Elopement Definition: Defining the Changing Meaning of Elopements

March 27, 2018

California wedding photographer

What does elope mean?

What first comes to your mind when you hear the word elope or elopement? Maybe you think of a bride & groom running away from family, getting quickly married in a thoughtless way to go & live their life away from everyone they knew?

That is NOT the case for modern elopements. Even Wikipedia & Merriam-Webster have shifted the definition of elopement.

Elopements are no longer just something that people do to run away & get married. Today’s elopements take place in beautiful locations with careful planning. People may get married on some local family land or they may travel to another state or country to seek out a beautiful location, like a national park elopement.

But beautiful locations are NOT the most important thing about today’s elopements.

The modern definition of elopement: A small wedding where the true focus of the day is the couple & their relationship.

What does it mean to elope? To elope means to get married in your own way. An elopement day will focus on the couple & doesn’t have to follow any preconceived ideas about a traditional wedding.

An elopement can be a day with or without a small amount of guests. You can get married on a mountaintop or in a backyard. But the most important thing about an elopement is that it brings the focus of the wedding day back on the couple. A marriage should not be for anyone else but the couple. Big weddings many times detract from the couple & don’t allow them to spend much or any time together. Elopements bring the focus back onto the couple & allow them to have a day perfect for them, perfect for what they like to do.

elopement photographer in Colorado

Grand Sand Dunes National Park elopement in Colorado

But why elope? Today’s weddings have become a big market & some couples forget what wedding are supposed to be about. So some couples choose to elope because an elopement gets back to the marriage of a couple without all the extras. And if you’re having an outdoor elopement, you don’t even need to worry about decor. Nature can be your decor!


Location is not everything when it comes planning your elopement. Remember the most important part of defining elope is that the day is focused on the couple. But choosing a beautiful location can be fun & adds to the specialness of your day! Some of my favorite locations are around little towns in Colorado like Ouray, or national parks like Yosemite National Park in California & Glacier National Park in Montana. I have a few tips & tricks I’ve picked up along the way to help in location scouting to find some of the best locations. But even a simple location can be absolutely beautiful, such as a sandbar in the middle of the Platte River, or under a tree in a beautiful field.

Nebraska elopement on the Platte River in summer.

Platte River sandbar elopement in Nebraska nearing sunset


Since photography is one of the biggest parts of your elopement, your want to make sure that your timing is right. Why does timing matter so much? To get the best views of various locations, you may have to get up very early for sunrise, that may mean starting a hike at 3am. Or we may need to go to a certain location at sunset, which could mean hiking back down after dark. There are locations that honestly may not be worth going to if it isn’t at sunrise or sunset, timing everything out correctly will ensure that we get the best light so your photos aren’t just blah, they need to be amazing! But all of this take preparation.

Being Prepared

How much couple needs to prepare for depends on what kind of an elopement they plan. There are some locations that are suitable to have a small ceremony with guests. Other times couples want to elope with just the two of them & want a more epic location. This may require a little hiking. Hiking elopements are more work but you can get to more unique locations!

If you do plan on holding your elopement in a national park, just be sure you secure the proper permits. Other locations such as state parks, national forests, recreation areas, & other public lands may also require permits, it just really depends on the local management.

adventure elopement in Moab, Utah in Arches National Park in a black wedding dress

desert elopement near Moab, Utah


Elopements don’t have to be just the couple. A small guest list of 10-15 guests allows you to have an intimate ceremony but still share your marriage with the important people in your lives. The rest of your friends & family can enjoy it through videos and pictures! A small guest list keeps the day of your ceremony calm & drama free & allows you to gather & celebrate with those closest to you.

Moab, UT elopement photographer | Malachi at Shell Creek Photography

Hiking elopement in Monument Valley in Arizona & Utah


If couples want an amazing day to remember but have a smaller budget, an elopement can give them an amazing location for amazing photos. A great destination elopement can be pulled off for $5,000-10,000 for a more luxurious elopement or even less for a local elopement. What all do you need for an elopement? A basic list could include: travel expenses (flights, lodging, food, etc.), rings, land or photography permits, photographer, officiant, wedding attire, & a bouquet. A few other details can add to your elopement, but don’t make it too complicated. An elopement gets back to what a wedding is all about- coming together in marriage as a couple.

Yosemite Valley elopement in Yosemite National Park

It’s All About the Couple!

What I love about elopements is that it gets back to what a wedding is really supposed to be all about– the couple! The marriage is the center of the elopement. Some weddings have so much fluff & couples don’t get to spend any time together on their big day. With an elopement, you can have the whole day to yourselves to laugh, cry, hug, & celebrate.

Saguaro National Park elopement at sunset just outside of Tucson, Arizona

Not for you?

Is an elopement not for you? Or maybe you want something similar but with a little more of a guest list? Well then maybe something more like a small wedding or micro wedding  is something for you. For some who want a wedding with less stress, an intimate wedding with a guest list of around 50 may work better for you.

Or maybe you’d like a big wedding but want some adventure. You could consider an adventure session or destination engagement session. We can travel near or far to seek out a great spot.

sunset at two medicine lake in Glacier National Park

Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park at sunset

Great National Parks to Elope In

Click on any of the below links to see more about details, permits, & other information relating to getting married in a national park. I’d love to help with planning & location scouting, I know of a few favorite spots from my travels to these various national parks. Also be sure & check out my blog post for information on eloping in national parks!

Rocky Mountain National Park

Glacier National Park

Arches National Park

Yosemite National Park

Grand Tetons National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Everglades National Park

The Grand Canyon

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Sequoia National Park

Zion National Park

South rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona at sunset

The definition of elopement is changing & I’m here for it! An elopement is a way to ditch the traditions that aren’t important & get married in your own way. Eloping is the VERY BEST way to get married if you ask me!

If you’d like to see more views from national parks, be sure and check out my print shop. 


This is awesome!!! So many tips for elopement! I love that adventure elopements are becoming so much more popular!

I love your advice for creating an adventure wedding! Some of my favorite places are Olympic National Park and Yosemite National Park and they are perfect spots for elopements and intimate weddings most definitely!

You really know your stuff as an elopement photographer – this is great advice! That Nebraska sandbar image is so sweet!

Love all this advice about elopements! Having all this background knowledge really makes you the best photographer for an adventure elopement!

Very wonderful ideas. Thank you for sharing!

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