Table of Contents
An elopement in Yosemite is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and guaranteed to give your wedding photography that wow factor.
***2023 Update: Galcier Point Road should be open in 2023, however, there will be 30-minute delays.
If you’re thinking of eloping to Yosemite, then firstly, congratulations on your decision to elope! It’s one you won’t regret! And secondly, you couldn’t have picked a better place to tie the knot. Yosemite National Park is one of the most stunning locations for an elopement wedding! Magnificent meadows, iconic rock formations, breathtaking cliffside views, lush forests, epic waterfalls, and glistening lakes. It’s an oasis of natural beauty, and one of my favorite places to shoot elopement photography.
As I’ve captured eloping couples making it official in Yosemite, this beautiful region of California never fails to impress. The area sees millions of visitors every year, all desperate to photograph its awe-inspiring landscape. A landscape that cannot fail to look beautiful in your elopement photography. Whether you’re exchanging your vows high up on the cliffs, or down deep in the forest – this region is naturally bountiful in stunning locations to say ‘I do’.
Your Yosemite elopement photographer should know all the permission procedures, the best venues, times of day, deadlines, and local vendors. However, when eloping to Yosemite, or anywhere for that matter, it’s good to also have an understanding of yourself. That’s why today, I thought I’d share how to plan a Yosemite elopement with you, and reveal not just the facts. But also some simply stunning places to have your dream wedding ceremony.
Yosemite Travel Updates
Glacier Point Road will be closed to all traffic for the duration of 2022, and part of 2023 to repair and upgrade the road. This road leads to Glacier Point and Taft Point, so be sure to keep this in mind before traveling. For the moment, Glacier Point is only accessible through the Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono Trails, all of which are fairly challenging walks.
The road will re-open in the Spring of 2023, but there will be 30-minute delays.
Eloping to Yosemite: Your Elopement Guide on Where, How & What You’ll Need
There is lots of exciting stuff I want to share with you about eloping to Yosemite, but, we need to start off with something a little less fun. Permits.
How to Have an Elopement Wedding in Yosemite
To have any kind of event, or celebration in Yosemite, you’ll need to get a permit. Be that an engagement, anniversary or any kind of ceremony. And the fines for not acquiring one can be pretty steep, not to mention how awful the experience of having your Yosemite elopement ruined because of a lack of permission would be. Alongside your event permit, your wedding photographer and/or videographer will also need a special permit.
It can seem daunting, or annoying, to have to get a special permit when eloping to Yosemite. But trust me, the process is fairly straightforward, and, at the end of the day, these permits help to keep our beautiful national parks looking pristine. And stop people doing whatever they like up there. Besides, the permit is a lot cheaper than booking a traditional wedding venue, and a heck of a lot less complicated.
To get a wedding permit for Yosemite National Park, you’ll need to mail an application form, which can be obtained from the National Park Service website, along with a $150 check. I’ve put the address below, just to make it easier for you. A word of advice, don’t leave this application process to the last-minute. Permits can be obtained up to a year in advance. But not less than 3 weeks before the wedding. So don’t give yourself extra stress, and get the process sorted early.
Mail your permit application & payment to the below.
Attn: Catherine Carlisle-McMullen
Special Park Uses/ Film and Weddings
Yosemite National Park, National Park Service
P.O. Box 700
El Portal, CA 95318
On your application, be sure to state which of the ceremony sites you will be using on the big day (we’ll explore my favorites below), and then simply wait for the approval. Following the assessment of your original application, a special use permit will be mailed to you for signing. Sign it and mail back the application to obtain your final clearance.
If, your application is accepted, you will receive an authorized copy. Through the years, I’ve never really had a problem with gaining application acceptance. As long as the application is completed on time, and nothing is left blank on the form. You must have a final copy of your accepted application with you on the day of your elopement.
To make your wedding certificate process run as smoothly as possible, I am not simply a photographer, I am also an ordained officiant! So whether you’re taking a road trip to California, or flying in from out of state or even out of the country, I can give you very specific instructions on how to get your wedding license. And, I’ll marry you myself! Ideal if you want your special moment to be especially intimate, and private. As you won’t need to hire anyone else for your ceremony.
