So you’ve made the brave decision to elope. HECK YES. The hard part is done. Making the decision to elope can be a tough one. We know because we’ve been there ourselves, not just for the couples we photograph, but with our own elopement. But you’ve made it past that hurdle. You’re in it, you’re committed. You’re ready to do the damn thing. But where do you even begin? And does a thorough, comprehensive elopement checklist even exist?
Maybe you’ve realized that there really isn’t much of a blueprint or in-depth elopement checklist out there that really explains the steps you need to know when planning your elopement. Sure, there are some articles published on the major wedding blogs talking about the obvious (like finding a dress or hiring an officiant), but that’s only scratching the surface. So our elopement checklist is here to be your #1 elopement planning resource.
This is the same elopement checklist we use for our couples’ adventure elopements and the one we used to plan our own epic national park elopement so we know it works (and it’ll save you plenty of headache and make this process SO MUCH EASIER). Feel free to save this or print it out to reference during your elopement planning process. We find it’s super helpful to reference when putting together your elopement to-do list! So without further ado, let’s dive in!
This is one of the most exciting and freeing steps in the elopement checklist! Take this time to let your imagination go wild. What types of locations really speak to the two of you? Are you mountain people, through and through? Or do you find yourself longing to run away to the high deserts of Moab, Utah? Maybe you’re into the giant redwood or Sequoia forests of California.
Really dig deep and think about what landscapes and environments the two of you enjoy together. What types of places do you find yourself road-tripping to or camping at? This’ll help you narrow down the type of vibe you want for your adventure elopement location.
PRO TIP: While it can be easy to jump into your elopement checklist assuming that the first thing you need to do is figure out your budget, we highly recommend against this. Why? This is the dreaming, big-picture phase of the elopement checklist. While you’ll certainly get down to the nitty gritty numbers as we go, right now the goal is to try to get a grasp on what your dream elopement might look like, no holds barred. That doesn’t mean you can’t be budget conscious (you certainly can!), but jumping in with the budget as the driving factor will likely stifle the creative thinking, which is not what we want to do during these first few steps of the elopement checklist.
Disclaimer: this is not me saying that budgets aren’t important; they absolutely are and you should always have one in mind (we’ll talk more about this in later steps of the elopement checklist). We just recommend setting it aside for a moment so you can dream big before you jump into the details.
As we mentioned earlier, don’t 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 in national parks 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 bucks, 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. We’ve seen all of our eloping couples do it. 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. 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 alpine lakes and jagged peaks sound like your jam, a mountain elopement might be for you. Mountain elopements can happen any time of year. In summer, you’ll likely come across gorgeous meadows of wildflowers. Colorado and Washington are awesome places to glimpse these gorgeous flowers. In winter, you can experience snow-covered peaks and frozen lakes.
The desert elopement can be the perfect opportunity to get away from it all. You’ll likely come across sunny days when opting for this type of adventure elopement, and it’ll be much easier to sneak away from vacationers and find your own little secret spot to elope at. Choose the fall or springtime for cooler and more comfortable temps. The best states for desert elopements are Utah, California, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Opt for a woodsy vibe with a forest elopement. 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 beach vibe for your adventure elopement. We love that beaches are not one size fits all. You can have a vibe that’s unique to you. This isn’t your grandmother’s “beach wedding.”
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t think that picking your elopement date should always 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 summer elopement in a desert location (triple digit temps are no fun, trust us).
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 just some 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, we 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. 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 we put this step so high up on the checklist is because a good elopement photographer will help walk you through the process of what you need to know to put together your adventure elopement. And they’ll be able to walk you through important things you’ll need to be aware of while you work your way through your elopement checklist.
They will have location recommendations. They will know what permits you need to elope at those locations. They’ll have vendor recommendations, and they should even know the best places to buy the gear you may need for your adventure elopement.
Having an adventure elopement photographer by your side who can help you with all of this is crucial. And it’ll take a load off of your shoulders during the elopement planning process. We’d argue that your adventure elopement photographer might just be your most valuable resource during the planning process. As adventure elopement photographers ourselves, we love helping our couples navigate the sometimes confusing waters of planning their elopements. We get that this may be the first time you’re getting married, and that’s ok! That’s what we’re here to help with.
So 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 places you’ve been dreaming of. Give them an idea of what types of elopement locations speak to you.
They should have a list of locations built out already, and once they know your preferences, they can dig a bit deeper, do some research, and find you a few spots that match your criteria. From there, you can all work together to make a final decision on which spot is your favorite and check it 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, there are still certain requirements when it comes to securing your dream adventure elopement location. And that brings us to the next step in the elopement checklist: you’ll likely need to apply for a wedding permit.
If you’re planning to elope in a national park or any sort of open space, you’ll likely need one. In fact, in most adventure elopement destinations (like Colorado and Washington State), elopement permits are a necessity for almost any location you could think of.
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, we recommend applying as soon as possible. Some places fill up super quickly, especially on weekends! We always encourage our couples to apply the moment they’re sure of their elopement location.
One thing to note: sometimes the permitting process can take several weeks before you get approved, so don’t leave this step in the elopement checklist to the last minute! The fines for not having a permit can be hefty. Some will set you back a few thousand dollars.
