Washington Elopement Photographer

Tips for Planning an Ideal Elopement Adventure

Some children dream of their wedding day filled with white dresses, slow dances, pristine place settings or immaculate bouquets. Others grow into adults who dream of a wedding day filled with waterfalls, forests, and the smell of adventure and wildflowers. And some dream of planning an elopement in the epic Pacific Northwest.

If your love is best represented and celebrated by the moody skies and lush forests of the Pacific Northwest, this guide is for you. Perhaps you are drawn to the simplicity and quietness an elopement can provide. Maybe you are drawn to the potential of adventure and the vastness of the outdoors. Whatever draws you in, these tips can help you with planning an elopement or adventure wedding in the Pacific Northwest that you have always imagined.

When planning your elopement on Ruby Beach, plan for sunset

Envision Your Ideal Elopement

Many couples will have a place in mind that is particularly special to them. Perhaps the beaches of La Push, or the rugged terrain of the North Cascades hold special meaning to you and your partner. Maybe Mount Rainier National Park is a place that you have always wanted to visit together, when the time was right. All you know is that the Northwest is calling you but you aren’t quite sure where. This is your chance to dream big.  Many clients come to me and ask for ideas on where to elope in the Pacific Northwest. The first question I always ask them is this, “If you could spend a day or two together with no limitations, what would you do? Where would you go?”

Try the best you can to answer this question with a childlike mindset. We will work the details out later, but now is the time to have fun with your dreams. Give yourself permission to learn something new about your partner in the process! What do you imagine yourself wearing? Who do you imagine attending? When you close your eyes and imagine yourself getting married, what time of day and time of year is it? Is there food and dancing involved? What does the backdrop look like? Are there flowers, waterfalls, mountains, rivers or lakes? Do you want to hike to the destination? Ski? Surf? The options and opportunities are endless for planning your elopement!

If the task of envisioning your dream day with no holds barred seems overwhelming, don’t fret! It can be helpful to narrow down options as a team. Even if your partner is fairly easy going, they can offer some creative ideas or insight (or locations!) you haven’t even thought of. If your partner loves the beach and you are more of a mountain person – note that as well. The Pacific Northwest is a magical place where multiple outdoor features can be obtained in one location.

When planning an elopement at Mount Rainier National Park, plan for snow all year long.

Planning the BIG Details of your Epic Elopement

Now that you have your “dream elopement” planned in your head, in a spreadsheet, or better yet, in an Elopement Mood Board, it is time to make some big decisions. Some of these choices will come naturally and easily. For example, “We know we want to get married in the winter!”  Some decisions may require a little more discussion (such as, who, exactly, gets to join in on the fun.) Either way, it is an exciting and bonding time for you as a couple. Don’t worry about making the “wrong” decision. The magic of elopements is in the adventure and the natural beauty that the Pacific Northwest is sure to provide.

Time of Year for your Elopement

The  important detail I advise all couples to determine first: what time of year would you like to get married? This can help create a solid foundation for planning an elopement. Weather, holidays, seasons, and accessibility are all greatly influenced by the time of year that you decide upon. (Especially in the Northwest where the weather varies greatly!) I talk about this in my resource on Best Places to elope in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Elopement Location

Think back to when you envisioned your perfect day. Remember what it looked like, felt like, sounded like and smelled like. Keep this image in mind as you make another big decision: the location where your elopement will take place. Since you are reading this article, you are probably fairly committed to the wonders of the Pacific Northwest. Take a look at the National Parks in Oregon and Washington. They are a great place to start in determining locales.

Another good way to narrow down your search and plan your elopement location is by determining outdoor features  you would like present. For example, mountains, forests, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and a beach are all helpful in determining which is the right place for you. Can’t decide? There are plenty of places in the Northwest that offer multiples of these concepts. For our earlier example of a couple who loved the mountains and the beach, Manzanita, Oregon provides a gorgeous backdrop that encompasses both! In Washington, the Olympic National Park offers some of everything with the Olympic mountains, Hoh Rainforest, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc Falls and Ruby Beach – all part of this majestic national park.

If you want to elope in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest in the summertime and early fall, you should also think about what it means to elope in the mountains during wildfire season. It’s important to be informed so you can be safe and have a wonderful elopement experience.

