When couples decide to elope, since it is different than a traditional wedding, they often don't know how to fill the time. I get it. With weddings, it's pretty much all laid out for you. It's simple to create the timeline because they are all the same. With elopements, you get to scratch that all and create your very own customized, epic day. But, it can be a little overwhelming with the amount of options on elopement ideas.

I'll start the post off with this... there are SO many ways to celebrate your elopement! You don't have to follow any of the wedding traditions if you don't want to. If your heart is telling you to take this next step in your life in a more simple, low key way, but you aren't sure where to start, this is for you.

In this guide I go through whether or not an elopement is for you, the difference between it and an intimate wedding, and a variety of elopement ideas to give you a start in the planing process.

Is an elopement or intimate wedding for you?

Intimate wedding at Alnoba in New Hampshire | New Hampshire elopement photographer | New England elopement photographer

There are a lot of myths around elopements that make them feel not as special as a traditional wedding. This couldn't be further from the truth. Elopements are intimate and special. If you are trying to decide whether to go the traditional large wedding route, or stick with something smaller with fewer people, then take a look at below to help.

Elopements and small weddings vs traditional large weddings...
  • Allow you to spend more time with your significant other. Instead of spending the entire day getting ready, you can be using that time doing something fun together.
  • Invite only the people you truly want there, not those who you HAVE to invite. Because you're having something smaller, you won't need to invite family members you haven't talked to in decades. The day includes only the people who you would want by your side for the rest of your life.
  • Embrace experiences over things. Large weddings have become all about showing off. We have commercialized a celebration of our next journey together, instead of realizing what's important - which is each other. It's not about making sure the guests have fun, or the decor looks perfect. It's genuinely about the two of you, spending time with one another, excited about this next step in your lives.
  • Less stress. I'm sure you've heard it, since I hear it ALL THE TIME. You know, the "I cannot wait for this to be over already" saying. Yeah, it's because wedding planning can be really stressful. With elopements and intimate weddings, there can be way less to take care of, and less people to worry about. Planning and the actual day can be way more exciting.
  • Spend money on what's important. I know I expressed experiences already, but a big thing to talk about is money. A lot of people think having an elopement is a cheap way out of getting married, but it doesn't need to be. This is still your wedding day. Elopements are intentional, because the couple wants to spend more time with the people they love and go the non traditional route. This doesn't mean it needs to be cheap - it just means you are spending money on what's important to you. You know, not like $3 per knife for 200 people.
  • A bigger bucket of options with locations. When you have a smaller wedding or elopement, the options of locations are pretty endless. When you have a 50+ person wedding, you pretty much have no choice but to do it at a wedding venue or a bigggggg backyard. If you are an outdoors lover and want to get married somewhere you feel alive, then an elopement may be the direction you go in.

What's the difference between an elopement and intimate wedding?

The main differences are the amount of people and the general focus.

Elopements are created with just the two as the main focus. You are able to create a day that feel true to you, whether that is in a location that you love, or traveling somewhere new. While you can absolutely include loved ones in your elopement day, the more people, the more challenges you may face. This could include challenges with location accessibility, things to do, and of course feeding your guests. That is why typically, the magic number for elopements is around 15 guests.

With small or intimate weddings, the magic number is up to 40 guests (some photographers have different numbers for this!). The more guests you have, the more limitations on location and timeline. The experience itself can be similar, because for both of these, the couple can create a customized day based around who they are.

Why do the numbers matter though? I've photographed elopements with 20 guests, and it felt exactly like a traditional large wedding. The more you increase the number of guests, the more you start asking yourself "but what about this person?" or "well we can't elope here because of moms health". It becomes less about you, and more about everyone else, which is the opposite of why you wanted to elope in the first place. See where I'm getting at?

The amount of people is a good thing to note and think of. The less people, the more intimate and adventurous it can be. You get to spend quality time with your loved ones, and most importantly your significant other. For both of these ways of getting married, you have more options than you would a traditional large wedding. Generally, people love to explore the outdoors when they do something more intimate. You don't really have that option with a larger wedding.

