Yosemite Elopement Guide
Yosemite is my favorite place on Earth. I grew up right outside the park gate, so it was a regular occurrence to hop in the car after worship on Sunday and spend a few hours in the park. Some of my most treasured memories are things like playing tour guide to every family member who ever visited us, ice skating with my crush when I was fifteen, picnics with boyfriends, hiking Vernal Falls with my husband just weeks after our wedding.
It was also my dad's favorite place in the world. He loved nature and solitude. He was a quiet, deep thinker who loved God, animals, and nature.
So, as you can see, it's a very special place for me. Because of the vast amount of time I've spent in the park, I know it thoroughly. I know the best spots, the best light at the perfect time of day for each spot, the most grandiose vistas, and the tiniest hidden nooks. Let me show you just how beautiful your wedding photos can be.
"If you're reading this...GO WITH Dawn. My husband and I decided on an elopement and had never been to Yosemite, but it was on our bucket list (avid nature lovers and hikers). Dawn was there from the beginning to the end helping and answering all the questions we had (even when she was on an amazing Euro trip with her hubby.) She's one-of-a-kind and has a great energy about her. She'll make your day even more special than you could ever imagine and then when you see the photos you'll literally cry tears of joy. Thank you so much Dawn, we couldn't be happier and couldn't recommend you more." ~ Megan + David
Current Problems & Conditions
Any time you plan to travel to Yosemite, you should check their Current Conditions Page for weather conditions, construction, wildfires, and road closures.
As of November 22, 2017:
Mariposa Grove is currently closed for restoration.
What is an Elopement?
There are two types of elopements. The first is probably what most people think of, which is when a couple decides to get married on the spur of the moment and goes to the courthouse or Vegas. I'm educating you on the other type of elopement, which is a private ceremony in a gorgeous location.
Often, it's just the couple, the officiant, and the photographer. Sometimes the couple invites just their closes family and friends. There aren't rules when it comes to an elopement. It's usually a "destination wedding," meaning that they travel to a location.
Yosemite is one of the most popular elopement destinations, and when you look at the photos taken in the park, you can see why.
Elopements are very popular right now. Many couples aren't up to dealing with the stress of planning a wedding. There is no guest list to agonize over, no large reception to plan, and a lot less money spent. Other couples have done the big wedding before and just want to keep it simple.
There are a lot more options for ceremony locations when a couple chooses to elope! Since it's just the bride and groom, they can get married on a mountain top, on any beach, on an island, in the forest, at a historical building, or in a friend's beautiful garden. Elopements are so special because they are just about the love between the couple.
What to Expect
FYI, people may get pissed at you. Family (especially parents) may be very hurt that they weren't able to be at your wedding. That friend who had one class with you in college will be mad they weren't invited. Remember this: a wedding is about YOU, the bride and groom.
If you want to elope, if that will make you happy, then do it! The people who truly love you will get over any hurt feelings and will be thrilled that you celebrated your love by making a life-long commitment.
Yosemite is the most beautiful location in Northern California. It's so majestic that people travel from all over the world to visit. Yosemite is the perfect place for an elopement because there are literally hundreds of gorgeous spots for a ceremony, and exploring the park with your photographer is a blast. You'll have the most beautiful wedding photos ever.
There are also many options for lodging. If you want a luxurious honeymoon suite, you can book a room at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly The Ahwahnee Hotel), or, if you're more outdoorsy and adventurous, you can stay in the Yurts or the tent cabins in Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village).
We do suggest you do a Yosemite elopement on a week day from September through May, because summertime and weekends in the park are very crowded, which makes traveling around the park for photos very difficult. The park is beautiful in every season, so this is a year-long option.
If you need more convincing, here's an AMAZING video done by one of our preferred videographers, TTC Studios!
Beautiful Spots in Yosemite
When planning your elopement, take into consideration the requirements to do so. Yosemite requires a special use permit, which costs $150. They also have a location list that you must stick to if you have more than 10 people. Be sure to consult their Weddings Page for in-depth information on permits and other things, and their Ceremony Locations Page for specific elopement ceremony locations.
*Mariposa Grove is currently closed due to construction. They expect to reopen November, 2017 (as of September 6, 2017).
Glacier Point is my favorite spot to photograph brides and grooms, because I think it's the most gorgeous spot in Yosemite National Park. It has majestic views of the valley, especially of Half Dome. If you're getting married in Yosemite, you NEED a photo with Half Dome, right?!
