I’ll just say this right off the bat: this isn’t some surface-level, generic elopement checklist. We’re getting into the nitty gritty details…everything you need to know. As someone who has been an elopement professional and expert well before elopements grew in popularity, I’m sharing my best guidance and blueprint.
Our elopement checklist is here to be your #1 elopement planning resource and guide during this process (seriously, we go into insane detail here, so you don’t have to stress).
I recommend bookmarking this elopement checklist or printing it out as you are planning. It’ll be super helpful to reference when putting together your elopement to-do list (and we also have an elopement podcast that goes over a lot of these topics, in case you’re an audio learner). Let’s get into it!
This is one of the most exciting steps in the elopement checklist! Take some time to let your imagination go wild. What types of locations and landscapes really get you and your partner excited?
Are you mountain people? Or do you find yourself longing to run away to the orangey-red deserts of Moab, Utah? Or maybe you’re into the giant redwood or Sequoia forests of California.
Dig deep and think about what landscapes and environments you love. What types of places do you find yourself road-tripping to or camping at? Do a full brainstorm of what locations you’re loving and start there.
While it can be easy to jump into your elopement checklist assuming that the first thing you need to do is figure out your elopement budget, take a moment and pause for a sec. Having a general idea of budget is good, but you don’t want to start with a hard budget in mind when going through this elopement checklist. Why?
Unlike traditional weddings, not every aspect of an elopement is extremely expensive. The permits to elope on public lands cost you at most a few hundred bucks, whereas a wedding venue can cost thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.
A beautiful elopement bouquet and flower crown might set you back a couple hundred dollars (or much less, if you DIY), whereas full floral decor for a wedding can be a few thousand dollars.
All of this to say: there’s a way to be budget conscious while still having the elopement of your dreams. Starting with a hard budget will only stifle that creativity in this super important dreaming and brainstorming stage of the elopement checklist.
Save those numbers for later in the checklist…I promise we’ll get to them. With that said, let’s get back to the first step in the elopement checklist: figuring out which landscape is best for your elopement…
If you find yourself drawn to alpine lakes and jagged peaks, a mountain elopement might be for you. Summer in the mountains means you’ll likely come across gorgeous meadows of wildflowers expansive mountain vistas that are closed off during the colder months.
Colorado and Washington are awesome places to glimpse these gorgeous flowers. In winter months, you can experience snow-covered peaks and frozen lakes.
If you’ve fallen in love with desert arches and wide, expansive red rocked canyons as far as the eye can see, a desert elopement might just be for you.
Choose the fall or springtime for cooler and more comfortable temps, as many desert climates can get pretty unbearable in the summer months. The best states for desert elopements are Utah, California, Arizona, and New Mexico.
If you’ve been dreaming of a woodsy vibe, a forest elopement will be ideal. You could go the “giant forest” route with an elopement in a redwood or Sequoia forest in California. Or you could go for something a little more temperate, like the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park.
A classic elopement spot, and for good reason! But also one with a huge variety. From the moody coastal beaches of the pacific northwest to the cliffside beaches along the coast of California, you can have pretty much any type of beach for your adventure elopement.
I love that beaches are not one-size-fits-all. You can have a vibe that’s unique to you.
Picking your elopement date should not be the first step in your elopement checklist. Why? The date you choose for your adventure elopement will be highly dependent on which type of location you’ve selected.
Ultimately, seasonality has a huge effect on when you want to elope. For starters, you definitely don’t want to have a mid-summer elopement in a desert location.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can’t really expect to have a high alpine elopement in the dead of winter (largely because a lot of mountain pass roads are closed during the winter months). There are certain things you’ll logistically need to consider when it comes to choosing the right elopement date.
When it comes to deciding on the perfect date for your adventure elopement, I highly recommend chatting with your elopement photographer about the types of locations you’re considering.
They can then give you some guidance on what dates work best for each type of location and advise you on how to avoid crowds. Once you’ve marked your date off your elopement checklist, the planning really begins.
And that brings us to the next step in the elopement checklist: finding your adventure elopement photographer. The reason I put this step so high up on the checklist is because a good elopement photographer will help walk you through the process of planning your dream elopement.
They will know the best elopement locations (and those hidden gems). They can show you what times of day and what days of the week are best to get away from tourists. And they’ll be able to guide you through the nitty gritty details of your elopement checklist, like crafting your elopement timeline and getting the proper elopement permits.
Your adventure elopement photographer will be your most valuable resource as you walk through the steps in this elopement checklist. An experienced elopement photographer can help you avoid some costly mistakes.
In elopement checklist step 1, you picked a general type of elopement location. Great! You’re on the right track. Now it’s time to narrow things down. This is when you’ll want to chat with your adventure elopement photographer about the types of landscapes you’ve been dreaming of.
A seasoned photographer already has lists of locations for the states they photograph in, and once they know your preferences, they can dig a bit deeper, do some research, and find you a few spots that match your specific criteria. No you can check your location off your elopement checklist!
