How to Elope in Yosemite - A Complete Guide - Stephan & Adriana

How to Elope in Yosemite – A Complete Guide

If you’ve been going around our website, you’ve noticed Yosemite is our main workplace – not a bad office, hey? And it’s not a bad wedding venue either! Our clients come from all over the US and the world (as far as Belgium, Australia, and NZ) to elope in Yosemite, and once you get there, you understand why.

I wanted to write and share a complete guide to hopefully help those planning a destination wedding at this National Park. There are a lot of logistics when planning something like this, and this blog will check the boxes and help you with a lot of them!

1. About Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the most iconic National Parks in the USA. It’s located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

This Park covers an area of 747,956 acres, but almost 95% of the Park is designated wilderness!

Granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoia groves, lakes, meadows (etc) are what makes Yosemite so famous. Not to mention it’s one of the most picture-perfect places in the world.

People come from all over the globe to visit this place, rock climb some of the hardest routes in the world, and get married here. About 4 million people visit Yosemite each year!

Yosemite Valley is open all year round, as other areas of the Park can close once winter conditions begin. We’ll talk about that in more detail throughout this blog!

We’ve been regularly going to Yosemite since 2018, and primarily working in the Park since 2020. In 2021, we moved even closer, and now we’re based just 15 minutes from the gate.

We shoot weddings, elopements, and engagement sessions 2-3 times a week (sometimes more) and we simply don’t get sick of it. We still drive over just for fun to explore different areas, hike new paths, and sometimes even just to see the Park covered in snow.

It’s truly a privilege to call this place home, and we love to share our passion for this Park with our couples!

Well, let’s get into this so you can learn everything you need to know to elope in Yosemite!

2. WHAT’S DIFFERENT IN 2023

One BIG change about Yosemite National Park in 2023 is the fact that Glacier Point Road will be open again! YAY!

In 2022, the road was closed for the entire year due to some major rehabilitation projects.

According to the Park’s website, the road will open again in 2023, but we should expect 30-minute delays which to me it’s super worth it.

This road leads to 3 of the most beautiful views of the Park: Glacier Point, Taft Point, and Sentinel Dome. I’m so so excited to explore that area again next year!

The road is not open all year round though. Glacier Point Rd and Tioga Rd both close once winter conditions begin.

Each year, they become accessible once all of the snow melts, and close again after the first snowfall. Opening dates are sometime between the end of May and June, and closing dates are usually late November.

You can check the opening and closure dates since 1980 on this page!

2023 will be such a great year with all of these locations opening up again, and a GREAT time to elope in Yosemite!

I & S elopement at Glacier Point & Taft Point!
3. WEDDING PERMIT APPLICATION EXPLAINED

If you want to elope in Yosemite or have an intimate wedding, or any kind of commitment ceremony you’ll need permission from the Park to do so. That’s when the wedding permit comes in!

This may sound a little intimidating but it’s quite simple.

The permit application system was put in place with one main goal in mind: to make sure the landscape of Yosemite does not suffer due to events.

It’s a way that the National Parks found to allow people to get married in these beautiful places, while still having control over the magnitude of such events.

I personally think it’s the best of both worlds.

If you want to get married in such an iconic place you probably also care about preserving this place, correct?

To give you peace of mind – we’ve never had a permit denied. That’s not the Park’s goal.

You might have to be flexible about certain things like your ceremony time and location, but other than that, they do their absolute best to accommodate each couple that applies!

The application process remains quite simple, and here’s a step by step:

  1. Pick a ceremony location (you’ll find a list below)
  2. Download the Permit Application online and fill it out
  3. Print the Permit Application
  4. Mail it to the Park along with a $150 check to the National Park Service
  5. Once they receive it, they’ll inform you via email when your wedding day is scheduled

* Please note that Yosemite does not issue wedding permits on holidays or holiday weekends!

That’s it! Simple, right?

Sometimes it can take a while for the Park to get back to you, and that’s normal. Since 2020, the number of people wanting to elope in Yosemite has increased, and they’ve been extremely busy. Just be patient, and kind, and make sure they’ll know how much you appreciate what they do.

PS. we always help our couples with the permit application, so you have nothing to worry about.

How to Elope in Yosemite
4. CEREMONY LOCATIONS LIST

It’s important to know that, if your party exceeds 11 people (including yourselves and your vendors, like your photographers, for example), you must pick a pre-approved location.

Yosemite has a list of locations that are designated for wedding ceremonies, and when you apply for the permit, you’ll need to pick one of them.

