Bride and groom look at officiant during their wedding ceremony in the Tetons.

What is an Elopement? Defining the Changing Meaning of Elopements

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 more 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. It’s a wedding day where you can truly connect with each other.

The Root Word of “Elope”

The root word of “elope” is aloper which means “to leap”. I like to think of modern elopements as couples who are “taking the leap” to do something truly meaningful & wonderful for their wedding day!

What Does it Mean to Elope? What is an Elopement?

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. Your marriage is between the two of you, so why shouldn’t your wedding day be the same?


An elopement can be a day with or without a small number 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

What is an elopement? And what can can elopement be? 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!

Locations for Elopements

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 mountain towns in Colorado like Ouray, the red rocks of Moab, & 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

The Importance of Timing

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 before sunrise. Or we may need to go to a certain location at sunset, which could mean hiking back down after dark. Timing everything out correctly will ensure that we get the best light so your photos aren’t just blah, they need to be amazing!

The correct timing also will ensure that you also will have more privacy for your elopement ceremony. You may not have 150 guests, but you probably don’t want 150 tourists there watching either! Planning out an elopement timeline will ensure that you time the locations for less people, great lighting for photos, & have a more relaxed day. All of this takes preparation.

Being Prepared for Your Elopement

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 want to access more remote locations but don’t want to hike, you can utilize unique forms of transportation such as Jeeps, ATVs, snowmobiles, snowcats, helicopters, or even hot air balloons!

If you do plan on holding your elopement on any sort of public lands, be sure you secure the proper permits. Planning elopements takes a lot of work & I am so much more than just a photographer. Contact me about planning your elopement!

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

desert elopement near Moab, Utah

Should You Have Guests at Your Elopement?

Elopements don’t have to be just the couple. A small guest list of 10-15 or so 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.

You can also have an elopement reception to celebrate with friends & family after your elopement day! Invite a few guests or have the day just be the two of you & then have a separate, super chill day just to celebrate. Splitting the day between your ceremony & your celebration is one of the best ways that I have personally seen to keep your day less stressful. It can also help please family that would want a bigger wedding if you want a more intimate elopement.

Bride and groom say their vows outdoors in the mountains of Ouray, Colorado while surrounded by guests.

Small Wedding in Ouray, Colorado with Guests

Budget & Costs for Elopements

If couples want an amazing day to remember but have a smaller budget, an elopement can give them an amazing location for amazing photos & an unforgettable experience. 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, public 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.

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.

Bride and groom toast wine during their picnic at their elopement in the Grand Tetons.

What if an Elopement is 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 would be a good fit for you. For some who want a wedding with less stress, an intimate wedding with a guest list of around 50 or less 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.

See photos from this hybrid adventure elopement + wedding with guests & read more about how to have a reception after your elopement.

sunset at two medicine lake in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park makes for an AMAZING elopement location!

The definition of elopement & what an elopement day can be 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!

12 Comments

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

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

  3. 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!

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

  5. This was a so awesome so many useful tips on where to elope or have an adventure wedding. I will for sure be pinning this to my pinterest. Under Adventure wedding photography!

  6. This is such a wealth of information on planning an elopement or adventure wedding! I love that you compiled a list of national parks that would be beautiful for a wedding, SO good!

  7. You know, I was just talking to my mother about elopements – she hears elopement and immediately thinks that it’s the old school “run away in secret” deal. It’s become more of an adventure wedding movement – to be intimate in those promises amongst the gorgeous places our Earth provides us. You’re a talented elopement photographer for sure!

  8. Yaaaaaas! I would totally agree with all the tips!!! Gah!!! Cannot wait for all my Elopements this year!

  9. Yo Malachi, what a great article brother. I love all the info on all the national parks. I think I might recognize that Yosemite National Park scenery. Arches NP is dope as well. I love all the variety for destination elopements. Cheers mate.

  10. This is such a helpful article about planning elopements and adventure weddings! And I love all your photos and recommendations about national parks! Stunning!

  11. I would die to have an Adventure wedding in any of these national parks they are all so pretty!

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