By far one of the biggest reasons couples choose to elope in the first place is to not be the “center of attention” and have more privacy. They all desire to have a more meaningful wedding day experience that focuses more on their love for one another instead of a bigger celebration with a “crowd” of people, like 100+ guests watching their every move the whole day/night.
And if you’re one of them, you probably don’t want a bunch of strangers watching you say your vows out in public, either. So we’ve put together a list of our best tips and insights on celebrating your elopement in the most intimate, private way possible while still enjoying scenic spaces outdoors. Here’s how to best avoid crowds for your elopement day:
Elope in the Morning
Our team is a little split on this one: we’re not all exactly morning people (but Natalie totally is!), but we all at least agree that getting up for epic sunrises on elopement days are pretty much always worth it. By getting up before the sun rises, you not only are way more likely to see fewer people around no matter where you’re eloping, but you may very well have the place to yourselves for at least the first hour or so of morning light!
And generally, many regions have much calmer weather in the morning than they do in the afternoons and evenings (especially during summertime). So you can most likely avoid both crowds and intense thunderstorms by starting off your wedding day with a sunrise elopement!
Have an Elopement at Night
By the time the sun starts setting in many national and state parks, you’ll see most everyone else leave the trails and overlooks to head to dinner or bed. This means that you can have a quiet, peaceful and intimate night watching the stars, sitting by a bonfire, or sipping your favorite camping cocktail (bourbon or tequila are our top picks) to celebrate your elopement privately. Just be sure to bring some headlamps, warm clothes, and maybe even some twinkle lights to make it extra romantic!
Get Married in the Middle of the Week
Since you’re already doing away with tradition and may not even have guests joining you for an adventure elopement, there’s no need to stick with a weekend date, either.
There are several fantastic benefits to getting eloping in the middle of the week instead of the usual Friday-Sunday: less people outside, more parking, often less expensive hotel rooms and Airbnb rentals, and more availability for reservations at popular elopement locations.
Elope in the Off-Season
If you really want a popular location but hate the thought of onlookers nearby for your wedding vows, you’ll likely want to choose an off-season for your elopement day.
A couple great examples:
Colorado can be really busy in summer (especially since many places aren’t accessible in winter) and fall, so you can bet on fewer crowds in winter and spring.
Warmer places like Arizona and Florida are very popular places for people to visit during winter, so you may have better luck in spring or fall, when the weather may be a bit hotter but kids are still in school and less likely to be traveling with family.
Whatever you decide, it can be really helpful to avoid places around holiday weekends, or during major local festivals / events.
Limit Your Guest Count (or Have None at All)
This one may seem obvious, but for real: if you want to avoid any types of crowds at all, it’s best to leave your family and friends at home for a couple reasons. First, having other people present may not be the right fit for you if you truly wish to say your vows in private. Even if we’re there as your photographer and/or videographer, we stay farther away and often can’t hear the words you share to one another, giving you plenty of space to feel almost entirely alone.
Second, when you have few or no guests at all, the amount of options for elopement locations goes way up. That’s because we can more easily access locations away from easy pull-offs and scenic overlooks that are often necessary for ceremonies with guests who can’t walk/hike very far.
If you’re a bit torn on this decision, you can always compromise! That’s another amazing benefit of elopements and small weddings: there are no “rules.” Some couples opt for a private vow reading to each other in the morning with a more formal ceremony later at a rental place with family present. Others want a completely private vow ceremony outdoors on the trail and celebrate with a larger crowd back in their home state weeks or months later! The combinations are endless.
Choosing a Location: Places to Elope without Crowds
Privately Owned Properties
Want to really avoid everyone on your elopement day? Just stay home! If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us all, it’s that being flexible, open-minded, and focused on house/garden projects can be really helpful to our mental health and happiness. Whether you have a cozy living room complete with a fireplace for a warm, indoor winter elopement, or a peaceful garden, backyard, or patio space you where share all your weekends together, your own home just might be the perfect place to say your vows.
Or maybe you have a favorite family vacation home owned by your parents, grandparents, or other family member who’d be more than delighted to let you use the space for an elopement. You might have someone who even has access to privately owned land with mountain views, lake or beachfront access, or a private little piece of forest just waiting for new memories to be made.
Reserve a Space
Many outdoor places like national parks, state parks, local amphitheaters and pavilions, or scenic overlooks have spaces designated for wedding ceremonies. And most national parks actually require it, even if the vow ceremony is only the two of you without any guests.
One of the perks of reserving spaces like these is that you often get designated time slots and space to keep other park visitors from encroaching on your ceremony site — not to mention fewer strangers in the backgrounds of your photos, and sometimes the ability to bring in other items such as chairs or ceremony arches. (Please note: always check with the park or managing office of your dream ceremony choice for permits and rules!)
And although Airbnb has removed the search filter for “allows events,” many houses on Airbnb, VRBO, and other rental sites are also available for elopements and small wedding ceremonies if you ask the owners for permission and/or additional fees that may apply.
Elope in an Underrated Place
Trust us, we totally understand why national parks in the US get all the attention on Pinterest and Instagram for outdoor elopements. The types of scenery available in those places are often so hard to beat!
BUT: know that there are dozens of other amazing and underrated places you should consider for your elopement that are often just as amazing, and with hundreds (if not thousands) of fewer visitors per year. For example, although Colorado gets a lot of attention for eloping couples, there are some places just as scenic (if not more so!) in Wyoming and Montana.
Some great ways to research more “hidden gem” type spots include looking at Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or public land, recreational areas, county or city-owned parks, and our favorite trail app AllTrails.
Take a Hike, 4×4 Drive, Boat, Plane, or Helicopter
Get away from the easy-to-get-to spots by going where few will go. While off-road trails and off the beaten path options may always become more popular over time, there are still plenty of amazing opportunities to avoid crowds by actually taking the time and effort to visit places not easily accessible.
Consider taking a hike several miles into the wilderness, heading out on a 4×4 Jeep / ATV trail (like this one we did in Silverton, CO!), getting married on a catamaran, taking a seaplane to a hidden island, or riding a helicopter in places like Alaska.
Elope in One of the Least Visited National Parks in the US
Great Smoky Mountains National Park gets over 12 million visitors per year, and others like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park are all around 4-6 million visitors per year.
To top it off, these popular national parks are often busy even when the weather and seasons are not ideal, so it may be better to try one of the less “iconic” parks. Here are a few beautiful national parks to consider if you want more seclusion for your elopement:
- Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
- Great Basin National Park, Nevada
- Katmai National Park, Alaska
- Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
- North Cascades National Park, Washington
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
- Virgin Islands National Park
And last, but definitely not least, there’s always the option to travel abroad for your elopement day. There are plenty of great articles out there that can give you insight on which locations are similar to more popular locations but have far fewer tourists. A few of our favorite substitutes to avoid big crowds:
Costa Rica or Belize instead of Hawaii
Faroe Islands, Scotland, or Norway instead of Iceland
Tasmania instead of New Zealand
Your Photo + Video Team for an Epic Elopement Experience
Skyewater Photo + Film is a photography and videography team that specializes in destination weddings and adventure elopements worldwide. Whether you’re looking for a meaningful wedding video or an adventurous elopement photographer, contact Skyewater Photo + Film for your big day!