Ah, the nitty gritty. I'll go into this in some more detail below, but the short version is this: in order to legally elope in Washington (in the eyes of the government), you need to acquire and fill out a marriage license. Please for the love of everything you hold dear do not forget to bring this with you to your elopement.
Again, more info below, but you need 3 things to make it legal: a marriage license, an officiant (hi, I can do that for you), and two witnesses (I can do that too).
More often than not, you're going to need a permit to elope in Washington. The National Parks (yeah, plural; we've got three) usually require them, and some other state parks/national forests do too. Let me know if you need help navigating this--it's less complicated than it sounds!
Keep in mind: permits are usually only a few hundred dollars. Which, compared to the tens of freaking thousands spent on traditional venues...bargain. You also get the added warm and fuzzies of knowing that you're supporting the upkeep of some incredible locations.
You want options? Washington has options.
"This place has everything." Mountains, coastline, old growth forests, alpine lakes... You want it, we've probably got it. And if you want to experience it all on your elopement day, that can be arranged too!
As far as I'm concerned, this step can be interchanged with step 3; it all depends on which is more important to you.
If the time of year or season matters the most to you, decide on that first! Then, based on your preferences, I can suggest some of the best locations for that time of year. Different places shine at different times, and some places are inaccessible in the winter.
Am I biased? Yes. Is this still a great first step, even if you book someone else? Also yes.
Most eloping couples don't hire a wedding planner, so photographers have taken on the role. Planning elopements almost takes up more of my time than photographing them--I do a lot for my couples! Makes sense when you think about it though: we know the best locations, the best time of day for gorgeous light, logistics, rad local vendors, etc.
Find yourself a local photographer who knows what the hell they're doing, and your entire experience will be way more enjoyable.
sounds amazing! sign me up for a washington elopement
Another thing to consider when you're choosing the date for your elopement is what you want to do. Unlike traditional weddings, elopements have a lot of freedom and personalization built into the forgiving timelines, so you can do whatever strikes your fancy.
Hiking is definitely available year-round, but some trails are better-suited to snowshoeing. Maybe you want to aim for a dryer part of the year for prime stargazing, or you can plan a hot tub soak in the snow (seriously underrated). Scroll down for more activity suggestions, and feel free to dream big! If your question is, "Rachel can we do [your favourite thing] on our elopement?" 99% of the time the answer is yes.
Washington state has a fairly temperate climate, despite its rainy reputation. It's kind of a local secret that Washington is beautiful all year round, but we do have real seasons here! Each has its own magic, depending on what kind of elopement experience you're looking for.
WINTER: You want rain? Winter in Washington will give you rain. Up in the mountains, the rain turns to snow. The temperatures dip, especially at higher elevations. Make sure to bundle up. Personally, I think this time of year is gorgeous (the phrase "winter wonderland" comes to mind). Several of the access roads close due to snow/avalanche warnings though, so you're a wee bit more limited on locations.
SPRING: This time of year can be rainy too, but it's a toss up. Shoulder seasons are going to do whatever they want. Be prepared for rain, or maybe snow, and temperatures varying from t-shirt weather to freezing. It all depends on where in the state you are and possibly a toss of the dice. I don't know, I don't make the weather rules.
SUMMER: One year, we had snow in the mountains until July. That's not always how it goes, but don't be surprised by snow at high elevations into June. The rain definitely slacks off through the summer though, and we're gifted with some gorgeous, sunny days. It's also prime wildflower season and a great time to see waterfalls as the snow melts. This is one of the most popular times to just...be outside in Washington. For obvious reasons.
AUTUMN: If you're looking for those rich "fall colours," we've got them. Especially where I'm based up north. The larches are "a pot of gold in the fall hiking season," and they're a big reason why this is often the busiest part of my year. In the spring, they grow loads of new green needles, then in the autumn, those needles turn bright freaking yellow and orange. Pair that with the blue of an alpine lake and we're all in photography heaven. The larches are only golden for a few weeks, usually late September into October (spotting them is affectionately referred to as "Larch Madness"), but there are plenty of rich colours around Washington this time of year.
Can't wait; let's do this
These are all general ideas; I offer much more in-depth location scouting and suggestions tailored to my couples' specific preferences, interests, and activity level. Whichever location you choose is going to be beautiful, so go with your gut, think about the experience you want to have, and the rest will fall into place.
The whole state is gorgeous, if I do say so myself, and there's so much more on offer beyond the National Parks!
MT. BAKER-SNOQUALMIE NATIONAL FOREST: This sprawling expanse along the western side of the North Cascades is my backyard and ultimate playground. And as a bonus, you can bring your dogs!
RUBY BEACH: Ok technically this is within Olympic National Park, but that whole park is...mind boggling in its diversity, so I had to break it down. It's iconic, just south of where the Hoh River meets the ocean. Excellent camping around here too.
HOH RAINFOREST: Another area in Olympic National Park. The Hoh Rainforest is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the United States.
MT. SAINT HELENS: Want to elope in front of an active stratovolcano? Because you can elope in front of an active stratovolcano.