Unfortunately eloping doesn’t mean you can say your “I do’s” whenever and wherever you’d like, which brings us to elopement checklist step 5: securing your elopement permits.
While adventure elopements can be logistically a bit simpler than traditional weddings, many locations will require you to get an elopement permit to get married there.
Again, you’ll want to chat with your adventure elopement photographer about this step in the elopement checklist. With any location they recommend, they should also be able to tell you what permits you’ll need to elope there.
Once you know which permits you need, I recommend applying as soon as possible. Permit offices are notoriously slow and can oftentimes take months to approve your elopement, so don’t leave this step in the elopement checklist to the last minute. The fines for not getting a permit are hefty, and can cost you upwards of a few thousand dollars.
Remember when I said we’d get back to the budget? The nice thing about adventure elopements is that there are a lot less moving parts, which means you don’t have to spend nearly as much money as you would with a traditional wedding.
My little secret to budgeting like a pro? Pick your “Elopement 3,” as I like to call it. Basically, this is where you pick your top 3 priorities for your elopement day, and then you primarily focus your budget on those three items.
The amazing part of eloping is how much money you get to save. So when you elope, you get the chance to really invest in the things that matter to you, and still spend less than a traditional wedding.
The most typical “Elopement 3” I see from the couples I work with are: elopement photography, elopement clothes/gown, and travel costs/accommodations. Everything else (whether it be decor or invites) is a secondary element. Usually I see couples DIYing those less important parts of the day or opting for less expensive options so they can really invest their budget in the parts of their elopement day they value the most.
My recommendation is to take some time on this step in the elopement checklist, because ultimately everything else in your planning process will be impacted by this step.
One of my favorite steps in the elopement checklist. Now that you know where and when you’re eloping, you’re in the perfect position to figure out what you wear.
You’ll also want to factor in things like how long you’ll be hiking for (if you’re hiking at all), since that’ll impact what shoes you’ll want to wear for your adventure elopement. And you’ll also need to think about the level of activity for the day when choosing your clothing options. If you’re eloping in the great outdoors, you need to be able to move around easily.
If you’ve decided to wear a dress, I recommend giving yourself at least 6 months, if you can, before your adventure elopement to find your perfect dress. This’ll give you enough time to find what you want and get it altered in time for your day. I recommend scheduling at least 2 alterations appointments.
Give yourself a bit of time for elopement checklist step 8. This is when you’ll want to look into booking someone for hair and makeup, finding a florist for an elopement bouquet, nailing down an officiant (if you’re not self-solemnizing in Colorado), etc.
Ultimately, you can have as many or as few vendors as you’d like, so think about what’s important to you and your partner. Again, this is where your photographer will come in handy. As a photographer who specializes in elopements in Colorado, I have a hefty local vendor list I share with couples who book me.
Once you’ve gotten the vendor and location steps in the elopement checklist sorted out, you can begin crafting your adventure elopement timeline. Again with this step in the elopement checklist, I don’t recommending creating this on your own. A seasoned adventure elopement photographer will be able to create your elopement timeline for you (and help you come up with cool ideas to incorporate into your day).
For example, I know the best times of day for ceremonies, sunset photos, and how long it’ll take you to hike up that mountain in your wedding attire. And I leave extra buffer time in there just in case things run behind schedule. I know what to expect, because I’ve been there, done that.
Once you’ve checked the timeline off your elopement checklist, go ahead and take care of your elopement accommodations. If you’re traveling, book your flights and lodging. I typically recommend leaving a few days before and after your official elopement day free and open just in case dangerous weather makes rescheduling necessary.
This is also helpful if you’re eloping in a high elevation area like the Rocky Mountains, since your body will need a couple days to get acclimated to the higher elevation.
If you’re having getting ready photos taken before your elopement ceremony, you’ll want to make sure you chat with your photographer super soon about what lodging recommendations they have. They can help you find a cute Airbnb that’ll be perfect for getting ready photos!
Another reason to give yourself a few days in your elopement destination before you actually elope? The marriage license laws vary from state to state, so if you’re picking up your marriage license locally, you need to make sure you give yourself enough time.
For example, if you’re planning to elope in Washington State, you have a required 3 day waiting period after you pick up your license before you can actually use it (which is why I recommend turning your elopement into a road trip for WA in particular). Whereas in Colorado, your marriage license is valid upon issue.
If you’re looking to get your marriage license in a state you don’t currently live in, you’ll want to make sure you give yourself enough time to do this. Bear in mind that you’ll likely need to pick up and drop off your marriage license on a weekday, so plan your travel for that. Some places will let you mail in the signed license, but make sure to check first!
Marriage license logistics vary from state to state, so you need to check in with your specific elopement state. Or if you want to keep things simple, you can always take care of the legal stuff at home (sign and submit your license in your home state), and then just spend your elopement day having fun and adventuring, without having to worry about the legal stuff.
