April 9, 2020

10 Steps To Planning Your Dream Hiking Elopement

If you’re an outdoorsy person, you know the peace, presence, and pure joy being in nature brings. Sometimes the best way to get to a beautiful view or away from the crowds is on two feet. That’s why hiking can be the perfect activity to give you the outdoor elopement experience of your dreams.

During their hiking elopement, a couple stops beneath the rhododendron branches to hug and connect with their hiking backpacks on.

Hiking is the ultimate way to add a little adventure to your elopement, plus it grants couples access to more secluded, exclusive locations. If you’re happiest among the wilderness like me, why wouldn’t you spend the best day of your life exploring the great outdoors? Close your eyes and imagine walking the trail hand in hand with your loved one: It’s quiet and peaceful; the air is still damp with dew or warm with the sun’s last rays, the birds chirp overhead, and your heart is sparkling with the thought that you’re about to commit yourself to the love of your life; the trees break and you’re alone on top of the world, where you make the promise of a lifetime as the sun rises or sets. How awesome does that sound?!

If that kind of wedding experience feels like everything you’ve wanted, I encourage you to make the brave choice to go for it! I’ve found that couples almost never regret making their day feel more like their own, so I can just about guarantee you won’t regret making the choice of a hiking elopement! Just be aware that tying the knot in nature does require some planning—that’s why I’ve made it easy for you! Here are the ten steps to planning the hiking elopement of your dreams:

Watch the video or read on below

Your Dream Hiking Elopement : 10 Steps

A couple in their elopement clothes and hiking backpacks is crossing a natural bridge above a creek in the forest.

1. Decide how far you want to hike.

 Step one is picking the trail length for your hike. Everyone has different experience and comfort levels with hiking, so identify a length you’re both comfortable with. If you don’t normally hike 10 miles, for example, your wedding day probably isn’t the day to start. Think about your physical experience as well as the circumstances of the day (For example, if you want to make it to dinner after a sunset elopement, don’t plan for more than a couple miles.)

Length is only one factor in what makes a hike easy or difficult. Do a little research beyond the length of the hikes you’re considering; a quick Google search should send you to articles and write-ups from experienced hikers who write honest reviews of hikes, including other factors like elevation and terrain. Again, if you don’t have a lot of experience or time, avoid tricky trails. But if you’re up for it, some of the more difficult trails are the most worth it and the least popular! Discuss your options with your partner and be honest with each other about what length and difficulty you’re comfortable with, and commit to finding a trail you’re both excited about.

A couple is standing in front of a big rock outcropping on a rock face at sunset hugging. The girl is wearing a flower crown and the guy is wearing a black hat.

2. Pick a trail/location and research if you’ll need a permit (and apply for one if necessary)

If you’ve identified the length and general location of the trail you’re looking for, your choices should be pretty clear (if they’re not, give me a call—I’m familiar with a lot of trails, even outside of WNC, and might be able to help you find the best one for you!). Once you pick your trail, do a happy dance (!!), and then follow it up with a little more research.

If your trail is on public lands—like in a national park or state forest—it’s likely you’ll need a permit to have a ceremony there. Do some Googling to find out where exactly the trail is, and then contact the local municipality to see if you need a permit to share your vows there and take photos and video on the land. If you do need a permit, it might cost you $100–$300 (which is actually a steal for a wedding venue!). In addition to permitting for the ceremony itself, there are some other regulations and rules you might need to keep in mind. For example, some parks don’t allow live florals because of the threat of invasive species. It’s best to be thorough in your research so you can make sure you’re respecting the regulations of the park and nature.

A couple is standing on a mountaintop during their hiking elopement and the bride is sharing vows with her groom while his hand is on her elbow intently listening.

3. Consider saving marriage legalities for another time.

If you decide to hike to your elopement spot, the two most important people in the world will be there (that’s you two!), and you might even be able to find some friends and a photographer/videographer like myself to make the trek with you—but it’s a little unlikely that you’ll have an officiant who will do the same, which means your “official” ceremony will probably need to take place offsite. Don’t let this be a dealbreaker for you! Having an official, informal ceremony at a courthouse is actually really common, especially with elopements. It doesn’t make your mountaintop ceremony any less special or less meaningful, it just means you have to take care of the formalities at another time.

