Adventure elopement photographers photo of bride and groom walking through mountains at misty Colorado elopement.

How to Plan an Elopement

An adventure elopement photographer's guide to your dream day

Feeling overwhelmed by planning your elopement? This guide is for you!

Most people who decide to elope have no idea where to start. They are stoked to be free of the stress and obligations of planning a big wedding … but they have no idea how to plan their dream elopement. Does this sound familiar?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all that goes into elopement planning, this guide is for you! I’m going to take you through all the things you need to consider when eloping, tell you about some of my favorite places to elope, and hook you up with some of my best resources for getting started on planning your perfect elopement.

Let’s go!

Meet your guide for this journey

I’m Jen Dz and I’ve been making elopement dreams come true since 2016.

I’m a Colorado-based adventure elopement photographer. I've helped hundreds of happy people have mind blowing days in wild places all over the globe. Over the years I’ve learned a thing of two about what it means to elope, what makes an ideal elopement location, and how to put together a day that feels stress free, relaxed, and unforgettable.

There is a lot of confusion about what comprises an elopement vs an intimate wedding or small destination wedding – and I totally get it. The definition of what it means to elope has evolved over the years.

In my mind, as someone who specializes in this stuff, it makes no difference what you call it. You can have 0 guests and something that resembles a true elopement or 20 guests … and still bring in those elopement style vibes.

You're probably not skipping the traditional wedding because you want your day to be put BACK in some kind of box. Call this day whatever you want!

For my purposes, I use the terms interchangeably to mean an intentional day in a beautiful place, regardless of how many guests you have.

What does it mean to elope?

5 AWESOME REASONS TO ELOPE

Best Places to Elope

This is up to the two of you and the kinds of places that make your hearts sing. I always recommend you start by closing your eyes (and maybe pouring a glass of wine) and imaging your perfect day. What does it looks like? What does it feel like? What is the scenery and weather? What kind of activities will you do there? Start there.

If you're still looking for suggestions from an adventure elopement photographer who lives and breathes this stuff, here are what I think are some of the BEST places to elope:

Breckenridge, Colorado

When: Jun – October for warmer weather and December-March for snow

Breckenridge is just two hours from Denver International Airport but a world away from the hustle and bustle in terms of scenery and vibe. It's accessibility combined with huge mountains, tons of hiking, amazing food, and a laid-back mountain town vibe makes Breckenridge one of the best places to elope in the U.S.

Breckenridge, Colorado

When: Jun – October for warmer weather and December-March for snow

North Cascades, Washington

When: July – october

Just a few hours from Seattle lies some of the most beautiful mountains I've eve seen. And I say this as someone who is VERY much a mountain snob! And the best part about these rugged mountains? There are incredible, high-altitude spots available with basically NO hiking!

couple eloping at skogafoss in iceland

Iceland

When: June – november

There is a reason Iceland is WILDLY popular for elopements. It. Is. Magic. Between the black sand beaches, the waterfalls (SO MANY WATERFALLS), the hot springs, and the chance to see the Northern Light, Iceland is an elopement paradise! Check out the guide: How to Elope in Iceland

When: Jun – October for warmer weather and December-March for snow

Moab, Utah

When: September – November and March – May

Moab is one of those places that just has to be seen to be believed. You leave the mountains of Colorado and a few hours later you're basically on the moon. This is the perfect spot for desert lovers or anyone who wants to elope during the spring or fall and still have a very “wild” (and probably snow-free) experience!

When: Jun – October for warmer weather and December-March for snow

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

In a state full of beautiful places, Telluride and the San Juans is the most beautiful. It's remote and wild with jagged peaks and blue lakes. Just how special is it? Most of my couples who are FROM Colorado choose to elope in the San Juans!

When: Jun – October for warmer weather and December-March for snow

Mexico

When: november – May

While so many people never leave the resorts, the truth is that Mexico is a HUGE country with tons of opportunities for off the beaten path adventure! Add to that incredible food, beautiful weather, easy access from the U.S., affordability, and some of the friendliest people in the world and Mexico is perfect adventure elopement spot!