How to plan your perfect elopement experience

If you've decided that eloping or having an intimate wedding is for you, then let's start the planning process!

What I like to tell my couples first and foremost is to start with a clean slate. Remove all expectations or traditions and start from scratch. Ask yourself, "what is the most important parts of the day to you?". Dream big! If you could create your picture perfect day, what would it look like? Below are some of the key steps to start taking for your elopement planning.

1.Write down all the things you love to do together:

Make an entire list of no less than 7 things. A few ideas could be: hiking, picnicking, hanging at the ocean, mountain biking, skiing, ice skate, making breakfast, exploring someplace new, going out to eat, watching the office, etc.

2.Brainstorm your favorite locations

Where do you find yourself always going on vacation? Where do you feel like your best selves? Do you love the mountains, the beach, your grandparents lake house? Having an idea of the place you both feel most at home or at peace is always a great way to narrow down the location you want to have your elopement. This could be a place that you often go to, or even the idea of somewhere completely new.

Imagine what you're surrounded by when you are saying your vows. Or the type of scenery you are adventuring around or having a picnic gathering at. Maybe you can't think of a specific location, but you know that it is in the mountains, or in a lush green forest. Your elopement photographer or planner can help you find a perfect location that fits that vision!

3.Start doing research

Once you have an idea of the location and how you want your day to look, now it's time to start bringing that vision to life. My favorite tool for daydreaming is Pinterest. There are numerous inspiring ideas that other couples have created for their day. Ideas for ceremony alters, mountain ceremonies, and smaller receptions/dinner parties are just a few examples. I have an entire Pinterest dedicated to this inspo, check it out here!

Starting to day dream and see how your elopement day could look will really help pull everything together.

4.Find your vendors

First, make a list of all the vendors that will be important for you to have at your elopement. Then label them from most to least important. I've said it once and I'll say it again, this can be exactly what YOU want, dont worry what other people have done. You can have all the vendors or none at all. With elopements, you want to find people who you can connect with and trust. Don't just make them a check on your checklist.

I'd recommend either hiring your elopement photographer (oh hey!), or an elopement planner first and foremost. This is most likely your first time getting married. But both elopement photographers and planners have helped and witnessed several elopements, so they can be a guide along your planning journey.

5.Create your budget

Building a budget can be before or after you start talking with your vendors. However, I'd recommend at least coming up with a rough maximum budget beforehand. Traditional weddings in the US on average cost around $34k. With elopements, they can be as extravagant or inexpensive as YOU want them.

My biggest piece of advice is find out what's most important to you and focus your budget on those items/vendors. As a simplified answer, the cost of an elopement can be anywhere between $5k-$30k. These numbers truly depend on what is important to you, the type of experience you're hoping for, and the most critical vendors in your mind. In general, most of my couples spend between $10-15k total for their elopement experience.

6.Decide the traditions you want to keep or make

Think about the traditions of a wedding that you may want to keep, or even create your own! Have your father walk you down the mountain. Or have your musically talented cousin play you a song. Have some fun with it!

Once you have all these favorite things, this is where I love to step in and help out where I can. If you want a mountain elopement feel, I location scout and come up with options. If you want to mountain bike in the morning then have your ceremony in the afternoon, I'll help make this a reality.

This is one of my favorite things about elopements - your vision and dreams can 100% be a reality. Don't think any dream is too out of reach.

Where to elope

The most asked question in all of this is usually - where should we even elope? My answer is almost always... wherever you want to! This is the blessing of eloping in the outdoors, or even eloping in general - the options are limitless. Depending on the type of experience you want for your day, elopements can take place in almost any type of scenery you'd like. But here are some ideas for you to think about.

Mountain elopement locations

A lot of couples out there feel their best selves when they are struggling up a mountain to get to the most unreal view at the summit. With smaller elopements, especially if it's just the two of you, hiking and mountain elopements are one of the most magical experiences I personally have ever witnessed.