What is the Cost of Eloping to Yosemite
Film/Photo Permit – $150
Wedding Permit – $150
Additional Fees – $50/hour for event monitoring
Entrance Fee – $35 per car (or $80 America The Beautiful pass)
Yosemite Elopement Restrictions
We all want to go crazy on our wedding day, and do whatever we want. But when eloping to Yosemite, you need to think about the environment you’re holding your celebrations in. Our national parks will no longer be the beautiful, naturally stunning destinations they are, if we’re all allowed to do what we want there. However, none of the restrictions should really stop you from having your dream wedding day.
Here are the rules and restrictions you’ll need to follow when eloping to Yosemite.
- No wedding permits will be granted for holiday weekends or holidays.
- No pets. No amplified music.
- You cannot block off your location to attempt privacy.
- You must avoid stepping on any plant life.
- You cannot get married under a sequoia.
- You cannot ‘release’ anything such as butterflies, seeds, rice, or confetti-like things.
- No balloons, signs, or decor.
- No seating is allowed, except for those with special needs.
- No drones.
- No formal receptions, within the park.
Yosemite Wedding Ceremony Locations
***If your party is fewer than 11 people, you are not limited to the following locations with exception of open meadows and riparian environments.
Wedding ceremony locations in Yosemite are first-come, first-served. When at your location, you’ll have two hours at that place, and if your preferred location stated in your application is unavailable, you’ll be contacted and offered the chance to pick a different space.
If your wedding guest count is 10 or less, you’ll have many more places to choose from apart from this list below. Which is why eloping to Yosemite is so incredible, as you have endless places within the park to pick from! However, if you want to celebrate with a party of 11 or more, select one of the following places on your application.
Ceremony Locations in Yosemite Valley
All the Yosemite Valley ceremony locations are near to rivers or waterfalls, which makes them so delightfully pretty all year round. However, between March and June, the water is at its highest, which can create a lot of noise. Which isn’t a problem when on a hike, or just visiting the area. But if you’re trying to exchange vows with each other near a heavy waterfall, it can be hard to hear each other, not to mention your guests. Large gatherings will find this challenging, so keep this in mind when planning when, and where to have your ceremony.
Lower Yosemite Fall Paved Trail
This place is available all year. There are two long benches available, as well as other facilities at the ceremony site. There’s no parking, which means you’ll have to use the shuttle service. Lower Yosemite Fall Paved Trail is a beautiful and easily accessible place, ideal for couples who may not be able, or want to trek too far into the park. But still want to experience a glorious Yosemite water feature.
Groups of up to 50.
Cascades Picnic Area
This wedding ceremony venue is open all year, and marriages can be held inside the approved picnic area, at least 6 feet from the water’s edge. Parking is restricted to 8 cars, so if you have a large group, try to meet up before and carpool to the site. There are restrooms and picnic tables nearby, making this an ideal place for a low-fuss ceremony and picnic reception with loved ones.
Groups of up to 50.
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
The area is closed from November through Memorial Day Weekend. From Tuesday after Memorial Day through October 31st, the location closes at dusk; 50 people maximum. Monitoring is required for groups of 35–50 people. Restroom facilities are nearby and there is limited parking (6 vehicles max); carpooling is recommended.
Groups of up to 50.
From the parking lot, take the paved path and continue straight (do not turn right) until you are beyond the second stone bridge. The location lies at the forest clearing on your right where the fall comes into view. 50 people maximum; monitoring is required for groups of 50 people. Restroom facilities are nearby.
Groups of up to 50.
Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
This site is wheelchair accessible, and located on a beautiful beach just north of the bridge. There are facilities nearby, limited parking and this site is open all year-round. Swinging bridge is a gorgeous location and perfect for couples who want an intimate, yet accessible ceremony spot.
Groups of up to 20.
Sentinel Beach Picnic Area
This location is also wheelchair accessible, but closed from November through to Memorial Day Weekend. If you’re planning on tying the knot on the beach, be aware that it closes at dusk during open season. There are facilities, and limited parking, but this location is one of the few that allows a large number of guests.
Groups of up to 100.
Wedding Ceremony Locations in Wawona
Glacier Point Amphitheater
This wheelchair-accessible site is available for use from the Tuesday after Memorial Day, until September 30th due to road closures in the area outside these times. But if you can schedule it right, you’ll get to experience this incredible amphitheater, with breathtaking views of the mountains in the background. There are plenty of seating options available for guests, who won’t be able to believe their eyes when they see where you’re eloping to in Yosemite!
Groups of up to 50.