Boulder, Colorado

When: june – November for warmer, December – april for snow

Boulder is the perfect option for couples not wanting to travel to far from Denver and folks who want a little bit of an urban vibe with their mountain elopement. The scenery (like nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park) and the good beer and food are plentiful!

Alaska

When: May – October

The first time I visited Alaska it BLEW. ME. AWAY. Forget Texas, everything is bigger in Alaska! The mountains, the wildlife, the landscape – all of it is absolutely incredible. Whether you're dreaming of helicoptering to a glacier or just cozying up in a cabin, Alaska is epic.

Moab is one of those places that just has to be seen to be believed. You leave the mountains of Colorado and a few hours later you're basically on the moon. This is the perfect spot for desert lovers or anyone who wants to elope during the spring or fall and still have a very “wild” (and probably snow-free) experience!

In a state that is full of beautiful places, the San Juans are the winner! Between the craggy peaks, the blue water, and some of the cutest mountain towns you've ever seen, no part of Colorado is prettier than the mountains around Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton.

Breckenridge, Colorado

Costa Rica

When: December – June

Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. If you like beaches and jungle vibes you can't do much better than CR. The first time I visited Costa Rica I felt like I was living in a Disney movie. It is pure freaking MAGIC and I can't recommend it enough!

In a state that is full of beautiful places, the San Juans are the winner! Between the craggy peaks, the blue water, and some of the cutest mountain towns you've ever seen, no part of Colorado is prettier than the mountains around Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton.

In a state that is full of beautiful places, the San Juans are the winner! Between the craggy peaks, the blue water, and some of the cutest mountain towns you've ever seen, no part of Colorado is prettier than the mountains around Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton.

What happens at an elopement?

Elopement Timeline Examples

Every single day and every elopement timeline is different. Coming up with an incredible timeline is one reason that it's super valuable to work with a photographer who specializes in elopements! Having said that, here are a couple examples of how a day might go!

Please note that this is JUST an example – I always recommend keeping timelines loose so you can go with the flow of how the day unfolds. Think of this as a general framework, not a tight, wedding-style timeline!

Intimate Wedding

Elopement with No Hike

Hiking Elopement

two brides in wedding dresses and flannels drinking champagne at Colorado elopement
couple hiking up mountain in wedding clothes at colorado elopement

1:00 Getting ready at AirBnB/cabin/etc

2:00 First look

2:30 Ceremony

3:00 Photos with Family

3:30 Leave for solo photos/adventure

4:00 Start hiking / exploring / sunset photos

7:00 Back at AirBnB

8:00 Celebrate with family

1:00 Getting ready at AirBnB/cabin/etc.

2:30 First look somewhere beautiful

3:30 Hit a local brewpub

4:00 Arrive at ceremony location

5:00 Ceremony

6:00 Picnic/first dance/cake/photos

7:30 Arrive back at AirBnB

8:00 Dinner with private chef

1:00 Getting ready at AirBnB/cabin/etc.

2:00 Drive to trailhead

2:30 First look somewhere beautiful

3:00 Begin hike

5:00 Ceremony

6:00 Picnic / First dance / cake / photos

8:00 Sunset / begin hiking out

9:00 Arrive back at car

How to Plan Your Elopement

Imagine your perfect day. What does it look like? What does it FEEL like? Are you in the mountains or on a beach? Does it involve tons of adventure or a laid-back, relaxing day? Who, if anyone, is there with you? You don’t have to have all the answers to these questions (we’ll get into that later!) but having an idea of the vibes you want will help get you started! vestibulum at eros.

1. Close your eyes and picture your IDEAL day.

2. Find an elopement photographer/planner who matches that vibe

Before you do anything else, including pick a specific location, it’s good to bring an elopement photographer on board. Why should you do this before just about anything else? Because a good photographer will help you plan every other aspect of your day – from picking a specific location to coming up with activity ideas to helping you iron out any logistics. You will save yourself SO many headaches by bring your photographer on early in the process! We are experts at this stuff and are here to help!

3. Choose your elopement location!

This is where the fun begins! Your photographer will help you choose a location that matches what you want for your day! From suggesting a state or town (or even country!) to narrowing it down to a specific trail/lake/cabin/beach, we are here to help find you a killer off the beaten path spot that is better than you ever imagined!