Who to Include in your Elopement

Elopements and adventure weddings range in size. Some only include the couple and an officiant, while others can include up to 10 people. When planning your Pacific Northwest elopement, you will need to consider who is invited and who will likely attend. Furthermore, you will need to determine the accessibility of the location for those who are attending. If you want to get married at the top of a mountain that requires an extensive hike to access, including great-grandma on the invite list isn’t the best idea. However, there are ADA accessible locations available. Great examples are trails in the Mount Baker National Forest and Gold Creek Pond on Snoqualmie Pass.

Elopement then Honeymoon?

A detail that often gets overlooked in the elopement planning process is where (and if!) you plan to have a honeymoon. While not always correlated, it’s common for couples to choose a place to honeymoon that is nearby or related to the place they eloped. For example, let’s say that your ultimate goal is to spend a week sailing with your partner after you are officially married. If this is the case, perhaps you consider planning an elopement in the San Juan Islands for an epic backdrop. This can be easily paired with a quick commute to the honeymoon you have always dreamed of.

That being said, nothing is stopping you from creating a honeymoon unassociated with your elopement location. If you want to get married in the Olympics and then jet off to Thailand soon after, it is your honeymoon and I say go for it!  But considering when, where, and how long your honeymoon will be can help iron out some additional details of planning elopement. (The same clothes you pack for a winter ski elopement will be different than the ones needed for your beach honeymoon!)

Details on your elopement day in Quinault Rainforest

Planning the Smaller Details of Your Elopement Day

This is my personal favorite part of planning an elopement or adventure wedding… getting down to all the nitty gritty details. From dresses, to suits, to flowers, to food, to ski poles, to surf boards… together we can make sure everything is accounted for.

Planning Elopement Activities

What activities do you, your partner, and potentially your guests, want to participate in before, after, or during the elopement? Some activities, such as hiking, can be done in a wide range of areas throughout the Pacific Northwest. However, other activities, like cold water surfing, require a very specific area and specific gear. Determining what you want to participate in as an “extra” activity, while planning an elopement, will be extensively helpful in the planning process. It also provides a heads up to any guests who aren’t quite sure what to bring.

Make those Elopement Reservations!

Now is the time to make your elopement plans official and make your reservations. It is at this point in planning an elopement where you can begin to book your travel and your lodging. Consider that you may need to make reservations for both the elopement and the honeymoon. Rental home,  treehouses, campgrounds, glamping locations or whatever else you, your partner, and all of your honored guests will be staying during the celebration, are all viable options.

Now is also the time in planning your elopement to make a reservation for the place where the celebration will be held. Whether that location is a winery, overlook, or mountaintop, where the celebration will take place.

Many people overlook this detail and think, “If this event is being held outside, I have nothing to worry about!”. However, as elopements are increasingly popular, it is good to check and see if your “off the beaten path celebration location” requires a reservation or permit.

Elopement Vendors

Even in an elopement, there are a multitude of wedding vendors that could be applicable to your particular event. Consider your need for a photographer, videographer, officiant, florist,  makeup artist and caterer or private chef, baker, musician, and planner.

It is also time to ensure that the vendors you have chosen are able to accommodate your location. Do you need the food packed in a backpack so you can carry it to the top of the mountain? Go ahead and ask! Does your bouquet need to contain flowers that are native to the landscape? Connect with a vendor that can help you with your particular needs.

Planning Elopement Attire

One of my favorite parts of planning an elopement is seeing what the couple chooses to wear to say their vows. You’ll want to select wedding attire that can be loose and comfortable if you’re wearing it on a long hike. Are you good with getting a little dirt on your clothes? (Dirty wedding dresses are like an elopement badge of honor.) Don’t forget the need for appropriate footwear if the activity includes strenuous activity!

Don’t be afraid to have some fun with it – this is your day and whatever you say goes! Wedding dress wetsuits and snowsuits, and tuxedo themed mountaineering clothes are all viable options.  (But for the sporadic Pacific Northwest seasons, I do recommend bringing a coat or shawl that you feel comfortable in on your big day!)

