I’ve been talking with lots of couples considering elopements because of current events causing them to reschedule or rethink their wedding. I think a huge reason many hesitate to elope is its endless opportunity– it can be hard for people to unpack the common traditions of a wedding day and imagine the specifics with the complete freedom that elopements give. I’m sharing Ben & Jess’s elopement today, step by step, in the hopes that you will walk away with a clearer understanding of what this day could be for you, and how to cater it to your relationship.
We formed several different plans in the process of building out their day that all evolved into one honoring their story beautifully and truly. Part of choosing to elope is choosing to give up an element of control, because there are so many various aspects that come into play when planning. Our original idea was to elope in the Dolomites of Italy, then to elope in southern Italy (where the virus was less prevalent at the time), then to elope in Patagonia, then to do a climbing elopement in the Tetons, then to an elopement on Old Rag Mountain in VA, with the final plan (details only coming together week of) being to elope amidst the incredible mountains of George Washington National Forest. As stressful as that sounds, it truly excites me. I love research. I love hiking. I love searching for those jaw-dropping places. So ideas are always flowing through my head, making the process fun for me.
Some key things to keep in mind when putting it all together:
- research the land you’re using– there are specific permits involved and laws around using park land, so it’s important to be aware of these and respect them
- weather changes, all. the. time.– plan A, B, & C timelines for your elopement day based on weather patterns
- when you don’t know, ask! Many of the desired locations are under certain park rangers’ domain & I’ve always found reaching out to them extremely helpful. They have up-to-date knowledge of trail conditions & closures.
All of the research & preparing will be worth the peace and flexibility you will feel day of, having done the work required beforehand.
This is the most effective way develop a sense of pride & ownership over your elopement day. You may not be spending money on invitation sets, but you can get matching hiking shoes, make wooden signs, buy beautifully hand-made vow books or ring boxes– the allowance for creativity here is much larger than you may initially think. Ben made “just eloped” signs & a wooden-ring box resembling a mountain. Jess bought custom vow books with their name & cuff-links with the date & coordinates of one of their favorite hikes.
Depending on your day, you can either wear outdoor gear on the trail & change at the summit, or wear your wedding attire while hiking if it’s a smaller trail. Ben & Jess chose to wear matching shirts & boots (OK CUTE) and change at the top. Brides, there are certain dresses that pack better & give you more flexibility to move. Go for lighter fabrics, things that flow well and won’t constrict/weigh you down. Search for dresses made by designers thinking about both comfort & style. Natalie Wynn, Reclamation & Leanne Marshall are a few of my favorites!
Marriage License & Officiants >>
Make sure to apply for a marriage license with ample time, as circuit courts can be a bit unreliable during COVID-19. Couples often get a friend to apply for a license to be their officiant or ask a church affiliated person. For Ben & Jess, this process was a bit hectic with circuit court closures, but they found a Justice of the Peace located en route to our hike. This sweet, old man was elated to perform their ceremony in his front yard under a dogwood tree as we made our way to the mountains.
First Look & Ceremony >>
With their “official” ceremony done on the way, Ben & Jess invited some of their closest friends to officiate the exchange of their personal vows & share a reading. They chose a 6 mi hike with two overlooks for their first look & ceremony. The forest surrounded them as they got dressed, and they stood upon a large summit rock when seeing each other for the first time, sharing moments alone together amidst their beloved mountains before walking to the other overlook for their private ceremony.
We hiked down after their ceremony, & chose a short hike nearby with a large meadow for a post-ceremony picnic! They brought Nate’s Bagel’s, champagne, Shyndigz cake & we enjoyed good grub & the brilliance of a mountain sunset that became the backdrop of their first dance & portraits.
Some key checklist items for making an elopement celebration enjoyable:
- portable speaker– create & download a playlist before since cell service is sparse in the mountains
- trash bag to abide by leave no trace standards
- first aid kit for unexpected discomforts (blisters & cuts)
- pocket knife
- layers, hand-warmers, hats & gloves — mountain air is very different than ground level and is often much windier/colder
- more water
- wet paper towel & plastic bag to keep flowers fresh
- reliable & large backpacking packs to hold it all
Eloping is more than spontaneously running off to the courthouse to get married, but actually a day just as full & lively as a wedding day. I hope you feel its liveliness is more accessible to you and yours as you dream how to celebrate the monument of marriage. I’m amped as ever to help you do this best & would be honored to be a part of the intimate memories you exchange. Browse other blogs for brainstorming locations and understanding elopements further!