Washington Elopement : The Ultimate Guide
You and your partner are ready to say “I do” in an intimate, adventurous elopement, and you’re looking at the PNW for your big day—I am so excited for you! Washington state is straight up spectacular and y’all are sure to find a breathtaking spot to celebrate.
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Whatever scenery you’re envisioning for your PNW elopement, you’re sure to find it in one of the states many state forests or national parks!
Here are a few of my favorites:
North Cascades National Park & Mt.Baker
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is at the top of almost every Washington must-do list and with good reason! As the name suggests, this national park is home to the famous Mount Rainier, which, at 14,411 feet, is the tallest peak in the Pacific Northwest. Because of its height, Mount Rainier has snow year round (perfect for a snowy elopement ceremony!) and is visible throughout the park (talk about a backdrop!).
The park offers a lot more than just its namesake: alpine lakes, dense forests, rushing waterfalls, huge meadows with rainbows of wildflowers, and fire lookout towers. Whether you’re looking for a quick hike to stunning views or a multi-day backpacking trip deep into the park, Mount Rainier National Park has you covered.
Mount Rainier National Park has four entrances and is open year round, but the best time to visit is late spring through early fall (most of the park is inaccessible in the winter months). Just keep in mind that the park’s peak months for visitors are in the summertime (usually July and August), so you’ll want to plan your ceremony for weekdays and early mornings if possible, when the park is less likely to be crowded. We can also plan an elopement that’s off the beaten path so that you don’t have to worry about saying “I do” surrounded by strangers!
Washingtonians call North Cascades “the American Alps,” and it’s easy to see why! With jagged, snowy peaks, more than 300 glaciers, forested valleys, and super blue alpine lakes, it’s rugged and beautiful. Despite its jaw-dropping beauty, North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks in the country; while that may be surprising, it’s good news for those looking to elope in privacy.
The North Cascades and Mt. Baker National Forest are definitely for the more adventurous couples. There are truly stunning viewpoints that would make incredible settings for your elopement, but many of these are accessible only via hikes. Stehekin, for example, is a small community on the shore of Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in the States, and it’s surrounded by its own 61,949-acre Lake Chelan National Recreation Area—but Stehekin is accessible only by foot, boat, or plane, #not# by road. If you’re looking for intimacy, North Cascades & Mt.Baker is your area!
Like Mount Rainier, it’s generally best to plan visits for the warmer months, as much of the park becomes inaccessible in the winter. But if you’ve got your heart set on a winter elopement, The area is a great option for a romantic snow day with snow shoeing down trails or skiing.
Snoqualmie Pass & Snoqualmie National Forest
Across the Puget Sound from Seattle is the Olympic Peninsula, a big stretch of land that’s home to Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest, the Instagram-famous La Push Beaches with their big sea stacks, and even Roosevelt elks and flying squirrels!
Like so much of Washington State, the Olympic Peninsula includes a huge variety of landscapes: rocky beaches, dense rainforests, green plains, and hot springs. The beaches alone harbor (ha, pun intended!) every kind of ocean view imaginable, like the famous Hole in the Wall cave at Rialto Beach, the tidepools and driftwood of Ruby Beach, and the cliffs of Cape Flattery.
Inside Olympic National Park you’ll find hundreds of miles of hiking trails over mountain peaks and along lakefronts, plus plenty of campgrounds for setting up a homebase for your Washington elopement.
If you’re flying into Seattle to elope and looking for the most convenient access to the great outdoors, this is it! Just 40 minutes’ drive from the city, the deep glacial valleys and tall evergreen trees of Snoqualmie Pass and National Forest feel like the Pacific Northwest, but without the hour of travel of some of the states’ other national parks. That means it’s also close to dining and lodging if you want to plan your elopement to include both nature and city life.
In addition to its accessibility, the Snoqualmie area offers another advantage: Thanks to its low elevation, this area near the Cascades stays snow-free pretty much year-round. Of course, these advantages also mean this area of Washington can get busy, especially when it comes to popular tourist destinations like Rattlesnake Ledge and Snoqualmie Falls.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest
When you think of Washington, you probably think of cool air and overcast skies, rainforests with giant ferns and misty waterfalls—and while that’s accurate for the western half of the state, the eastern half is totally different!
The Cascade Mountains prevent the moody, gloomy PNW weather from reaching this part of Washington state, leaving the areas around Spokane (the state’s second largest city) much drier and sunnier. In fact, there are even some high desert climates in this part of Washington. Palouse Falls State Park brings to mind the ancient cliffs of the Grand Canyon but topped with thick green grasses.
