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Yosemite Elopement Guide

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, school trips with best friends, ice skating with my crush when I was fifteen, picnics with boyfriends, hiking Vernal Falls with my husband just weeks after our wedding.

*Photo by Briggs Photography

Above is my favorite photo of my husband Mark and I in Yosemite. It's a very special place to us, because it's where I told him I loved him for the first time. He said it three days earlier, and I waited to respond. I really wanted to be sure I meant it. As we were looking at the view from Glacier Point, I was moved by the beauty, and I knew I wanted to marry him. I turned to him and told him I loved him. It was magical.

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. Since he's been gone, Yosemite is the place I go to remember him. I know he'd be incredibly proud of my work now, and that warms my heart and keeps me going.

As you can see, it's a very special place for me.

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 closest 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, without a reception.

Yosemite is one of the most popular elopement destinations, and when you look at the photos taken in the park, you can see why.

Why Elope?

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

I always say, a wedding is for everyone else, an elopement is for YOU. Many of our couples don't bring anyone along. Some bring just close family, and maybe a few best friends. In any case, all of our couples have had a beautiful experience, and their friends and family have been thrilled for them.

You can expect to have a chill, fun day taking photos. Say goodbye to the stress of a big wedding, and truly enjoy the day you joined together as one.

Why Yosemite?

Yosemite is the most beautiful location in Northern California. It's so majestic that people travel from all over the world to visit. Some of our clients have traveled from Japan, Austrailia, Canada, the Midwest, and the East Coast. 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.

Why Us?

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. I've teamed up with the best vendors I could find, and we have Yosemite elopements down to a science. Simply put, we are the experts.

Let me show you just how beautiful your wedding photos can be.

"Stop looking. Call Dawn RIGHT NOW. Seriously, if you are a bride or groom looking for someone to help you have the best day of your life- a day you can actually spend enjoying marrying the love of your life, not a worry or ounce of stress, and have it all captured beautifully...you need Dawn Kelly. If you want to hear our story, keep reading. Really, you don't need to keep reading to know that Dawn is the only choice if you want your wedding day to be a dream come true."

~ Ashley + Bryan

To read the rest of this review, as well as many more, go to our Testimonials page.

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. This permit is required whether or not you are having an official ceremony in the park. 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.

Glacier Point

  • Views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country
  • 7,214 feet elevation, 3,214 feet above Half Dome Village (on the valley floor)
  • Accessible by car from approximately late May through October or November
  • Two large parking lots offer plenty of parking
  • Short, paved (wheelchair accessible) trail takes you all the way to the point
  • Pit toilet bathrooms

Glacier Point is my favorite spot to photograph couples, 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?! This is a STUNNING spot for a ceremony, especially when you're bringing family.

Tunnel View

  • Views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Three Brothers, and Bridalveil Falls
  • 4,400 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car year-round
  • Two medium sized parking lots offer parking, and it's tough to get a parking spot when the park is busy.
  • Short, paved (wheelchair accessible) trail takes you to the vista.
  • No bathrooms

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, with Half Dome peeking through the mountains.

Tunnel View is one of the ceremony locations listed on Yosemite's web site. It's not ideal for a ceremony because there is zero privacy. Tour buses are constantly arriving, unloading excited tourists. This is also a favorite spot for landscape photographers, who stake their claim and refuse to move. This spot consists of two parking lots and the rock wall.


  • 4,000 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car year round
  • Tons of lodging, including Big Trees Lodge and cabins inside The Redwoods in Yosemite
  • Access to the Merced River
  • Mariposa Grove is located in Wawona.
  • Activities include horseback riding, hiking, camping, bird watching, fishing, golfing

“Wawona is like a bright green emerald set between the sparkling diamonds of Yosemite Valley’s waterfalls and the red rubies of the Sequoias in the Mariposa Grove.” – Yosemite visitor, early 1900s

I have recently fallen in love with the huge area of Wawona! Did you know that the valley is only 5% of the park? Don't miss out on all the variety the park has to offer. If you stay in Wawona, there's great opportunity for us to explore the area and work our way towards the valley.

