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Ever since I moved to Washington from Florida, I can’t get enough of the endless opportunities for gorgeous hikes! It’s even more exciting to merge that love of the outdoors with my equal love for elopements!! A hiking elopement has become one of my favorite elopement types to photograph. But there can be a lot to figure out as you plan your own. I’m here to help you consider all the possibilities, constraints, and other tiny details as you dive into the exciting planning process!
Every elopement is different; the cool thing about choosing to go on a hike when you get married is that you can pretty much cater the entire hiking experience to exactly what you need and want! Let’s talk through some logistics of picking the right trail for you, considerations for what to wear, other style tips, how to create your timeline for a hiking elopement, and some bonus tips!
The Logistics of Picking A Trail
Not every trail is built equally, especially here in Washington, where some mountains provide a much bigger challenge than others! When it comes to choosing the trail you’ll hike on your elopement day, of course you want to pick one that you think you’ll love in terms of the views and the scenery along the way. But, there are so many other things to think about, too!
How busy is your chosen trail? This can vary by season or even time of day. If you’re hoping for a more private experience without anyone really being able to spectate your ceremony, you’ll want to go for a trail that’s not as popular. Or, hit that trail at a non-peak time of day.
This has everything to do with both the views you’ll be rewarded with at the end of your hike, but also with how strenuous you want (or don’t want) your hiking elopement to be. Lots of elevation gain over a longer hike is going to be much easier than a short, steep trail. There are also lots of trails that already start you out pretty high. With these, you can get the views without feeling like you’re climbing an endless set of stairs!
Websites like AllTrails and the Washington Trails Association rate hikes by difficulty level. If you know you want something more laid back or relaxed, don’t pick anything rated “strenuous!” Trails rated family or kid friendly are going to be much easier, while things right in that middle ground might be labeled something like “moderately challenging.” Know your body’s limits as you pick a trail!
If you, or a guest you plan to have along for your elopement, need a more accessibility-friendly trail, you can absolutely find those! I have a list of ADA-accessible locations for an elopement in Washington that you can find here. AllTrails also has compiled lists of ADA-accessible hiking trails by location that you can find online. Here’s Washington’s!
Not every trail or trail ending point can handle loads and loads of guests. If you do want to have a group of your loved ones to hike with you on your elopement day, make sure you look into which trails have the space for lots of feet, and which lookout spots at the end of the trails have room for lots of people! Always remember that it won’t be just you at the end of the hike, either. Other hikers are sure to be there hoping to enjoy the views, too.
If you have a group coming with you for your hiking elopement, think about where the whole crew will be able to park. Carpooling is always a good idea just to make the logistics easier, but make sure you look into where the closest parking area is to your trail so that you and any guests know what to expect on arrival.
If you live close to the hike you choose, how far away will you have to travel before reaching the hike? If you are flying or road-tripping somewhere exciting for your hiking elopement, how far away are your lodgings from the trailhead? Make sure you factor in travel time when you’re planning the timeline for your day. (See more timeline tips later in this post!)
Certain hikes in US National Parks, state parks, or other federally managed land may require that you apply and pay for a permit before you’ll be allowed to hold a wedding ceremony there. All US National Parks will require a special use permit. Other locations may need one depending on your group size or exact location. After picking out your trails, make sure you look into who manages that area. Check to see if you’ll need any kind of special event or wedding permit to get married there.
What to Wear for a Hiking Elopement
I have a full guide for what to wear when you elope here! This is a more in-depth resource for choosing suitable fabrics for both a suit or a dress, fits that will allow you to comfortably move, and more. The most common concerns with a hiking elopement are usually for my dress-wearing people, so I’ll focus on that in this post. You can read more thoroughly about your attire in the “what to wear” post if you still have questions!
Should You Hike in Your Dress?
You’ll hate this answer, but it is genuinely up to you!
I say yes, hike in that dress, if:
- You’re fine getting it dirty/sweaty/ripped on the bottom (depending on the fabric)
- Your chosen trail is short, easy, or generally within your exertion comfort level
- You’ve chosen a dress that is princess, a-line, or otherwise easy to move around in
- You love doing something unexpected, and the juxtaposition of dress photos in inappropriate places feels like it would be fun!
- You want to feel special all day (wearing an elopement dress in public comes with attention!)
I say no, don’t hike in that dress, if:
- Your dress is form fitting — mermaid, trumpet, and sheath dresses don’t allow for much freedom of movement
- You don’t want to risk ruining your dress or getting it super sweaty
- You cringe at the idea of strangers staring at you, congratulating you all day, or trying to start a conversation
- Your chosen trail is strenuous, long, requires scrambling, or otherwise taxing to hold your dress all the way up.
How to Pack Your Dress if You Aren’t Hiking in it
If you decide to hike in more comfortable clothes and change when you reach your ceremony spot, worrying about packing your dress well and avoiding wrinkles is the next obstacle to overcome! Don’t worry, it’s simpler than you think!
Option one is to roll it up in your backpack. Rolling will condense it down so it doesn’t take up too much space. And you can avoid any bad wrinkling this way.
Option two is to hang the garment bag from your backpack. It may feel bulkier this way, and you’ll have to adjust to the way the weight hangs, but your dress will stay pristine. (Also consider sticking your bouquet in the water bottle side pocket or strapped to the back of your pack!)