There's also great spots with beautiful pine trees, which are indigenous to Northern California. Any time we can incorporate scenery into your wedding photos that show off the place where you were married, we do it, to give a sense of time and place.
Half Dome is the monument everyone thinks of when they think of Yosemite National Park. If you get married in Yosemite, a photo of Half Dome is a must!
The sunsets at Glacier Point can NOT be beat! As the sun sinks, the light on Half Dome turns gold, then pink, then purple. It's very worth the hour drive up the hill.
Don't forget to turn around. There's more.
On the way from Yosemite's valley to Glacier Point, is the amazing lookout at Tunnel View. It's a famous, dramatic landmark as you head to Yosemite's valley from the route 41 entrance. It's such an iconic view because it showcases El Capitan, Bridal Veil Fall, the Three Brothers, and Half Dome peeking through the mountains.
Tunnel View is one of the ceremony locations listed on Yosemite's web site, a perfect spot to exchange vows and take breathtaking photos. If you got hitched in front of this view, you'd never forget the feeling of awe as you exchanged vows to your true love.
The light is different every time I go there. The photo above and the photo below were taken on the same week.
The challenge with Tunnel View, the most iconic view in the park, is that every client wants photos there, so I have to work hard to make unique images.
This little spot is on the south side of the park, on the way in from the 140 gate. It's an iconic view, showing El Capitan, the Three Brothers, and Bridal Veil falls. It's a quick stop with a handful of parking spaces right on the side of the road.
This little river-side beach location is breathtaking. El Capitan is in the background, and it's surrounded by beautiful trees and mountains. If you look really close, you can see climbers on El Capitan that look like little specks on its majestic face.
Did you see the climbers? Well, you can't see them in the photo, but they are there.
Swinging Bridge picnic area doesn't seem like much when you drive up, but if you explore it, there's so much to use for photos. It's on Yosemite's list of ceremony locations, and it's STUNNING for a ceremony!
We found these amazing fallen trees that have been beaten by the elements and turned into a really cool natural sculpture. In this meadow you can see waterfalls, which are great elements to include in wedding photos because they give a sense of time and place, such as Yosemite in the spring.
Swinging Bridge area has great variety. It has a large open meadow, a smaller meadow, and little nooks and crannies inside the trees.
Lower Yosemite Falls
This location is on Yosemite's official list of ceremony spots, and it's beautiful! Yosemite Valley Lodge is right across the street, so there's tons of parking, the buses stop there, and it's flat, making it easy to walk. There are lots of spots to have a ceremony. This bride and groom chose to do their ceremony in a grove of trees, then we did portraits in front of the fall.
The Merced River
The Merced River runs through Yosemite's valley, and there are hundreds of gorgeous spots to take photos next to the water.
More of Yosemite's Gorgeous Meadows!
Yosemite has a multitude of meadows, and each one provides a unique majestic view. I can shoot in meadows in Yosemite a hundred times and not have the same backdrop twice. Imagine exchanging vows with this amazing view! Be sure to stay on trails!
This wooden walkway is very popular with brides and grooms. I love to shoot it in different ways at different times of day in different light.
This view in Sentinel Meadow is breathtaking. I can shoot from any angle and have a gorgeous backdrop for wedding photos.
At the edge of the meadows, there are groves of beautiful trees, adding texture to the photos.
And if you're really lucky, you get to take wedding pictures with a deer!
There are various views of Half Dome from the valley, so if you can't make it up to Glacier Point, don't worry!
Yosemite's Nooks & Crannies
There are amazing little nooks and crannies EVERYWHERE in Yosemite. We spend time looking for little spots with amazing light, great texture, or interesting backdrops for wedding photos. If you search out these little spots, your photos will be unique.
I'm well known for shouting, "WE'RE STOPPING HERE!" and screeching the tires when I find something as beautiful as the photo below. The park has been plagued with Bark Beetle for years, and it's heartbreaking to see how many dead trees there are. Now, they're working on making the root system as healthy as possible. When I was there with Sarah and Mike, there were piles of cut trees, and I found it beautiful.
Things to Ponder
How do we handle our marriage license, and do we need a park permit?