Once you have a location figured out you can nail down your lodging and any other vendors you want! While some couples keep it SUPER simple and don’t work with anyone else, others choose to invest in hair and makeup, flowers, etc. It’s totally your call (and your photographer will help you figure out all of this!)

4. Book lodging and any other vendors

5. Make a plan to get your marriage license and get any permits needed

How you get legally married will depend on where you elope. This is a good time to figure out how to make that happen! Your photographer will let you know if any permits are needed to have your ceremony in your desired location and work with you to make sure everything is legal!

6. Have the BEST damn day of your life and enjoy every minute of it!

Your elopement day is going to FLY by – make sure you slow down and soak in every incredible moment! Let your photographer worry about the logistics and the photos while you worry about … absolutely nothing!

7. Relive it over and over forever!

You are going to get a LOT of incredible photos from this day which is awesome because there are going to be a WHOLE lot of people in your life who want to see the adventure you had! Share your photos far and wide and for the love of god, make sure they are printed! As someone who has been photographing elopements for a long time now I’ve learned the importance of printing your photos. If your photographer doesn’t offer albums (pssst … I include an album in EVERY elopement package!), make sure you figure out a way to get these photos off your computer and into your hands!

Elopement FAQ – The 10 Most Common Elopement Questions Answered!

1. What is an elopement anyway? What is the difference between an elopement and a wedding?

If you're planning in advance it is an elopement? If you're bringing guests is it an elopement? If you're hiring vendors is it an

elopement? … I hear some version of this ALL THE TIME and my answer is always … “Does it really matter?”.

In my mind elopements are really just super, super intimate weddings – sometimes with no guests at all. I firmly believe that you can call it whatever you want – if it FEELS like an elopement to you, go ahead and call it that. Who cares what the technical label is?

2. How far in advance should you plan your elopement?

That varies wildly from couple to couple. I’ve booked elopements more than a year out and less than a week out. Typically most of my couples have NO idea what they want to do or where they want to go for their adventure elopement and we spend a ton of time (more on that later) crafting their perfect day. The more time we have to plan the better but that’s not to say that these things can’t be done at the last minute. Most couples hire me (which usually starts the planning process) 6-8 months out but I pretty regularly work with couples who contact me just a few weeks before their elopement!

3. Do people really hike in their wedding clothes?

two brides in wedding dresses and flannels drinking champagne at Colorado elopement

I get asked this one by most of my brides and it is a SUPER valid question. How people handle this generally varies depending on how long the hike is and how comfortable the dress is to hike in. For my couples I'd say its a 50/50 split between hiking IN their dress or carrying it, typically on a pack, and changing into it when we get to their ceremony location. I can't tell you how many miles I have hiked with dresses and bouquets attached to my backpack! I have a whole post on How to Hike in Your Wedding Dress!

4. Will we need an officiant/witnesses/etc.

The answer is “it depends!”. What you need to do to get married varies from state to state. In Colorado, where I live and shoot a ton, you don’t need witnesses or an officiant of any kind. We are one of the few states where you can self-solemnize which makes things super easy on the planning front. All you have to do is go to the county office, pick up your marriage license, sign it somewhere, and turn it back in and you’re married! Other states have different requirements and its always best to check with where you are going!

5. … what if we elope in a foreign country?

The advice I give to any couple planning an international elopement is to do all the paperwork at home first and then do the ceremony at your destination. I believe that you’re married when you say your vows, NOT when the paperwork is completed. Doing this makes life infinitely easier when it come to the actual day you get married. More info on international elopements is below!

6. We love the idea of a full day elopement but what in the hell will we do with all that time?!

Oh man, there are SO many things you can do! From mini-road trips through beautiful places to train rides and hot air balloons to dog sled rides to brewery visits  and epic picnics the list of things you can do is endless! Want to get out to somewhere truly wild but don’t want to hike? Rent a Jeep or ATV and let it do the work for you. Take the Durango-Silverton Railroad out to Chicago Basin and get married surrounded by 14ers and mountain goats. THe possibilities for adventure are endless – even if you’d rather not break a sweat.