Special Gear for Your Elopement

Another fun item of consideration when planning an elopement or adventure wedding – is considering what kind of special gear will you need. These items can be simple and straightforward,  such as spikes for your hiking boots to assist you to the top of a snowy peak. They also may be more complex, such as a helicopter rental to take you and your partner to the top of a glacier or a mountain. What are those special details that require preparation, rental, or purchase?

Elopement Permits and Licenses

Finally, it is time to pull special event permits for the location you have chosen to have your celebration. This detail is commonly overlooked, but many national parks and forests require a permit. Do a little research, and ensure you have the permits you need prior to your big day. I am happy to help you with this part.

Don’t forget to apply for a wedding license while planning your elopement. This makes it feel really real, doesn’t it?! Remember, applying for this license and the rules associated will be different depending on the county where you will be married. Fortunately, this is one of my areas of expertise and I track down rules and give them to clients in plain language to ensure the marriage is officially official on your special day.

Couple enjoys picnic for their elopement at Sunrise Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park

Create an Elopement Timeline

Whether it is a single day elopement, or a multi day adventure, creating a timeline of activities for you and your guests each day will help to ensure you (and others involved in the elopement) are aware of what is expected and happening, and can help them plan accordingly.

This is often one of the more challenging parts of the elopement planning process because it requires you to take all of the separate puzzle pieces of your epic elopement and meld them together into one perfect, cohesive picture. Common issues I see when mapping out a timeline are not scheduling enough time for how long activities truly take and also forgetting to carve out some private time for yourselves on your wedding day.

Once again, putting this puzzle together proves to be one of my favorite parts of elopement planning (hello, Type A personality.) I go through the scheduled events and expectations with a fine toothed comb and create a schedule for the excited couple to review and provide feedback on. Having a detailed timeline not only ensures nothing slips through the cracks, but also takes a load off of any bride or groom’s mind.

Prepare for the Elopement (Both Mentally and Physically)

Perhaps you have been waiting for this day for years, or this new transition in life is a wonderful surprise. Either way, you will surely be feeling your nerves as you near the date of your elopement or adventure wedding. Going through the motions of the final checklist is a great way to get prepared. This helps to prepare not only for the epic journey ahead of you but for the mental transition into an exciting day filled with lots of emotions!

The top three things I recommend for clients to do as the wedding week approaches

  1. Pack! If your head is in a scramble and you find yourself putting your shoes on the wrong feet due to nerves… don’t worry! I provide a checklist of everything you need to include.
  2. Communicate with your vendors and guests. A short and sweet follow up text or email will not only put your big day front and center in their mind, it will also give them a chance to ask any last minute questions.
  3. Drink lots of water and get plenty of rest. Whether you plan to summit Mount Rainier in order to say “I do,” or have a relaxing ceremony on the beach, this is important. Elopements are exhausting and can take a lot out of you. Be sure your body is ready for the (wonderful) excitement that is about to ensue.
Couple celebrates eloping with best friends on Ruby Beach with Outshined Photography

Have the Most Epic, Fun Day of Your Lives

The most poignant piece of advice I give clients, as they are planning an elopement and approaching their big day, is to be present.  The beauty of having an elopement in the great outdoors (especially in the Pacific Northwest) is the unpredictability of it all. But that is all part of the adventure!

Focusing on your breath can help serve as a reminder to be present and to soak in every moment. Trust your guests, your vendors, your partner (and me!) to make your day the most memorable one ever.

Does planning an elopement sound like something you would be interested in? I’d love the opportunity to be your elopement photographer, planner and friend.  Just fill out the Contact Form and I’ll get back to you right away to schedule a phone call.

Stacy Garfield owner of Outshined Photography

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  1. Wow this article is FULL of tons of information about PNW elopements!! What a great resource for your couples!!

  2. This is such a thorough elopement guide – I feel like so much of it would be relevant to all eloping couples not just your lucky Pacific North West folks too! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks so much for taking the huge task of planning an elopement in the PNW and breaking it down into tangible steps! Definitely dreaming of spots to visit now.

  4. This is such a useful guide to eloping in general with thoughtful PNW tips sprinkled throughout. Really well thought out and written, great work!

    1. Thank you! And I hope that you do. An elopement is really the best way for you and your partner to have a day that is truly yours. What better way to start your new life together.