Elopement Timeline Tips

Today I’m sharing my elopement timeline tips! I will be the first to say that planning an elopement timeline doesn’t have to be complicated. Part of the reason so many couples choose to elope is to keep their wedding day stress-free and easygoing. Yet a lot of my couples still want to know how I plan out a day and what works best for photos. This blog post covers the big picture details to help you successfully plan out your elopement day! I have learned so much after working with lots of amazing couples. So I’m happy to share my timeline tips!

Stay till the end to see some sample elopement timelines!

ceremony in the mountains with bride and groom at sunrise
Krystle + Casey did a sunrise ceremony in Grand Teton National Park, but after grabbing brunch in Jackson, they opted to just hike in casual clothes, drink bubbly, and watch Krystle’s brother go fly-fishing at sunset.

Keep It Simple

My best advice is to keep things simple. When you plan your elopement, almost anything is possible. It can be really easy to start jamming the day full of exciting ideas, locations, and tons of activities. But this often leads to a day that’s just as fast-paced as a traditional wedding. And my goal as your photographer is to help you slow down and make memories in beautiful places. So while it’s tempting to see every viewpoint or hiking trail–try to limit your day to 1-3 activities throughout the day.

Pay Attention to Your Drive Time

A lot of these beautiful locations are huge. It might be 1-2 hours between locations or even from your Airbnb. I mean, they’re often some of the most stunning drives in the United States–but it does impact your day. This is why I say to limit your day to 1-3 activities to cut down on drive time. These drives are often through windy mountain roads and they might be unfamiliar to you. For me, it’s just another day driving to the office! But especially if this is your first time visiting an area, you’ll probably be slower on the road. It will probably take a little extra time to get to different locations. And that’s okay!

Be Flexible

If you’re spending your wedding day mostly outdoors, you’ll have to be flexible and go with the flow. Sometimes a rain shower will happen unexpectedly (especially in Colorado in the afternoons), snow will cover a trail early in the season, or anything else that Mother Nature decides to do. I recommend having the right gear + clothing to be prepared. You can check out my Elopement Gear Guide post for more advice on that. So be prepared with the right clothing and gear and just be flexible :). You’ll have a fantastic time exploring the outdoors! It’s important to know that you might not be able to stick to exact times. And in some cases, you might have to flip the order of your activities based on the weather. But that’s the joy of eloping! You can do whatever you want!

Buffer Extra Time in Your Elopement Timeline

When planning your elopement, it can be easy to think that times will be exact. This is why I don’t use exact times in any of the timelines below! A lot of things happen that you might not plan for: such as 10-15 minutes for changing into hiking clothes at the trailhead, running late because of road construction (one-lane roads in these areas happen a lot for construction), water and snack break for your doggo, you might just run late, hair and makeup might take an extra 30 minutes, needing to get gas for your rental car…and so on. You get the point. And this is usually the sneaky culprit of a relaxed day turned into a busy day. So just plan to buffer time throughout the day to keep things relaxed!

bride and groom eloping in Telluride, Colorado
Sarah + William flew out to Telluride, Colorado to elope in the San Juans. The only plan we had was what time we would start their elopement day. They exchanged vows at 13,000 feet before they got hungry and went to go find tacos in Telluride.

Planning Your Hikes

Hiking at Sunrise

I have done lots of hikes at sunrise, but it’s not something I recommend much these days. It can be really exhausting to do hair and makeup as early as midnight to start your elopement day. For more adventurous couples or experienced backpackers, it can be doable and exciting. But if hiking at sunrise is a new experience for you, I would recommend sunset instead. Sunrise does offer the most privacy to start your day, but sunsets also offer a lot of privacy around sunset/blue hour. So there’s not much benefit other than getting to exchange vows first thing and having the rest of the day to celebrate. I would rather my couples be well rested and not too tired during such an important experience. If you do choose to go at sunrise, I recommend going to viewpoints or vistas (and not going on a hike). That way you get at least another hour or two to sleep! 🙂

Hiking at Sunset

I love exploring with my couples at sunset for their elopement day! It’s the best lighting, warmer than sunrise, and often gives me more time with beautiful light. It can be a really romantic time of day for exchanging vows, a first dance, or just taking photos and making memories together. Even if we start in the middle of the day, I always recommend finishing your coverage after sunset to get the best lighting. Since sunset is a normal time to be awake, you’ll have lots of energy and be excited to celebrate too! 🙂

Photo on left: couple hiking at sunrise, Photo on right: couple exploring for sunset