That being said, if you really want it to happen during your hiking elopement, you can certainly find someone who can help you get officially married in nature. Each state has different regulations; in North Carolina, you’ll need an officiant and witnesses, which can be done in a lot of different ways. Some photographers/videographers are also officiants, or you might have loved ones who can officiate. As for witnesses, you could bring a couple of family members with you or, as long as the trail is even moderately popular, ask other hikers to stand in

A couple is small amidst a massive mountain landscape during their hiking elopement at sunset.

4. Pick sunrise or sunset for your hiking elopement.

They call it “golden hour” for a reason! The light at sunrise and sunset is gorgeous, and in my opinion these are the absolute best times for a ceremony. (You know all those elopement photos you’ve been saving on Pinterest? Trust me, they were taken at sunset or sunrise!) I admit there are some complications that come with eloping at these times, especially since you’ll be spending time hiking before and after. You’ll have to travel in the dark, either in the morning or evening. Depending on the season you might have to either get up very early or stay out very late. But it’s totally worth it!

Choosing sunrise or sunset depends on a lot of different factors. The location is really important, since some views might be at the perfect position to watch the sunrise, but sunset could be blocked by trees or other peaks, or vice versa. If seclusion is a priority for you, sunrise is definitely a better option; a lot of hikers stay around on trails to watch the sunset, but far fewer are dedicated enough to get up before the crack of dawn and hike up in the dark to watch it rise! And of course—what time feels best to you? If you’re night owls or early birds, that could be your answer!

A couple is hiking with their backpacks on and elopement clothes through rhododendron tunnel, and over rocks and roots.

5. Find a photographer/videographer willing and able to hike with you

I think having an elopement videographer/photographer is the most important investment you can make in your wedding day. When you incorporate a hike into your day, it narrows your options for these vendors. Many of us who specialize in elopements are more than willing and well-prepared to hike with you. We’re usually the kind of people who like adventure! But, you should be upfront about the hike you’re planning so your photographer/videographer knows what to expect and is definitely prepared.

If you’re planning a long hike (3+ miles), you should choose a vendor who has a lot of experience, especially since they’ll be lugging 30 pounds of gear over all those miles! I hike 4+ mile trails on the regular, so I love when couples suggest lengthy hikes for their elopements! Choosing a photographer/videographer who’s an experienced outdoors person comes with other benefits. For example, I’m really familiar with a lot of trails and can help you find the best place to stop for photos, breaks, and even your ceremony. I’ve already done all that research on my own time. Vendors that are Wilderness First Aid Certified like myself are always an asset on adventure elopements too! You never know what might happen, and that certification means we’re prepared for a lot of scenarios.

A bride is fixing her hair and adjusting her dried flower crown in the woods. She is wearing a black long sleeve shirt and standing in front of a tree and rhododendrons.

6. Decide about hair and makeup for your hiking elopement

At traditional weddings, you might have an entire staff of hair and makeup artists at the ready. An elopement can be different, especially an elopement that involves hiking! There’s likely not going to be a hair and makeup artist waiting for you at the top of the mountain. That being said, you’ve still got options for feeling a little bit fancy! You can bring along a small hair and makeup kit; a pocket mirror and a few makeup essentials are all you need to freshen up in the woods. Another realistic option is to hire a hair/makeup artist to fix you up before the hike.

Of course, you don’t want to go full-on prom makeup—you’re going to be moving around, sweating, and touching nature. A full face of makeup probably won’t last in that scenario. But these are artists we’re talking about, and if you’re clear with them about the activities you’ll be doing, they’ll be able to get you ready with the right products that will look good through a long hike.

As for hair, a great option is to pin it up before your hike. You can always let it loose once you arrive—voila, instant volume! Of course, the third option is to just go bare (faced)! This is a day that’s all about the experience, not necessarily about how you look, so don’t feel obligated to wear makeup or do your hair if you don’t feel like it. But if it’s going to make you feel like your best version of yourself, then go for it!

A guy crouches down and puts his boots on in the forest surrounded by rhododendron bushes. His previous clothes are hanging on a nearby branch.

7. Wear comfy clothes and dress for the weather.

Just because you’re hiking to your ceremony doesn’t mean you have to wear your regular hiking gear! Any attire can be adapted to your hiking elopement day, and that includes wedding dresses and suits. Let’s start from the ground up. No matter what distance you’re hiking, but especially if it’s long, you should wear hiking boots. I always say preferably something with good tread. You don’t want to bust your butt or twist an ankle on your wedding day, so the right footwear is key! If you’re wearing a dress, choose something a little flowy that you can comfortably move and stretch while you hike.

