By now you’ve probably heard me talk about hiking elopements as an epic way to celebrate your big day – they’ve become ALL the rage here in the PNW. And for a freaking good reason! If you and your partner are super adventurous and love being in the great outdoors together more than anything, a hiking elopement is one of the most meaningful, exciting, & unique ways you can tie the knot. Especially here in the Pacific Northwest, which is pretty much a hiker’s heaven thanks to all the incredible mountain ranges, rainforests, & coastlines we’ve got to explore!
Because hiking elopements do take place out in nature and can involve a little more unpredictability, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to planning your hiking elopement: weather, permits, crowds, trail details, logistics, and SO much more. That’s why I’ve put together this massive hiking elopement guide, which has literally everything you could ever need to know about how to have a hiking elopement!
I’ve photographed WAY more hiking elopements than I can count, so trust me when I say I’ve seen everything that can go wrong, everything that can go right, and everything that couples loved or regretted about their day.
From how to pick a trail, to how to pack your dress + flowers, to how to download maps ahead of time, alllll the way to a comprehensive hiking elopement packing list + planning checklist to make things easy for you, I’ve included it ALL.
I hope this guide helps you know exactly how to plan your hiking elopement + prepare for every possible scenario that you could be hit with when the big day arrives – happy adventuring!
First of all, what even is a hiking elopement? If you’re not an adventure elopement photographer, you may not have ever even heard of it or known it was an option 😉
A hiking elopement is simply an elopement that involves hiking to the spot where you’re going to hold your ceremony! You can really make it mean whatever you want it to mean: it can be a quick 0.5-mile hike, a full-day 10-mile hike, or even a multi-day backpacking elopement if you REALLY want to go hard with it.
Typically, hiking elopements involve a couple & their guests (if they have any) taking a trail to a beautiful location where their ceremony or vow exchange is held, then taking some portraits at the spot before heading back down. Or before heading to another location nearby for some more photos, or even for a break to have dinner!
Now when it comes to hiking elopements, there is a bit more planning required when you’re choosing what to wear, simply because you’re going to be outdoors & hiking through potentially muddy/dirty/non-ideal terrain, rather than spending the whole day in a clean, temperature-controlled wedding venue. Plus, how the hell do you pack your dress if you’re taking it on a multi-mile hike?!
Here are all my best tips for choosing your hiking elopement dress, as well as a few of my fave hiking elopement shoes that I’d recommend wearing! I’ve also included tips for keeping your hair & makeup looking fresh during your hiking elopement, since you’ll be hiking and probably getting sweaty to some degree.
When it comes to choosing your hiking elopement dress, you want to make sure you choose a dress that’s made up of a lightweight material that allows you to move freely & without difficulty! If you choose a dress that’s reallyyyy heavy and has a billion layers, it’s going to be harder to move around in it if you have to step over rocks or big tree roots, and you’re going to get sweatier, too. Choosing a more lightweight, breathable dress material such as organza or rayon will ensure your dress doesn’t weigh you down!
Make sure you also pick a dress that is super comfortable + good for movement – so maybe don’t choose a super tight, stiff dress that barely lets you move your arms or legs. Choose a dress that you love the fit of, but that also allows you to stretch, dance, twirl, spin, etc. – bonus points if it’s a stretchy material that you won’t worry about ripping!
Finally, choose a dress that you don’t care about getting dirty. As much as you may not want to, it’s sorta inevitable that your dress will get some dirt on it if you’re out in nature! Find a dress that you’re okay getting a bit dirty, and that you’re able to send to a dry cleaner afterward if you want to get it thoroughly cleaned. I don’t recommend trying to wash your wedding dress yourself in your normal washer/dryer!
Because you’ll be hiking, you can do one of two things: either pick one pair of shoes that will be good for hiking & wear them the whole time, OR wear hiking shoes at first, then change into other shoes for your ceremony. I recommend just choosing some cute hiking boots that you’ll be comfortable wearing the whole time, so you don’t have to worry about changing or getting your “cuter” ceremony shoes super dirty!
Some of my favorite hiking boot brands:
If you’ve been wondering how to keep your hair & makeup looking bomb during your hiking elopement, wonder no more – here are my top tips for hiking elopement hair & makeup!
Next up in this hiking elopement guide: everything important you need to take into consideration when picking a trail! Other than the scenery, of course – that’s a given. Above all else, pick a trail that takes you to a spot for your ceremony with scenery you LOVE and that fills your soul, whether that’s views of bright blue alpine lakes, wildflower meadows, or wide-open views of stunning mountain ranges!
