Oh my gosh, you’re thinking of eloping in Yosemite! How rad! I’m hopelessly biased (oh do I love Yosemite) but it’s super easy to see why. A world heritage site, Yosemite is an absolutely stunning place for an elopement; it’s basically the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevadas mountains in California. And as epic as these photos look, there is *nothing* like being there in person. The sheer size of El Capitan’s granite wall vaulting towards the sky to Half-Dome’s formidable face looking down on the valley below. The tiny lights of climbers on the valley walls at night, like a constellation fell out of the sky. The rushing sound of the Merced River and thundering waterfalls. Towering Sequoias, alpine meadows, abundant wildlife, mind-blowing vistas, and some of the prettiest light I’ve ever seen.
There are a lot of things to consider if you want to elope in Yosemite because there are a lot of moving parts. Yosemite has become quite a popular elopement destination in the last few years, and it’s no wonder why (just look at those views- they are even better in person). It’s stunning- one of the most beautiful spots in our country (in my humble opinion). So while this guide will very much sing Yosemite’s praises, it will also be super realistic about what to expect and how to best plan an absolute dream elopement in Yosemite.
*Important Note*: For 2024 Yosemite is piloting a new reservation system for certain parts of the year during peak hours. I experienced first hand the wait times to get into Yosemite over the summer, and how difficult parking can be (during peak times the park would quite literally close because there was no where for anyone else to go car wise). The new system is not necessarily intuitive (like other parks that have simple, blanket reservation systems) but does make sense for the type of visitation Yosemite experiences. So in order to enter the park during these peak dates, you needed either a) a reservation or b) to be staying in lodging that is located within the park boundaries. Permit holders will not require a reservation, but any guests will. Here are the days and times you will need a reservation:
Also important: Most reservations for all dates from April 13 through October 27, 2024, will be available on Recreation.gov on January 5, 2024 at 8 am Pacific time. So there is not rolling availability- everything becomes available at once for the whole year on January 5th. Additional reservations will be available seven days before the arrival date (e.g., make a reservation for an arrival date of October 27 on October 20) at 8 am Pacific time. Reservations available one week in advance will be a combination of reservations valid for full days or reservations valid for arrival only in the afternoons (on all three days). All information on this can be found here.
PRO TIP: If you are staying within the park boundary (either at park lodging or in an Airbnb in Yosemite West or El Portal, you will not need a reservation).
Good news! A recent change as of2023 is that you only need a permit if you are are having any type of ceremony in the park. This means if you want portraits, or plan on getting married outside the park, you will not need a permit. But! If you are planning on saying your vows in Yosemite you will need to secure a permit with Yosemite’s permit officer. You can find all that fun info here. If it sounds overwhelming- I gotchu. I walk my couples through every stop of the way so you know how to fill out the paperwork, when to send it, and generally what to do. You don’t have to figure that stuff out alone 🙂
This is a super important question and really the best place to start when it comes to planning your Yosemite elopement. Yosemite is beautiful at any time of year- its quiet and snowy in the winter, Yosemite, Vernal, and Bridalveil Falls are all flowing in spring, the summers are bright and lush, and the fall is golden and crisp.
But beyond what Yosemite *looks* like during different seasons, there’s also crowds, road closures, and environmental factors to consider. Let’s take it season by season, shall we?
Winter in Yosemite can be utterly magical. The valley shrouded with snow is honestly unreal. This snow, however, does impact things. With winter comes the closure of Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Road. The date of these roads vary from season to season but basically from mid-November on, expect these roads to be closed for the season. So this means no Taft Point, no Glacier Point, no Tuolumne Meadows, no Mariposa Grove. This also means way less crowds. Like, way less. Winter is hands down the least crowded time to visit Yosemite. So if privacy is your number one priority this may be a good fit (but do avoid holiday season- there is a significant uptick in crowds during this time).
Early December and mid-Feb-March are my favorite times to visit in winter. Be advised that tire chains are often required during the winter months and when they are, you must carry and know how to use them, regardless of the type of vehicle you are driving. Those snowy roads are no joke (and can even close in the wake of a big storm).
