The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Hiking Wedding or Elopement
Would you rather walk down the trail than walk down the aisle? Learn everything you need to know about planning an epic hiking wedding or elopement!
- The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Hiking Wedding or Elopement
- How to plan a hiking wedding
- Being prepared
- What do I wear for a hiking wedding?
- How do I decide on a location and hike?
- Talk to your photographer!
- Think about your favorite type of scenery
- What season and weather do you prefer?
- Is privacy and seclusion important to you?
- Think about how much time you have for the trip
- Consider accessibility and hike distance/difficulty
- Are you bringing friends and family (or pets)?
- Narrow it down to your country, state, or park of choice (or a few options!)
- Research your options
- Popular destinations for hiking elopements
- Do I need vendors?
- Gear checklist for a hiking elopement
- Food and drinks to celebrate!
- Consider a reception afterward
- More logistics considerations
- Don’t forget Leave No Trace
- Last but not least–savor every moment!
- BONUS TIP: Plan a surprise for your partner
- Are you planning a hiking wedding or hiking elopement?
- I’m more than just a photographer. Helping couples create their dream day is what I do best!
- Get in touch with the contact form below and let’s chat about your vision!
- Get more elopement and microwedding info here!
- Or check out more elopement planning resources…
Even though traditional weddings can be a lot of fun, they simply aren’t right for everyone.
Adventure is such a huge part of your relationship–why should your wedding be any different?
Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life, so it should reflect what matters most to you. You deserve a wedding day that is as unique and awesome as you are!
If you’re thinking about planning a hiking wedding or elopement, you probably have a lot of questions.
How do I hike in my wedding attire? Should I wear hiking boots with my wedding dress? How do I even get married in a forest? Do I need an officiant? In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about planning your hiking wedding!
Note: In this article I use the word wedding and elopement interchangeably. Find out more about the differences between a wedding and elopement.
How to plan a hiking wedding
- Get inspired and brainstorm ideas
- Research your options
- Decide on must haves for your wedding day (e.g., guests, a certain location, time of year, etc.)
- Make decisions and start booking!
- Invite family and friends if they’re joining
- Finalize details
- Have your epic hiking wedding day!
As an elopement photographer and guide, I feel that I can’t overemphasize the importance of being prepared!
With a hiking wedding, there are so many different planning considerations and logistical concerns that are completely different than those of a traditional wedding!
I created this guide to help with a lot of these topics–things like gear checklists, how to prepare for crazy weather, and how to do research on trail options, whether the geographic area you choose is subject to seasonal closures or accessibility issues. If you’re a big DIY-er, this should give you a great start on your planning!
But remember, if you ever get stuck or overwhelmed (or if you just hate research!), there are lots of people you can hire to help you, such as a knowledgeable photographer, a local guide, or a wedding planner. Sometimes their experience can really make the difference for you to have the epic day your love story deserves!
What do I wear for a hiking wedding?
Wedding dresses that are perfect for the mountains and hiking
There are a few things to consider when choosing a hiking wedding dress for your elopement.
First, you want to make sure that you’ll be able to move around easily and that the dress is comfortable. If you are trying on wedding dresses in a dress shop, test them out! Wave your arms, do some squats, twirl around, get a little crazy with it!
You likely won’t want to have boning, corseting, or anything super structured in your wedding dress for a hiking elopement. This will get very uncomfortable!
Another great tip is to choose a hiking wedding dress that will be extra flowy in the wind because this makes for epic photos!
Also consider whether your dress is made from materials that will wrinkle easily, especially if you plan to pack your dress in on the hike and change when you get to your ceremony location.
Finally, keep in mind that your dress WILL get dirty–and that’s all part of the fun!
Do we have to hike in our wedding attire?
Nope, you do have some choices! Whether you want to hike in your wedding attire or change when you get to the ceremony location can depend on a few factors.
Definitely consider the length and difficulty of your hike! For a shorter hike (under 2 to 3 miles), it is generally easier to just hike in your wedding attire. You might be stopping for photos along the way! For longer hikes, consider how comfortable you will be hiking the whole way in your wedding dress–this will depend on both you and the dress!
