Escape the Ordinary: Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Your Adventure Elopement



It can be a huge thing to step out from the ordinary and do something different. That is especially difficult if you don’t know the road to get there. This is a guide to help you plan your adventure elopement.

Bison and Mt Rainier logo for Joe Tobiason, photographer
So, let’s start


You’re thinking about having an adventure elopement, but it suddenly feels daunting. That is totally reasonable. Well, I’m here to help clear up some of the steps, but even more, help ask questions that can help guide your own dreaming in the day.

Before I start, I want to photograph your adventure wedding. I love my job and helping folks find the perfect way to celebrate their connection together. If my thoughts help you while reading this post, I promise that real person Joe is even better. Let’s chat about your dreams.


  • Think about guests
  • Define your vision.
  • Set a budget.
  • Pick your photographer
  • Choose the perfect location.
  • Select a date and season.
  • Research legalities and requirements.
  • Plan accommodation and travel.
  • Find experienced vendors.
  • Customize your ceremony.
  • Plan additional activities.
  • Capture memories.
  • Arrange celebratory elements.
  • Pack thoughtfully.
  • Create a backup plan.
  • Enjoy your day.

If you are planning to elope in Washington State, I have a few other guides listed out that might help you specifically when it comes to planning your elopement. They would be guides for the North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, the Olympic Peninsula, the San Juan Islands, your backyard and the Oregon Coast.

bride rests head on groom shoulder Seattle elopement photographer

Adventure elopement planning guide

Pick who you’re going to celebrate alongside

To some folks, this might seem like a little bit of a strange one to start off your planning with. If you’re considering eloping, it is probably because you want to do something awesome. That is totally true. But in the niche of this market that is expressly about you, this is a quick moment that I would suggest starting your dreaming by asking who is going to be celebrating with you. 

In asking that question, I am not asking you to make a complete and perfect guest list right off the bat. But, I’m suggesting you ask if there are any special considerations that those guests might need. You might be considering eloping on the summit of Mt Rainier, but your partner’s brother recently cut his foot off. OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but just knowing what your other guests are capable of will help us figure out the best way to maximize the adventure for everyone.

Grooms stand together during lgbtq wedding in the snow for washington state elopement photographer

Define the vision for your day

I like to have folks ask themselves, “What would I do on my wedding day if it wasn’t being photographed?” I know that is a strange thing for a photographer to say. My whole role is to photograph it. But, my reason for the day is photos, but I don’t want that to be your goal. I want your goal to be whatever you want. Dream big. Have fun. Be wild. 

But also, be really specific. Years ago before I started photographing weddings, I spent some time with a life coach trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. One exercise we did was to write extremely specific stories of my life. So, doing something similar might be a really good practice. And in that, maybe you and your partner could separately make your own dream stories. 

The reason that I suggest you be hyper-specific in an exercise like this is that you’re looking for nuggets of connection between you. If you just say “Let’s get married on top of a mountain” or if you say “I want to get married on top of a ridge in the North Cascades in the snow after a 5-mile hike during sunrise wearing a green dress. I want to be totally alone with my partner so that we can soak in the solitary and unique connection as we share our personal vows with the first sunlight warms our faces.” That second one is more helpful not necessarily because it’s a perfect menu for your celebration, but rather gives you 10 specific touchpoints in your dream that if you can actually achieve 6 of them, your day is going to be great. It also gives more space for a partner to share their dream and they might not be into the snow, but together you can decide which of these specific dreams fits both of your visions.

Then, together you can compare your stories and craft a specific dream day that you both are equally excited about.

Set a budget

I know. BORING. But unless your uncle is Jeff Bazos (which if it is, I can offer my uber-platinum-hyper-gold-black package 😉 ), you probably don’t have infinite money. But, taking that dream you’ve crafted together, you can write out how much the various stuff actually costs.

The thing about budgets is not that it tells your maxim to spend on something, but rather it gives you the freedom to spend that much. You can either choose to spend your full budget on the dress of your dreams. Or if you find a deal, you can then help augment another part of the day. A great budget doesn’t just keep you from overspending but rather empowers you to spend what you really want on the things you truly value.

Note, I also wrote a blog post about how much an adventure elopement costs. It would probably help you write your own budget.