The short answer is that you can get your marriage license in any of California's County Clerk offices. You do need a permit to get married in Yosemite, and that costs $150. For details, check out my FAQ license and permit blog.
Should you bring family?
While it's true that you don't have to bring anyone along to your elopement, if you have children, bringing them along would make your elopement extra special. If one or both of you have children, they're a large part of your marriage. They are going to have a new step mother or step father, possibly new step siblings, and they're about to be part of joining two families into one. Step children can make or break a new marriage. I've seen many marriages suffer due to unhappy step children, children who don't feel important or loved. Excluding them from your elopement can sorely hurt them, and every parent just want their children to be happy. Start off on the right foot, and it'll help happily blend your family.
What kind of ceremony will you have?
There are many many options for elopement ceremonies. Most couples who elope go for a simple ceremony with just their officiant and photographer. Some couples want something a bit more personalized. You can personalize your elopement ceremony by adding a cross, an arbor with your favorite flowers, or some vintage doors or windows. You can do a sand ceremony or unity candles. Elopements are supposed to be easy and stress-free, so if you want something set up, you can hire a rental company or a coordinator to set things up for you.
Official Ceremony With Officiant
Michelle & Dean had an official ceremony at Cathedral Beach with a hand full of close friends and family present. It was really beautiful and everyone really enjoyed being there. If you're having your ceremony officially in the park, you must get a permit. You can get your marriage license at any County Clerk's office in California and there's no waiting period.
Private Vow Exchange
Some couples, especially couples who fly in from out of state, get married at their local courthouse, then do a private vow and ring exchange in Yosemite. Michelle and David exchanged vows under a tree in the golden sunlight. It was beautiful.
Weather in Yosemite National Park
When getting married in Yosemite National Park, you must consider weather conditions. Each season has its unique elements you should be aware of while choosing a date for your elopement.
Spring is a beautiful time to get married in Yosemite. The park is very green and the waterfalls are gushing like crazy! Waterfalls are a universal symbol of Yosemite, so having a waterfall in your photos will scream, "We got married in Yosemite!!!" One issue we run into in the spring is the muddy meadows. So if you're not opposed to kicking off your shoes and walking through the mud like us locals do, we can still shoot in the gorgeous meadows! The other issue we run into is periodic rain. When it does rain in the spring, it's usually a light rain, and you can bring umbrellas, which makes for super cute photos! Check with the Park to see what the weather conditions will be, and for any possible flooding. You can expect the temperature to be between 65-75 degrees in the spring.
Summer has fantastic weather. It doesn't rain and the weather is always beautiful. Because of the high elevation, it never gets above 90 degrees, usually staying in the upper 70s and lower 80s. The waterfalls are usually still running, although not as strong as in the spring. The entire park is open in the summer, so you can venture up to Glacier Point, Sentinal Dome, or Taft Point, or if you're adventurous, the upper country Yosemite wilderness!
The worst thing about the summer is the population inside the park. Pretty much every day is extremely crowded with tourists, creating two-hour lines at every park entrance, impossible parking situations, and three-hour delays while trying to drive through the valley. Yosemite gets about 3.5 to 4 million visitors a year. So this means that during the summer months on weekends, it will just be you and 40,000 of your closet friends visiting the park. Because of this, we do not travel to the park in the months of June, July, or August. There are many photographers that do, so if you're definitely wanting a summer date, continue your search. More info on visitation stats can be found at
Fall is, by far, my fave time to photograph weddings in Yosemite. The fall foliage on Yosemite's valley floor is GORGEOUS in October and November. If planning an elopement in the fall, keep in mind that there's a descent chance for rain from October on. We aren't deterred by rain, and just run around the park with umbrellas. You can expect the temperature to be between 60-75 degrees in the fall.
Winter has challenges for sure, but if you want your photos in snow, it's worth it. There is nothing more beautiful than Yosemite in full snow. Parts of the park are closed from October to May because of icy roads, so we can't shoot up at Glacier Point or Taft Point during these months, but there's so much beauty in the valley floor, so it's a worthwhile trade-off. There are beautiful views of Half Dome and El Capitan from the valley floor, and many meadows that fill with snow. If you really want to be in the snow, we suggest December or January. You can expect the temperature to be between 25-65 degrees in the winter.
Regardless of when you decide to elope in Yosemite, you're going to have a beautiful ceremony, a fun time, and gorgeous photos!