You’ll also want to think about how crowded your ceremony location is. If there’s little to no privacy, you can consider a pop up changing tent!
If you decide to change when you get there, you will want to think about whether your elopement gown is easy to change into.
Finally, make sure you’re comfortable carrying the weight of your dress for the duration of your hike if you choose to pack it in your backpack! Test out your fully weighted pack with all of your gear before the big day! Also, make sure to fold it neatly and put it in a dry bag inside your pack or use a folding garment bag attached to the outside of your pack.
How to hike in your wedding dress
If you do choose to hike to your ceremony in your wedding dress, make sure you’ve chosen a dress that you can move around in easily. Try your fully weighted pack on with your dress before your wedding day to make sure it’s comfortable!
Also consider if you want something to hold up your dress while you hike. You could always just drape your gown over your arm, but that may get tiring.
One idea is to scoop up the skirt by the bottom and use a stretchy elastic loop or a belt to hold it around the hips or the waist. You could also sew a wrist loop to the inside of the skirt to help hold up your dress while you hike!
Hiking footwear for your elopement
Comfortable footwear is easily one of the most important things to have for a hiking wedding! In fact, I even wrote a whole post about wedding hiking boots here.
If you’re going to be walking more than about a half mile, hiking boots are recommended! Or if it’s a warm day, you could wear a hiking sandal like Chacos.
If you don’t love the idea of sandals or hiking boots with your wedding dress, do keep in mind that with many dresses, your shoes are not even visible. Or you could always bring a pair of dress shoes with you to change into once you have hiked to your ceremony spot.
Men’s attire for a hiking wedding
If you’re planning to wear a suit for your hiking wedding, you’ll want to consider whether the fabric is soft, breathable, or prone to wrinkles.
Cotton and linen fabrics tend to be very soft and breathable, however they are more prone to wrinkles. Wool, on the other hand, is much less prone to wrinkles and is also very breathable. There are lots of lightweight wool fabrics that would be a great option for a hiking elopement.
If suits are not your style and you prefer to wear more of a casual elopement outfit, don’t fret. One of the best things about opting for a non-traditional wedding is that you can do and wear whatever makes you happy!
Whatever you do decide on, make sure your groom attire is something you can move around in easily!
Finally, make sure you choose shoes that have some tread on the bottom, and preferably some ankle support too. Men’s dress shoes tend to be very slick on the bottom, which is not ideal for hiking. Hiking boots are always a great choice!
Layers are truly your best friend when it comes to hiking, and that includes your wedding day!
From experience, I can tell you that conditions while you are hiking, especially in the mountains, can change rapidly. For example, it is significantly colder and more windy at higher elevations, and you may need that extra layer that you didn’t need at the start of your hike. Alternatively, maybe the sun started to come out and you don’t need that heavy puffer jacket, but it’s still chilly enough to warrant a lighter mid layer.
Additionally, for colder temps and mountain weddings, brides may want to wear fleece lined leggings under their dress. If you choose nude-colored leggings, you won’t even be able to tell in the photos!
Understanding layers and being prepared can really make the difference for your special day being an enjoyable experience!
Hair and makeup for your hiking wedding
A lot of brides wonder how someone can have a hiking wedding and still look fantastic on their weddng day. Here are a few tips!
First, choose long-lasting makeup, including your foundation, eye makeup, and lip wear. I also recommend using a setting spray. If you have a makeup artist, they can help you with this!
For hairstyles, if you are getting your hair done, go for a style that is sturdy but has a more natural look in case it falls a little bit.
Finally, make sure to bring extra makeup and hair supplies with you for touch-ups if you’d like them!
How to pack your bouquet in your daypack
A common question I see about hiking to your wedding ceremony is how to bring your bouquet with you.
The easiest way to bring your bouquet with you is to pack it in your backpack! Here’s how:
- Pack everything else in your backpack first.
- Then wrap a small wet towel around the bouquet stems to keep them fresh.
- Next, place the wrapped stems in a small drawstring stuff sack.
- Finally, place the bouquet at the top of the main compartment and zip the sides up so the bouquet stems are secure but the flowers are sticking out of the top part of the backpack.
