Planning an Elopement – Step-by-Step Guide

Eloping truly gives you so much freedom and you can basically have whatever day you want to have. This, sometimes, can feel extra overwhelming. And that’s why I’m really excited to share this guide with you! This step-by-step is all about planning an elopement!

planning an elopement
How to Elope – Step By Step!

You will find below a step-by-step guide on how to plan an elopement. These will serve as guidance for all of your elopement planning stages – how to begin planning, what vendors to book, etc.

Although elopements are generally less stressful to plan than a traditional wedding, there are still a lot of logistics involved.

Our step-by-step will help you see the big picture, and hopefully, take some of that stress away!

Step I – Your Dream

When you picture your day, what do you dream of?

That’s a really important question you and your partner should brainstorm to answer!

Eloping gives you so much freedom, which can also be overwhelming. That’s why it’s really important, as the first step in your elopement planning process, to figure out what you both want to do.

This isn’t so much about logistics yet and just about envisioning your day together.

You can start dreaming by thinking about:

  • what do you see yourselves doing that day?
  • what’s the landscape you want to be surrounded by?
  • who else do you want to be with (if anyone)?
  • what are the elements that need to be included in your day?

The last topic can be anything, for example, your dog needs to be present. Or, you need to go hiking at some point, or, you can’t imagine a complete elopement without watching the sunset at the end.

Yes, maybe you’ll have to compromise some of the elements down the road due to budget, weather, location, etc. But this step is about DREAMING and realizing what your priorities are.

I won’t be giving you too many more examples, because this part is all on you. Envision, dream, and imagine your day. Do it together! And you’ll see how elopement planning starts becoming quite fun!

Step II – The Location

After you’ve brainstormed about how you want your day to look, you’ll start having an idea of where you want your day to be.

Or, you might’ve always known where you want to elope.

Some couples choose to elope in a place that’s really special to them. A place where they’ve already been, and have several memories attached to it.

And some choose to elope somewhere completely new. A place where they’ve never been!

Working in Yosemite all the time we see both cases quite often. I actually think most of our couples have never been to Yosemite before.

There is no right or wrong, seriously!

I just think it’s important to pick a location, or at least a general area (for example, Northern California) so you can start reaching out to vendors, which takes us to the next step!

Step III – Your Elopement Vendors

This is when things start feeling real and exciting! Contacting your vendors!

The first step though is figuring out what vendors you need to hire.

This will vary drastically for each elopement, of course. But let’s go through a couple of vendors you might want to contact:

  • photographer
  • videographer
  • makeup artist
  • hair stylist
  • officiant
  • catering
  • cake
  • florists
  • wedding attire
  • planner
planning an elopement

This is one of the reasons planning an elopement can take up to a year, or really, 7 days. Because you might not want or need all of those vendors for your day.

You might want to do your own makeup, purchase your dress or suit online, head over to a National Park, and spend the day with your person, just the two of you.

Or you might envision a day full of activities, a reception with your loved ones at the end of the day at a cool Airbnb, and even a next-day activity!

If you don’t know who to reach out to first, here’s a tip: your photographer. Yes, that’s a biased opinion, but in 5 years of this job, we’ve helped couples in every single stage of planning.

From not knowing their date or a specific location yet to already having a date and a wedding permit in place with a National Park.

Whatever your situation is, your photographer is one of the most important vendors you’ll hire.

They’ll be responsible for creating the images that will trigger your memory years down the road. Your photos are the tangible elements that will bring you back to that day. Emotions, smells, colors, literally everything.

So if you really love a photographer’s work and you like their vibe, it’s worth reaching out to them first to know their available dates!

Not to mention, they’ll help you with the rest of the logistics. We give every couple a Planning Guide, with a list of recommended vendors, places to stay, etc! A lot of our couples end up hiring their other vendors from this Guide. Our goal is just to make your life easier as you are planning an elopement.

Step IV – The Final Logistics

So you’ve chosen your location and your date, and you’ve booked your vendors. Now, all that’s left is planning the details.

If you’re having a destination wedding, this stage is just like planning a trip. You need to book your accommodation, and if you’re flying, you need to book flights and probably a rental car as well.

As I’ve mentioned before, if your photographers are local, chances are they’ll have recommendations on these matters. Our guide includes a list of places to stay, as well as links to our favorite Airbnbs!

But, if you’re eloping close to where you live, then you might not need to think about any of this! Once your vendors are booked, you’re pretty much set until the elopement day.

All of the other details will get done if you have good communication with your photographers. We always help and guide our couples while building their elopement day timeline. It’s one of my favorite parts of this job!

And that’s it. You’ve done it. You have:

  • picked an elopement location
  • chosen a date
  • applied for a wedding permit (if it’s a national park, for example)
  • hired your vendors
  • booked your flights, accommodation, etc
  • built your timeline along with your photographer

Now it’s time for the best step of all…

planning an elopement
Step V – Enjoy your Day!

Now it’s time to just be present.

Time flies, it’s true. But if you’re eloping, I imagine it’s because you want to be able to really live this day. Really be able to take your time, enjoy, and remember every single moment and detail.

You don’t want to feel rushed and feel like you have to greet 150 + people. You don’t want to have to go through a lot of tasks and traditions.

That’s why you’re eloping.

So be present.

Things will go wrong.

Your day won’t be perfect.

But it will be perfectly imperfect.

It’s your day, and it’s the one you’ve been waiting for!

Bonus – Elopement Timeline Example

Intimate Wedding in Yosemite National Park, CA

Sunrise Time: 6:29 am | Sunset Time: 7:26 pm (Full-Day Coverage)

Ceremony Location: Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP

8:00 am: photographers arrive – scout location for the first look!

8:30 to 9:30 am: detail photos

9:30 to 11:00 am: getting ready photos of the couple

11:00 to 11:15 am: first look (near the hotel)

11:15 to 12:00 pm: photos around Yosemite Valley

start the drive to Tenaya Lake at 12:30/1:00 pm ish

2:00 to 2:30 pm: ceremony at Tenaya Lake

2:30 to 3:15 pm: family photos

3:15 pm: picnic with family and hang out!

4:30 pm: start heading to Olmstead Point and then to Pothole Dome trailhead for sunset!

4:30 to 6:30 pm: hike and sunset at Pothole Dome trail (hike back at 6:45 ish)

Notice how this is a full day, and it isn’t.

It’s a 10-hour day, yes. But it’s not jam-packed with things! That’s the beauty of a wedding where it’s just the two of you there or just some of your closest family members and/or friends. You have TIME!

Enjoy and take it all in.

That’s a wrap! Planning an elopement can be overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be! I hope this guide made you feel ready to start planning your elopement day!

We are Stephan & Adriana, Elopement Photographers based in Northern/Central California. You’ll find us in Yosemite and Sequoia National Park, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, and other amazing locations in California!


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