LEAVENWORTH: This seems a wee bit out of place among the rugged locations on this list, but it's...folks it's really cute. Leavenworth is a Bavarian-style village in the Cascades. Think meadows and fields followed by wandering through a storybook town.
GIFFORD PINCHOT: Another national forest, located south of Mt. Rainier. 1.32 million acres of it.
SAN JUAN ISLANDS: Technically there are 172 named islands in San Juan County, but the three popular ones that are reachable by ferry are Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and San Juan Island. The weather is mild, the views are stunning, and there are plenty of things to do.
EASTERN WASHINGTON: Weather-wise, eastern Washington is the opposite of the western side of the mountains. It's known for a whopping 300 days of sunshine per year, and there's more of a desert-vibe. Is there anything Washington can't do...?
Here in Washington, we've got three whole National Parks. And they're beauties.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: If you want variety, Olympic National Park is your girl. There are three distinct ecosystems: subalpine forest + wildflower meadow, temperate forest, and Pacific coast. There are also some breathtaking alpine areas for you to explore, making this one of the most diverse areas in Washington.
MT. RAINIER NATIONAL PARK: The first time I saw "The Mountain" I almost cried. Mt. Rainier (or Tahoma/Tacoma) is...well, she's massive. The peak is 14,410 feet above sea level, making her the most topographically prominent mountain in the lower 48. She's also a stratovolcano, and one of the most dangerous in the world. Danger aside, this park is stunning, and very heavily trafficked.
NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK: This one is my personal favourite. It's also one of the least-visited national parks in the U.S., which I have a hard time believing. I'm ok with it though, because it means fewer crowds and more breathing room. If you're looking for jagged peaks, glaciers (over 300 to choose from), forested valleys, and alpine lakes, this is absolutely the place for you. Honestly if all my couples wanted to elope here, I wouldn't complain. It's not called the "Alps of America" for nothing.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: eloping grants you the freedom to make your wedding day an experience. Getting ready is part of your elopement day. Celebrating afterward is part of your elopement day. Why not revel in them both?
I have more specific recommendations depending on where you choose to elope, but here are some general options:
1. AirBnB: there are so many cute cabins and vacation rentals around Washington! Especially near the mountains. (Make sure you talk to the host before booking to make sure they're ok with me taking photos, how many people are allowed if you're having a wee reception, the parking situation, local noise ordinances, bathroom situation, etc.)
2. Family property: staying at your own or a family member's home adds a sweet element of familiarity.
3. Camping: Washington has a plethora of campsites to choose from, often with some amazing views.
I'll start by saying that I'm actively trying to do better when it comes to accessibility. I'm learning as best I can!
This is a caring, no-judgment zone, so whatever you have going on, we can still make your elopement beautiful. I've got a list of ADA-accessible locations, and I'm committed to finding places that will work for you and your loved ones. All of my location lists, for all of my couples, include information on trail length/condition, elevation change, etc. Where I can, I include info on parking, benches, and spoon rating. Very big thank you to DisabledHikers.com for so much useful information.
I'd also like to note that I'm available for ceremonies or celebrations that don't involve a marriage license. I was gobsmacked to learn that some folks risk losing their disability benefits by getting married; please get in touch if you're in this position!
Paperwork is paperwork. It's important from a legal perspective, it "officially" makes you family, and yeah, it's a big deal for a lot of people.
But here's my take on paperwork vs eloping: if for some reason you can't or don't want to sign paperwork on your elopement day, that's cool with me. Some couples have symbolic ceremonies without paperwork. Some get married elsewhere (different state, courthouse, etc.) and then elope here in Washington. Some celebrate their elopement and sign paperwork elsewhere later.
Whichever way you choose to get married, your anniversary is the day you elope, as far as I'm concerned. Not the day you sign paperwork. So the long and the short of it is: do whatever you want. If the paperwork is an issue or it's stressing you out or things aren't lining up...deal with it later. It's ok (:
Step 3: find two witnesses.
Again, different states have different laws. In Washington, you need two witnesses to sign your marriage license to make it legal. Witnesses can be anyone: friends, family, random people we meet on the trail (people love it when they get to be surprise witnesses), or me! The only people who can't sign as witnesses are you, your partner, and your officiant.
Step 2: find an officiant.
This is the person who performs your marriage ceremony and signs the license. Not every state requires an officiant, but Washington does, so add this to your list!
If you don't want any extra people, I'm licensed in WA to sign as an officiant for you. Let me know if this is something you'd be interested in, and we can chat more about how it all works.
Number one on the "make your marriage legal" list is acquiring a marriage license.
This document legally proves that you're married, and every state has different rules about it. In Washington, there's a 3-day waiting period between acquiring your license and using it, and it's only "good" for 60 days after picking it up, so keep that timeline in mind when you're applying for the license.
As far as all the details, your best bet is to check out your county's website and go by their guidelines. kingcounty.gov has some helpful information.
I'm sold. Sign me up!
Of course there is.
As an add-on, I offer "highlight films"! These are the perfect middle ground between hiring a videographer and going without. I truly wish I had one from my own elopement. Click that button below for more info on these!
