Considering eloping in Yosemite National Park? I don’t blame you for being so drawn to it—after all, it’s probably one of the most visited and well-known national parks in the country! Famous for its iconic waterfalls, sequoia trees, and dramatic granite cliffs, Yosemite attracts more and more engaged couples each year for their adventure wedding or elopement, as it’s truly every outdoor-lover’s dream. And even if you’re not a big hiker (same!), there are PLENTY of more easily-accessible spots that you can explore, and that can serve as the backdrop for your Yosemite elopement.
Because of its increasing popularity in recent years, Yosemite has definitely gotten a bit more strict in terms of what is & isn’t allowed with weddings in the park, so it’s important that you’re familiar with all the rules you’ll need to follow. There’s a ton that goes into planning a Yosemite elopement in general, from where to elope to how to get permits to where to stay. . . the list goes on! That’s why I’ve compiled all my top tips + my favorite resources all in one handy place for you, so that you can plan the best day EVER. Oh, and so that your dream day goes off without a hitch, no matter what unexpected changes or obstacles may come your way.
Now let’s dive into what you came here for: to learn all about this gorgeous place you’re considering eloping at!
To start us off, we’ll do a mini geography lesson—because if you and any potential guests are going to be traveling for your elopement, it’s obviously important that you know where you’re going + how to get there! Yosemite National Park is located in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, bordered by Sierra National Forest to the southeast and the Stanislaus National Forest on the northwest. You know a place has got to be beautiful if it’s bordered by two lush, expansive national forests and is a highlight of one of the most breathtaking mountain ranges on the West Coast😍
As far as traveling to Yosemite goes, there are a few nearby airports within 3-4 hours driving distance. I’ve listed the main ones below, along with how long it takes to get from the airport to Yosemite Valley by car.
It’s up to you where you want to fly into—consider your budget, your preference for layovers/direct flights, your group size, how far you want to have to drive, what part of the park you’ll be staying in, etc.
Yosemite is a truly gorgeous place, with more than 1,500 acres of wilderness to explore. In fact, Yosemite is partly to thank for all of our amazing national parks! It was first declared a public trust of California in 1864, which was the first time that the government ever protected land for public enjoyment. This laid the foundation for our national and state parks systems. How freaking cool is that?
Honestly you probably won’t need any more convincing by the time you’re done reading this guide, because the Yosemite scenery speaks for itself—but just in case you’re a fan of decision-making using pros & cons lists, here are some of the biggest pros & cons to eloping at Yosemite:
Because many parts of Yosemite close down seasonally, the best time to elope at Yosemite is generally between May and October. Roads like Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road typically close down around October-November and open up again in May-June, so if you want full access to the park, it’s safest to stick to a summer elopement.
If you’re okay being a little flexible and potentially having to adapt if the weather changes (e.g. snow falls earlier/melts later than expected), then fall in Yosemite is absolutely stunning! The way the trees sprinkle warm, vibrant colors across the landscape is unreal and is just so dreamy for an elopement ceremony or portraits in the park. Yosemite gets 95% of its precipitation between October and May, so as long as you elope outside of that window (or you’re down for a rainy day) then you’ll be golden. Keep in mind, though, that because Yosemite Valley IS a mountain valley, it can be rainy or snowy at any given time during a storm, so always be prepared with backup plans just in case.
As for the best time of day: if you aren’t opposed to getting up early for a sunrise or morning elopement, the NPS recommends visiting popular locations in the morning to try and beat the crowds! You’re much more likely to have peace and quiet, and getting to watch the park + the world around you wake up is a super beautiful experience. Personally, though, I recommend a sunset elopement if you choose a location like Yosemite Valley or Taft Point, where the sun hits juuust right during sunset with that magical, oh-so-famous golden hour glow. I also suggest eloping on a weekday (the NPS says Monday-Thursday) if possible, to avoid even more crowds!
Okayyy now that you know the why and the when, let’s talk about the where: AKA the best places to elope in Yosemite National Park!
If your group will have <11 people: You can elope anywhere in the park, minus open meadows and riparian environments, assuming you follow the area’s rules and adhere to Leave No Trace principles.