Yosemite Valley:

Cascades Picnic Area

  • 30 people maximum
  • open all year-round
  • limited to 8 vehicles
  • bathrooms: yes

Lower Yosemite Falls Paved Trail:

  • 50 people maximum
  • open all year round except on holiday weekends
  • parking: yes – especially at the lodge area
  • bathrooms: yes

Swinging Bridge Picnic Area

  • 20 people maximum
  • open all year-round
  • parking: yes, but limited, very few spots
  • bathrooms: yes

Cathedral Beach Picnic Area

  • 50 people maximum (monitoring required for groups of 35+)
  • open most of the year – it closes from November through Memorial Day Weekend
  • parking: limited to 6 vehicles
  • bathrooms: yes

Sentinel Beach Picnic Area

  • 100 people maximum (monitoring required for groups of 50+)
  • open most of the year – it closes from November through Memorial Day Weekend
  • parking: limited to 8 vehicles
  • bathrooms: yes

Bridalveil Fall

  • 50 people maximum
  • currently closed for construction
  • parking: yes
  • bathrooms: yes

El Cap Meadow

  • 10 people maximum
  • open all year round, but we must stay within the El Cap viewing area of the meadow
  • parking: yes
  • bathrooms: no
How to Elope in Yosemite
Wawona:

Important – these locations are located on Glacier Point Rd which is not open all year round. You can check the Opening and Closing Dates throughout the years here.

Glacier Point Amphitheater

  • 50 people maximum
  • open along with the road schedule
  • parking lot: yes
  • bathrooms: yes, pit toilets
  • weddings are not scheduled here during July & August

Chilnualna Falls Trailhead Parking Lot

  • 50 people maximum
  • open along with the road schedule
  • parking lot: yes
  • bathrooms: yes, pit toilets
  • weddings are not scheduled here during July & August
Tuolumne Meadows:

Important – these locations are located on Tioga Road which is not open all year round. It is usually open after Memorial Day until September 30th. You can check the Opening and Closing Dates throughout the years here.

Tenaya Lake Beach

  • 50 people maximum
  • open along with the road schedule
  • parking lot: yes
  • bathrooms: yes, pit toilets

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area

  • 25 people maximum
  • open along with the road schedule
  • parking lot: limited, carpooling required
  • bathrooms: at the lodge
How to Elope in Yosemite
Big Oak Flat:

Tuolomne Grove

  • 30 people maximum, but hiking is required (2.5 miles round trip)
  • open along with the road schedule, but there might be snow on the trail for several months
  • parking: yes
  • bathrooms: no

Merced Grove

  • 30 people maximum but hiking is required (3 miles round trip)
  • open along with the road schedule, but there might be snow on the trail for several months
  • parking: yes
  • bathrooms: no
5. BEST TIMES TO ELOPE IN YOSEMITE

1. Fall, our personal favorite

Yosemite is always such a treat in the fall. Seeing the whole Valley turn from green to orange, yellow, and red is priceless! Another advantage of fall is the fact that it’s never a super crowded season, apart from holidays (like Thanksgiving) and weekends. Not a lot of tourists come to Yosemite in the fall!

The best months for fall weather (and colors) are October & the beginning of November.

2. Spring, it’s time for waterfalls!

Spring is another beautiful season, especially in Yosemite Valley, because it’s the best time to see the waterfalls in Yosemite! And if you get lucky with timing, you’ll also get to experience wildflowers all over the Yosemite meadows.

The best months for spring weather are April, May, and the beginning of June.

How to Elope in Yosemite
J & P Yosemite Elopement

3. Summer, when everyone visits the Park

Summer is definitely THE most crowded time in Yosemite. We generally avoid working in Yosemite in the summer, and that’s usually when we make our trips to Rio, Brazil to see my family. Not only the Park can flood with tourists, but it can also be unpleasantly hot, like 95 + degrees in the Valley!

The best months for summer weather (if you like the heat, haha) are July & August.

How to Elope in Yosemite
T & A Intimate Wedding and Reception

4. Winter, truly a winter wonderland

Winter in Yosemite is absolutely amazing, and it’s actually Stephan’s favorite! If you can brave the cold weather, let me tell you… Yosemite Valley covered in snow is a winter wonderland! One thing you should be aware of is that if there is a severe snowstorm, the Park will close all roads. It doesn’t happen very often, but it can happen.

The best months for winter weather are December, January & February.

How to Elope in Yosemite
V & S Winter Elopement in Yosemite Valley
6. WHERE TO STAY IN YOSEMITE

Yosemite is a huge park, so if driving isn’t your favorite thing in the world, I would recommend staying inside the Park. Staying inside the gates of Yosemite National Park can be pricey, especially during busy seasons, but if that’s within your budget, then it’s worth it!

