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        Where to elope in Washington State? [January 2021 update, COVID-19 weddings]

        Where to elope in Washington?

        One of the best parts of eloping in Washington State is that you can elope just about anywhere. As far as the state’s rules go, you can have your wedding anywhere you want. So though I-5 in the middle of rush-hour might not be the best ideas, you can be as creative as you’d like on where exactly to say “I do.”

        What is the advantage of eloping as compared to a wedding?

        It’s a pretty common confusion about what is the difference between an elopement and a wedding. Though there isn’t a defined separation, a ceremony would be considered if it is a ceremony with fewer guests (usually under 20) and doesn’t have all the products that would be considered part of a common wedding.

        Elopements have evolved a lot in the last few years. In previous generations, most weddings would either be a traditional full ceremony or a simple license signing at the courthouse. Though both are still common, the middle ground of a small-ish ceremony with a few guests and complete creativity as to how and where to celebrate has opened so many doors to how to make a wedding day that feels truly yours. Let’s talk about what elopement package would be right for your celebration.

        Also, as we are still in the COVID protocols in WA state, they are becoming very popular as a way to still get married, but to keep guest lists small and to maintain social distancing during the celebration. As long as this continues, there will be few raging dance parties with sweaty guests packed into a small room. Elopements are embracing the other options of officially starting your lives together.

        Another advantage with elopement is that their smaller nature can lead to lower price-points with vendors. Many photographers (myself included) have specific elopement packages that have coverage more tailored for these events. 

        If you decide that you’re really leaning more towards a full wedding, I also have a list of all of the wedding venues in Seattle as well as just my favorites.

        COVID Protocols [January 2021 update]

        If you’re getting married in WA state (or anywhere), it’s really important to keep in mind the rules surrounding COVID-19 weddings and elopements. These rules have continued to evolve throughout the pandemic and it is important to keep up on what is legal in your particular county. Here is a link to the rules in Washington state as they currently are in January 2021. At this time, indoor weddings are limited to 30 people and receptions are prohibited. I’ll do all I can to keep this link updated to whatever is the current rules. But, in general, we are looking at smaller weddings, especially if you want to hold them in a traditional wedding venue.

        As you’re writing your COVID wedding plan, I would also encourage you to also keep in mind the other staff involved in the wedding. Whether that be caterers, florists, or your favorite photographer. We all are doing everything we can to be safe between clients, but we also want to keep our own families safe. Everyone has different levels of comfort, but if you lead with open and honest communication, you can make events that are safe for all.

        What do I need to have an elopement in WA?

        Rules on license

        To acquire a wedding license in Washington State, they need to be applied for in the courthouse of each county seat. Most county fees are in the $69 in King County(though it does depend on the application county and bring a check), the wedding party must be at least 18 years old, not currently married when applying and there is a 3 day waiting period between the application and the ceremony date. A wedding license can be applied in any particular county but the ceremony can happen anywhere within the state. So if you live in Seattle but are getting married in Walla Walla, you’re totally fine to pick up the license before you head east for the celebration. Once done, that license will be recorded in the county that it was originally obtained.

        Rules on wedding

        Because elopements are usually small affairs, it is important to note that there have to be at least 5 people present to make it legal in WA. That is the couple, the 2 witnesses and the officiant. The witnesses have to be at least 12 years old. The officiant has to be ordained by any church or denomination. It should be noted that this is a pretty loose rule, so online churches like the Universal Life Church are very common. Also, most vendors that would be at the wedding would also be happy to help with any extra needed signatures to make sure a wedding legally happens (I’m a ULC minister just in case someone needs a last-second minister).

        Other rules

        Once you’ve had the ceremony, send it in. You can acquire any needed official copies of that marriage license (for insurance, name changes, or anything else) from the county that it was originally obtained. It should be noted that you’re married from the second you sign the documents, not when they arrive back at the county. So if something gets lost in the mail, don’t worry, you’re married, but just need to fill out some forms to re-submit.

        It’s also really important to know the rules of wherever you’re planning to have the elopement. Though there are no rules from the state itself on where you can get married, there are plenty of places that have their own rules about ceremonies. Some parks require permits (especially for larger elopements) or private venues often have packages. Most of these permits are between $50-$200, so it’s best to just get those ahead of time. If you’re unsure, just look up the location with the words “wedding” and you can usually find if there is anything you need. 

        Elopement location ideas in Washington State

        Elope in Seattle/Bellevue/Tacoma

        Your house – $

        Before we go too far, where you currently live is totally an option. Backyard weddings can be beautiful, intimate and a wonderful way to make the space even more memorable. You can wake up and have your morning coffee in the same spot that you tied the knot. Or that new arbor you built last summer is the perfect backdrop for your ceremony.

        Danny and Tina’s wedding was a backyard affair at it’s finest.

        King County Courthouse – $

        There is something special about the tradition of the courthouse wedding. It is a nod to the history of lovers who simply need the wedding to happen. Luckily the King County building is beautiful and in the middle of the city, giving you endless other photo and celebration opportunities around.

        If you’re interested, just reach out and they’ll help you set it up.