If your group will have >11 people: You’ll need to choose from the National Park Service (NPS)’s list of pre-approved ceremony locations, which you can find here.
In this section, I’m going to give you three locations that I’ve personally been to, plus one more that I have yet to visit but have heard so many amazing things about. Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, and Tuolumne Meadows all fall under the list of approved locations for >11 people, and then Taft Point is only available for groups of <11.
But know that there are so many more locations to choose from for your day, as well—this is just the beginning! I will ABSOLUTELY be there to help you pick the perfect spot(s) for your Yosemite elopement once you’re booked + I’m all set to be your Yosemite elopement photographer, whether you choose one of these locations or want to find another.
Yosemite Valley has a ton of beautiful spots you can pick to have your elopement ceremony! When I was there for a shoot in 2020, it was close to sunset, and the light streaming through the mountains was just unbeatable. It’s hard to describe just how beautiful everything is when the sun hits it just right, but take a look for yourself at the photos below!
The Valley is accessible year-round (unless there’s a big winter storm that causes blockages/closures), so it’s one of the few spots at Yosemite where you can usually elope at any time of the year. The water levels are higher in the spring months due to snow melt, but that shouldn’t affect your ability to explore or hold your ceremony. You can park along the road or in one of the parking lots throughout the valley, so you don’t have to worry about factoring in extra time to walk or hike to any locations here.
Some of my favorite Yosemite Valley locations that are already approved by the park for ceremonies include:
Next up on the location list for eloping in Yosemite is Taft Point, which is absolutely iconic for its insane views, heavenly sunsets, and rugged cliffs that are reachable with a moderate hike! It’s a shorter trek, about 30 minutes, but there IS a bit of a steep elevation change, so be prepared to work a little to get there and back. Taft Point has mind-blowing views of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls, which makes it a gorgeous spot to elope; however, that also means it’s very popular and can get crowded, especially with other couples who are eloping! Don’t worry, there are always ways for your photographer to use their magic and shoot around others, and you can often find more privacy by eloping during less busy months + on a weekday as well. Take full advantage of these views, my friends, because you will never want to leave! The way the light just pierces through here really is breathtaking. Taft Point is accessible from June to October via Glacier Point Road, which is closed during the winter months as I mentioned earlier—so plan accordingly!
Speaking of Glacier Point, my third location recommendation for your Yosemite is Glacier Point itself! Glacier Point is especially incredible for sunrise elopements, because the way the sun rises over Half Dome is a magical experience. You’ll have to be up for a very, VERY early start in order to reach Glacier Point before the sun comes up, but it is absolutely worth every snooze you desperately want to hit on your alarm clock—and I say that as someone who is definitely not a morning person!
If you have a group of 11 people or more, you can hold your ceremony at the Glacier Point Amphitheater, but if your group is smaller then you’re free to explore the area as you please!
There are a few different ways to get to Glacier Point: if you want to hike most of the way there, there are three different hiking paths you can choose from, as well as different day hikes along Glacier Point Road. The road will also get you close if you’d rather drive, and then it’s just a 15-minute walk from the parking lot to the point! Just remember that this road closes down seasonally, so it’s important to plan your elopement accordingly (it’s usually open from about June to October).
The final Yosemite elopement location on this list is Tuolumne Meadows, which I haven’t personally been to yet but that I KNOW is a top-notch location for ceremonies and portraits. It’s one of the most expansive subalpine meadows in Yosemite, with dramatic mountain peaks, domes, and winding river views all around.
If you’ll have 11 people or more with you on your elopement day, you can hold your ceremony at either Tenaya Lake Beach or the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area, as well as the Tuolumne Grove nearby. No matter how many people you have in your party, though, you can’t hold your ceremony or take portraits within the meadows themselves, as they’re very easy to damage.
One other thing to keep in mind is the annual Tioga Road closure, which is typically from around the end of October to the end of May. Because of the high elevation of the meadows, the road could close outside of those dates if a storm hits. So be mindful that even if you elope within the date range that the road is typically open, there’s always a chance it could close down and impact your ability to explore the area!