Other beautiful protected natural areas to think about for your Washington elopement this side of the mountains include the Wenaha–Tucannon Wilderness with sheer canyons and the Colville and Kaniksu National Forests. Because this region is lesser known, you don’t have to worry about the crowds and tourists you might see at some of Washington’s western parks.
Along the southern edge of Washington state is 1.32 million acres of lush forestland in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This is actually one of the older national forests in the country, and it’s named after Gifford Pinchot, who helped create the national forest system. While it’s one of the furthest parks from Seattle, it’s worth the drive (or flying into Portland, instead).
Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which is home to old-growth forests, tall volcanic peaks, glaciers, and high elevation meadows sprinkled with wildflowers, is known for its waters. There are more than 100 lakes and 1,360 miles of rivers, creeks, and streams in this national forest, like the White Salmon River and Goose Lake, which has the best fishing in Washington.
Gifford has some really unique sights that might make for your dream elopement, like the Guler Ice Cave, where stalagmites and stalactites made of ice drip from the ceiling and floor of the cave into early summer. There’s also Mount St. Helens, which towers over the forest and is recognizable by its large dome, which formed after it erupted in 1980. (But you don’t have to worry about an eruption on your elopement day!)
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
The four million acres of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest are filled with alpine forests, lakes, caves, and plenty of campgrounds to rest up before your big day. Located along the eastern slope of the Cascades, like so many areas of Washington, this national park offers a variety of landscapes and climates depending on elevation and location in the mountains.
With hundreds of miles of trails and forest roads, Okanogan-Wenatchee is perfect for couples looking to get lost in the backcountry for their elopement. Whether you want to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to the best sights or make it a multi-day backpacking trip, the stunning peaks and sweeping forests of Okanogan-Wenatchee will give you plenty of options!
Some of the notable spots in this national forest include the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness, where there are 63 lakes nestled into glacial dips in the landscape and surrounded by trails, and the Pasayten Wilderness, which runs along the Canadian border and includes steep cliffs cut by rushing waters and some seriously tall peaks.
When Is The Best Time for a
April - June
Spring brings the ultimate Washington vibe to the state with rainy skies and cool temperatures. While it might sound gloomy to some, if you’re planning a moody elopement, this could be a great season for you. Plus, as the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers, and the wet spring season brings a rainbow of wildflowers to Washington’s valleys!
Because Washington is home to such rich and diverse scenery, there’s a season for every kind of couple to enjoy! Whether you’re looking to wed in a snowy wonderland or in a sea of wildflowers, every season in Washington offers something special for those looking to elope.
June - Early September
Summer is the most popular season for Washington’s parks, thanks to the air's warmer temperatures, more wildflowers, and some of the state’s best months for sunshine. The areas of national parks that sit at higher elevations are accessible in the summer months, whereas they might be closed during the winter, so you’ll have your greatest range of options in the summer. The disadvantage: These gorgeous months bring tourists to Washington in droves, so you’ll want to plan for a more remote location for a private elopement.
med-september - october
The fall colors in Washington are truly special! Larches and aspens paint the mountainsides and trails golden yellow for just a few weeks every year. Depending on the elevation and location, you could plan your elopement for mid-September to mid-October and take advantage of the beautiful fall colors. The weather starts to turn cold pretty early, so keep cooler temps in mind as you plan your elopement.
november - March
If you’re dreaming of a snowy elopement in Washington, turn to the mountainous national parks. While some areas will be inaccessible during the winter months, the areas that are open can have all sorts of fun winter activities, from skiing and snowboarding to snow shoeing. The cold is damp and biting in Washington, so be prepared to bundle up!
First, begin with the practical: Is there a time of year that will be easiest for you to take off from work, or a busy season when you know you’ll be swamped? Start with these questions when deciding when to elope in Washington.
Many of Washington’s national parks stay crowded year-round, so in order to have the intimate elopement you’ve been dreaming of, pick a weekday when you’re less likely to encounter kiddos and family groups on the trails.
Tips for picking your Washington elopement Date
Plan around holidays—that’s another time of year when you’re sure to encounter bigger groups taking advantage of time off from school and work.
Consider the conditions you’re imagining for your wedding: Do you want sunshine and warm weather (you’ll only get that in the summertime), moody gloom, or fluffy snow? Once you narrow down the season you’d like to elope in, it’s easier to pick a date.
Make sure the location you’re envisioning is open that time of year (like I mentioned, some parts of the parks close in the winter months) and check in on permitting (more on that below!).
What to Do During Your Washington Elopement
This isn’t just your wedding—it’s an entire experience! Washington has so many incredible activities to offer for all different levels of outdoor enthusiasts, and choosing a few to do over the course of your elopement can be such a special way to celebrate your new commitment with your loved one!