        Pierce County Courthouse wedding- $

        You can find the same options, but in T-Town as well. You can have your wedding at the courthouse or consider having one in the at the US District Courthouse lobby, which is beautiful. I tried to find information online about having elopements inside, but couldn’t. Once COVID is cleared, my best suggestion is to go and ask in person. 

        Gasworks Park elopement – $

        What would be better than celebrating love in the middle of the city?

        Do note though that this (and all other Seattle parks) are really busy on sunny days. Plan your elopement accordingly. Though most other park-goers are usually pretty respectful and will help you carve out your little space to enjoy, just remember that there are probably going to be people playing frisbee nearby. 

        Hotel with a view – $$-$$$

        With small numbers of an elopement, it becomes increasingly easy to have the ceremony in a hotel suite. So, you can pick a room with a view and enjoy the space (for example, at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington) or something that has a courtyard overlook (like the Inn at the Market). The smaller events are common for hotels to help you have a moment of intimacy without requiring them to shut down a whole ballroom for a day.

        Puget Sound

        Washington State Ferry Wedding – $

        I like to call the Washington State Ferries the “Public Yacht System.” There isn’t a more peaceful way to cross Puget Sound. And with a dozen or so crossings across the region, there are options that will fit your elopement needs and be close to you. Most are in the 20-40 minute time period to get across. So you’ll have to keep your elopement ceremony short. You will need to bring your own officiant as the Captain will be unavailable. 

        It should be noted that these are currently not permitted with the Coronavirus outbreak. Though walk-on passengers are allowed, socially distancing rules are enforced and all drive-on passengers are asked to remain in their cars.

        If possible, I’d advise you to walk onto the ferry. For most crossings, the walk-on passengers are the first to board the boat. Because you can’t reserve space for your ceremony, this allows you to rush to your sport and claim your little area for the wedding. The most common options for an elopement would be either the Seattle-Bremerton or Seattle-Bainbridge ferries. Bremerton ferry is longer (about an hour, as compared to 30 min for Bainbridge), so that does give you more time for a wedding. But, do keep in mind that time if you and your guests are going to be doing the return trip on the same day.

        You should also consider the time of your sailing. The boats are full of commuters eastbound on weekday mornings and westbound on weekday evenings. Weekends will have a more consistent ridership, but it’s still a good idea to think about how to ride during an off-peak moment.

        If you don’t want to have to be kicked off the boat when it reaches the other side, there are also lots of other boat-based wedding ideas out there. Look for rentals or hop aboard a friend’s boat for a post-Duck Dodge ceremony altogether in the middle of Lake Union on a Tuesday night.

        See more photos from sessions on WA State ferries.

        bride’s back BHLDN dress state park wedding

        Campground – $

        One of my favorite weddings I’ve ever photographed was at a campground. It’s a wonderful way to embrace the outdoors and who wouldn’t want to sit around with your newlyweds and some smores? 

        As with most camping in the region, you probably want to do a little preparation and reservations here. Depending on the size of your group, you can look into a group camp site at any of the state parks or just reserve a few sites together. If you can, plan ahead far enough to scout the spots you’ll want before reserving, but many campgrounds in the Puget Sound area fill up at least 6 months ahead of time. So this will take a little planning for either State Parks or National Forrest parks.

        See Kevin & Mandie’s camping wedding


        Snoqualmie Falls – $$

        Probably the most iconic waterfall in Washington thanks to the Twin Peaks show. But, how can you go wrong with a space that, according to Snoqualmie Tribe’s legend, is where the first man and woman were created. The easiest option is to access the upper or lower viewpoints the falls behind. 

        If you’re planning an elopement here, it’s worth talking to the folks at the Salish Lodge and Spa. They’re wonderful at helping you craft a wedding, no matter the size, that will tell your story.

        Artist Point – $

        This is one of the best rewards to work ratio spots in WA. All you have to do is drive up onto this ridge to get the most up-close views of Mt Shuksan and Mt Baker. Have a wedding at sunrise or sunset and really let the colors blow your mind.

        It should also be noted that Artist Point is only available to cars during the mid to late summer months. According to the WADOT, that is usually July through September/October. And even in July, there is still usually a lot of snow up there. If you’re hoping for a more snow-free option, plan for Mid-August through Mid-September.

        See Page and Stephen’s sunset engagement session on Artist Point

        A Frame – $$

        What’s more PNW than an A-Frame house in the woods of the mountains? A few good options would be the Tye Haus on Highway 2 or options at the Summit at Snoqualmie

        Mt Rainier – $

        Mt Rainier is one of the most prominent features in all of Washington. So it’s a perfect backdrop for your mountain elopement. In the winter, there is daytime access to the Paradise area, but if you go in the summer, there are many more options available for a celebration. If you’re going to get married (even with the smallest of groups), a permit is necessary. Follow this link for all you need for a Mt Rainier Elopement permit. Within the application process, you can find available trails and locations to hold your wedding.

        See Cheryl & Vinson’s Mt. Rainier engagement session.

