Let’s talk about one of the not-so hidden gems of California, and one of my favorite places in the natural world – Yosemite National Park! Here is my guide for the best Yosemite wedding venues and elopement locations.
Yosemite Wedding Venues and Yosemite Elopement Locations
Welcome to Yosemite National Park, the 5th most visited national park in the US. It’s hard to find enough adjectives to fully describe the impression you have when you walk there. But if I have to choose just one, I will go with EPIC.
Epic rock formations, epic forests, epic Yosemite falls and epic points of view literally everywhere you look. Its natural beauty was overwhelming the first time I remember visiting. I couldn’t stop my head from turning left to right, up and down non stop.
Getting Married In Yosemite
Whether you have special memories of camping or hiking in Yosemite national forest, having hot chocolate at the Wawona Hotel, or you just want to say your vows in one of the most epic places on earth, Yosemite is a great choice.
Now, where I saw Yosemite, let’s be real: it’s a giant park that encompasses more than 1000 square miles, so there are lots of gorgeous spots to choose from! I’ve photographed dozens of weddings, elopements, adventures and couples sessions over the years, and I’ll share with you some of my top picks and why they might be a good fit for you later on.
But first, let’s get into some of the rules and details about weddings in Yosemite; whether you want to elope or you have a larger wedding.
Your celebration has to be scheduled up to one year in advance and more than 21 days prior. You’ll need to apply for a wedding permit, which costs $150 and an application needs to be sent to NPS. You will need to select a date, location and time desired – with an alternative option each time. After approval, your ceremony will be allowed (for up to two hours) with some restrictions, so make sure to fully research the latest requirements.
Note that you can’t have your celebration during the holidays or holiday weekends because of the large affluence in the park. The use of decorations, chairs, speakers, and releases (rice, flower, butterflies) are not authorized either. There are some other rules and regulations that I recommend reviewing here.
Sunrise or Sunset?
Timing is key in Yosemite. The mountains range from as low as 2,127 feet to as high as 13,114 feet and as soon as the sun is high in the sky, light is too harsh and unpleasant. From a photography perspective, this type of lighting isn’t ideal to make you look your best in your wedding dress.
I strongly suggest dusk or dawn to enjoy the fullest the beauty of the park. Unfortunately, no matter what time of day, it’s very difficult to fully avoid other people except if you shoot at the end of fall (which is my favorite season in Yosemite). There is a real struggle recently to be able to enjoy your photos with some semblance of privacy – this is a popular park! Plan to get up really early (which can be uncomfortable and cold!) and/or to hike back at night if you truly want to be alone.
On that note, some of the famous viewpoints are only accessible from a road that is usually closed at first snowfall each year. Glacier road is usually closed from November to May, meaning that the only option to access Taft Point or Glacier is….a big (beautiful) challenging hike!
Note: Glacier Road will be fully closed in 2021/2022 for renovation. More information here.
Elopements for easy planning, Weddings for a bigger crowd
All elopements and intimate weddings with less than 11 people can happen anywhere in the park. Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, somewhere lost in the forest? You are only limited by your vision.
Obviously some areas are forbidden like the meadows. Read the rules to be sure your respect them. More generally, as a golden rule, follow the Leave No Trace principles in any park or in the outdoors.
Where should I get married in Yosemite?
With so many options, you may feel a little overwhelmed. Depending on your personality, preferences and vision for your day, I always recommend choosing something that fits you and your love. To get you started, I am listing below some great location options for a Yosemite wedding or an elopement.
As an elopement photographer, Taft Point has probably the most breathtaking location in the park, especially for sunset photos. If you are dreaming to have classic golden hour photos, look no further for your Yosemite elopement or session.
It has gotten to be quite famous over the last few years, which means that you’ll have to deal with more people, couples and also sometimes some daring slackliners! Security is another big concern, and I will give you recommendations to avoid any risks during the half-hour hike to go there and on-site. Taft Point is unfortunately known for people who have fallen to their deaths and there is no need to be on the edge if you are not prepared/used to it.
If you want to see a full session at Taft Point, go here.
Another gorgeous, and quite famous viewpoint in the park can be found at Glacier Point. It is my favorite pick at sunrise. The unique blue/magenta color of the sky as the sun peeks over the mountain range is a sight that is hard to find anywhere else in the world.
Keep in mind that a sunrise session, wedding or elopement means getting to the location well before the sun actually rises (anywhere from 4:30 to 7am), so make sure you’ve got plenty of coffee on hand for you and your photographer.
Other pros? The parking lot is extremely close, with just a 5 minutes walk, and is accessible for wheelchairs. There is even an amphitheater ready to use for your wedding ceremony or your elopement ceremony facing beautiful Half Dome. Epic you said? Yep.
With the vast majority of visitors concentrated in Yosemite Valley, many people will miss some of the more out of the way vantages like Olmsted Point. It is accessible by driving through on Tioga Pass Road.
It offers an impressive 360 views of Tenaya Canyon, Half Dome as well as Tenaya Lake as seen below. It’s another easy access point of view, with a nearby parking lot and short easy trail to a granite dome – perfect spot for the most epic backdrop to exchange vows.
Yosemite Valley Chapel
Yosemite Valley Chapel is a charming and unmissable landmark of Yosemite Valley. It looks unbelievably picturesque – an old-fashioned small wooden chapel nestled in a grove of pines in front of the granite cliffs of the valley, facing majestic Yosemite Falls.
I highly recommend it if you want to have a religious ceremony, or a more classic church wedding day. The chapel can fit approximately 125 people and you’ll need to contact the chapel directly and in advance to make a reservation. And being such a centrally located and charming location means that you probably need to reserve well in advance.
The proximity of the meadows loop is a plus, as you and your guests can enjoy or have your photos taken in view of the nearby granite cliffs.
Here is a wedding that took place in the chapel at fall.
Before Rush Creek (see below), Evergreen Lodge (now sister hotel) was one of the best places in Yosemite to stay with friends and family…and even get married. The place is a little remote but still very close to the entrance of the park.
This is a full service lodge, meaning that it’s one of the most perfect locations to host a full wedding weekend for your guests. There are individual cabins and custom camping options, as well as onsite restaurants complete with plenty to eat and drink (something to consider when the nearest town with any other amenities is about a 45 minute drive).
Don’t worry though; there are plenty of games and activities to keep your guests entertained, including pool and jacuzzi, barbecue and bonfires, live music and a bunch more options.
NOTE: I’m not sponsored or compensated in any way to tell you about this place – but I’ve stayed there as a guest myself (as well as shooting several weddings there) and can definitely tell you that it’s one of my favorite places to stay in Yosemite.
Check a full family weekend wedding at Evergreen Lodge wedding here.
Rush Creek Lodge
The more recent Rush Creek Lodge is similar to Evergreen Lodge in the sense that everything is available on site for your wedding photos. From lodging to dining to games and entertainment. Oh, and some extremely charming locations for your wedding ceremony and reception!
It’s also one of the most accessible full service venues, as it’s on the main highway to the park, and about 30 minutes from Yosemite valley for additional hiking, park viewing or photo adventure opportunities.
This is the heart of Yosemite National Park (and the most visited area by far). From Bridalveil fall, Vernal Falls to the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Valley offers everything you need to your session, elopement or wedding. Send me your questions to see what best fits your needs.
Other Yosemite Wedding Venues to Consider
Many locations are available for your special day. Here are some additional favorites:
- Tunnel View
- Sentinel Dome
- Merced Grove
- Cathedral Beach Picnic Area
- Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
- Lower Yosemite Falls
- Tenaya Lake Beach
You will find more information here.