As a destination wedding and elopement photographer, I've witnessed the maddening power of love through a vast array of ceremonies and rituals over the years.
Some fairly traditional, and some completely unique. The thing I've come to realize is that there just aren't any rules for how a wedding should go down these days. And more and more, couples are feeling empowered to do it their way. And for some, that means ELOPING!
Eloping used to mean running away in secret to perform the legal marriage ceremony as quickly and quietly as possible (that's what my wife and I did almost a decade ago). But these days, even elopements have taken on various forms and meanings which are open to interpretation. Some are symbolic and done to preserve the intimate nature of the moment. Some are rugged outdoor adventures immersed in awe-inspiring scenery. And some are more like intimate weddings -- with a few close family and friends present to witness the ceremony and add to the celebration in a minimalistic way (compared to a large traditional wedding).
Just a note before we dive in... Whenever visting an environmentally sensitive area (for an elopement, or for any reason), do your research, tread lightly, stick to the trail, respect the native flora and fauna, and leave as little trace as possible :)
However you decide to tie the knot, the backdrop you chose will forever hold the memory of this special milestone. So it's worth thinking deeply (along with your partner) about the location, setting and vibe you want to create for your elopement or intimate wedding. No matter where or how you chose to tell you're story, I believe it's always worthy of documenting in epic fashion! So if you enjoy the images and commentary in this list, then I'd love to help plan and photograph your elopement or intimate wedding. Just hit me up via the contact page!
Here are my picks for the twelve best destinations to elope in the United States!
12) Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Joshua Tree National Park is absolutely beautiful, and far more diverse than you might think. Yes, there's cactus, rock formations and um... Joshua Trees. But there's also sweeping mountain views... and a spring time elopement means you could get the chance to experience all the true colors of the desert through one of nature's most mind-blowing events -- a super bloom of wild flowers! You could rough it and sleep out under the stars... Or create a more eclectic and dynamic experience by renting a cozy midcentury modern air bnb in nearby Palm Springs.
11) New Orleans, LA
For those would-be-elopers that still want the big party, but perhaps don't care for being the center of attention... Eloping in NOLA means, after you've said your vows and maybe eaten some of that killer soul food, you get to celebrate in epic fashion with a bunch of strangers on the legendary Bourbon street (who, I promise you, will be absolutely stoked to celebrate right alongside you). Then the next day, you don't have to worry about who said or did what embarrassing thing at your wedding reception.
10) Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Colorado has many picturesque locations for the adventures outdoorsy couples. But chief among them (in this photographer's humble opinion) is Rocky Mountain. A shortish drive from Denver, the National Park has all the big mountain scenes you'd expect. You could hike all day and be fully immersed in nature... or simply pull off the side of the road and find incredible views to take in. Just do your research because many roads close at certain times of year, and peaks are inaccessible due to snowy and icy conditions -- adding a slightly dangerous element your elopement adventure.
For similar reasons to Nola, the Florida Keys gives you the party as well as the seclusion you might be searching for. Not to mention rustic charm and texture everywhere! Say your I do's on a charter boat, or at the waters edge near the historic Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Then hit Duval Street for a post ceremony pub crawl. OR if "wasting away in Margaritaville" is more your speed, the Keys has plenty of luxury options for elopers looking to get pampered. Bonus points... Elope here anytime of the year!
8) Big Sur, CA
The rugged NorCal coast is famous for a lot of things... The amazing scenic drives for one. So if a road trip elopement is your idea of a romantic getaway, you simply have to drop a pin in Big Sur. Massive redwood trees add a woodsy fairytale element any love story. And despite what the California flag says, you're not likely to encounter any Bears on this adventure.
I know what you're thinking... "a wedding in Hawaii, real original". But hold up a minute Sarah Marshal... This pacific paradise is perhaps the closest thing to actual heaven we have on this here planet, so why wouldn't want to go there?! And remember, you're eloping... so no one has to know about it. Anyway, obvious perks are the epic beaches, surf, mountains, hikes and luxury resorts. And some commonly overlooked perks... how about a food truck cluster on the North Shore of Oahu that has zero bad options for your post nuptial feed.
6) MOAB, UT
Instead of one stunning National Park option for your elopement... how about SEVERAL. Including Arches and Canyonlands. You really can't go wrong in this glorious Utah landscape. Possible drawbacks might be the sheer number of visitors and lack of facilities. But hey, it's an adventure right... get off the beaten track and find your own perfect spot to say your vows.
