Table of contents
- Why Have a Yosemite Elopement?
- Who Should Have a Yosemite Elopement?
- How to Have a Yosemite Elopement
- Where to Have Your Yosemite Elopement
- Yosemite Elopement Photography Packages
Why Have a Yosemite Elopement?
What makes a Yosemite Elopement so great? The Yosemite Valley is often the first thing that comes to mind when someone hears “national park.” Its iconic waterfalls, mile-high granite cliffs, and stately redwood trees have been capturing people’s attention for generations. John Muir, Ansel Adams, and even Teddy Roosevelt fell in love with Yosemite. Roosevelt felt so strongly about it that he signed the National Antiquities Act in 1906 and made Yosemite one of the first national parks in the world. What better place to spend the most epic day of your life? What better location to pay tribute to your adventurous spirit? Although it’s not the only amazing place to elope in the state of California, it’s definitely one of the coolest.
Who Should Have a Yosemite Elopement?
A wedding in Yosemite might be for you if you like long hikes, cliffs, sunlight, huge waterfalls, and big mountains. Yosemite is a perfect place for those that don’t mind putting in a little extra work for the best views. The park is enormous and has so much to offer, from easy walks to roadside attractions to epic multi-day ruck marches up some of the most awesome terrain in the Sierras. It’s the one place where you really can have it all.
A wedding in Yosemite might not be for you if you don’t like heights or are absolutely dead set on having complete solitude in every direction. It is, after all, a popular national park. It does get busy during the summer months. Some destinations, like Taft Point, have become insta-famous, so there will probably be other couples and photographers there. Some of the best shooting locations in the park are on the edge of 2500-foot drops also. But you most likely already knew that if you’re reading this blog.
How to Have a Yosemite Elopement
Permits and Paperwork:
A special use permit is required for anyone having a wedding, elopement, or commitment ceremony within the park boundaries. This permit costs $150, and there is an additional $50/hour charge for larger parties that require a park monitor. Ceremonies can be scheduled up to a year in advance and no sooner than 21 days prior. The park has a great resource page for anyone interested. There is also a separate photo permit required for your photographer, but we at Seeking Venture Photo cover it as part of our package!
You are required to confirm the location of your ceremony on your application, so please review this list and consult your photographer beforehand. You can take photos anywhere in the park, but ceremony locations are limited depending on the size of your party. Also, keep in mind that sites are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you reserve, the better.
There are a few outdoor amphitheaters (Glacier Point, Lower Yosemite Falls) for up to 50 guests, but larger weddings are limited to venues like The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Valley Lodge. One exception, the Sentinel Beach picnic area, can accommodate up to 100 guests, but parking is extremely limited. Parties under 11 people are not limited to the places on the above list, so long as the event isn’t taking place on a riverbank or open meadow.
Also: Glacier Point Road and Bridal Veil Falls will be closed through 2022 for rehabilitation, so plan accordingly. Glacier Point and Taft point are still accessible via the 4-Mile Trail, but it is an extremely strenuous hike.
How to Get to Yosemite:
There are five gates that lead into the park, but some are closed on a seasonal basis. Generally, Tioga Pass and its gate close in the fall and stay closed until May or June the next year. Glacier Point Road, although internal to the park, usually closes around the same time. These roads are at higher elevations, so they become impassible in winter conditions. Later in the season, tire chains may be required to enter the park from the west, either on Highway 140 or from the north on Highway 120. Your best bet for a fall or winter trip is to fly into an airport west of the Sierras like Fresno, Merced Regional Airport or San Francisco and rent a car to drive into the mountains.
In the summer months, the weather is generally excellent, and entry into the park is much easier. Until October of 2021, the park had a reservation system in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Check the park’s website to see if they require a reservation to enter the park during the dates you plan on visiting.
Where to Stay in Yosemite:
The hotels within the park tend to book months in advance and are more expensive. If you want to get the most out of your trip and the best possible photos, it is worth it. If you plan on staying outside the park, this adds at least 40 minutes to your daily commute, so you’ll be getting up even earlier to get to your destination on time. There are plenty of places to stay in nearby Mariposa, El Portal, Fish Camp, and Oakhurst as well if you have no other choice, but they require a lot of extra drive time.
Luxurious 4-star accommodations right in the heart of the Yosemite Valley. Easy access to Yosemite falls and Tuolumne Meadows as well as most trailheads in the Valley. 20 minutes from tunnel view, and a 40-minute drive to Taft and Glacier points. The grocery store, visitor center, and guest services are all close by as well. Expect to pay about $400/night. Wedding parties up to 150 guests can be accommodated.