How do I decide on a location and hike?
Talk to your photographer!
I highly recommend talking to your photographer about choosing a location!
Many people don’t realize this, but most elopement photographers spend a TON of time scouring the internet, searching through Instagram hashtags, reading through wedding blogs, and physically scouting out locations.
Photographers have a personal interest in making sure their clients have the most amazing location that will truly make for epic photos! They are also able to find hidden gems that are more private and secluded than the typical tourist spots.
But if you’re not planning to hire a photographer, or if you just want to get a head start on your research, these tips will get you started!
Think about your favorite type of scenery
When trying to choose a location for your hiking elopement, you’ll want to think about what type of scenery you prefer.
Does being in the mountains set your soul on fire? Do you love the idea of epic sand dunes? Or are you more of a relaxed, beach-vibe type person?
One of the main benefits of having a hiking wedding is that you can choose from the most jaw-dropping scenery that the world has to offer.
Sit down with your partner, and talk about places you’ve visited in the past, places that have made you feel inspired, or whether you might even want to adventure into a totally new type of territory!
What season and weather do you prefer?
For some couples, the weather can make or break their day. So it’s important to think about when considering an elopement location.
Think about things like whether you two have a favorite season, if you prefer warm or cold weather, and how you feel about things like snow, rain, wind, and heat.
Even once you choose your perfect location, you may want to consider a backup plan in case crazy weather disrupts your plans!
Is privacy and seclusion important to you?
When choosing a location or trail for your hiking wedding, it’s important to consider how important privacy is to you.
Will you feel comfortable if there are other people around? Would you be willing to get married earlier or later in the day to have seclusion?
While it’s impossible to guarantee that no one else will be around if you’re on public lands, choosing a trail that’s less heavily trafficked usually means much less people.
Think about how much time you have for the trip
Another thing people often overlook is how much time they have for their hiking wedding.
For example, if you only have a few days you can take off from work, this will affect your options. If you live in the United States, you might not want to plan a hiking wedding in a remote area of New Zealand if you’re limited on time.
Another factor that may impact how much time you have is whether you plan to have your hiking wedding in the same geographic area as your honeymoon or if they will be in different places.
Consider accessibility and hike distance/difficulty
One of the most important things you want to consider when picking your location is the accessibility and the distance/difficulty of your trail.
Are you an avid hiker? Do you regularly summit 14,000 foot peaks and hike 10 mile trails? Are you comfortable with sketchy 4WD roads? Do you know how your body will react at altitude? Or do you prefer shorter hiking trails with less elevation gain? How far are you willing to travel from the nearest town or airport?
There are plenty of beautiful locations with varying degrees of difficulty. You can hike for as little (even zero miles!) or as long as you want, and your hike can be as easy or difficult as you want.
But you’ll definitely want to consider all of these things when you’re choosing your trail so that your wedding will be the best experience possible!
Are you bringing friends and family (or pets)?
When you’re planning a hiking wedding, it’s not just you two that you need to consider when thinking about the accessibility and distance/difficulty of the hike.
You also need to consider anyone (including any pets!) that will be joining you!
If it’s super important that grandma attends your ceremony, you will definitely need to think about that when choosing a trail or location!
Narrow it down to your country, state, or park of choice (or a few options!)
Now that you’ve thought about some of the most important considerations, it’s time to start narrowing down your geographic area to do more detailed research.
Two options you have are to either go back to a place you’ve been before that you absolutely loved or has special meaning, or to go adventure to a place you’ve never been before!
Start by reminiscing with your partner about each of your favorite places you’ve traveled and your favorite adventures together. Next start talking about each of your bucket lists for places to travel. This could be as far as halfway across the globe, or right in your home state or country.
Start making a short list, and once you have that put together, you can start researching your options!
Research your options
Once you have a short list of some epic places where you’d love to get married, it’s time to start doing more detailed research.
Image searches on google or searches on Instagram by location are great places to start. You can also check out travel blogs for highly recommended locations!
One of my favorite tools that I use for researching and recommending hikes is AllTrails. AllTrails makes it super easy to search by a variety of trail features (distance, difficulty, trail crowds, location, etc.)