You’re almost at the end of the elopement checklist! Let’s talk about what to pack.
Being prepared for an adventure elopement — in particular one that involves significant outdoors activities like hiking — requires its own set of recommended items.
If you’re planning on spending most of your elopement day outside, there are a few key items that you’d likely regret not bringing along. So let’s jump right into it: the top things you absolutely do not want to forget on your adventure elopement.
Eloping outdoors without anything to keep you hydrated and full is a big no-no. Particularly if you’re eloping in the high-country, where elevation sickness is a very real and dangerous risk. In the rush of making sure you have your dress or suit, it’s easy to forget this little detail on your elopement checklist.
The last thing you want is to be super dehydrated and hungry on your elopement day. It’ll make it that much harder to be present and in the moment, so make sure to check these two things off your elopement checklist!
Disclosure: In this section of the elopement checklist, I share some of my favorite gear for adventure elopements. I may make a commission at no cost to you if you decide to purchase through one of the links in this elopement checklist article. I only recommend products and sellers that I use or trust myself. These links helps support small businesses like mine, and allow me to create free resources for you, like this elopement checklist.
If you’re hiking more than a couple miles to your ceremony site, I highly recommend bringing along a change of clothes to hike up in. This detail is a must-add to any elopement checklist for couples looking to do active adventuring on their day.
No matter how outdoorsy you are, you likely don’t want to be sticking to your wedding dress because you sweat the whole way up the mountain. Avoid that struggle by wearing more comfortable activewear on your hike up and then change when you get to the ceremony spot.
Good shoes are essential to any elopement packing list. Hiking boots that are waterproof and have great traction are a must for hiking in the mountains. Look for boots that are insulated, too, if you’re eloping in a colder climate.
For desert locations, active sandals like Tevas or Chacos are a great option, because they keep your feet cool, while also providing you with comfort and solid traction.
Still not sure what shoes you should wear? No worries. I’ve also written an article that breaks down which shoe choices work best for different types of adventure elopements.
While not relevant to all adventure elopements, bringing bear spray with you is never really a bad idea (unless it’s in an area where bear spray is banned). Places like Glacier National Park in Montana, for example, have plenty of bear sightings.
Elopement Checklist Pro Tip: Bear bells have been proven to not work, so you definitely want to opt for bear spray instead.
If you’re planning a sunrise elopement, you’ll likely have to spend some time hiking in the early morning darkness. Similarly, if you’re going for a sunset ceremony, you’ll have the same issue, just at night.
Either way, you’re at a higher risk for a bear encounter at these times of day, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Add it to your elopement checklist and bring that bear spray or other bear safety measure!
Let me tell you from personal experience — as someone who is the ultimate mosquito magnet — you need to have bug spray on you during the warmer months (this is the DEET free one that I use every summer).
This isn’t just relevant for elopements happening in places with high humidity. Nobody wants red bumps on their body on their elopement day, so make sure this is marked off your elopement checklist!
You’ll also want to add a tube of sunscreen to your elopement checklist (this is the one I use, and it’s great for sensitive skin). This is particularly important for elopements at high elevation in really sunny places (e.g. the alpine tundra of Colorado) where you can burn much more easily.
Another seemingly obvious one, but sometimes an easy one to forget. Make sure to toss your vow notebooks and rings into your elopement day pack.
I recommend keeping them in a safe compartment together (in a Ziplock baggie is best, if you’re carrying your elopement bouquet in the same pack).
Basically anything that’s necessary for the elopement ceremony itself should be kept together in your bag. They’ll be so much easier to access when your pack is filled with all of the necessary things for the adventure elopement.
You’ve done all the work. Everything is planned, packed, and ready to go. Everything on the elopement checklist has been marked off (such a good feeling, right?!). Now you just get to enjoy your adventure elopement, knowing you’ve made the awesome decision to get married in just about the most epic way possible.
And lastly, after you tie the knot (or even before!), don’t forget to announce the exciting news to everyone you love. This is an often overlooked elopement checklist step, but there are awesome cards you can send to loved ones letting them know you eloped, and I personally love this option.
As an adventure elopement photographer (and as someone who eloped), I know the ins and outs of this process, and have all the resources you need to complete this elopement checklist.
Want to elope in the Rocky Mountains? I have all the details on which times of year are best to travel to Colorado. I’ve also curated a list of my favorite mountain towns to help you narrow down the best spots.
Not sure how to craft epic vows? I’ve written the go-to guide on customizing your words like a total champ.
And we’re just scratching the surface. Our blog and our podcast have all the details you need to craft the best elopement (and check off all the steps on this checklist!)
Check out some of our favorite elopement and adventure wedding planning resources:
Empowering You To Have Your Adventure Elopement, Your Way
Colorado Elopement Photographers + Adventure Wedding Photographers