Now that we’ve nailed down the where and when of eloping at Yosemite, let’s talk about the legal stuff you need to know when planning your special day.
Any wedding or elopement in Yosemite goes through approval by the parks service. But don’t worry! It’s a relatively simple process. You can apply for your permit up to a year in advance, and no later than 21 days before the date you’re wanting to elope. Just fill out the permit application here, which comes with a permit fee of $150. (There are additional fees and requirements for larger parties, so be sure to pay attention to that as well.) Once you’re approved for your desired date and location, that’s it!
Here are a few other important things to know about wedding ceremonies in Yosemite once you have your permit:
Next, you need to get your California marriage license to make sure your ceremony is legal!
In order to get legally married in California, you must:
There’s no waiting period that you have to follow once you get your license, and you also don’t need to be a California resident in order to get married there! California as a whole doesn’t require any witnesses to be present during your ceremony, but certain counties may require you to have one or two to sign your marriage license afterward—so make sure you do your research on that beforehand depending on where you get your license.
It’s also important to note that once you get your license, you can get married in ANY California county! So let’s say you live in San Francisco; you could get your license there, and then get legally married in Mariposa County, which is one of the counties where Yosemite National Park is managed.
Once you’ve got your Yosemite elopement permit and your California marriage license, the only other thing to worry about is entrance fees into the park once you get there, as your permit doesn’t waive those. You can pay your fee and get your pass online in advance, or in person once you get to the park.
A $35 fee per vehicle grants you a 7-day pass to Yosemite, or you can opt for an annual America the Beautiful Pass for $80, which grants you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country! There are also some special passes for active military, veterans, and seniors.
Yosemite and the area around it has a TON of amazing accommodation options for all kinds of elopements, whether you want a tiny cabin for just the two of you, a glamping tent for a fancy night under the stars, or a spacious home to host your loved ones. Below is a list of some of the best places to stay in Yosemite for your elopement!
We’re almost at the end, I promise! I know I’ve thrown a ton of info at you throughout this guide, so let’s keep that trend going and wrap this up with a few final key tips about eloping in Yosemite.
Watch for reservation requirements: Sometimes, certain parts of Yosemite will require you to make a reservation before visiting for a variety of reasons, so make sure you look on the NPS website to ensure you’re prepared. For example, at the time of writing this (December 2023), Yosemite will be requiring a reservation to drive into or through the park on some days between April and October 2024 to help manage congestion!
Be prepared for crowds: Crowds are just going to be something you have to deal with at Yosemite; you can’t avoid them! But you can do your best to find some quiet time by eloping in more secluded parts of the park at sunrise, on a weekday, and/or during the shoulder season. Traffic is worst between 9am-5pm so if you can arrive at the park before or after those peak hours, you’ll have a better chance at some privacy!
Prepare for limited cell service: You may not be able to receive or make calls/texts in some parts of the park, so I recommend meeting up with your guests outside of the park beforehand, then going in together, or coming up with a precise meeting point/time.
Wear sensible shoes: Especially if you choose a location where you’ll be hiking a bit, safety comes before fashion. You can wear your best hiking boots along the way and then chance into what you’ll wear for your ceremony when you get there.
Bring lots of water and snacks: Because you don’t want to get hungry halfway through the day and be stuck in the middle of your hike without anything to eat!
Be ready for the dark + cold: If you’re hiking before sunrise or sunset, bring flashlights, headlamps, or lanterns to light the way. Be sure to also wear layers to keep warm, especially after the sun goes down.
Leave No Trace: Lastly, do your best to adopt a “leave no trace” mindset! Be respectful of the land and wildlife while you enjoy all the beauty it has to offer, be responsible with your trash, and of course be mindful of where you walk when you’re up high at Taft or Glacier Point! Check the trail and weather conditions before you head out.
Eloping in Yosemite is going to be absolutely beautiful, and hopefully these resources + tips help you plan the best day possible! If you haven’t found the right photographer to accompany you yet, let me throw my hat in the ring—I’d be stoked to be your Yosemite elopement photographer! Check out my investment page here, and get in touch here to discuss the details! I can’t wait.
Want even more info-packed California elopement resources like this one? Here you go!