If you’ll be inviting any guests to hike with you & witness your ceremony, make sure you choose a trail that all of your guests are comfortably able to complete.
For example, if any kids will be tagging along, choose a trail that isn’t too technically difficult, and is short enough that they’ll be able to handle without getting too tired.
If you have any guests in wheelchairs or with mobility issues, be sure to choose a trail that is wheelchair-friendly! Pay attention to whether it’s FULLY or only partially wheelchair-friendly, and figure out what type of wheelchairs are able to complete the trail – will your guest(s) need all-terrain wheels, or an electric wheelchair?
For a full list of my favorite ADA-accessible elopement locations in the PNW, check out this blog post!
If you choose a very popular hike (e.g. a common hike to a beautiful location in a national or state park), be aware of the crowds you may run into!
To best avoid crowds, choose a trail that is a little more secluded + off the beaten path, and have your elopement on a weekday instead of weekend – better yet, have a sunrise elopement ceremony to really beat the crowds!
Eloping in the off-season of your chosen location is also super helpful in getting away from other tourists; for example, eloping at Mount Rainier in the early fall rather than right in the middle of the summer. Just make sure the hike you choose is at a low-enough elevation that it’ll be open at that time, and won’t be blocked off by snow!
Be sure to get any specific wedding permits you may need to hold your official ceremony at your desired locations! Most national parks & state parks require you to obtain a Special Use Permit of some kind, and to choose from a variety of designated ceremony locations. Read up on what’s allowed + not allowed, and what permits you need, via a site like Recreation.gov!
And don’t forget to see what parking permit/pass you’ll need – you may need a certain permit to use a trail, a printed pass on your dashboard to park, etc.
Think through what weather you’d be comfortable hiking in, and research the potential extreme conditions you could run into while you hike. Maybe you’re eloping in the PNW in the fall – be prepared for things like early snowfall or late summer wildfires to potentially affect your route/timeline, or if you’re eloping in the desert, think through what you’ll do if there’s an extreme heat wave that’s impossible to hike in!
Extreme weather conditions can also impact the roads you drive on + trails you take – have multiple backup plans and routes in place in case of any road closures or non-ideal trail statuses.
It’s SUPER important to think through what the lighting will be like during your hike, when you get to your ceremony location, on the hike back down, & once you’re back at the trailhead. For all my best tips for lighting + choosing what time of day to have your elopement ceremony, check out this blog post!
Next up: a quick list of my top 8 hiking elopement planning tips that you won’t want to miss!
One of the pieces of adventure elopements that I always talk to my couples about is Leaving No Trace. If you’re not familiar with what that means, or with the Leave No Trace Organization, it’s all about minimizing your impact on land as you explore the great outdoors. This is crucial to making sure your elopement is not only amazing for you, but respectful of the location you’re visiting, and that we leave it just as beautiful for all future visitors!
There’s wayyyy too much to talk about when it comes to Leaving No Trace to include in this blog post, so I put together a whole separate guide for y’all on How to Leave No Trace With Your Adventure Elopement. I highly recommend giving it a read before you embark on your outdoor adventure elopement!
I’m allll about making your elopement day SUPER unique + authentic to you and your love through fun + meaningful activities. Below are 5 fun hiking elopement ideas you could incorporate into your day in a personal, intentional way, and if you want even MORE, head to my blog post featuring 10 Unique Elopement Ideas to Make Your Big Day Feel Like YOU!
Time to get your bags out and start packin’ away! As your elopement gets closer, use this hiking elopement packing list to keep track of all the items you need to bring, and feel free to add your own, too!
Now that you hopefully feel confident about how to plan your hiking elopement, here’s a list to keep on hand (print it out, screenshot it, save it to your phone, etc.) to make sure you don’t forget any crucial items or tasks leading up to your elopement day!
You made it through!! I hope you found this hiking elopement guide super helpful, and that you feel extra prepared now to plan the most AMAZING hiking elopement of your dreams. When it comes time to find the perfect adventure elopement photographer to document the incredible elopement you’re planning, I’d be sooo stoked to be considered – consider me your in-house expert on all things PNW adventure elopements!
Take a look at my hiking elopement packages + investment here to get a feel for what I offer, and then I’d love to have you reach out to me here so we can start chatting all things elopements + start dreaming up what your day could look like. I can’t wait to hear from y’all!
Dying for even MORE helpful elopement content like this?! I’ve gotchu covered – head to my blog for tonssss more adventure elopement tips + inspo, or check out a few of my most popular blog posts below!
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