7. Why are elopement photographers so expensive??

There is a common misconception that elopements are less work because there are less people but in my experience this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Back when I shot larger weddings it was usually a “show up and shoot” situation – I wasn’t involved in much of the planning and my work really didn’t start until I got to the wedding. With elopements it’s a TOTALLY different ballgame. A good elopement photographer will spend literally HOURS helping you plan your day down to the last detail. We spend tons of time scouting locations, coming up with new ideas, customizing experiences, recommending likeminded vendors, securing permits, and basically wearing a hundred different hats – and that’s before we even show up to shoot.

Elopement photography is a super specialized niche that involves way more behind the scenes work than people outside the elopement world realize. It is a TON of work (but totally worth it!).

8. Can I still wear a wedding dress if I elope? Can I still get my hair and makeup done?

YES! Almost all of my brides wear wedding dresses (or something similar – they’re not always white!) and about half get professional hair and makeup done. Just because you are going to have no guests at your wedding doesn’t mean its not a big deal!

9. Will my family be mad if I elope?

couple getting married not op of mountain in guide to how to elope in Colorado

Honestly, I can’t answer that. I don’t know your family! What I DO know is that most of my couples’ families know what they are doing when they go on their trip and most seem to be supportive. If you think your family IS going to be super pissed (and please believe I don’t want to piss off any families!) there is always the option to bring them along. A lot of couples are choosing to have intimate weddings so their families can be there when they say their vows and to celebrate with later. A lot of the time when I work with couples who are doing this we’ll plan several hours at sunset to sneak away for a while, go for a hike, give them some time to really breathe and soak in the moment, and take epic elopement-style photos. In a lot of ways its the best of both worlds.

10. Where do you even START planning an elopement?

I highly recommend reaching out to a photographer who specializes in elopements and whose work you love (even if that’s not me!) and having them talk you through the process. We all do things a little different but a good photographer with lots of elopement experience should be able to answer all of your questions and help you envision what your day could be like. Our job is about SO much more than taking photos and I definitely recommend bringing a pro in EARLY in the process to help the planning go much more smoothly!

couple eloping near river in wyoming

“There was absolutely no awkwardness or uncertainty and she made sure we had everything checked off that we wanted to do. She even drove us to all of our destinations on our wedding day in her van! We felt so relaxed the entire day and had so much FUN!”

– Tiffany + Jared

How Not to Feel Awkward in Photos

If there is one thing I hear from almost every couple it's some version of “We are going to be SUPER awkward!”. And I understand, because I have that same thought every time I step in front of the camera myself.

Your elopement photographer's job is to make you feel completely comfortable so that you can be your true, goofy self. We all have ways of fostering that kind of trust but it ALWAYS starts with making sure that your photographer is someone you can be yourself around.

I cant speak for every photographer but I can tell you that my personal approach to the elopement day itself is to treat it as an adventure – NOT a photoshoot.

The best, most authentic, most memorable photos come when you forget that your new best buddy who has been hanging out with you all day (hi, that's me!) has a camera!

bride in the clouds at crested butte colorado elopement

“How would you describe your adventure elopement experience?”

Hands down one of the best parts of our elopement was how stress free it was. We had not a care in the world other than our elopement, nothing had to be perfect, it just had to be us. It’s been two years and to say I think about it every day isn’t an exaggeration. Not only do we have the most amazing pictures that were never ‘staged’, but the emotions and happiness that went along was something I can never forget. Our elopement captured us to the tee, it was nothing short of perfect. My husband and I have never regretted eloping, and we never will. It was by far the best day of my life, a fairytale day if you will. I’m so blessed our paths crossed with Jen, she really helped us have the best elopement possible.

Lexi + Jared

We got married in the beautiful Rocky Mountains in September 2021. We got to see a gorgeous sunset and epic views above tree line, as well as the vibrant fall colors of the Aspen trees. Having grown up in Florida for most of our lives, this was an absolute DREAM to experience these amazing views on our wedding day!! Going for a hike, exploring the beautiful Colorado scenery, and laughing together while we exchanged vows on top of the world was the most memorable, epic wedding experience of a lifetime, and Jen made it all happen from the planning phase to execution.

Sam + Jesse

Want me to help you have your dream day?

Get in touch to schedule a consult

Check out the resource library