Chilnualna Falls Trailhead Parking Lot
Chilnualna Falls is a magnificent location with an impressive waterfall that cascades over enormous weathered stones into a lovely pool below. This trailhead can only accommodate 10 vehicles, therefore carpooling is advised. The location is somewhat downhill from the parking lot, close to a huge private house.
Groups of up to 50.
Wedding Ceremony Locations in Tuolumne
Due to high elevation storms that cause road closures, these spots are only available during the warmer months. Both locations have gorgeous mountain settings and are ideal for an early morning wedding ceremony!
Tenaya Lake Beach
This beach location is open from late Spring, through to the end of September. It is a lovely and peaceful area by the lake shore, with snow capped mountains on the horizon, and a wonderful clearing of trees flanking the ceremony spot.
Groups of up to 50.
Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area:
The site is also open until late September, but is upstream from the lodge. There’s an easy dirt path you can take toward the river which will guide you to this location. But beware, there is very limited parking available and so carpooling is a necessity.
Length of Hike: 250 yards (unpaved)
Groups of up to 50.
Wedding Ceremony Locations in Big Oak
This region is typically open all year, but keep a watch-out for storms, as they may bring unexpected, yet brief road closures. The elopement ceremony venues in Big Oak are great for couples seeking an intimate location among Yosemite’s giant trees.
This trek to a sequoia forest is simply breathtaking! If you plan to tie the knot from October through to June, be aware there may be snow on the ground. But if that winter look is what you’re searching for, you’re free to visit this site all year round. You are not permitted however to stand within the sequoia grove itself.
Groups of up to 30.
This trek will take you through a dense forest of tall sequoia trees! It is beautiful all year, but from October to June, you may find yourself hiking through snow, and you must stay on the route at all times.
Groups of up to 30.
Where to Elope to in Yosemite
All the locations above are designated for official wedding ceremonies of 10 people, or above. However, as I mentioned earlier, if you’re eloping to Yosemite and only intend to have yourselves in attendance, or a handful of guests – you’ll have a lot more options. The two most iconic elopement spots in Yosemite are Glacier Point and Taft Point. But don’t feel retrained to just these options, there’s a whole national park for you to explore!
This location looks especially epic during golden hour, and so worth the early start. The sunrise view of Half Dome is particularly majestic, and located on the opposite side of the valley from Taft Point. Glacier Point is accessible by car from May through to November, but the viewpoint is technically available all year via a 10.5 mile trek. During winter, you may need skis or snowshoes to take this route safely though. The trial is roughly half a mile long, and if you want to find a spot to yourself, you’ll certainly need to wake up early, as this popular viewpoint gets pretty busy.
Another location that’s ideal for sunset wedding photography! Taft Point is, however, pretty high up. So if you don’t have a head for heights, steer clear of this viewpoint. If you’re comfortable with that, you’ll be blessed with sunset views of El Capitan as it turns every possible shade of pink, red, orange, and purple! The round-trip distance is 2.2 miles, with an elevation of 250 feet. If you’re looking to find a spot to yourself, plan for during the week and avoid the holidays.
Where To Stay in Yosemite
Because of its location, it can be difficult to find somewhere to stay in Yosemite. However, outside the park, there are options, and I would certainly recommend the nearby towns of Fish Camp and Mariposa. These locations are excellent choices as they’re both close to the park and provide a heap of hotel options, and places to eat.
The cabins and motels in these two Yosemite towns offer that natural atmosphere for your semi-wild elopement and will certainly heighten your overall wedding experience. There are also some unique Airbnb options outside the park that’ll certainly ramp up the fun levels. From camping under the stars, to Airstreams and trendy cabins, there are countless cool options to choose from!
If you want something within the park, there are a few places, but you’re limited to the locations The National Park Service has granted permission to. However, there are a couple of lovely spots I’d love to share.
The Ahwahnee is a 4-star hotel with romantic countryside vibes, and a cool outdoor swimming pool! It’s close to most of the things you’re likely to want to get to within Yosemite Park, and its a lovely place to celebrate your elopement.
The Yosemite Valley Lodge is a 3-star hotel that offers everything you’ll need for a stay in the park, but without some of the charm The Ahwahnee has. However, if you just want somewhere local to crash, its ideal.
Wawona Hotel is a mountain resort hotel with Victorian-era design, and an authentic lodge feel. To stay here is to feel like you’re getting away from it all, and travelling back not just to nature, but in time too. A lovely place to retreat to after a long hike.