Take a second and think about your top 3 priorities for your adventure elopement day.
Remember when I said we’d get back to the budget? Here we are. The nice thing about adventure elopements is that there are a lot less moving parts. But a lot of our couples still wind up asking us how they should be budgeting for their day. Our suggestion? Pick your “Elopement 3,” as we 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. This is where you get to splurge a bit.
The amazing part of eloping is how much money you get to save (the average wedding costs couples over $33,000!). 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. Best. News. Ever.
The most typical “Elopement 3” we see from the couples we work with is: their elopement photography, their elopement attire, and their travel costs/accommodations. Everything else (whether it be decor or invites) is still considered. But those secondary elements are simply not as high of a priority for your elopement day. Usually we 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.
Our 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.
Ahhh such a fun step 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 definitely want to take the season into consideration when choosing your elopement attire.
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 definitely want to consider the level of activity for the day when choosing your clothing options, because the last thing you want is to be wearing an outfit you can’t easily move around in when you have lots of adventuring to do.
For ladies who’ve decided to wear a dress, we recommend giving yourself at least 6 months before your adventure elopement to find your dress. This’ll give you enough time to find what you want and get it altered in time for your day. Typically, you’ll go in for two alterations appointments, so this’ll give you plenty of time for both.
Give yourself a bit of time for elopement checklist step 8. Sometimes this step in the checklist can take a couple weeks. This is when you’ll want to look into booking someone for hair and makeup, your elopement bouquet, an officiant (if you’re not self-solemnizing in Colorado), an invitation designer, or any other type of vendor you’d like to have as part of your day.
This list can be as short or as long as you’d like it to be. It’s ultimately up to you what type of vendors you have at your elopement day. You could say “screw it” to having your makeup done and opt for a more natural look in exchange for having a private chef cook the two of you dinner after you say your “I dos”. The thing to remember your elopement day can look however the heck you want it to look. The only rules are the ones you make for yourselves.
A little tip when it comes to finding your other elopement vendors: your adventure elopement photographer is a great resource here, too! Feel free to ask them if they have any recommendations on vendors. They’ve likely worked with some awesome people and can make some recommendations that’ll make your elopement vendor search that much simpler.
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, we don’t recommending creating this on your own. You’ll definitely want to work with your adventure elopement photographer.
As elopement photographers, we’re constantly creating elopement timelines. We know the best times of day for ceremonies, sunset photos, and all that jazz. We know how long it’ll take you to hike up that mountain in your wedding attire, and we leave extra buffer time in there just in case things run behind schedule.
We know what to expect, because we’ve been there, done that. Plenty of times. So use us as a resource during this time! Hop on a call with your elopement photographer and spend 30 minutes hammering out the details of your elopement timeline. By the time you’re done with the chat, you’ll have an idea of what happens when.
Once you’ve checked the timeline off your elopement checklist, go ahead and take care of your elopement accommodations. If you’re traveling, go ahead and book your flights and lodging. We typically recommend leaving a few days before and after your official elopement day free and open just in case bad 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. The last thing you want is elevation sickness on your adventure elopement day!
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! If you can, we recommend booking a few months out to make sure you snag the spot you want.
PRO CHECKLIST TIP: 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. Whereas in Colorado, your marriage license is valid upon issue.
Jumping off the above point, 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 days to do this. Also bear in mind that you’ll likely need to pick up and drop off your marriage license on a weekday. 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 make sure 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.
Please note our advice is in regards to elopements in the United States. If you’re eloping internationally, you’ll want to look into the specific marriage laws for that country!
Ahhh, you’re almost at the end of the elopement checklist! When it comes to adventure elopements, we tend to assume there’s a shorter list of things to bring, compared to traditional weddings. And while that’s true when it comes to wedding decor and things of that nature, a lot of couples overlook all of the additional things they should bring along with them on the day of their adventure elopement.
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.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s honestly one of the most overlooked things on an elopement day. In the rush of making sure you have your dress or suit, it’s easy to forget this little detail on your elopement checklist and not pack water bottles or snacks.
For less intense adventure elopements that don’t require any sort of extensive hiking, this may not be too much of an issue. But there are plenty of couples who opt for multi-mile hikes, and doing that 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.
Trust us, 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 (which is likely a huge reason why you chose to elope in the first place!). So make sure to check these two things off your elopement checklist!
Just because you’re having an adventure elopement doesn’t mean you can’t have an elopement bouquet. If you like the idea of having florals on your elopement day, make sure you add your favorite blooms to your elopement checklist. If you’ve chosen to forage your bouquet, make sure you’ve secured it with some floral tape and a ribbon to cover the tape (Personally, we love FrouFrou Chic’s ribbons. They’re subtle, classy, and just dang beautiful). The last thing you want is for your bouquet to come apart on the way up the trail, so floral tape and ribbons are a must.
When carrying your bouquet up the trail, however, make sure you don’t place it inside your pack. Try to attach it to the outside of your bag if possible, to avoid it getting damaged from the other items inside your bag. Wrap the base in a moist towel that you can put inside a waterproof bag. That’ll keep your flowers fresh on the hike up.