Or as I like to call it, second winter. Much of what is closed in winter is closed through most of spring. Once May and June arrive, things begin to open up again. I can hear you asking, “So Aimee, when *do* all these roads open, exactly?” Great question. Let me introduce you to one of my favorite resources- historical road openings since 1980. Here you can see when Tioga and Glacier Point closed and opened every year since 1980. Bear in mind that in the spring, sometimes the roads temporarily close even after their official open date if weird weather rolls through.
End of May and tiptoeing into June is beautiful (though you may have to contend with some road closures and increasing crowds.)
The roads are open, the waterfalls are going, the flowers are blooming, and 75% of Yosemite’s 5 million visitors annual arrive May-September. Summer is *crowded*. I say this not to be a buzzkill, but so that you have allll the information you need. There can be hours long delays in driving in the valley, major struggles parking at the more popular spots, and big crowds at places like Tunnel View, Taft Point, Glacier Point, and in the valley.
Is it possible to have a wedding in Yosemite in the Summer and have it be a private experience? Totally. But it requires venturing off the beaten path, being very strategic in your planning, and saving those insta-famous spots for either sunrise or another trip.
Also know that summer is fire season. Over the past several years we have seen a significant uptick in fires and smoke related difficulties (meaning that nearby fires that pose no threat to Yosemite can still create huge smoke impacts).
Real talk: Summer is the season I would suggest last for a Yosemite elopement. Between the crowds, the heat (many buildings aren’t air conditioned), potential fire and smoke impacts, I generally avoid Yosemite in July, August, and early-mid September.
Fall, particularly mid to late October, is my favorite time for an elopement in Yosemite. Crowds are a bit more manageable, you’re at the tail end of wildfire season, and the valley is super lovely. A downside- the falls are rarely running at this point. But the dreamy fall colors more than make up for it.
I super super super encourage eloping on a weekday. Weekends in Yosemite are very crowded- you are way more likely to have less other folks around and have a more private experience on a weekday. Also super important to know- the park does not allow elopements on holidays or holiday weekends.
Yosemite has certain spots where you are permitted to have your elopement ceremony. This is pretty dependent on how many guests you are inviting. If you are eloping with less than 11 people (couple and photographer included) you are *not* limited to those locations.
This is great news- it means as long as it’s a spot that is accessible to the average tourist, it’s an option for your elopement. This next part is super super important when picking an elopement location: Keep in mind that the super iconic spots in Yosemite (Taft Point and Glacier Point) are always *extremely crowded.* Yes, even at sunrise. It’s no wonder why- the views are so unbelievably incredible (probably some of the best- if not the best- in the country). But if privacy is really important to you, I super recommend picking a more off the beaten path for your vows. Then, head to those iconic spots for portraits later. But I want you to be prepared: expect to be sharing that space with 5-10 other couples who are also eloping.
Listen, Yosemite has gotten super popular as an elopement destination. And again- I say this without judgement, nor am I trying to be buzzkill Magoo. It is totally possible to have an amazing elopement in Yosemite- it just comes with some logistical considerations and prioritizing what’s really important to you on your day.
**Pro-Tip** When planning your Yosemite elopement, think of this little graphic.
Those iconic views are iconic for a reason- and lots of folks also want to check it out (so you have to sacrifice privacy). There are loads of private places in Yosemite, but they take more work to get to (so you have to sacrifice easy access). See what I mean? Also- this applies to a lot of places, not just Yosemite!
An amazing spot at sunrise with Half-Dome looming on the horizon, Glacier Point is a favorite for ceremonies (when folks don’t mind many other hikers and other eloping couples being around). It’s an incredibly short “hike” (it’s more like a walk) and at the very end of Glacier Point Road. It’s more of a drive than folks sometime expect, clocking in at 50 minutes when there’s no traffic. Also note, Glacier Point (along with Taft Point) are only accessible during the summer months; Glacier Point Rd closes in the late fall for the season.
Here’s an incredible Glacier Point elopement to check out!
Taft Point is arguably one of the most incredible sunset views in the United States. And it has *exploded* with popularity for elopements. The views are worth it, but I always suggest Taft Point for portraits *only*. You’ll often be sharing the space with as many as 9 other couples. My best suggestions is to have your ceremony earlier in the day (or the next morning) in a less trafficked spot so you can have some privacy as you get married, then venture on the 2 mile round trip trek to Taft Point for some amazing sunset photos.