For those who want something a little different, AutoCamp should be the one for you! Situated within the park, this unique ‘basecamp’ offers one-of-a-kind Airstreams that are perfect for elopement portraits, and cozy nights. And there’s a wealth of other cabin options available on-site, along with a modern clubhouse that’ll offer all you need to eat and drink while you’re there.
Where to Eat in Yosemite
After exploring Yosemite Falls, discovering the many lakes scattered throughout the park, and scaling breathtaking El Capitan – you’ll probably be ready for some food! Not to mention somewhere to celebrate your wedding day.
Below, I’ve rounded up my shortlist of the best places to eat in Yosemite. Spots that should offer a little something for every type of couple.
The Ahwahnee Dining Room is the fanciest option, and probably somewhere you should book for your wedding night. It’s ideal for couples needing a taste of elegance after a long day in the wilderness. With 30 feet high ceilings, and giant windows that take in the awesome surrounding views. However, it is a buffet, so don’t expect any silver service.
The Mountain Room Restaurant benefits from stunning views of the 2500-foot-high waterfall, and an equally impressive menu. If you want that camp lodge feel, with a hint of sophistication, and a whole lot of nature surrounding you – this is the spot for you.
Wawona Hotel Dining Room offers that authentic Victorian era dinning experience. Hand-painted lamps decorate the ceiling, while large plate glass windows offer stunning views out into the forest. And their summer veranda is the ideal space for a warm evening meal. Plus, when the weather turns cold, you can snuggle up by the fireplace, or get cozy in their sumptuous main dining room.
And if you’re looking for some chill, Jackalopes Bar & Grille at Tenaya Lodge is the place for you. They offer the ideal place to relax, kick-back and enjoy some pub food and a full bar after your day trekking through Yosemite. Perfect if you’re a couple who love a night sipping craft beer and munching on pizza.
Where to Get Fuel in Yosemite?
The last thing you want to do while eloping in Yosemite, is run out of gas. So before you embark on any long journey, please prepare, and make sure your tank is full. Just in case you take a wrong turn, and end up travelling more than you expected.
Thankfully, there are two gas stations in Yosemite National Park, one in Wawona and the other at Crane Flat. Within Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, or along the Tioga Road there are NO fuel stops, so be sure to check your levels before you travel.
There are gas stations in El Portal (on Highway 140 outside the park) and in Lee Vining (on Highway 395, 12 miles from the Tioga Pass Entrance Station on the Tioga Road).
If you’re a Tesla driver, and are worried about running out of juice while in Yosemite, take a look at this post. In it, they share all the charging points in the area.
What to Pack When Eloping to Yosemite?
The items in your suitcase, and the things in your travel bag, will vary depending on the type of Yosemite elopement experience you’re planning. However, there are a few essentials you should certainly bring with you. Items that will keep you safe, and allow you to enjoy the wonderful natural surroundings in comfort.
Here are a few items you should certainly bring with you:
- Quality Waterproof Shoes for Hiking
- Rain Jacket
- Water bottles
- Sun Protection and Sunglasses
- Clothing for both the warm and the cold
- Bug Spray
What Not to Pack When Visiting Yosemite?
Do not bring Bear Spray, it is prohibited in Yosemite as it’s considered a weapon by the park. But do be vigilant and follow local advice, as this area is a wild place, with wild animals. However, Yosemite has never reported a bear attack, and as far as I’m told, the park uses GPS tracking and redirection techniques with some pretty remarkable results. Nevertheless, it could still happen, so do not store food in your car, or on a truck bed.
Bears are attracted by any scented items such as food wrappers, crumbs, baby wipes and even unopened drinks. Anything like this should be brought inside, or put away in a locked food locker. Bears are known to break into cars, tents, and cabins through unlocked windows if they smell something interesting.
Where to Seek Medical Assistance?
Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t go quite to plan. And accidents happen. Thankfully, within Yosemite National Park, there is medical assistance available, with basic care available for both residents and visitors. Hopefully, you won’t need it during your Yosemite elopement, but I’ve put the opening times of the center below if you need them.
Monday–Friday, 9 am to 5 pm; closed from noon to 1 pm.
(Walk-ins accepted until 3:30 pm, unless clinic capacity is reached before)
I hope this guide to eloping in Yosemite has inspired your wedding plans, or maybe even given you the info you need to start actually browsing my photography packages. It would be an honor to join you on your adventure elopement, and be the California photographer who actually captures your big day.