3-star hotel just across the street from the base of massive Yosemite Falls. Easy access to everything in the valley and equally close to Glacier and Taft point as The Ahwahnee. Expect to pay $400+ per night as well. Wedding parties of up to 150 can be accommodated.
A newer development at the base of Glacier Point Road, Yosemite West is a small village made up almost entirely of AirBNB-style rental cabins. If you plan on doing any hikes that start at Glacier Point or Taft Point, especially for sunrise, these accommodations will make your life way easier. Total drive time from Glacier Point to Yosemite West is about 20 minutes total. The cabins are not cheap, but they are designed to sleep 6+ people. For 2022, Glacier Point Road will be closed, so the only way to access Glacier & Taft Point is on foot.
Located just outside the gate on Highway 140, this 3-star hotel will save you money but cost you time. Roughly 30 minutes from the valley and an hour from Glacier Point, plan on waking up a bit earlier to get into the park before the crowd. The Merced River flows directly behind the hotel, so you can fall asleep to the sound of the water!
This old-school victorian hotel is near the south gate of the park, about 40 minutes from the valley. This is the place to stay if you are looking to explore Mariposa Grove or any of the trails in the southern portion of the park. You’ll pay about $2-300 a night, just be sure to book well in advance. Wedding parties up to 80 guests can be accommodated.
Would you prefer to sleep under the stars and listen to the sounds of nature? There are over a dozen campsites available in Yosemite, ranging from backcountry hike-in sites to RV stalls in the valley. Click the link above to reserve your site, as they book well in advance. Please note: It is illegal to sleep in your vehicle anywhere in Yosemite but fine as long as it’s at a designated campsite.
Have a Plan or Timeline for Your Yosemite Elopement:
In the summer months, the sun rises early and sets late. This gives you plenty of daylight to explore the millions of square acres of parkland! The sun rises over or around the Half Dome and sets behind the valley as seen from Tunnel View, so plan your photoshoots accordingly. For the most part, the bigger crowds don’t show up for sunrise, so you can absolutely have famous landmarks mostly to yourself if you’re willing to get up early. It’s also worth paying a little extra to stay in the park to save on morning drive times.
Consider the Weather:
Yosemite is higher in elevation than the rest of California, and it experiences the seasons in a dramatic fashion. Winter is cold and wet, summer is hot and dry with virtually zero rain. Spring and fall see lots of clouds and precipitation as well. Summer and fall have also become fire season as the climate begins to rapidly change, so make sure to keep an eye out for announcements regarding air quality and fire danger.
The best time to see waterfalls in Yosemite is during the springtime as snowmelt from the high Sierras makes its way down into the valley. There, you can see all of the falls pounding away at full volume. It is truly awesome!
Where to Have Your Yosemite Elopement
Yosemite is popular because it has some of the best views on Earth. There are so many jaw-dropping backdrops in the park that it’s almost overwhelming. A small number of them, especially Taft Point, have become so popular that they are being “hugged to death” by people looking to take the perfect selfie. We know these locations well and are more than happy to guide you there. We are also happy to share other locations we haven’t listed here with equally stunning views with our clients. Our locations are spots in the park that are a bit more intimate and away from the crowds, as long as you are willing to hike a little more!
Taft Point has become synonymous with “Yosemite Elopement.” A somewhat easier Yosemite hike, this heavily-trafficked 2.3 mile out and back (~400ft elevation change) from the parking lot on Glacier Point Road leaves you plenty of time to see other things nearby like Glacier Point and Washburn Point. On clear days, you can watch golden sunlight washing over the valley in visible rays from Taft Point. It truly looks like something out of a movie. The valley floor is over half a mile straight down, complete with tiny pine trees and the distanced Merced River. There are usually more than a few couples or parties at Taft Point, although there is plenty of space for everyone to share. Also, since Glacier Point Road will be closed through 2022, the only way there is to hike a long, steep trail. Meaning, this coming year will be much more private! This trail, like anything that begins on Glacier Point Road, is seasonal. Once the snow starts falling at elevation, this becomes inaccessible. Also, the trailhead is at ~7,000 ft of elevation, so the air is thinner than it is at sea level.
If you want Half Dome as your backdrop, this is the place to be. Similar to Taft Point but with an eastern orientation, Glacier Point is excellent for sunrise or sunset. The walk to the viewpoint is only half a mile from the parking lot, so it’s a quick and easy stop. There are also a few spots nearby along the road that are great for photos. Like Taft Point above, this becomes inaccessible from fall to early summer because of snowfall. It will also be crowded for sunset, but sunrise is much quieter. Glacier Point has an Amphitheater that can seat up to 50 guests.