Popular destinations for hiking elopements
National Parks in the United States have some of the most beautiful scenery. Here are a few great options!
Make sure to check on their websites for permits that are required for weddings.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Considered one of the most iconic places in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park has endless options for hiking as well as several designated places to get married. The endless mountain views, forests, and alpine lakes make this a very popular choice for weddings and elopements in Colorado!
Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited National Park, due to its beautiful mountain views and all of the fun outdoor activities available. Nearby Gatlinburg is a similarly beautiful place to visit. The mountain ranges are known for their smoky haze. Much of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open to outdoor weddings with a maximum of 20 people, although there are some designated sites for larger weddings. Check out this post for more information on an elopement in Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Grand Canyon National Park
There is no shortage of beautiful vistas at the Grand Canyon, making this a perfect location to hike to your wedding ceremony. You could plan a simple day hike or even a multi-day backpacking trip.
Moab is a mecca for adventure sports–and for a good reason! There are endless activities and places to hike. The backdrop for these adventures will be gorgeous red rock formations with mountains in the distance. What more could you ask for?
Do I need vendors?
While you don’t absolutely have to hire vendors, most couples will want at least some of the vendors listed here. After all, even if you have a hiking ceremony, it is still your wedding day and it should still be extra special!
If you need vendor recommendations, this is typically something your elopement photographer can help with!
Find a photographer that you connect with and that gets what you’re looking for with your wedding day.
If you’re ditching the traditional wedding to opt for a hiking wedding, then you know that everything about your special day needs to feel right to you. And that includes the photographer.
You also want to consider whether your photographer has both the experience and the desire to be outdoors with you adventuring for your wedding. Many traditional wedding photographers shoot at formal wedding venues and may not be down for the kind of adventure you want.
Finally, as an elopement photographer and guide, I can tell you that many wedding photographers tend to not be as involved with their couple’s planning process.
This is simply because many big weddings have a planner or a venue coordinator guiding the couple, so the couple doesn’t need the photographer’s help with planning and logistics. The photographer only needs to show up for the wedding.
If you’re planning a hiking wedding or elopement, you may need more than just a photographer. Having that extra help with location scouting, planning tools, resources and guides, and thinking through logistics may make all the difference for your wedding day experience. So definitely consider this when comparing your photographer options!
How many hours of coverage do you need for a hiking wedding?
This is a question I get a lot. The majority of hiking elopements I see have all day photography coverage, typically between 8 and 12 hours.
If you’re planning an epic, adventurous wedding day, it’s really not hard to fill that time!
Think about a traditional wedding. You have getting ready time, a first look, portraits, the ceremony, the celebration afterwards, and more! A hiking wedding is no different!
Your day is way more than just saying your vows and taking a few photos.
Your wedding day is the story of the day that you and your partner are committing to spend the rest of your lives together. It’s a story that deserves to be told and documented.
And it’s a story you’ll want to look back on and relive again and again for decades to come.
If you want a bouquet from a florist, or even want to make your own bouquet from fresh flowers at a local store, you’re going to want to think about this in advance.
If you are getting married at a very remote location, consider how far away the nearest florist or supermarket is.
Hair and Makeup
Will you be doing your own makeup or do you want to hire a professional? Again if you are having a hiking wedding in a remote area, consider if there are any nearby professionals or ones that can travel to you.
Also with a hiking wedding, you’ll want to think about how you’ll do touch ups on your makeup.
Are you planning to have an officiant for your ceremony? If so, make sure to find one that is willing and able to do the hike with you!
If you want to have music for your ceremony (live or recorded), make sure to check that this is allowed at your ceremony site. Of course, if you want a musician to play live music, you’ll have to find one that will also hike with you!
Gear checklist for a hiking elopement
Any experienced hiker will tell you that having the right gear for your adventure can mean the difference between having a good or bad day.
Every excursion will be different, but the following is a checklist to get you started on thinking about what you will need!
- The Ten Essentials
- Rain gear
- Food and water/drink
- Layers and warm accessories like hats and gloves/mittens
- Handwarmers, toe warmers, and/or body warmers
- Good hiking shoes or hiking boots
- Wool hiking socks (I highly recommend Darn Tough socks…you can read more about why in this post!)
