Complete Guide to Planning a Rock Climbing Elopement

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If you and your partner are looking for an adventurous activity to do on your elopement day, and you’re both up for a bit of a thrill, allow me to suggest something unique: have a rock climbing elopement. I know—you probably didn’t even know that was a thing. My favorite thing about elopements is that you can make ANYTHING be a “thing:” rock climbing elopements, skiing elopements, swimming elopements, skydiving elopements, you name it and you can make it freakin’ happen. This guide is going to be solely dedicated to how to plan an epic rock climbing elopement, though maybe I’ll create a skydiving elopement guide in the future—who knows 😉

I’m an adventurer at heart and a lover of all things outdoors, so one of my biggest passions in life is encouraging couples to follow their own adventurous desires + create a day that feels exciting to them. So my hope is that this rock climbing elopement guide, whether you are an avid climber or a total beginner who wants a fun, new experience on your elopement day, serves to do just that: encourages you to plan a day that may not necessarily fit inside of a certain box, or fit a specific label, but feels like the adventure of a lifetime to you.

Top 4 Rock Climbing Elopement Locations

This world is filled to the brim with incredible destinations to explore, and though I wish you had all the time in the world to visit each and every one of them on your elopement day, you will have to narrow it down to just one area. Don’t fret—I’ve got a list of four of the best climbing destinations in the country for you to sift through, each of which offers its own unique climbing environment, beautiful surrounding scenery, and endless opportunities for adventure + exploration.

1. Moab, UT

Of course this list must start off with Moab, as it’s easily one of the most famous climbing locations in the country. With massive cliffs everywhere you look, picturesque red rock formations, and an abundance of opportunities for any & every level of thrill-seeker, climbers come from all over to explore Moab’s iconic desert terrain and trek up the granite, limestone, and sandstone cliffs. You’ll find plenty of sport climbing and bouldering essentially anywhere in Moab, plus a variety of excellent sandstone crack climbs in areas like Indian Creek! 

Moab is also a fantastic rock climbing elopement destination not only because of its breathtaking desert scenery, but because the landscapes offer a wide array of routes appropriate for all levels of climbers. Some of the most popular areas for climbing in Moab include Arches National Park, Castle Valley, and Big Bend—you can’t go wrong with any of ‘em, it just depends on what kind of adventure you’re looking for!

While the blue skies of the summer are undoubtedly beautiful against the vibrant red rock landscapes of Moab, you’ll want to plan your rock climbing elopement for sometime in the spring, fall, or winter, when the temperatures drop and conditions are much more comfortable for climbing. Trust me when I say that the summers can get extreme in this glorious desert, and you do not want to be caught trying to climb a challenging route in the middle of the dry desert heat (in your elopement attire, no less!).

Moab rock climbing tips

Moab offers climbers a very specific type of rock and landscape to explore, that is easily eroded by foot traffic and unsafe climbing practices. Make sure you follow these few tips to preserve the beautiful land that this desert has to offer!

  • Do not climb wet rock—most of the areas you climb in Moab will be made of soft sandstone that’s easily damaged & deteriorated by climbers, and even more so after it rains.
  • Use sandstone-colored chalk instead of bright white chalk that stands out against the red rock.
  • Drink water before you feel thirsty—it’s so easy to go a while without drinking water on accident, especially if you’re distracted by the excitement of your elopement day. Even if it’s not the dead of summer, when it’s hottest in Moab, be sure to bring plenty of water and drink consistently throughout the day.

If you’re feeling intrigued by Moab, be sure to read my full guide to How to Elope in Moab in 2023-2024 for all of the best Moab elopement locations, permit info, and so much more.

2. Leavenworth, WA

If you’re a PNW native and have ever been to/heard of Leavenworth, rock climbing probably isn’t the first thing you think of; it’s likely the unique Bavarian-style village full of German beer that comes to mind right away. But Leavenworth is actually one of the top destinations in the state for outdoor adventure, being that it’s nestled right in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington. It’s essentially a gateway into some of the most amazing adventures for outdoor enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest, from the iconic Enchantments region in the Alpine Lake Wilderness to Nordic skiing in the winter to thrilling white water rafting tours. Oh, and climbing, of course!

Without even venturing further than 10 miles out of this cozy little fairytale of a town, you’ll have access to 50 crags amidst the stunning alpine wilderness, boasting a wide variety of route options for climbers of all levels. Most of the options you’ll find will be diorite crack or slab climbing, as well as plenty of bouldering, but sport climbing is absolutely available, too. A few of the most popular climbing destinations in the Leavenworth area include Tumwater Canyon, Icicle Creek (one of the top bouldering spots), Castle Rock, and the Peshastin Pinnacles, which have some of the best climbs in all of Washington! How fun would it be to get in a challenging (or not-so-challenging) climb on your elopement day, experiencing all of the incredible scenery and adventures among the unique quartz batholith granite that the area has to offer, and then head back into town for a steaming hot Bavarian pretzel + a pint of beer with your fam and friends? Sounds like a pretty dang great day to me.