        Mt St Helens – $

        You don’t need to blow your top when picking an elopement location. OK. I’m sorry. That pun was just too easy. But seriously, Mt St Helens is incredibly beautiful and accessible for an elopement. The Johnsons Ridge Observatory has a mind-blowing view of the mountain and enough short trails close to the parking lot that you can find a little private spot to have your ceremony (I’d advise only very small ceremonies here).

        If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can summit the mountain for your elopement too. It’s really popular to hike/ski the south face of the mountain during winter/spring months. Or you can go in the summer as well, but those permits are a little harder to come by. All the information for summiting can be found at the Mt St Helens Institute.

        Diablo Lake Overlook – $

        Diablo Lake Overlook is another iconic PNW spot. The deep teal waters of the lake below surrounded by the North Cascades National Park mountains is a quintessential view that doesn’t require anything more than a car ride. The viewpoint is a parking lot along Highway 20, so it’s really easy to get there. The most iconic spot (but without guardrails) is just to the west of the parking lot. But be careful and it’s not that big. So definitely keep your numbers to a minimum. 

        As with many of the other locations mentioned here, if you’re looking to elope at the Diablo Lake Overlook, know it’s a public space and you can’t make a reservation. So carve out extra time for any ceremony you have planned in case there are others in the area. It would also be a good idea to have some backup ideas around the area. Lastly, this is only open when Highway 20 is plowed. That is usually May through October, but it varies. You can check on that from the WSDOT.

        couple stands together at sunset northwest backpacking engagement

        A fire lookout – $

        Fire lookouts have an important history in WA and by their need to have great views to see fire, they also have beautiful backdrops for a wedding. You can see a list of the fire lookouts that are operational here. Most are open on a first-come-first-serve or day-use only basis. For these, you can use the space for your day, but there is no guarantee you’ll have the building or be able to keep it to yourself. 

        But, there are a few towers that can be reserved ahead of time. You may still have day-hikers come through, but you will be guaranteed to have space to yourself overnight as well as to have the building for shelter.

        See Alison & Joel’s fire lookout engagement

        Eastern Washington

        The Columbia Gorge – $

        When Washington was in the process of becoming a state, the founders originally tried to name it “Columbia” after the river. But, that was shot down because others feared it would be confusing with the District of Columbia. So it was named after the first president. Yup. No confusion here.

        Though the name confusion might never have been solved, the Columbia is one of the most important features of WA state and has hundreds of pockets of beauty to use as a backdrop for your elopement. Some of the closer options to I-90 are the Rocky Coulee Campground or Eco Basin. 

        Palouse Falls – $

        Washington is blessed with a few spots for iconic waterfall elopements and one of the best is Palouse Falls. Only an hour from Spokane, it’s an easy place to visit and the ridge opposite the falls creates an amphitheater that will help you find a private spot for your elopement. I would recommend a sunrise elopement here, just because it does get more popular in the afternoons and that will help you have the privacy you’re looking for.

        Mt Spokane – $

        Though Mt Spokane is best known for skiing in the winter, it’s also a great place for an elopement. In the summer months, there is a road to the summit, giving you unbroken views of all of eastern Washington behind you.

        Winery – $$-$$$$

        You probably have heard that Washington State has a lot of wineries. Like, a lot. Many are prepared for large weddings, but even more, are ready for intimate weddings. If you have a favorite bottle, consider looking into where it was made to see if you can make a date and space just for you. 

        Washington Coast

        Second Beach – $

        It’s effing beautiful. I don’t have much more to say. It’s just unreal, alone and special. Go up and down the beach. Find your spot. Be alone. Feel the wind. It’s a special place.

        As for using Second Beach, it’s free to access and therefore would be free to elope. The same goes for the other beaches in the area (Rialto, first beach, third beach). But if you want to camp on the beach as well as have your elopement, you’ll need to get a permit from the Olympic National Park office in Port Angeles ahead of time. 

        Cape Flattery – $

        There is something pretty special about Cape Flattery and the fact that it’s the most NorthWest part of the continental US. You’re literally in the corner of the country. I know that seems kinda silly, but to stand there and look back on just about everyone (sorry AK and HI), is neat. Also, it’s a stunning and incredibly unique location. The rocks that form this point by Neah Bay are unlike whatever else you’ll find in the area and the way storms pulse in from the ocean are incredible. 

        To access Cape Flattery, you will need to purchase a from the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay. 

        Beachfront home – $$

        WA has so many beaches with lots of public access, but if you’re looking for easy access to the beach while being able to still head in for warmth, consider renting a home along the cost. Up and down the WA coast are options that give direct access to the Pacific and the beach. If you pick a spot north of Ocean City, you’re more likely to be on a cliff overlooking the beach, while anything south will be more akin to an East Coast style beach on in the grasses.

        Some options in Ocean Shoes (look along Sand Dune Ave for actual beachfront property) or Grayland for spots that have direct access to the sands.

        Cape Disappointment – $

        The SW point of Washington State is another great spot for your elopement. It’s a beautiful state park with fantastic views and secluded spots to hold your elopement ceremony. As with many other parks, a permit is needed.