Hiking in The Late Morning or Afternoon

I also enjoy taking photos in the late morning or late afternoon, even though the light can still be a little harsh. However, I don’t recommend taking photos between 11 am – 1 pm here in the Rockies. We routinely get storms this time of day in the summer season. So it’s best to finish your photo session with me or take a break around noon when storms might roll in. Typically couples start their coverage in the late afternoon with me. This allows you to sleep in, have lots of time to get ready and gather details, and start your day when it’s nice and sunny. If it’s a cloudy day, all the better! That means I’ll have nice even lighting earlier in the day than expected.

elopement timeline sample based on daylight

Moody Weather & Rain

I love moody weather! While the Rockies are known for sunshine, sometimes we do have some moody days with the clouds rolling in at high elevations. It changes the mood of the landscape, usually means fewer hikers, and can be really romantic! I’m always prepared with rain gear if needed and always recommend couples have an umbrella or rain jackets if needed. If we get moody weather though, it usually means we need to be flexible and change the timeline based on Mother Nature. We might skip a sunset hike and go in the late afternoon instead. If it’s looking really cloudy and moody for sunset, I typically start earlier in the evening since it’ll also get dark quickly. Don’t worry though, I’ll be by your side through it all to give you my suggestions and make the most out of your elopement day!

Exploring in some beautiful mountains on a moody day!

Planning Your Ceremony

I typically recommend having your ceremony in the late afternoon or sunset when possible. Most couples are pretty nervous about exchanging vows. So if that sounds like you, I’d plan for your ceremony to be pretty soon after when you start your coverage with me 🙂 It lets you have that sense of relief and you can finally say YOU’RE MARRIED!!! If you have guests, it’s totally okay to save your more vulnerable, private vows for sunset when you’re alone with me. You can follow a more traditional ceremony with guests to avoid having to share your vulnerable thoughts with everyone. But it’s up to you and what makes you comfortable.

Working With an Officiant

In Colorado, you can self-solemnize. Meaning you don’t legally need an officiant or any witnesses. Woohoo! If you are hiring an officiant though, they usually do a great job of walking you through their planning process. If you’re eloping just the two of you without an officiant, there’s no right or wrong way of doing your ceremony. It just tends to be a shorter ceremony. You can check out Our Writing Vows Guide for this part of the planning process!

Most ceremonies last about 15 minutes in total. However, I have seen ceremonies last up to 30 minutes with officiants who spend time guiding you through the ceremony. No matter what you do, it’s going to be beautiful! I just point this out so you know how long to expect a typical ceremony to last.

Timeline Examples

You’re probably wondering what an average elopement looks like. So I’ve put together some general timelines below for a few different situations. These are rough timelines with just a few ideas sprinkled in. Although you can customize things to better fit the experience you want! However, one of these timelines is probably a great starting point for you.

Meghan & Aravind went to a vista for their vows before doing a short hike for sunset

Full-Day Elopement

A full-day elopement with me is up to 8 hours of consecutive coverage usually going from the afternoon until after sunset. This is best for those who have more details, want to explore a few different nearby locations, and maybe want getting ready photos and a first look at their Airbnb. This can be tiring to explore for up to 8 hours, so that’s why I recommend having a casual morning to relax together before you start your elopement day with me! 🙂

Heather & Brian opted to keep things simple by doing just a short hike and taking photos with their Jeep.

Half-Day Elopement

A half-day elopement is great for those who want to keep plans simple and don’t have a lot of elopement details. I start half-days at 3 hours of coverage which is a sweet spot for simple elopements. But you can optionally add on an hour of coverage if you want me to start at your Airbnb for a few getting ready photos or a first look. Either way, this lets couples get amazing photos without spending the whole day exploring and taking photos. Sometimes it’s nice to spend just a handful of hours with me taking photos, so you can spend the rest of your day (and trip) exploring alone together and making amazing memories! I never push for couples to do a full-day with me if it isn’t a good fit for what they want. This is all up to you! 🙂

Final Thoughts

Over the years, I’ve learned that most couples easily fit into my two packages (with a little bit of customizing as needed). Eloping should be simple. So I like to keep it that way! I hope this article helped demystify what it’s like to put together an elopement timeline. And of course, what your coveage looks like with me.

If there’s one thing I would recommend, it’s to avoid overplanning and to keep your day simple. One of the major reasons people elope is to avoid stress and to get away from all of the planning. It can be tempting to make sure you find the “best” hike or viewpoint. But I encourage my couples to slow down, keep things simple, and allow themselves room for spontaneity. I’ve had timelines with lots of amazing things planned. I’ve also had timelines where we planned very little. I would rather you focus on beautiful views and the fact that the two of you are GETTING MARRIED!

Either way, I am SO excited for you! I hope this helps!