OK guys, I'm about to get real. Let's talk about the bathroom situation in Yosemite. It's bad, guys. It's real bad. The vast majority of bathrooms in the park are outhouses. You can always spot a local, because we come out of the outhouse in summertime and we're not holding our hands over our nose and mouth because of the smell. After 35 years, I'm now used to it. Most people aren't. They smell horrible and they're very unsanitary.
Be sure to bring these things to ensure your comfort:
- Toilet paper
- Baby wipes
- Liquid hand soap
- Bottles of water
- Nose plugs (Just kidding, nose plugs don't help)
For your convenience, I've compiled a list of places in Yosemite with flush bathrooms, based on my experience:
- The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (The Ahwahnee) has the very best bathrooms. If you're driving through the valley doing wedding pictures, this is a perfect option because your dress will stay clean and there's good light to touch up makeup.
- Yosemite Valley Lodge is almost as nice as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Always clean and in good working order.
- Big Trees Lodge (Wawona Hotel) is an adorable antique hotel on the way up to the big trees and Glacier Point. Their lobby has a nice bathroom.
- Half Dome Village (Curry Village) has a building with a store, cafeteria, coffee shop, bar (oh yes!), and pizza stand. There are nice bathrooms inside next to the restaurant.
- Yosemite Village has basic bathrooms next to the store. If you're wearing a wedding dress, I don't recommend it because it's not very clean and the floor is usually wet and dirty from so much traffic.
To find more flush bathrooms in the park, Google "Lodges in Yosemite."
If you have Verizon as a cellular carrier, you'll have the best service in the park, but it'll still be very spotty. If you're in need of WiFi, you can go to the following hot spot locations in the valley:
Half Dome Village Clubhouse
Big Trees Lodge Sun Room
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Lobby & Restaurants
Altitude sickness is no joke. My first time shooting in the summer at Glacier Point (7,500 ft elevation), it was 90 degrees and I ended up dizzy and throwing up violently. This really shocked me, because I grew up in the area, at high elevations, and I've never had it happen before. If it can happen to me, a local and regular to the park, it can happen to you, your family, or your guests.
Most people are fine in Yosemite Valley (4,000 ft elevation). It's when you start to climb to Glacier Point and the back country that you need to worry. When it's hot, it's ten times worse, because of what the heat does to the air. Because of the thin air at higher elevations, it's harder to get enough oxygen into your blood, and therefore your brain. That's why the first symptoms are numbness in your hands, dizziness, and labored breathing. As soon as you start to feel this way, sit in the shade, take some really deep breaths, and sip some water. It should pass in five minutes or so. I suggest you bring pieces of dried ginger and Gatorade so that if you get nauseous, you have something to help before you start vomiting. If you do vomit, it's okay, I won't judge you, because I've done it too!
What to wear?!
For an elopement, you can choose to wear whatever you want! Want to wear white leather pants? Fine! Want to wear your grandmother's tea-length wedding dress? Awesome! How about a long gold sequined cocktail dress? Go for it! An elopement is about you two, not about 150 guests murmuring about the food they don't like and the dress they think isn't traditional enough. The whole point of eloping is not having to deal with stressful decisions and making your family happy. You don't have to bring your mother, grandmother, aunt, and second cousin to shop for your dress. You don't have to listen to every single opinion. Just wear what you want to wear! In the fall and winter, when it's cooler in the park, bring a wrap or cute jacket. Many of our clients choose vintage fur wraps, which adds a unique twist to their styling.
Food options inside Yosemite
Most of our elopements in the park are in the afternoon until sunset, and everyone is starving when we're done. It's perfect timing for a celebration, whether you venture to your elopement alone, or if you bring a few loved ones. Here are some suggestions for places to eat in the park, rated by price range:
$$$ Dining in the Majestic Yosemite Dining Room (inside the Majestic Yosemite Hotel)
This is a great option if you want an upscale experience. Lunch is from 11:30 to 3:00, and their prices are significantly less at lunch, so if you're having a morning elopement, it's a great option. If you're having a later elopement, dinner is pricey, but worth it, because it's absolutely amazing. Plus, it's the Majestic (Ahwahnee)! I mean, come on! It's such a tradition in Yosemite. Brides have been dining there since 1925. It's the perfect way to cap off your wedding day.