One thing to note: if your adventure elopement takes place in a place like a national park, try to source your flowers locally. The last thing you want to do is introduce an invasive species into these parks.
If you’re going to be doing any sort of strenuous or lengthy activity to get to your elopement ceremony spot, we highly recommend bringing along a change of clothes to hike up in as well. The last thing you want is to be all sweaty when you say “I do.” This detail is a must-add to any elopement checklist for couples looking to do hefty 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.
The shoes you wear when you hike up to your elopement ceremony spot can be totally different than what you want to wear for the ceremony itself. If this is you, we recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes. You can wear your hiking boots up to the elopement ceremony spot and then swap out for your preferred shoes afterward.
Not sure what shoes you should wear? No worries. We’ve also written an article that breaks down which shoe choices work best for different types of adventure elopements.
This tip isn’t relevant for all adventure elopements, but bringing bear spray with you is never really a bad idea. Places like Glacier National Park in Montana, for example, have plenty of bear sightings, and they’re especially common during the times of day when it’s dark out.
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, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Add it to your elopement checklist and bring that bear spray!
While we’re on the topic of hiking when it’s dark out, you’ll also want to pack some head lamps. They’ll help you see where you’re going while navigating the trails at night, and they’ll make the hiking process so much easier. We highly recommend against depending on the moonlight for your night hikes. It’s not worth the consequences that come with being unprepared on a winding mountain trail with low visibility.
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 summer months. This isn’t just relevant for elopements happening in places with high humidity. Sure, if you’re eloping in a place like Asheville, North Carolina, bringing bug spray may be a no-brainer. But even in places like Aspen, Colorado, where the air is much drier, you’ll be thankful you brought that bug spray. Nobody wants red bumps on their body on their elopement day, so make sure this is marked off your elopement checklist!
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. We 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.
If you’re only going to see your witnesses and officiant during the adventure elopement ceremony itself, make sure you bring along your marriage license for them to sign. This won’t be necessary if you’re having a self-solemnized elopement ceremony or if you already took care of all of the legal paperwork before your adventure elopement (this option is common for couples having an adventure elopement internationally, given the legal complications that can occur with taking care of things in the elopement country).
When you’re out on the trails, you honestly never know what could happen. It’s just good practice to have a first-aid kit with you, especially on a day as important as your elopement. It never hurts to have the supplies to take care of unexpected wounds and injuries.
A clear umbrella – Transparent umbrellas are much more attractive than your typical umbrella, and they also make for a cute prop if it ends up raining on your adventure elopement day.
Rain boots – Keep you feet from getting wet and muddy with a pair of rain boots on rainy elopement days.
Sunscreen – Add a tube of sunscreen to your elopement checklist. 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.
Snowshoes and MICROspikes – If you’re having a winter adventure elopement in the mountains, where snow can get several feet deep, add a pair of snowshoes to your elopement checklist to help you navigate the area without sinking in every step. For icy trails, MICROspikes are a MUST to prevent from slipping. Ice is no joke on packed down hiking trails.
A warm wool blanket and lots of layers – This one is especially relevant for adventure elopements that take place on colder days, especially when your elopement attire isn’t exactly the best fit for the temperature (e.g. short-sleeved wedding dresses in the Rocky Mountain alpine tundra in December). We personally recommend Pendleton blankets. They have some of our absolute favorite wool camp blankets and they’re sure to keep you warm. We have our own that we bring with us to engagement sessions and elopements and they’re definitely couple-approved.
Hand/foot warmers and cold-resistant gloves – No matter how many layers you may be wearing on your hike, at certain temperatures up in the mountains, your extremities will still be cold. In these cases we recommend packing some hand and foot warmers to keep you warm on your hike. You’ll also want to bring a cozy pair of gloves (good gloves are usually rated by warmth level).
Ahhh, the hard part is over! 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.
P.S. As Colorado elopement and adventure wedding photographers, we pride ourselves on not just documenting your adventure elopement or small mountain wedding, but providing advice on the little details as well — like helping you determine the perfect time of year for your Colorado elopement and other details included on this elopement checklist.
We’re firm believers that your adventure wedding photographer should be a resource to you during the adventure elopement process. Why? Because we’ve eloped too, and we don’t think anyone should have to go through this process alone. So if that sounds like your vibe, we’d love to chat with you about your dream adventure elopement.
Check out some of our favorite elopement and adventure wedding planning resources:
The Colorado Rockies are our home. We know these mountains like the back of our hand, and we love helping our couples plan their Colorado adventure elopements. Our land is your land, peeps. so let’s get you mountain married!
We specialize in photographing small adventure weddings in the great outdoors. We believe small weddings empower couples to be themselves on their wedding day, which is what makes us so honored to be a part of them. There’s nothing better.
We like to say we’re adventurers first, photographers second. Which frankly, is what we think makes us good at what we do. We live and breathe the outdoors lifestyle, and we make sure our adventure wedding photos show off your adventurous side too.
Not everyone loves tradition, but that doesn’t make your adventure wedding or elopement any less important.
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