While most boulders in Leavenworth are climable for probably 300+ days out of the year, the best time to plan a rock climbing elopement in the area is spring or fall. Spring is when the snow will be melted and temperatures will begin to warm up, but it won’t be so hot that climbing will absolutely drain your energy. Same with fall—mid-September to October is the ideal climbing season in Leavenworth thanks to the mild temperatures, lack of snow, beautiful fall foliage, and, of course, the local Oktoberfest!

Of course I have a full Leavenworth Elopement Guide ready for you to dig into 😉

3. Smith Rock State Park, OR

Not many folks even know that Oregon has a desert, so if you’re a non-PNW native, this one may take you by surprise a little bit! Smith Rock is one of Oregon’s premier climbing destinations, located in the High Desert of central Oregon along the Crooked River, about 26 miles north of Bend. It’s actually known as the birthplace of U.S. sport climbing, with nearly 2,000 climbing routes of all difficulties available for you to explore! The scenic river canyons and towering cliffs are breathtaking, to put it mildly, especially if you manage to climb at just the right time to watch the sun set over the rocky desert landscape. You’ll get endless opportunities to explore the massive basalt columns no matter what level of climb you’re looking for, and you can enjoy different climbing environments depending on which part of the park you visit: the walls that tower over the Crooked River are where you’ll find a majority of Smith Rock’s most popular climbs, but you can find a little more seclusion and adventure in the Upper and Lower gorge.

Because Smith Rock sits right in central Oregon’s High Desert, it gets hot, hot HOT here in the summer—and just as cold in the winter. You can climb most of the year at Smith Rock, but for the most comfortable temperatures, I’d aim for a spring or fall elopement. One unique aspect of Smith Rock that you’ll need to keep in mind is that it’s home to many different raptors, and the park puts seasonal closures in place in order to respect their homes & give them space during mating season. These closures typically happen between February-July and are only in certain parts of the park—keep an eye out here to ensure the area you want to climb will be open when you’re there!

4. Joshua Tree, CA

Our fourth and final location on this list takes us a little further south, down to Joshua Tree National Park. Most known for its picturesque scenery among the Mojave & Colorado deserts of SoCal, fascinating geological features, and iconic, well, Joshua trees, this park is also one of the top climbing destinations in the whole dang world—sounds like an epic elopement location, right? However, it’s probably the least beginner-friendly location on this list, with many challenging routes that are difficult for new climbers to figure out—but you can definitely find spots that are geared toward beginner & intermediate climbers with a little effort. There are over 8,000 different routes to choose from, after all! Two great beginner destinations include the Thin Wall and Trashcan Rock, while some of the most popular challenging climbs include those in the Hemingway Area and in Split Rocks

Joshua Tree has long been a popular destination for winter climbs, especially for people who live in colder areas who want to escape to warmer temperatures for a bit, but fall and spring are also beautiful times to climb here if you’re looking for moderate temperatures. Just like the other desert locations on this list, the park gets hot and dry in the summer, but summer is probably the best time for stargazing under the clear desert skies. It’s the perfect elopement destination for couples who want to elope among the California cacti, say their vows in the midst of a rugged desert landscape, and experience the many climbing routes & hiking trails that the park has to offer.

How to Choose Your Climb

Now that you’re familiar with a few of your options for your rock climbing elopement, let’s talk about how to choose what to actually climb. Ultimately, it’s going to be up to you and your goals for your elopement day, but the decision you make will probably look a little different than what you would do when you’re climbing on your own. You won’t just be showing up in your climbing attire, ready to go without having to worry about anybody else—you’ll be wearing elopement attire, you might have guests coming with you, and you may be on a schedule.

My #1 tip for choosing a route for your climbing elopement is to pick something that’s easier than what you’d normally climb. I know it can be tempting to go all out and find an epic route, especially if you’re a seasoned climber, but it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll be wearing different attire that might get in the way, or throw off your groove! Climbing in a dress or suit is going to be totally different than climbing in your favorite outdoor gear—but more on that a little later in this guide. 

Picking an easier route is also a good idea if you’re climbing unfamiliar territory, because safety is our top priority here no matter what. And honestly, you may simply want to focus more on having a good time, than pushing yourself to your limit or trying to get past a frustrating problem. There’s no shame in choosing something a bit easier in the name of comfort, safety, and having a good time! You can also consider other types of climbing such as bouldering, canyoneering, or Via Ferratas, which are available at Utah’s Amangiri.

Here are a few other things to consider when choosing what route to climb, that you may not usually have to consider on your climbs:

  • The surrounding scenery: Pick a route that offers beautiful views of the landscape around you to make for the best photos (and so you have stunning views to admire once you get to the top of your climb, of course!). 
  • The lighting: It’s super important to take lighting into consideration when choosing a route, as well as when you are deciding what time of day to climb. You want to make sure that the sun won’t be directly in your eyes when you’re climbing, and that the scenery isn’t interrupted by any wonky shadows caused by the sun; for example, Smith Rock is gorgeous at sunset, but isn’t ideal for sunrise, as the way the sun rises over the rocks makes for some weird shadows and not-ideal lighting for photos. 
  • The angles: Ideally, your route will have multiple opportunities for me to capture your climb at different angles. I can either stay on the ground, shoot from above if that’s an option, or climb alongside you! It’s usually best if there’s more than one option to choose from, so that I can move around somewhat freely & capture you at different angles, and shoot according to the light.
  • Self-guided vs. guided climbs: If you’re climbing new terrain or you’re new to climbing, then hiring a guide for your climb can be a great thing to do! This ensures that you have someone there to support you who is super familiar and comfortable with the area, and can guide you every step of the way. Even if you are a seasoned climber, guided climbs can be great to give your inexperienced guests (if you have any) the opportunity to climb alongside you with the help of a professional—this way, you don’t have to worry about taking care of & guiding them along the climb.
A bride and groom both hang from the rope while rock climbing at their elopement, facing each other and laughing hysterically