Whether you have a large party or it's just the two of you, make a reservation! They often book up. View their MENU to see their selection and prices. Everything is DELICIOUS, so you can't go wrong at this place.
There are also big, comfy couches and chairs surrounding huge fireplaces! It's VERY romantic. Many times, we'll finish photos well before your reservation. You can check in with the hostess, then get a bottle of champagne and enjoy it by the fire.
$$ Appetizers and drinks in the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Bar
If you still want the amazing ambiance of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, but don't want a full meal, or are on a budget, their lounge is fabulous. It's on the left when you walk into the lobby. They have a great appetizer menu, including sandwiches, salads, soups, and other simply delicious bites. The portions are pretty large, so three appetizers for two people is perfect. They have a good wine selection and also serve mixed drinks. I really like a spiked hot cocoa with lots of whipped cream if it's cold outside, and a lavender lemonade if it's hot. Sometimes reservations aren't required, so call and make one just in case. Be sure to stroll through the entire lobby and look at the amazing architecture and huge fireplaces.
P.S. The large gift shop inside the Majestic is amazing, full of Native American jewelry and other keepsakes. Some brides purchase a piece of jewelry to remember their amazing Yosemite wedding day.
This is the next best in most people's opinions. It is an upscale Victorian hotel, so take a walk around while waiting for your table. They also have a fireplace where you can enjoy champagne and other cocktails. You will need to make reservations.
I know it seems ridiculous that I'm listing pizza as one of the best options, but bear with me...
There's a climbing tradition in Yosemite that involves coming down to the valley, taking over the pizza patio, and pigging out while trading harrowing stories. If you eat on the patio, you can hear them talking, which is pretty fun. The pizza is delicious and fresh, with pretty much any topping you want. DO NOT order the gluten-free pizza. It looks and tastes like cardboard. So if you're gluten-free, head inside to the cafeteria for a hot meal or fresh salad bar.
For more dining options, refer to Yosemite's dining web page.
Where to stay
Check out Yosemite's Lodging web page for details. Even if the lodge shows it has vacancies, that doesn't mean they do. You'll need to put in a request for a reservation and someone will call you about it. It's faster to call them directly at 866-875-8456.
You can also check out the list of lodging I compiled, which are places we've personally stayed.
Choosing a photographer
I've already written a comprehensive blog about how to choose a wedding photographer:
There are a few extra tips you need in the case of an elopement, especially if you are having a destination elopement:
1) Ask photographers if they travel, and if they do, how much they charge for that. Because we love working in Yosemite so much, and because we're locals, we do not charge travel to Yosemite.
2) Make sure their business insurance covers them if they travel, especially if they're coming from out of the country. We are insured when we work in Yosemite.
3) Talk to them about what they charge for an elopement, and how far in advance they will book an elopement. Many photographers won't book a small contract (less than 5 hours) unless it's last-minute. Ideally, you want to have your elopement between September and May, on a weekday (Monday through Thursday). If you're planning on eloping in the summer months (June, July, August), you should consider having it on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. The reason for this is that there are A LOT of visitors to the park on summer weekends, so traffic gets very, very slow and people are everywhere. Due to the traffic, it makes it about impossible to move around the park quickly. Yosemite gets about 3.5 to 4 million visitors a year. So this means that during the summer months on weekends, it will just be you and 40,000 of your closet friends visiting the park. More info on visitation stats can be found at
Yosemite Elopement Packages
Silver Package - $1,975
4 hours of photography
4x6 prints – approximately 150+ images
Flash drive of high-resolution images
Luxury bridal bouquet & groom boutonniere*
Add officiant for $300
Gold Package - $3,825
5 hours of photography coverage
4x6 prints – approximately 200+ images
Flash drive of high-resolution images
20-page hand-made Italian photo album with dust jacket
Professional hair & makeup for the bride*
Luxury bridal bouquet & groom boutonniere*
Luxury Platinum Package - $8,225
6 hours of photography coverage
4x6 prints – approximately 250+ images
Flash drive of high-resolution images
30-page hand-made Italian photo album with leather cover
6 hours of video coverage*
15-20 minute feature film*
Professional hair & makeup for the bride*
Luxury bridal bouquet & groom boutonniere*
If none of these packages meet your needs, we are happy to put together a custom collection for you. Contact us today to reserve your date.
*Dawn Kelly Photography can not guarantee the quality of service from partner vendors
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