Skiing & Snowboarding
Canoeing or kayaking
Crabbing & fishing
Read letters from family & friends
ceremony with loved ones
video chat with family
Obtaining a marriage license & park permits in washington state
If you only learn one thing from this guide, I hope it’s this: According to Washington state law, you need to apply for your marriage license at least three days before you elope!
If you’re traveling to Washington from out-of-state, you have two options: Arrive a few days early and apply for your license in-person at any local office; a marriage license obtained at any county office is valid throughout the state. (This would make for a great time to try out some of those Washington activities suggested above!) Or you can apply for your marriage license online and have it mailed to you. Just keep in mind that a Washington state marriage license is valid for 60 days.
You’ll also need an ordained officiant and two witnesses to officially get married, whether that’s friends and family members and/or me! Sometimes random hikers along the trail can sign as witnesses as well.
The other formality to think about when planning your Washington elopement: PERMITS!
For just about all the national parks, you’ll need a parking permit, and for some you’ll also need a special use permit for your elopement. Once you’ve decided on a location, it’s easy to find out whether or not they’ll require a wedding permit. Just be sure to do your research and application early as it can take a while for national park offices to process these applications.
How to Get Around Washington State
The national parks and forests of Washington state all share one thing in common: They’re very, very big! In order to make the most of your elopement, whether you’re planning a quick hike and city travels or backpacking trips, I’d still suggest renting a car to get around. Renting a car offers all kinds of advantages, especially one with four-wheel drive, including being able to access remote areas, visit a diverse range of landscapes, and also being able to easily adapt your elopement plans if something goes wrong!
Where to Stay in Washington
If there’s one advantage to 21st century travel, it’s got to be the huge selection of accommodations to choose from, and that’s especially true of Washington state! Sure, there are plenty of big, expensive hotels to choose from, but I’d suggest going a different route.
There are plenty of adorable Airbnb options across the state, from woodsy A-frame cabins to lakeside getaways to tiny houses inside city limits. Whatever your PNW vibe, there’s sure to be an Airbnb that feels just right. There are also a lot of family-owned traditional b&bs in Washington with coastal or mountain views, big breakfasts, and sweet staff who truly want to help make your elopement special.
If all this sounds too fancy for you, Washington is chock full of campgrounds, too! Car camping, backpacking, or manicured campgrounds—each national park has its own array of camping options to choose from. Just be sure to make your reservations asap since they tend to fill up!
What to wear for your washington elopement
Just because you’re eloping outside doesn’t mean you don’t still get to wear the dress you’ve dreamed of! If you decide to wear a dress, choose one that’s got plenty of room around the hips and legs so that you’ve got a good range of motion for adventuring. Also, be sure to incorporate different layers—including rain gear!—so that you’re prepared for Washington’s unpredictable weather.
Shirts & Pants
If you’re wearing a suit style, just make sure it’s one with a little stretch and give so you have the range to maneuver over rocks without any ripping! As with dresses, I’d also suggest packing extra layers so that you can stay warm if the weather turns cold or strip off some clothes if the sun shows up.
You’re planning an adventure elopement in Washington, which means you’re planning to get a little damp and dirty!
I love when couples get creative with their wedding attire for their big day, but here’s what I’d suggest:
If you’re planning on hiking at all, be sure to wear your hiking boots! If you can’t stand the thought of saying “I do” in clunky shoes, just pack a pair of shoes to change into for the ceremony. Trust me, the last thing you want is blisters on your big day!
what about photography & videography to help you re-live your washington elopement?
Helping you make your own mountain memories.
I am a deep rooted mountain girl at heart, being born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains but traveling all over the world to see the beauty of each special place. I love nothing more than being in nature with couples like you on such a special day, making sure I can do whatever I can to make things joyful and carefree.
I know what it feels like to stand on a mountaintop and feel the breeze on your face.
I know what it feels like to feel shaded, comforted, protected by the dense forest around you.
I know what it feels like to be brave enough to jump in the depths of a blue, chilly swimming hole and laying on a rock in the sun to get dry.
That is all I want for you and your elopement day.
I want you feel deeply connected to each other and
connected to this beautiful planet we get to call home.
Lots of elopement companies offer short and small packages, covering 1 or 2 hours of time, and thats all.
You might even think that’s really all you need for an elopement, because what else is there to do?
The secret is - There is SO MUCH you can do.
The best part about eloping is that you get to choose things that are tailored just for you.
You aren’t going through the motions of traditions and timelines that are meaningless.
You aren’t eloping because you value your experience less, but because you just want something DIFFERENT.
Something that is more about you as a couple than everyone else.
Something that is stress free and private.
Something that truly represents what you love and value in life.
I help my couples have an elopement day that is filled to the brim with memories, ranging from 4 hours to 2 days of coverage!