Whether you’ve made the choice that a traditional elopement isn’t for you, or you’re in early stages of engagement and exploring your options, welcome. If you’re reading this, you’re probably the type of person who likes to have as much information about a thing as possible – and the good news is, so am I! After ten years of photographing weddings and elopements, I’ve taken all my insight and created this ultimate elopement planning guide & checklist to help you know how to plan your elopement, and what to consider through each stage of the process. Elopement planning really comes in stages, so that’s how I’ve broken it down for you:

Shandra & Cody | Engagement Photos at Arches National Park

Dreaming Stage

This is the very earliest stage in elopement planning, and arguably the second most fun stage (after actually eloping of course!) In this stage you should do all your dreaming. You’re likely newly committed to this next stage of your relationship, and feeling very much in love and excited for the life you’re going to continue building the rest of your lives together. Take your partner out for dinner, on a date, or make some coffee and chill on the couch — whatever feels comfy and creative as you dive in. It is important that you do this step together!

Consider what things you love to do together, places you either want to visit some day or love to go together. Is there a location that’s already really meaningful to you?

Close your eyes and picture the two of you getting married. You’re excited and a little giddy, in the most incredible place. Where are you? In the mountains? By a waterfall? In the desert? What time of day is it? What’s the temperature like? What’s planned for the day? Are you finding a hot spring later? Do you have dinner reservations? Will you be watching the stars or the sunset? Who is with you, if anyone?

Dream big – don’t get caught up in logistics just yet. Think about your dream world, perfect scenarios, and come up with as many ideas as you want! You can narrow it down later. Remember your reason for eloping and keep that at the heart of the plans. Do your ideas make you feel comfortable and excited?

Make a list of all your brainstorm ideas. If you’re feeling stuck by having too many possibilities, get inspired on social media or photography blogs. Try to prioritize the ideas if that helps.

Checklist for the Dreaming Stage:

🗹 Schedule a date night to dream together about ideas

🗹 Get in the zone, close your eyes and imagine your elopement day

🗹 Write down activity ideas, seasons, backdrops, and locations that begin to come to mind

🗹 If you have questions pop up, write those down too

Sam & Allison | Fall Elopement on the Grand Mesa

Research Stage

Now that you’ve got a general idea of some of your wishes for the day, you’ll probably find yourself with more questions than answers. The best way to move forward from here is to hire an elopement photographer who helps with planning (or an elopement planner if that’s more your thing!) This is usually where I come in on my couples’ elopement journeys.

A photographer/planner can help turn your dreams into realities and bring structure and professional insight to your ideas. Together you can begin to figure out what’s actually feasible by looking into the logistics of your ideas, such as:

What is your budget?

Did you know the average wedding in the US costs a couple $34,000?! Eloping, by comparison, is a much cheaper route. Most couples spend $8,000-28,000 eloping, depending on their plans. What do they spend that on? A photographer, permits/passes, marriage license, flowers, attire, transportation, and lodging for a start. Click here for more info on how much it costs to elope! Knowing a general budget is a good start to begin to see what’s possible within that budget.

Leslie & James | Picnic Elopement in Moab

What time of year do you want?

When you consider your ideal time of year, consider the weather of your ideal locations during that time of the year, and that location accessibility. If you dream of a snowy elopement, there are fewer locations accessible in the winter by nature. Similarly if you dream of a Moab elopement, you might want to avoid the heat of the summer.

What are your priorities if you can only have a few of your ideas?

Try to figure out what your order of priorities are for the ideas you’ve come up with. Do you care most about privacy, or is having a specific location your priority? Some places are easy to get to and therefore not as private. Some places are hard to get to and might need extra transportation, but you won’t see another soul. Maybe you want a variety of backdrops but only have a few hours of time… Beginning to understand your priorities will help you navigate the decision-making process more easily.

Do you want to have guests at your elopement?

If you imagined having guests along to your elopement, that brings up more logistics. Having guests at your elopement is definitely allowed! It just can change what locations you’ll be allowed to gather in, depending on how many people you have, or what transportation you need to get there, and what you’ll be doing all day.

Ashton & Molly | Aspen Ghost Town Elopement in Autumn

Do you want to self-solemnize or have an officiant?

For elopements in Colorado, you can do something called “self-solemnization” – where you are not required to have an officiant or witnesses in order to be legally married. You simply sign your marriage license and certificate yourselves and file it with the clerk’s office. Consider if you’d like to have an officiant and/or witnesses, or if you’d rather just elope the two of you.

Choosing a location

Your photographer can help you narrow down the best locations for your needs, given all these logistics. They can take your dream backdrops, season desires, guest count, activity ideas, and budget and help you select the perfect spot to get married. (Click here for my opinions on the best time to elope in Colorado!)

Checklist for the Research Stage:

🗹 Set a budget

🗹 Prioritize your dreams

🗹 Set a date and location

🗹 Decide on your guest list

Katrina & Frank's Elopement near Gateway

Decision/Booking Stage

This stage is the bulk of your elopement planning. You will select the exact locations you’ll be using and begin to plan a general order of events for the day. You’ll also begin booking the vendors you need to bring your vision to life. Those vendors may include the following:

An Officiant

If you want a touch of tradition and someone to help guide your elopement ceremony, an officiant is a great help in bringing order and a certain amount of pomp and circumstance to the ceremony part of the day. They can help you with unity ceremony ideas, tips for writing your vows, ways to make the ceremony personal, and they can help you fill out and file your marriage certificate.

Transportation

If you need special transportation to get to your elopement location, don’t forget to book that. If you have no experience with off roading in the wilderness, and/or you have guests for the day, a jeep tour company is a great option for getting into those more remote locations safely.