How to include your guests in your rock climbing elopement

Speaking of guests, you might be wondering how the heck to include your guests in your climbing elopement—and if you’re not inviting anyone, feel free to skip this section.

You have a few different options when it comes to having guests at your climbing elopement: they can belay, stay on the ground, climb with you, or meet up with you afterward. It’s completely up to you whether you’d like to climb privately or not, and whether your guests are comfortable completing your route with you. Don’t feel bad if you want to climb just the two of you—you can find your guests once you’re back down and have a celebratory picnic, or pop a few bottles of champagne! 

I’ll give you a real example of what one of my past couples did, to help you get a feel for what your rock climbing elopement could look like with guests: Maddie and Kevin got married, and then strapped in to rappel down to their loved ones at the bottom of the crag. Then they spent a few hours climbing together and helping their friends and family all try rock climbing for the first time—it was a really precious activity to witness! Some people loved getting up there and some people were humbled by how difficult the climb was, but there were smiles all around and it was beautiful to see.

Looking for more tips on how to include your loved ones in your elopement or adventure wedding? You bet I’ve got another guide for you to read through: How to Plan an Adenture Wedding with Your Loved Ones.

What to Wear for Your Rock Climbing Elopement

I’m assuming you don’t typically throw on a wedding dress when you’re heading out for a climb—so let’s talk about what to wear for your rock climbing elopement, and how to make sure you stay safe! Above all else, you should dress for the weather, and for mobility.

My favorite options for rock climbing elopement outfits are jumpsuits, dresses with slits, and lightweight suits. Jumpsuits are great because your legs aren’t restricted by any tight material; you’re basically wearing pants, and you can easily find plenty of cute, stylish jumpsuits to go with your elopement theme. If you’d rather wear a dress, opt for one with a leg slit if possible: this will make it much, much easier for you to move around while you’re climbing, and will offer a lot more freedom than a full dress that covers your legs entirely. No matter what type of dress you wear, I recommend wearing white bike shorts underneath!

As far as suits go, lightweight, breathable fabrics are best so that you don’t sweat through your outfit after a few minutes of climbing. Wearing a super tightly-fitting suit isn’t ideal, as it might prevent you from moving around in the ways that you need to in order to climb, so make sure you test out your suit when you try it on by moving your body around and double-checking that it’s not too restrictive.

If you’d rather not climb in your elopement attire, that is absolutely an option, too—feel free to wear your most comfortable climbing attire, and change into your elopement outfits afterward!

Final Tips for Planning a Rock Climbing Elopement

Finally, I’ve got a few tips for you in terms of the logistics of planning your climbing elopement to ensure you get safe, smooth, and unforgettable day that you deserve!

  1. Plan for lots of extra time: You never know how long a climb is going to take and what plans could change at the last minute, so make sure there’s plenty of time in your timeline for you to complete your route. We don’t want you to be stressed and rushing while you’re trying to have an amazing adventure on your special day 🙂
  2. Consider your rings: It would be so fun to buy silicon wedding rings to wear or exchange on your climb!
  3. Plan for the weather: As much as we can predict the forecast and cross our fingers for good weather, it’s unfortunately out of our hands. Make sure you have backup plans in place just in case of rain or extreme weather that might prevent your climb—and definitely read my article on How to Embrace “Bad” Weather On Your Elopement Day.
  4. Leave No Trace: As a Leave No Trace aware & certified photographer, it’s incredibly important to me to prepare my couples to follow LNT ethics when eloping in the great outdoors. When you’re climbing, you are a guest on someone else’s land, and there is unfortunately a lot of potential for damage to the rocks if you have poor climbing practices. Consider the color of the rock (like I mentioned for Moab climbs), site-specific guidelines, seasonal closures, and trails to ensure you have an LNT-friendly elopement! For more tips on how to do this, check out my full guide to How Leave No Trace Applies to a Sustainable Wedding or Elopement.

Rock Climbing Elopement Photographer

One final tip for your rock climbing elopement: hiring a photographer who is also familiar with climbing will make a huge difference! Having an experienced climber photographing your elopement means they know how to safely climb alongside you to capture you as you go, and that you have somebody by your side to guide you through the experience. 

With me as your photographer, I’ll be ready to help you plan a safe, exciting, and unforgettable rock climbing elopement whether you’re heading to Moab, Smith Rock, or down to Joshua Tree! Can’t wait to see what climb you choose, and to document the adventure for you from start to finish 🙂


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