Hiking Elopement Shoes
When it comes to your footwear, you have a couple choices. First and foremost, I want to make sure that you understand the importance of function over fashion for your hiking elopement shoes. A sturdy pair of hiking boots is best, but any comfortable shoe with great traction will do! Make sure you break them in beforehand so you don’t risk getting blisters when you elope.
Another trick if you are willing to carry them with you, is to bring that pair of heels you pictured eloping in along. Hike up and down in your boots, and you can change into your sandals or heels for your ceremony or a few portraits at the end. Always make sure that the terrain you’ll end up on in your heels is safe to stand on.
Real talk: chances are, you won’t really care about your shoes after the fact. So, go ahead and ditch them if it seems like too much hassle to hike with an extra pair, and just wear those boots.
Style for Your Hiking Elopement
When you plan to work up a little bit of a sweat by hiking on your elopement day, going all out with your hair, makeup, etc., can seem like it wouldn’t be worth it. But I’m of the opinion that you should still hire a hair and makeup artist if it’s in your budget! This is one less thing for you to worry about taking care of on your own. And, it can make a huge difference in the way you look and feel on your elopement day. Here are my tips:
- When you’re looking for that hair and makeup artist, try to find one that specifically works with adventure elopements. Or, find one that has makeup experience with more extreme circumstances, like heat/rain/etc. You’ll want makeup that won’t feel or look too heavy, but is guaranteed to last you all day as you move around.
- Consider airbrush makeup for this longer lasting look! And don’t forget the setting spray.
For your hairstyle, consider both the practicality and fashion sides, especially if you have longer hair. Will you be comfortable hiking with your hair down? Will it bother you if it ends up sticking to your neck or blowing into your mouth from the wind?
- A “down-do” will photograph beautifully, and has the benefit of being simple to style. You won’t have to worry about your hair falling out of its style. However, a down-do is more subject to getting blown around in the wind. And, if you’re someone who typically exercises with your hair up, chances are that having it down for your hiking elopement will feel a bit uncomfortable.
- An up-do will keep your hair more secure from the wind, and keep it out of your face during your hike. However, they are way easier to mess up. I recommend avoiding an up-do if you plan to change into your elopement attire at the end of your hike, unless you hire an HMUA who will do the hike with you and take care of touch ups at the top!
A quick note on veils: I love them for the drama they add to your whole look! But, make sure they’re extra secure in your hair so they don’t blow away in the wind.
Timeline Tips for a Hiking Elopement
When you’re trying to fit in a hike on your elopement day, creating your timeline can be daunting. The time it takes to complete a hike can vary by location, as well as your comfort level and pace! My general recommendation is to budget one hour for each mile hiked.
Even if you decide to hike a trail that you’ve done before (say that it’s about 4 miles long and usually only takes you 2-3 hours), it probably won’t fit into a 4-hour elopement package. We’ll be accounting for photo opportunities along the way, changing your outfit if you decide to not wear your elopement attire to hike in, your ceremony, a toast/picnic/moment to yourselves, plus some buffer time so you aren’t moving too fast and getting exhausted.
Some trails, of course, don’t have as many places to stop at along the way or won’t require a full hour per mile like I mentioned. But even a short, easy trail can take up a lot of time. The Hall of Mosses, for example, is only a mile long with no significant elevation gain. But I almost always spend two hours on this trail with my couples!
Another thing to keep in mind as you plan your hiking elopement timeline is the golden hours that will come at both sunrise and sunset. We photographers looooove that light, since it’s almost always the best time for your portraits, or your stunning ceremony! If you’d like to experience a golden hour on the trail, this will require hiking either up or down in the dark.
In the Pacific Northwest summers, this might mean starting your hike as early as 3am depending on the length of trail!! (Midnight wakeup call, anyone?)
If you’re in a good spot for sunset (like the Stephen Mather Wilderness region of the North Cascades), you might consider budgeting time for star photos after the sun has slipped below the horizon! I did this on my elopement day and it was a magical way to end the night.
Extra Tips & Tricks
- Invest in some hearty flowers that won’t wilt or spread seeds everywhere. This is important to keep your bouquet looking fresh. And, it makes sure you aren’t spreading foreign flora that might be a danger to the natural plant life in the area. You can also opt for faux flowers! Some faux flowers may bleed color onto your attire if they get wet, so do a bit of research if you go for this option to make sure the flowers will hold up in any weather.
- Bring a portable speaker for your first dance! Of course, keep the volume low so you don’t disturb the peace or bother other hikers.
- Make sure you’re packing plenty of (even over-pack) water and snacks. It’s also a good idea to bring a meal in some Tupperware if you’d like to picnic at the top.
- Where can you find dog-friendly trails? This can vary by location, but most hiking and outdoor trail sites will specify if you’ll be able to bring your furry friends along. In general, you’ll be more likely to find dog-friendly hikes outside of national park lands. Don’t choose a national park elopement location if you’re hoping to bring your dog!
- Leave no trace! This is super important to me as your elopement photographer. In fact, I wrote a whole blog about how to incorporate leave no trace principles into your elopement. You can check it out here.
- Other helpful things to pack: a blanket that you can spread out to take a rest on, and headlamps! Just in case you start super early in the day, or end late, these will help you set out safely. A “we eloped” or “just married” sign is also a super cute addition to your hiking elopement photos! You can DIY this or search online for talented calligraphers who will create one for you.
Have more questions about the logistics of planning a hiking elopement? Reach out to me here! I can’t wait to explore with you and document your marriage day!