Urban, tropical, eclectic, gritty and glamorous... Miami has a myriad of conflicting personalities, which is precisely what makes it an interesting and memorable place to I do. Lately it's been experiencing somewhat of an art renaissance propelled by world class street art... bringing life, creativity and diverse culture to the forefront. For elopers, rooftops would be the ideal spot to dodge the tourists and say some words. And after, well you could probably throw a brick in any direction in the Wynwood Arts District and it would land smack bang in the middle of a dance floor.
4) Glacier National Park, MT
Montana. Man this place is gorgeous. Like going back in time to a place where you truly feel the vastness of the north American landscape. Glacier just has this captivating enormity about it, which heightens every possible emotion a human can feel. So if you're looking for somewhere truly special, where no one will hear you sobbing uncontrollably as you recite your vows, this is the place. Just mind the BEARS.
If you're gonna elope in a city... you might as well elope in THE city. I don't care what they say about Virginia, NEW YORK is for lovers. If you have a soft spot for nostalgia, and want to write your own classic love story... then title the elopement chapter, "New York City". Sinatra would be proud.
2) Yosemite National Park, CA
The Yosemite Valley is beyond description. No photograph has ever done it justice. I mean it, not even Ansel Adams' legendary black and white images of the waterfalls and rock walls that dot this arcade of natural wonders can truly invoke the beauty and serenity felt when you're standing atop glacier point. If scenery is your priority for the backdrop to your elopement memories. LOOK NO FURTHER.
And finally, my pick for the absolute best place to elope in the United States is...
1) Asheville, NC
Wait, what?! Some people might go cross-eyed wondering why I chose this place before all the other incredible destinations on this list... Well here's why:
If you think about it, Asheville, nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains has pretty much everything from the rest of this list all rolled into one convenient package. Epic hikes and glorious mountain vistas, waterfalls, rock slabs, historic hideaways, scenic drives, log cabins, everything you need to feel secluded, emotionally centered and ready to commit your lives to one another. Not to mention, for the portion of your trip that might require some civilization, Asheville has that too... With a funky downtown brewery and music scene, great local food, and some beautiful historic accommodations like the Omni Grove Park Inn or the enigmatic Biltmore Estate.
Ok, so it's missing the sandy beaches and palm trees of Hawaii, California and Florida... But I haven't told you the best part yet. In the fall, the changing leaves are nothing short of magical. I mean really... stay a few days in late October and you'll see oranges, reds and yellows that you never knew existed on the light spectrum. Beyond this glorious display, the whole region just has this soulful feeling about it. It's hard to describe, but you feel it in the air and everywhere you go. It's a vibe, it's an energy... it's just somehow (and I hate this word, but) ETHEREAL. And if you're there to commit one of the most meaningful, vulnerable and curious acts that we as humans feel the need to do... then I can imagine no better setting for it... photographically or emotionally. Bonus points: It's relatively inexpensive compared to many of the other options too!
Play the Slideshow below to see the full story from a real Asheville Elopement!
HONORABLE MENTION) Las Vegas, NV
Lastly, to make it an even baker's dozen... for a bonus honorable mention, I have to throw in the old faithful Las Vegas, Nevada. Consider this the O.G. elopement spot in the America... Partly for the fact that it is the fastest place you can get married (literally you can get your marriage license on the spot with no waiting), and partly for the uber cool nostalgia that goes along with the legendary sin city.
I must confess here that I am biased toward this spot, as this is where my wife and I eloped (and no, we didn't have an Elvis impersonator perform the nuptials, haha). We chose Vegas sentimentally to pay homage to my wife's grandparents, who also eloped here in the middle of World War Two. Her grandfather was on a short reprieve from the Navy, and they had mere days to get it done... so they hopped on a train across the country and said their vows in a tiny A-frame chapel right off the Old Strip. We wanted to get married at the same chapel... however it has since been turned into a sandwich shop, so we just had lunch there instead.
The last thing I'll say about Las Vegas as a destination is that it's not all just neon lit casinos... The surrounding desert and mountain areas are home to some incredible scenery... including the Valley of Fire State Park, and the awe inspiring Grand Canyon!
THANKS FOR READING!
Happy eloping, happy trails, and remember to tread lightly :)
ALSO, If you'd like to have your elopement story photographed by someone who CARES,