Bridalveil Falls

  • This area will be under restoration in 2020
  • 3,966 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car year round
  • One medium-sized parking lot; very difficult to find parking on busy days
  • Paved trail (wheelchair accessible) takes you to the base of the waterfall, or into a wooded area with the river rushing through
  • Pit toilet bathrooms

Bridalveil Falls area is under restoration for 2020 and 2021 and therefore closed to ceremonies and wedding photos.

The Merced River

The Merced River runs through the entire park, starting in the upper country. There are many gorgeous spots in Wawona and the valley.

Valley View

  • 3,966 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car April through November
  • Access to the Merced River
  • Views of El Capitan, Three Brothers, and Bridalveil Falls

This little spot looks out at the valley from the western end of the loop. There is a small parking lot with about ten parking spots.

Mariposa Grove

  • 5,600 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car April through November
  • Access to the Merced River
  • Mariposa Grove is located in Wawona
  • Flush bathrooms
  • A shuttle bus is taken from the parking lots to the grove

Yosemite's Wooden Walkways

All of these beautiful wooden walkways are accessible from parking lots, and therefore very easy to get to.

These walkways look very different in each season, the landscape changing from green ponds to fall foliage as the year progresses.

Sentinel Beach

  • Views of Yosemite Falls
  • Located on the bank of the Merced River
  • 3,966 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car in the dry months, closed during rain due to mud
  • One small parking lot with around a dozen spaces
  • Dirt and sand to walk on
  • No bathrooms

People often forget about Sentinel Beach, which is a shame, because it's BEAUTIFUL! So much variety for photos, including Yosemite Falls, the Merced River, and tons of woodsy areas. This is the first spot to change colors in the fall.

Cathedral Beach

  • Views of El Capitan
  • Located on the bank of the Merced River
  • 3,966 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car in the dry months, closed during rain due to mud
  • One small parking lot with around a dozen spaces
  • Dirt and sand to walk on
  • No bathrooms

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.

Swinging Bridge

  • Views of Yosemite Falls
  • Located on the bank of the Merced River
  • 3,966 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car year-round
  • One small parking lot with around a dozen spaces, very tough to find parking on busy days
  • Paved paths (wheelchair accessible) take you back to several meadows and the bank of the Merced River; to the right is a large meadow with views of the falls
  • Pit toilet bathrooms

This area has a lot to offer and is gorgeous in every season!

*This area is currently under restoration. The meadow to the left of the river is closed to foot traffic.

Lower Yosemite Falls

  • Views of Yosemite Falls
  • 3,966 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car year-round
  • A large parking lot across the road at Yosemite Valley Lodge provides plenty of parking
  • Paved path (wheelchair accessible) take you to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls
  • Pit toilet bathrooms

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.

El Capitan Meadow

  • Views of El Capitan
  • 3,966 feet elevation
  • Accessible by car rear-round
  • Parking along the road, no parking lot

El Capitan Meadow is my absolute FAVORITE meadow! It's right in the middle of the valley, which makes it easily accessible. It's especially beautiful in the fall.

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 walking through a meadow with the love of your life, the sun on your back, smiles on your faces.

Yosemite's Nooks & Crannies

There are amazing little nooks and crannies EVERYWHERE in Yosemite. Because I've spent so much time there, I have my own secret spots!

Things to Ponder

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.

Should you bring family?

We love working with families! While it's true that you don't have to bring anyone along to your elopement, if you have children, bringing them 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 a part of joining two families into one.

Many of our couples bring immediate family: parents, siblings, and spouses. Some bring best friends as well. We've worked with groups as large as 35 guests.

How does the ceremony work? What about licenses and permits?

I help all our clients organize their ceremony, including:

  • Choosing a location that best suits their needs
  • Putting together a timeline
  • Setting up the ceremony the day of

Most of the time, couples choose one of our all-inclusive elopement packages that includes an officiant. Each couple is provided with a questionnaire where they can tell us all about themselves and their relationship. Once it is completed, our officiant contacts the couple to set up a phone consultation, where they discuss the ceremony in detail. All types of ceremonies are available, including non-denominational, Catholic, and other religious ceremonies. Sand ceremonies are also available and provided by the officiant.

