s Special Use Contact:

Catherine Carlisle-McMullen
(209) 379-1858
Catherine_carlisle-mcmullen@nps.gov

Know what you aren’t allowed to bring

Certain things may not be allowed during your wedding ceremony in the park. Don’t let this bum you out though! Here’s a list of what’s NOT allowed:

Pets
Drones
Amplified music & microphones
Speakers (with the exception of iPods with 2- to 3- inch portable speakers)
Bird seeds
Rice dispersal
Food items
Baby’s Breath
Chairs, tables, and other furniture*
Butterfly/dove releases
Other living animal releases
Directional signs
Balloons or other decorations
*Note: Consideration is given to those with special needs who may need to bring a chair. Contact the park ahead of time for more information on this.

Secure your photo + video team

Photography & Videography teams often get booked up fast – sometimes even over a year in advance. Make sure to reach out and get your date secured! When looking for a photo & video team, also make sure you look for someone who is familiar with elopements, and the national park itself. Especially since Yosemite is HUGE (and is a tourist destination).

Consider getting married in the morning (before 10am)

If you are choosing a popular spot, consider having your ceremony before 10am. It will still be relatively quiet before then, and can allow for privacy and intimacy.

Note: If you decide to have a sunrise ceremony, this may mean trekking through the park in the dark (depending on where you decide to elope and if it requires a hike). Likewise, if you decide to have an evening ceremony, this may also mean hiking down in the dark. While it can sound intimidating, do your research ahead of time and come prepared with all the essentials! Having a photo/video team or guide who is knowledgeable with the area can also help a TON in ensuring you have a safe & memorable wedding day.

Plan out where you’ll be getting ready

Find an Airbnb or a hotel nearby to get ready. Public facilities in the park will often be filled with visitors, and changing there isn’t exactly the easiest. Plus, there’s not always mirrors in the public restrooms. Rather than using a shared space, figure out lodging beforehand and plan to get ready there.

Bring the essentials

Be prepared with sunscreen, plenty of water both for you and your partner and any guests, hand sanitizer, toilet paper (just in case), a first aid kit, a bridal emergency kit (stocked with deodorant, bobby pins, safety pins, etc.), a compact mirror, proper hiking boots, hand warmers, layers of clothing (even if you think you may not need it), etc.

Be Respectful of the Park

Along with following Leave No Trace rules, you’ll want to be respectful of the park and it’s visitors. If you choose to get married at Yosemite, you’re essentially having your wedding in a public and shared space.

A reason we love elopements is because the park is so huge, and there are a ton of private places you can sneak away to in order to still have some privacy together/with family and friends. We just ask that you make sure to be respectful of our surroundings. This means picking up any trash, not leaving behind any decorations, etc. It’s also important to note that you cannot walk or stand on plants, grasses or tree roots. Ceremonies at the base of Sequoia trees are also prohibited.

Ask questions!

If there are any other burning questions on your mind, you can always reach out to Yosemite National Park! Here’s the best person to contact, if so.

Catherine Carlisle-McMullen

Special Park Uses/Film and Weddings

Yosemite National Park, National Park Service

Email: catherine_carlisle-mcmullen@nps.gov

Office Number: 209-379-1858.

READY TO HAVE A WEDDING IN YOSEMITE?
We believe your wedding day should firmly reflect who you are & what’s important to you. For some couples, that means having a beautiful and intimate elopement in a national park. We hope our little list helped you think through whether a Yosemite Elopement is right for you. Whether it’s a small, intimate gathering made up of your nearest and dearest, or it’s an elopement with just the two of you, we hope your wedding day is a true reflection of who you are.

Xx,

Kristine and Charles

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