Sentinel Dome and Taft Point are connected by a moderately difficult 5-mile loop trail. Starting from the parking area, you can walk either a mile to the left and hit Taft Point, or a mile to the right and climb up Sentinel Dome. From the top of Sentinel Dome, you’ll get a gorgeous view of Yosemite Falls as well as Half Dome. Between the two points lays another 3 miles of trail that have a stunning view of Yosemite Falls. Sunrise or sunset would both be stunning from there. If you wanted to skip Taft Point, the walk to Sentinel Dome is 2.1 miles out and back with about 450 feet of elevation change. Inaccessible from fall through early summer. Busy, but not as packed as Glacier Point and Taft Point.
Overlooking the Yosemite Valley is a viewpoint known as Tunnel View. It is simply a parking lot that you can access directly from Highway 120, so there are usually people here. There are some hidden places to take photos nearby, however. Also, for sunrise, there are only a few other people around anyway. Tunnel View is great for any time of day, but sunset is the best in my opinion.
If you prefer to stay down on the valley floor, Cook’s Meadow gives you plenty of space and options to work with. It’s a large grass field in the center of the valley, surrounded by the tall granite cliffs that make the park famous as well as Yosemite Falls itself. Whether it’s hazy golden light here at the end of the day or the roaring Yosemite Falls, you will have lots of backdrops to work with. The good part about the meadow is that it’s one of the easiest places to access in the valley, but that also means that the area is heavily trafficked.
For Full-sized Weddings
There are plenty of places to have larger weddings in Yosemite as well! Yosemite Valley Chapel, for those so inclined, offers the opportunity for a traditional church wedding right in the Yosemite Valley. For parties larger than 11, this list of locations is available for your ceremony.
How to Feel Guilt-Free During Your Yosemite Elopement:
Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular destinations in the world, receiving an average of 4.5 million visitors each year. Parking during the summer months can be hectic. Traffic is common in the valley, especially before dinner when all the families in the park are trying to get out at once. In order for future generations to enjoy the beauty of the park, it is essential that we respect the landscape of the park today. Before you go, familiarize yourself with the seven Leave No Trace principles and follow them as best you can. We are Leave No Trace certified photographers, and will happily guide you on a journey through the park that leaves it better than we find it. For each of our clients, we provide an in-depth Leave No Trace guide to help you better understand how to make your elopement as nature-friendly as possible.
Yosemite has a sizable population of black bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, and other small predators. The bears are becoming especially accustomed to human contact, and have learned how to break into cars and campsites to raid lunchboxes. Their sense of smell is far superior to yours, and they can smell food that is still sealed inside its packaging. Please, utilize bear lockers that are located in every parking lot and campsite to store food. Also, be mindful of your surroundings and keep your furry friends on a leash if you are going to take them out on a hike with you. (Be mindful that many trails in Yosemite do not allow dogs and are only allowed on paved paths.) Bear canisters are required if you are heading to a backcountry campsite also, and rangers do fine people for being caught without them. Hanging your food in a tree is no longer legal, and still attracts bears anyway. Also, note that bear spray is not allowed within the park.
North American deer mice are another creature to watch out for believe it or not! They are tiny and adorable, but about 12% of them carry a rare and dangerous disease called Hantavirus (think turbo-ultra-Covid). They also enjoy chewing through packs and making holes in your stuff. Keeping mice out of your campsite will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
Yosemite Elopement Photography Packages
Seeking Venture Photo specializes in adventure elopements, and Yosemite is one of our favorite places to photograph couples! We have extensive experience in the park and know plenty of photogenic hidden gems that the crowds overlook. We only share them with clients and do not list them here. Visit our pricing page for more info or drop us a line on our contact page! We’d be happy to discuss your ideas and help you plan out the perfect excursion for you and your partner. Our basic Yosemite Elopement package starts at $3800 and includes:
- Photography coverage for up to 6 hours by Heather & Mike
- Elopement Planning Guide & Leave No Trace Guide
- Personalized assistance with planning and guidance in the park and local area
- Vendor recommendations
- All photographer travel costs and photo-related permits
- Unlimited Photos delivered
- Trees planted in your honor
- A digital gallery with unlimited high-res downloads
We here at Seeking Venture Photo love going to Yosemite, even if it’s not for an adventure elopement. We can spend countless hours there and always look forward to going back, as it’s only a few hours away from our home. Feel free to check out this quick video we made the last time we were there!
There are so many reasons why couples are choosing to elope over having a big wedding: Check out this blog post!