It carries on after your elopement day is over. Once your images are edited, they'll be delivered to you via an online gallery. This is the perfect way to share your images with whomever you like. It's also connected directly to a print store that lets you see how your images will look printed.
Your gallery will be hosted for a year, and after that, you can utilize cloud hosting to keep the gallery active and backed up! Never ever have one of those "oh shit where are my elopement photos" moments.
The best way to know where your photos are, though, is to print them. I work with an incredible, eco-friendly lab for my couples' albums. I'm fully obsessed with them--message me if you want to hear more about them!
There are some great elopement planners out there (and I'm happy to recommend them), but couples who elope are less likely to hire a planner or coordinator than couples who go the traditional route. Which means I've learned a lot of the planning aspect of things, and I'm here to help you.
Don't know where you want to elope? No problem. Each of my couples gets a detailed list of location suggestions, specific to their needs and preferences, complete with Leave No Trace info, parking, elevation gain (if relevant), accessibility, etc.
Overwhelmed by the list of vendors to get through and don't want the emotional strain of vetting them all? No problem. My client guide is full of vendor recommendations, and I vet them up to their eyeballs.
My couples and I also get to know each other fairly well prior to their elopement. Sometimes, it's just the three of us on the day, so whether or not you hire me, I encourage you to take the time to find vendors who you click with! My couples have a direct line to me throughout their planning process. Questions? Concerns? Need someone to hype you up over the outfit you just bought? I'm here for you.
Not sure what to do all day or how long it all takes? I help with that too. I create custom timelines for all of my couples that reflect what they want to do, where they want to go, and enough buffer time to keep the stress levels...basically zero.
And if all that weren't enough, I've put together a packed client guide for you to reference and get inspired by. (Seriously, it's like 100 pages.)
Full day photography coverage: I'm with you for it all.
Thinking about a "full day" of elopement photography might sound...stressful. Tiring? Over the top? Here's the thing though: does anyone bat an eye when it's a "traditional" wedding day? Absolutely not.
And that's the mindset shift I want you to embrace: your elopement isn't some glorified photo shoot that forces you into weird poses for twelve hours. It's your wedding day. You deserve just as many photos and memories as people having big weddings, and I'm all about it.
tell me more about these highlight films!
As I said before, one of the beautiful things about eloping is the freedom to do whatever you want, without being held captive by a stuffy timeline.
I've got a lot of activity suggestions for you in my exclusive Elopement Guide, but thinking about each of these approaches is a good place to start if you're in the daydreaming phase:
What do you and your partner enjoy doing? Don't think about this in a "wedding" context for a minute; off the top of your head, what are some of your favourite activities?
Do you like snowshoeing? Cooking? Soaking in hot springs? Wine tasting?
Adding those things to your elopement day just adds to the experience. If both of you already love music and playing instruments, or paddleboarding, or ice skating, why not do that during your elopement?
There's absolutely nothing wrong with this; "traditional" isn't code for "bad."
What I mean by following a traditional timeline but with an elopement spin is this: you start your morning together, maybe with a wee hike. You get ready in the early morning light and have a first look in the mountains. We explore around, decide on the perfect spot, and you have your ceremony. We hike back down and light a campfire at your a-frame AirBnB, where you enjoy a celebratory dinner prepared by a private chef and share in your first dance in the firelight.
Sounds good, right?
Ever wanted to take a trip to a glacier in a helicopter? Go whale watching? Travel via float plane?
What better day than your elopement?!
Seriously, why the hell not? What an amazing memory! What an incredible experience to share together on the day you get married. I'm all about it; I think it's so cool when couples check an item off their bucket lists on their elopement day.
stoked on this; let's make it happen!
It's definitely not lost on me that this country is...troubled. I don't need to go into it, do I? We all know what's what? Great.
Basically, some people in this gorgeous state of mind just can't handle being an ally. To the LGBTQ+ community, the Black community, to any humans who aren't straight, white, neurotypical, able-bodied, and Christian. Their minds and hearts aren't open.
Mine totally are though, so I've got you.
The very last thing you should ever be thinking about on your elopement day is, "Are we safe? Are we ok?" I do that for you, ahead of time, because I don't want you worrying about it at all. Every vendor I recommend has been vetted up to their eyeballs, every location has been scouted. I've been told not to "put shit like this" on my website, but...it's my website. And I know my people. (It's you! You're my people. And I am yours.)
Let's be each other's people
Yes please! sign me up
I just threw a lot of information at you, so feel free to take some time and let it all percolate. And if it's still a lot to deal with, don't stress. As I said above: I do a lot more for my couples than photograph their elopements.
Even with in-depth guides and blog posts and things, this still isn't your job (well, probably not), and I don't expect you to figure all of this out on your own. Your job is to daydream about your elopement. My job is to make it happen. This entire "Elope in Washington" guide is just a TEASER of what's to come in my client guide. All my couples receive this exclusive guide after they book, and it's...full. Like 100 pages full.
So if you've got questions, I've got answers. And if I don't, I know where to find them. Send me a message to start planning your Washington elopement!