Courtney & Clayton | Jeep Elopement in Yankee Boy Basin

Cake

If you want a touch of celebration and tradition for the day, a small cutting cake is a great idea for both some cute photos — and who doesn’t like eating cake on your wedding day?!

Flowers

If you’re a flowers kind of person, they can be a nice touch for photos and also a nice intro to getting pictures taken as it gives you something to hold on to and do with your hands. They can be real flowers (consider what’s allowed in your location) or fake flowers like sola wood flowers (which are a great keepsake from the day too!)

Hair/makeup

If you plan to have hair and/or makeup done professionally, get on the books early. Some vendors will travel to these more remote locations, and those will book up fast. You’ll want time to schedule a trial, if you’re having one — for destination elopements these are usually done the first day you arrive in town for the week, or if you’re visiting sometime in the year leading up to the big day, depending on your plans. Getting in with this vendor early allows you more flexibility in figuring out these logistics.

Music

Consider if you want a professional orchestrating your music for the ceremony, or for a romantic evening of dancing later on. National parks, for instance, require non-amplified music only – so a musician who can play acoustically is an important hire if you plan music for that sort of ceremony. Some couples will book a band for a gathering in the desert after the sun sets, or you might want a harpist or cellist for your ceremony.

Attire

Whether you’re dressing to the nines, or you’re choosing to be comfortable on the big day, you’ll want to plan what to wear for your attire for your elopement. Some things to consider: have shoes that are appropriate for the activities you’ll be doing. Even if you want to wear the Louboutins, bring hiking shoes to have on hand as well if you’ll be trekking around in nature. If you’re planning to wear a dress, make sure you can move in that thing! If you’re wearing a longer dress in the mountains or the desert, don’t be too worried about getting it dirty: the ombre effect of dirt on your dress is a beautiful keepsake and reminder of the fun it saw that day!

Catering/dinner/private chef

Don’t forget to eat on the big day. Planning a privately catered dinner or booking dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant are great options for dinner on your elopement day.

William & Amy | Lake Irwin Wedding in Crested Butte

A picnic company

If you think a little picnic in the wilderness is a fun activity for your day, and you love an excuse to hang out and eat great food in a pretty place, a local picnic company could be a great addition to your vendors.

Book your travel and lodging and lock in the date

Whether you’re flying into the area, driving, or taking the train, book your travel plans early (or add them to a watch list for rate drops!) Also be sure to get to the area a couple days early to adjust to elevation, settle in, do a hair/makeup trial if needed, scope out the area, do some sightseeing, and give yourself the flexibility for travel just in case.

Celebrate!

Once these big things are locked in take a celebration break! You’ve earned it. You can rest a little easier now knowing the big pieces of the puzzle are done.

Checklist for the Booking Stage:

🗹 Book your elopement vendors

🗹 Book your travel and lodging

🗹 Celebrate knocking out the bulk of your planning!

Kristina & Hagan | Micro Wedding at Maroon Bells Aspen

Planning Stage

The big plans are done, and you’ve celebrated forming your dream wedding day… but the big day is still on the horizon. Now comes the little things that need finalized as you approach the final weeks.

Plan your day’s activities

There are so many great ways to spend your elopement day. You may be eloping because a big wedding wasn’t for you, or because you wanted to be comfortable and just the two of you, but it’s still your wedding day! Think about the things you could do that would make the day memorable, fun, and perfectly you. Some ideas of ways you could make your elopement day special include:

Courtney & Clayton | Jeep Elopement in Yankee Boy Basin

Final Details Checklist:

  • Schedule final fittings on your attire
  • Schedule pickup of cake/flowers
  • Pack your bags
  • Create an emergency kit
  • Pick up the marriage license
  • Book dinner reservations if needed
  • Research the area and make a list of things you want to do/see, and where you want to eat
  • Set due dates in your calendar for vendor’s forms and payments
  • Clean the rings
  • Write your vows, select your music

Build your timeline and backup plans with your photographer

Your photographer can help you put together the best order of events for the activities you want to do, and they can help you come up with backup plans as well. Why would you need a backup plan? Well in some cases, if there’s rain in an area some locations may be at risk of landslides, they may be unsafe if there’s lightning, or they may be closed altogether. Sometimes wild fires can close an area of forest. Being out in nature necessitates following Leave No Trace principles and having backup plans — just in case!

Checklist for the Planning Stage:

🗹 Plan your activities

🗹 Build your timeline

🗹 Create backup plans

🗹 Check off your final to-do’s

Josh & Tiffany | Mountain Elopement in Ouray

Eloping Stage

You made it to the finish line! Or, as the case may be, the starting line of the next chapter of your lives together. Enjoy every moment, and soak it all in. It flies by fast!

Next…if your loved ones don’t know you’ve eloped, think about your announcement. Are you sending out card announcements? Do you want to plan time to facetime them on the day? Will there be a party later on? Order some prints from the day to share your favorite moments with them there. Order your album to relive every moment, and display your portraits around your home to remember where your marriage began.

Checklist for the Eloping Stage:

🗹 Elope!!

🗹 Tell your loved ones

🗹 Relive every moment with your photos

Feeling overwhelmed?

If this elopement planning guide makes eloping feel a little daunting, please don’t worry! I help couples just like you craft their dream elopement day from start to finish. If you’re looking for an experienced photographer in Colorado or Moab, who will guide you through personalized location ideas, give you recommendations of pros in the area to hire, helps you create the day’s timeline and gives tons of ideas for how to make your elopement day special, let’s chat! Click here to send me a note and start planning your elopement.

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Ultimate Elopement Planning Guide & Checklist from Amanda Matilda Photography

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