It might be cold outside, so slip on some warm leggings under your dress and a warm coat over it. If you’re wearing pants, they can be a little formal, just make sure they’re loose enough for you to move and bend your knees. If it’s cold, dress in layers. You’ll heat up on your hike, but when you stop for your ceremony your body temperature will regulate. You’ll be grateful for your coat! Remember, it’s always colder on top of the mountain than in the valley, so be prepared for much colder temperatures at that higher elevation. Even in warmer weather you should dress in layers. Pack a jacket just in case (a rain jacket too if the forecast is iffy). Pair it with something that works well in hotter weather, like a short-sleeved button-down or even a tea length dress.

A couple reaches to hold hands while hiking over a river during their elopement day.

8. Pack like you are going on a normal hike.

This isn’t just any old hike—this is the most important hike of your life! Just as you’re normally prepared for anything on a hike, you should be extra prepared on your elopement day. That means packing all the essentials: plenty of water, snacks (no one wants to be hangry on their big day), layers, headlamps (remember, you’ll probably be hiking before sunset or after sunrise, so these will come in very handy!), toiletries, a first aid kit, etcetera. Of course we’re planning for this day to be perfect, but you should also be prepared for anything and everything. Being a hiker and adventurer is about being flexible and embracing things as they come! You can get a lot of this kind of gear at your local outdoor store or REI.

A couple hiking to their elopement spot stops to look up at the beautiful light the sunset is creating on the trees around them.

9. Accept that you can’t control the weather and be flexible and open to all weather conditions.

When you envision your hiking elopement day, I’m sure it all takes place in beautiful sunshine. The long hike through the woods and the vows on top of a mountain are probably clear in your head, right? Unfortunately, there’s literally no possible way to guarantee good weather for your elopement. However, we can adapt. If the weather is crummy on your wedding day, being flexible could help. If you’re open to adjusting your timeline or even completely changing your plans, you might be able to avoid the bad weather when it matters most. For example, if morning showers foil your plans for a sunrise hike, the clouds might clear by evening time!

Another option is to just work with whatever Mother Nature gives you. I’ve found that sometimes the “worst” weather is the most memorable and even the most beautiful. Some of my favorite photos and videos are of my couples in the rain and snow; I love them not just because the weather makes everything sparkle, but because they always look so happy! They fully live in that moment, especially because of the conditions! Which brings me to my final point on the subject: Having a positive attitude about the weather has the power to make a disappointing situation magical! Just accept that you can’t control the weather and make the most of it, whatever may happen.

In the middle of their hiking elopement, a couple stops to enjoy the river and explore little places off trail, like this river rock spot.

10. Enjoy the journey and take your time.

The whole point of hiking on your elopement day is to relax and enjoy nature and each other, so rushing to your ceremony is the last thing you want to do! Hiking takes time, and if you’re exploring a longer trail, that means a lot of it. Don’t huff and puff to get it over with; give yourself the time to truly experience every moment. Stop and smell the flowers (literally!), pet the dogs on the trail, chat with fellow hikers, take potty breaks if you need them, and stop for snacks along the way.

When you’re thinking about scheduling, give yourself—and whoever you’re bringing with you—more time than you think you’ll need. Double check to make sure you’ve booked your vendors, like the photographer/videographer you’re bringing along, for the right amount of time. If you have anything scheduled for after your elopement, give yourself plenty of time to make it back.

Plan something meaningful for your hiking elopement

A couple stands with their headlamps toward the sky looking out at the starry night time mountain landscape.

Once you arrive at your ceremony spot, take a moment to just breathe and live fully in this moment. Exchange handwritten vows and express your love in whatever way best represents you. And after the ceremony, plan something special to celebrate and make the moment last. Pop a bottle of champagne or a flask and exchange a toast! You could sit down for a picnic; make some tea in a Jetboil and share it with your witnesses. Maybe you make s’mores by the fire at a designated campsite (and be sure to put it out properly!); or just lay together and look up at the sky! However you decide to honor this moment, make it your own. 

Want direct help planning and capturing your hiking elopement?