Also note, Taft Point (along with Glacier Point) are only accessible during the summer months; Glacier Point Rd closes in the late fall for the season.
Here’s a stunning Yosemite National Park wedding at Taft Point.
El Capitan, where legends are made. Arguably the most iconic rock face in the valley (only Half-Dome compares) El Capitan is an incredible backdrop for your elopement. The meadow is stunning and you can always see climbers dotting the rock face (and sometime hear them yell in frustration). It’s incredibley awe inspiring to feel so tiny next to the the granite wall of El Cap (and imagine people free soloing the whole thing). And good news: the Valley is open all year round so if you decide to elope in Yosemite’s off season (which is a great idea, particularly in the spring) you’ll have your run of the valley. It’s important to stay on approved trails and not trample the fragile meadows.
For more Yosemite Valley inspiration check out this Yosemite Valley elopement (complete with sunrise and gushing waterfalls).
Tunnel view- it’s incredible. Imagine driving through the forests heading into Yosemite Valley and you enter a long, dark tunnel. And when that tunnel finally spits you out- there’s the whole valley laid out before you. It’s honestly incredible. Lots of other folks think so too and Tunnel View is almost always extremely crowded. A large pull off on the side of the road, there really isn’t a place to stage an elopement. It’s a spot for a few lovely photos and *definitely* a spot to check out while you are in Yosemite, but I don’t really recommend it for elopements.
Yosemite is home to many waterfalls (and pro tip: they only flow in the spring and early summer!) and if you are visiting when they are running it gives Yosemite extra magic. There’s nothing like walking up to a waterfall and getting a face full of refreshing waterfall mist. Yosemite falls is the most accessible of Yosemite’s Waterfalls (Bridalveil Falls is also pretty accessible but it’s closed until 2023.) I really love visiting the waterfalls of Yosemite and they are a perfect pitstop if you are exploring the valley.
Fun Fact: Yosemite is huge. There are SO many places to elope in this park that are STUNNING. I super recommend having part of (if not your entire) elopement at some spots that are off the beaten trail. I don’t name them in this blog post as Yosemite is kind of the poster child of overcrowding. But if you want to elope in Yosemite but still want a little privacy- I’ve got some spots in mind 🙂
There are several hotels within the park at varying price points. Staying the valley proper has pros and cons- the pros is that you’re in the freaking valley and it’s stunning, the cons is that in the busy season getting around can take a good long while because Yosemite Valley gets super, super clogged with traffic.
The Ahwahnee is a grand hotel nestled in the valley, along with Yosemite Valley Lodge which is a great family friendly option. Yosemite also has a number of “glamping” sale accommodations like Curry Village, Housekeeping Camp, and Toulomne Meadow Lodge.
There are tons (and I mean tons) of airbnb’s in and all around Yosemite. Word to the wise: when you look at options, definitely use google maps to see how long it takes to get from the nearest town of your Airbnb, to the Yosemite Valley Visitors center. *That* will give you a good estimate of how far you will need to drive. I recommend staying in Yosemite West if you want to go the airbnb route, especially if you are interested in Glacier Point or Taft Point as locations. Yosemite west sits right at the bottom of Glacier Point Rd (the road that leads to those spots) and is within the park so you bypass any reservation problems.
This is suuuuch a great question because there is so much to do in the park.
I know it can be tough to figure out what exactly you want to do during your epic Yosemite elopement, so if you’re not totally sure yet, try asking yourselves some of these questions: What are your favorite activities to do as a couple? What are some of the things you like to do for fun on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis? How can you incorporate the things you love to do on your elopement day?
But if you want some ideas, here are a few ideas for elopement day activities!
And if you want more elopement activity inspiration, take a peek at this blog post featuring all my best elopement ideas. It has even more ideas of how to make your elopement unique and special. Or for more places to tie the knot in California, check out my guide on epic places to elope in California.
I’m based out of Flagstaff, Arizona but I’m in California super often. And I don’t charge travel fees for any stateside elopement or adventure wedding. So what’s included and what does it cost?
Four hours: $6000 | Eight Hours: $8000 | One 8-hr day + 4 hr day: $11,300
— Ryan + Styhiln