Hotels & Airbnbs Inside Yosemite National Park

  • The Ahwahnee – the most famous and majestic hotel. Right in the middle of Yosemite Valley, and super convenient to explore the park.

  • Yosemite Valley Lodge – located across from Yosemite Falls, is also very convenient, and a little less expensive compared to the Ahwahnee.

  • Wawona Hotel – located 40 min or so from the Valley, this historical hotel is quite beautiful from the outside.

  • Yosemite West Cabins – Yosemite West is a “neighborhood” in Yosemite located right before Glacier Point Road. It’s full of beautiful cabins, and you can find most of them on the Scenic Wonders Website or on Airbnb.

  • Wawona Cabins – located 40 min or so from the Valley. Most of them are easy to find on Airbnb.

We’ve done a couple of weddings at some of the Yosemite West Cabins, and also met the couples there for getting ready pictures. It’s by far the best location to stay in when you elope in Yosemite.

Our favorite cabins in Yosemite West are:

Hotels & Airbnbs Outside of Yosemite National Park

There are a couple of entrances in Yosemite National Park, but the two main ones are the south gates, coming from a town called Oakhurst, and the north gates, coming from Mariposa. Oakhurst & Fish Camp were our favorite areas to stay, and no surprise there, that’s exactly where our new home and cabin are located now. It’s more budget-friendly than the places inside the gate, plus you have the convenience of being around gas stations, grocery stores, Starbucks, lots of restaurants, and more. From our cabin (which is above downtown Oakhurst) to the gates it’s a 15 to 20 min drive. From the cabin to Yosemite Valley is about 45 min to 1 hour of drive time.

  • Tenaya Lodge: located in Fish Camp, this is one of the most famous hotels around Yosemite. It’s beautiful, and home to a lot of wedding ceremonies and receptions.
  • Oakhurst Airbnbs: you’ll find tons of Airbnbs in this town. You’ll also find our favorite cabins and areas to stay inside our Yosemite Elopement Guide that we send to every client of ours.
  • Autocamp: located by Mariposa, on the north entrance side, Autocamp is one of the cutest places you’ll find around the Park. Their land is full of trendy airstreams, tents, and little cabins.
Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park
7. BONUS TIPS

Wedding Receptions near Yosemite

If you’re wanting to plan an intimate wedding reception inside or near Yosemite, there are a couple of options.

You can book a venue or a lodge and reserve an area for you and your guests to head over there after the Yosemite part of the day. Tenaya Lodge, Rush Creek Lodge, and AutoCamp are great options! Or you can book a big Airbnb that will fit everyone and hire a catering company or private chef!

* Always remember to get approval from the host before planning a reception.

We wrote a blog post specifically about how to plan a reception while still having an outdoor wedding in Yosemite. You should check it out here!

When to Book your Accommodation

The right answer is… earlier than later, haha!

Of course, this will depend on your dates. Summer (June, July, and August) and holidays get booked up 6+ months in advance. The best hotels and cabins do sell out quite fast!

If you have a specific hotel or cabin in mind, I would recommend booking it whenever possible. Once you have your travel dates, just go ahead and book lodging as well!

How to Avoid the Crowds

Remember at the beginning of this post, when I said Yosemite receives 4 million visitors a year? I was not exaggerating. So yes, Yosemite does get really crowded. But that all depends on when you go!

As mentioned before, summer is a really busy time. We simply avoid the months of July and August, and we found it ends up being a Yosemite we don’t really love. I know this sounds harsh, but certain things can make or break someone’s experience, and I think if a place is overly crowded then that’s one of the factors.

Avoiding summer, holidays, and weekends, in general, is not a bad idea.

If you can’t, then my next tip is to have a sunrise or early morning elopement! Most people don’t want to wake up at 3, 4, or 5 AM, and I totally understand why. Sometimes it’s really hard to get going that early! But every time we’ve done a sunrise wedding has been SO worth it!

How to Elope in Yosemite
THAT’S A WRAP!

I hope this guide on how to elope in Yosemite is helpful! We’re super excited about this year! We are based just 15 minutes from the gates of Yosemite and we’re lucky to call this place our backyard.

Most of our couples come from out of state and even from outside of the country, so we are always there every step of the way – from permits to planning the wedding day timeline, to suggesting local vendors, places to stay, and hikes to explore.

Check out some of our favorite Yosemite elopement stories:

Do you want to elope in Yosemite in 2023 but still have questions?
Simply get in touch and let’s chat!
tools for photographers

This blog post – How to elope in Yosemite was written by Adriana. We are Stephan & Adriana, California Elopement & Intimate Wedding Photographers based in the foothills of Yosemite National Park.

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  1. Deanne Stott says:

    Hi do you have suggestions for photographers?

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