Elopement Timeline Tips

Today we’re sharing our elopement timeline tips! We’ll 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 our couples still need to know how we 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! We’ve learned so much after working with lots of amazing couples. So we’re happy to share our 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

Our best advice is to keep things simple. Once you start planning your elopement, and everything is possible. It can be really easy to start jamming the day full of exciting hikes, locations, and tons of other activities. But this often leads to a day that’s just as fast-paced as a traditional wedding. And our goal as your photographers 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 to 1-3 major 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 we say to limit to 1-3 major activities to cut down on drive time. These drives are often through windy mountain roads and they might be unfamiliar to you. For us, 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 just go with the flow. Sometimes a rain shower will happen unexpectedly, snow will cover a trail way early in the season or anything else that Mother Nature decides to do. We recommend having the right gear + clothing to be prepared. Which you can check out our 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

Planning an elopement or wedding day, it can be easy to think that times will be exact. This is why we don’t use 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 with us. The only plan we had was to pick them up at 3:45 am for a sunrise hike. They exchanged vows at 13,000 ft before we all got hungry and went to go find the nearest tacos.

Planning Your Hikes

Hiking at Sunrise

If you’re like us, you’d like to wake up at a reasonable hour, grab some coffee, head out on a short hike, and get amazing views. Which is what the 330 million National Park visitors do every year. Most tourists and other hikers will start to get out and hike between 8:00 am – 9:30 am. So we try to create more intimate moments in these landscapes. We like to hike up to a viewpoint to have private vow exchanges, first looks, or actual ceremonies right before sunrise. This is often the quietest and most beautiful way to experience some of these landscapes. And while it can be tough to wake up early, your body will start to adjust when we see the sun! There are exceptions to doing sunrise hikes though. If we’re in grizzly bear country, it’s often much safer to hike in daylight hours. And in the Redwoods, the lighting is often best when the sun is higher in the sky. Which hopefully helps to get those epic rays of sunshine through the trees!

Hiking at Sunset

We often like to have a “backup” plan to hike at sunset. Or just have a second hike planned for sunset already. Often sunset lasts longer than sunrise and has more colors in the sky on a clear day. This tends to be a busier time of day in some locations. So we usually opt for a longer hike to get some privacy.

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

Hiking in The Late Morning or Afternoon

Usually mid-day is the worst lighting for photos and has the least amount of privacy. So we tend to save the mid-day for brunch, lunch, taking a nap, or other activities you might plan. However, the Pacific-Northwest has a lot of overcast and moody days. And this is when hiking in the afternoon will look the same as if we hiked for sunrise or sunset. So if you plan a flexible elopement day where you can change things around, we might see that your elopement day is overcast and be able to move things around to avoid hiking in the dark. There are also locations that look great in the afternoon, like shaded coves, rainforests, and other places that don’t have direct harsh light.

elopement timeline sample based on daylight

Moody Weather & Rain

We love the moody weather we get sometimes in Washington! It changes the mood of the landscape, usually means fewer hikers, and can be super romantic! We’re always prepared with rain-gear if needed, and we’ll have an umbrella to keep you (mostly) dry if we have rainy weather. When 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 sunrise hike and go in the early morning instead. If it’s looking super cloudy and moody for sunset, we typically start earlier in the evening since it’ll also get dark quicker. Don’t worry though, we’ll be by your side through it all to give you our suggestions and make the most out of your elopement day!

Exploring our beautiful mountains on a moody day!

Planning Your Ceremony

We typically recommend having your ceremony at sunrise or in the early morning when possible. Most couples are pretty nervous about exchanging vows. So doing it first thing in the morning is just such a good feeling. It lets you have that sense of relief and you can finally say YOU’RE MARRIED!!! If you need to wait until the afternoon to do the official ceremony, just exchanging vows privately lets you get out some jitters. And it’s totally okay to repeat your vows later if you hire an officiant. This just lets you have those emotional moments first just the two of you.

Working With an Officiant

If you are hiring an officiant, 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 with us have lasted about 15 minutes total. However, we 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!

Timeline Examples

You’re probably wondering what an average elopement looks like. So we’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.

Full-Day Hiking Elopement: Meghan & Aravind hiked for their sunrise vows and explored on another hike for sunset.

Full-Day Hiking Elopement

A full-day experience with us is planned around sunrise and sunset, with a large break in the afternoon for relaxing or napping. This is best for those who arrive at their Airbnb a few days early to rest up, and for those with experience exploring the outdoors. It can be a long day for sure, but you’ll get the best lighting, the most privacy, and the chance to explore more locations. We usually recommend only planning one “real” hike either at sunrise or sunset, using the other part of your time with us at an “easier” access location like a beach, rainforest, or viewpoint in the mountains.

full-day elopement itinerary example with multiple hikes
Half-Day Elopement: Heather & Brian opted for a sunrise hike, exploring with their Jeep, and making a kickass lunch together.

Half-Day Elopement

A half-day elopement is great for those who have busy travel plans, want to do an epic hike, or already know that they want to keep plans super simple. This timeline option is great if you know you’re going to be super tired after hiking and exploring with us. We’ll do all of your celebrating in one fell swoop: meaning you can crash at your Airbnb, cozy up and watch your favorite movie, or jump in the hot tub and relax. We’re happy to chat in the planning process about what this can look like for where you’re eloping!

half-day elopement itinerary example

What about hours of coverage for an elopement timeline?

Over the years, we’ve learned that almost every couple either planned a half day (4-6 consecutive hours) or a full day (8 hours split around sunrise/sunset) with us. For a lot of couples, a full day is just far more intense than they want. It really can be a doozy to wake up for sunrise, hike, take photos, and then meet us again 6-10 hours later for sunset. However, some couples just have a lot of energy and are completely unphased when they meet up with us again for sunset. You both know your energy levels better than we do!

Final Thoughts

If there’s one thing we 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. But we encourage our couples to slow down, keep things simple, and allow themselves room for spontaneity. We’ve had timelines with lots of amazing things planned. We’ve also had timelines that were: meet at the trailhead at 4:30 am. The rest of their day was a spontaneous adventure! We’d rather you focus on beautiful views and the fact that the two of you are GETTING MARRIED!

Hopefully, this blog post gave you a better idea of what to expect when it comes to a typical elopement timeline. Our best advice is to plan the most epic, intentional weekend getaway. And whatever that looks like for you is probably the best timeline you could ever make!