- A well-fitting backpack
- Trekking poles
- Traction (such as microspikes)
- Phone, keys, wallet
- Bathroom necessities
- Insect repellant
- Blister treatment
- Wedding attire (gown/suit)
- Florals (bouquet/boutonniere)
- Marriage documents
- Wedding vows
- Location permits
- Other items for your ceremony
- Downloaded trail maps and/or Google Maps
- Downloaded music to your phone and small speaker
- Emergency toiletry kit (makeup, hairpins, hairspray/gel, brush/comb, deodorant, tweezers, small mirror)
- Emergency sewing kit
If you’re planning on doing an overnight backpacking trip, more gear will be needed!
Food and drinks to celebrate!
When you’re planning to hike to your ceremony, you definitely want to have a plan to stay hydrated and nourished throughout the day.
But on top of that, consider what food and drinks you might want to have to celebrate! Popping champagne is always fun, or on a colder day, having a thermos with coffee, cocoa, or a hot toddy can be extra nice.
Consider packing a picnic for your hike, or even think about going somewhere before or after to celebrate. You can have your first meal together as a married couple at a fun local brewpub, or even have a private chef or catered food at your Airbnb. The options are endless!
Consider a reception afterward
If you’ve decided to have a just-us hike for your ceremony, there are lots of ways to still include friends and family.
One of those ways is to have a party to celebrate afterwards. If you have a morning hike, you could have a reception afterwards. Or you could plan a party the next day or even months later!
One of the greatest things about having a non-traditional wedding is that you get to make the rules and your only limit is your imagination.
Check out this elopement reception planning guide for more ideas and information!
More logistics considerations
Planning to hike to your wedding ceremony involves many different logistics considerations compared to a traditional wedding. Here are a few important things to consider:
- Do I want to have a “first look?”
- Are there local vendors in the geographic area I’ve chosen?
- Do I have a backup plan in case the weather is bad or there is an unexpected closure?
- Do I need a wedding permit at the location I’ve chosen?
- What are the local laws and marriage requirements?
- Do I need an officiant present or am I going to self-solemnize?
Side Note: Don’t let paperwork and legalities keep you from having the epic wedding day you deserve. Many couples do their legal paperwork at home or on another day. The day you get married is the day you actually say your vows and commit to your partner.
If you get stuck, don’t forget that you can always ask for help! One of my favorite parts of being an elopement photographer is helping couples that have a fuzzy idea of what they want for their wedding turn this into a concrete plan for the day of their dreams!
Don’t forget Leave No Trace
Considering Leave No Trace principles is incredibly important when you are having an outdoor wedding.
Leave No Trace basically means we want to leave the place better than we found it. This includes:
- Planning ahead and preparing
- Traveling and camping on durable surfaces
- Disposing of waste properly
- Leaving what you find
- Minimizing campfire impacts
- Respecting wildlife
- Being considerate of other visitors
Last but not least–savor every moment!
Congratulate yourself on being badass enough to choose this kind of epic adventure for your wedding day!
Don’t forget to soak it all in and enjoy every single moment of what mother nature has to offer! This is a day you will definitely never forget!
BONUS TIP: Plan a surprise for your partner
One way to make your wedding day even more unforgettable is by planning a special surprise for your significant other!
Some ideas that might get you started would be letters from family members or friends who can’t be there, playing a song for your partner, or giving them a special gift.
Are you planning a hiking wedding or hiking elopement?
I’m more than just a photographer. Helping couples create their dream day is what I do best!
Get in touch with the contact form below and let’s chat about your vision!
Or check out more elopement planning resources…
Hi I’m Kim, a Denver, Colorado based photographer specializing in Adventure Elopements in Colorado and worldwide! Photographing couples on the most special day of their lives is a true honor for me. But I’ve made it my mission to take it one step further than that. When you work with me, you’re getting more than just a photographer. I’m here to help you with all of the planning resources you need to have the most amazing elopement day ever! That includes everything from assistance with location ideas, timeline planning, and lots more free resources. So you can forget the work, and focus on having fun!