If you have more than 10 people in your party, including your photographer and officiant, you must stick to a list of ceremony locations provided by Yosemite NPS. If you have 10 people or less, you can have your ceremony anywhere in the park!

Within the confines of Yosemite National Park, a wedding permit is required for all ceremonies and wedding portraits. The permit costs $150. I help all our clients with the permit process.

You can get your marriage license at any County Clerk's office in California and there's no waiting period.

For details, check out my FAQ license and permit blog.

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.

Yosemite Current Conditions Page

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 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. However, there's no way to know when we will have snow and when we won't. 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.
  • Mariposa Grove was just renovated, and now has brand new flush bathrooms!

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

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.

Check out our What to Wear board on Pinterest!

Yosemite Food Options

I have some great suggestions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—especially if you’re starving after our time together.

The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room ($$$)

Gluten-free friendly
Vegan friendly

Located inside the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, this is a great option if you want an upscale experience. Built in 1925, the hotel and restaurant have been a bridal destination ever since. With vaulted ceilings, stained glass, rich wood, and massive chandeliers, it's incredibly romantic.

A breakfast buffet is served Monday through Saturday, from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM.

On Sundays, a brunch buffet is served from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM. This is their most popular service.

Lunch is served from 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM. Their lunch menu is more affordable than their dinner menu.

Dinner is served from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM.

Their dinner service often books up, so whether you have a large party or it's just the two of you for dinner, make a reservation! View their MENU to see their selection and prices. I've eaten at all the restaurants inside the park, and this is my absolute favorite.

Appetizers and drinks in the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Bar ($$)

Gluten-free friendly
Vegan friendly

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.

Big Trees Lodge Dining Room ($$)

Gluten-free friendly
Vegan friendly

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.

Half Dome Village Pizza Patio ($$)

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

Yosemite Elopement Packages

As a documentary-style wedding photographer, it’s my job to tell the story of your one-of-a-kind day. I want to make sure we’re a good fit, both in style and personality, so I can capture the true essence of your day and who you are as a couple. Supreme customer service and quality of product are extremely important to me, so time constraints prevent me from accepting every job.

Silver Package - $3,680

4 hours of photography
4x6 prints – approximately 150+ images
Flash drive of high-resolution images
Film negatives
Luxury bridal bouquet & groom boutonniere*

Add officiant for $500

Gold Package - $6,030

5 hours of photography coverage
4x6 prints – approximately 200+ images
Flash drive of high-resolution images
Film negatives
20-page hand-made Italian photo album with dust jacket
Professional hair & makeup for the bride*
Luxury bridal bouquet & groom boutonniere*

Luxury Platinum Package - $9,275

6 hours of photography coverage
4x6 prints – approximately 250+ images
Flash drive of high-resolution images
Film negatives
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*

Custom wedding cakes and dessert bars are available from Cakewalk Heirloom Baking Co.

*We have teamed up with many amazing vendors to put together even better, more comprehensive all-inclusive packages, including video, hair, and makeup. We believe this team of vendors is an amazing and talented team. However, we cannot guarantee the product of any services provided by any separate vendors. Separate vendors are contracted separately with couples and are not under the employment of Dawn Kelly Photography, LLC.

Your Vendors

Dawn Kelly Photography, LLC
Ceremonies by Sara
Legacy Weddings (video)
Fog Light Media (video)
M.U.A.H. by Summer (Hair & Makeup)
Beauty by Corin (Hair & Makeup)
The Enchanted Florist & Whatnots (floral design)

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.

Free Stuff!

We'd love to hear from you.

As a documentary-style wedding photographer, it’s my job to tell the story of your one-of-a-kind day. I want to make sure we’re a good fit, both in style and personality, so I can capture the true essence of your day and who you are as a couple. Supreme customer service and quality of product are extremely important to me, so time constraints prevent me from accepting every job.

If you're interested in working with us, fill out the form below and you'll hear from me within 24 hours.