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. Yosemite is an absolutely stunning place for an elopement; it’s basically the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevadas mountains in California. Situated The entire park is full of iconic views; from Yosemite Valley El Capitan’s granite wall vaulting towards the sky to Half-Dome’s formidable face looking down on the valley below. It’s home to countless waterfalls, towering Sequoias, alpine meadows, abundant wildlife, mind-blowing vistas, and some of the prettiest light I’ve ever seen. The valley is iconic- but there is much to this park beyond the valley floor. Yosemite is HUGE. And amazing.
There are a lot of things to consider when eloping 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). 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.
A couple recent developments about Yosemite: Up until recently the plan for 2021 was that Glacier Point Rd was going to be full on closed. This would have meant there was no access to Taft Point or Glacier Point. **This has changed**. This road construction is now planned for 2022- so if you want had your heart set on Taft Point or Glacier point for your elopement- it can happen this year.
Also good for you to know: Yosemite is going to be operating on a permit system for spring and summer of 2021- and that means to be granted entry into the park you either need a reservation (which open up every month for the following month. Ex: July reservations become available June 1st) OR you need to have lodging within the boundaries of the park. There are pros and cons to this: the con is rather obviously, this presents an additional logistical consideration. The pro? Way, way less crowds. I would make the case this is actually the best year ever to elope in Yosemite.
Yes, even if you get married outside of the park, yes even if you’re only having portraits done, yes even if it’s just the two of you. Per the official permit officer, if you want formal (as in professional) photos taken of you and your partner in Yosemite, you will need to get a permit. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Yosemite Valley, where the granite walls are taller than the worlds tallest building. 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- and having said that there are so many awesome spots in the valley: El Capitan Meadow, Cathedral Beach, Sentinal Beach… so many perfect options.
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 stunining, 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. (PRO TIP: This year in 2021, with the park operating at half capacity- is the PERFECT time to stay in the valley in the summer and fall months. There’s nothing like waking up at sunrise and walking around El Cap Meadow all alone, feeling like you have the place to yourself).
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- but all of these options are closed in 2021 due to COVID.
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.
For 2021, I recommend looking for Airbnb’s inside the park to avoid having to deal with the park reservation system.
Alright, lets talk nuts and bolts. While I’m based out of Phoenix, Arizona, I’m in California super often, and travel all over the western United States Also! I don’t charge travel fees for any stateside elopement or adventure wedding. That way you don’t have to worry about additional travel costs to get me from here to there. So what’s included and what does it cost?
Four hours: $4000 | Eight Hours: $6000 | One 8-hr day + 4 hr day: $8500
Wanna see a whole shebang? Are you a visual learner, like me? I get it- there’s so many amazing places on earth (and even just in Yosemite!) that it can be tough to pick an elopement spot. So look no further: here’s an epic as hell elopement to see from start to end.