Backpacks to wear during hiking elopement

Choose your photographer

This might come across as the hubris of the photographer putting themselves so early in the wedding planning. But, especially in elopement wedding planning, the photographer plays a really big role. Pick someone you love for their work. Pick someone who knows the area you’re getting married in. Pick someone you like as a person. 

And then, USE THEM AS A RESOURCE. An adventure wedding photographer is also a bit of a planner, a guide, an officiant, and so much more (I’ve made boutineers, ham sandwiches, and everything in between for folks). 

Photographers are always an important part of a wedding, but especially in a scenario where there are fewer folks involved in the day, their insight and local knowledge can really help make the plan and the day flow.

As I mentioned earlier, I want to photograph your elopement. Let’s chat.

Choose your location 

If you already know what you want (because you did your dream day exercise), then this is easy. If not, again, TALK TO YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER. They know the area. They know if that hike is too hard for that brother without a foot. Tell the photographer your specific dream and they can help you find the exact spot that fits what your dream is. 

Pick a date

You have a dream, a photographer, and a location. Now, just find the date that makes all that happen. You wanted sunrise in the snow. Cool, well here in the PNW, that probably means something between November to April. You want to see the sunrise. We’ll lean on April (and even then 🤞). Maybe look at a weekday so there are fewer other guests in the area. And then set a scenario where your wedding has a 1-day buffer on both sides for weather options.

Couple walks on the beach during an adventure elopement at sunset


WA is pretty easy. You can get your marriage license online through King County. You only need a special permit if you’re getting married in Mt Rainier or Olympic National Parks (follow the links on those for information about their specific rules). 

To perform the ceremony, you must have an officiant (who is “ordained” but that person doesn’t need to register or provide any documentation to the state) and two witnesses. 

Did I mention that WA makes it easy? 

Plan accommodations and travel

Well, you do need to get there and probably want to sleep eventually. So have fun. You could find an intimate A-Frame cabin in the woods, a sprawling AirBnB for the whole family, or something else. 

Find Vendors

Neither you nor your photographer is going to be able to do it all (I have made ham sandwiches for a hiking elopement, but I don’t think that qualifies me as a chef). So, there probably will be some other vendors involved. If you’re having a true adventure elopement, you might need less help during the ceremony time, but consider pre-ordering flowers or having a real chef waiting back at the rental house for you when everyone gets home from the mountain. You can see a list of some of my favorite vendors here.

When it comes to picking out what you’re going to wear, I have a blog post specifically on helping pick that out.

Long exposure of brides during adventure elopement

Customize your Ceremony

In a very often overlooked part of the wedding day, there probably will be a ceremony in there. This is another wonderful time to be as creative as you want. That could mean writing everything yourself. And if you’re not up to that, there is always traditional vows and orders to follow. I joke that the nice thing about tradition is that it already exists and sometimes that’s nice when you’re making so many other decisions about your elopement.

Plan additional activities

What else are you going to do in the days before or after the wedding? Especially if you or your guests are traveling to the elopement location, you definitely should give yourself some time to explore. If you originally wanted to do something extra epic for your wedding, but that brother without a foot kept you from doing it. Well, think about an epic hike the day after the wedding or something.


You’re doing it. You’re almost here. Put everything in the bags. And then realize that you’re bringing way too much stuff and get rid of half of it. Oh, wait. I’m the only person that packs like that? Hmmm. I am pretty sure I’m not alone.

But seriously, do pack ahead of time for the elopement. You don’t want to be stressed in the hour before you need to go because you can’t find your socks. Lay the important stuff out the night before and get it into the bags so you can be confident and ready to go on time.

shoes to wear during a hiking elopement

Backup plan

Obviously, we want your day to be bright, beautiful, and all you’ve hoped for. Buuuuuut, this is the mountains. This is Washington. Sometimes there is rain. Sometimes there is snow. Sometimes there are forest fires. Those things can change plans.

So, while working with your schedule and plan for the day, you should have some sort of backup. You should include your photographer in that as well (since they’ll be out there with you). I try to build in a buffer day either before or after the target wedding day just in case there is inclimate weather. And if that is impossible, I also have poor-weather plans for something that will still be a fun celebration but would fit the potential options.


Now go get married. Yaaay! You did it!!!

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  1. Pingback: How much does an Adventure Elopement cost? | Joe Tobiason