Some of my favorite mountain elopement locations include:

  • The White Mountains, New Hampshire - a lot of people don't think to elope right in their backyard. New Englanders, the White Mountains are calling your name!
  • All the mountains in Colorado - think Rocky Mountain National Park, the San Juan Mountains or even my favorite place in the world, Telluride!
  • National Parks - Glacier National Park, North Cascades, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, Smoky Mountains and Acadia National Park.
  • Mount Hood, Oregon - one of the most stunning areas for some simple hiking into the woods to end at waterfalls or views of Mount Hood.
Ocean elopement locations

Being by the ocean, you can't help but feel at peace. Hearing the waves crashing below you, and all you can feel is the wind and smell the fresh air. I truly love the ocean, and those who continue to go on vacations to sit in the sun, what's better than getting married in a place you love to be?

Some of my favorite ocean elopement locations include:

  • Hawaii - Do I even need to explain this one? Some of the most unreal cliffs and ocean views are on the Hawaiian islands.
  • Coastal Oregon - if you want the PNW light and the most beautiful beaches you've ever seen, then anywhere along the coast of Oregon is unreal. Some of my favorite spots are Brookings and Cannon Beach.
  • California Coast - Eloping in California is great because the weather is always somehow perfect there. Whether it's down near San Diego, or the cliffs up in San Francisco - there are so many options for a secluded day.
  • East Coast - The East Coast is quite expansive, but if you are looking for ocean vibes, look into Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the Coast of Maine, which has plenty of rocky cliffs and the Florida Keys.
Desert elopement locations

I'm infatuated by the desert. There is something so simple and yet so beautiful about it. The colors of the desert are one thing I'm utterly obsessed with, along with the vibe it can bring. Grab a cool Airbnb and your favorite people and say I do in these stunning places.

Some of my favorite desert elopement locations include:

  • Great Sand Dunes National Park - In Colorado, these Sand Dunes are vast with the mountain views in the background. You could 100% have best of both worlds here.
  • White Sands National Park - Located in Southern New Mexico, this location can give you a more secluded vibe being less visited.
  • Joshua Tree National Park - This National Park will give you the vintage feel you were hoping for. It has stunning landscape and details along with some cool accommodations close by.

The Best Elopement Ideas to have a special day

I'm not even kidding you, the ideas of creating your elopement experience are endless. It can be right in your backyard, or you can fly somewhere new for an adventure. This small list is just to get the ideas flowing. You don't need to re-create any of these, but instead build out your very own, special day.

Elopement Ideas #1: Hike up your favorite or dream mountain

If you grew up in the outdoors, then a mountain elopement could be for you. This could be a mountain right in your own state, or it could be one you've been dreaming of climbing. The great part of having an elopement or intimate wedding is that you can have it in the outdoors. With a larger wedding, you have the limited options of venues and are not able to fully explore nature on your day.

Don't want to hike? That's ok. There are plenty of mountainous locations in the world that you can easily get to by car. Take a look at this mountain elopement in New Hampshire - and you can drive right up to the top of this mountain!

Elopement Ideas #2: Rent a unique accommodation and have a cookout

There are so many cool accommodations out there to rent out for a weekend and make a full few days out of your wedding celebration. Look up places like Aframes, mini castles, glamping tents and more. You and your closest family and friends can all have the most unreal weekend cooking out and eating s'mores underneath the stars.

Elopement Ideas #3: Create a full picnic for you and your families

After having your ceremony at a beautiful location, have a full picnic set up for you and your closest people to share together. These can be extravagant or simple, whatever you feel like is most "you". If you decide to go the extra mile and envision a stunning picnic setup, I'd highly recommend reaching out to an elopement planner and stylist!

Elopement Ideas #4: Go skiing for the morning then say I do with a mountainous backdrop

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If skiing or snowboarding is up your alley and something you two love to do together, then incorporate it into your day. Head on the slopes for the morning, then start to get ready to say I do on top of the mountain. It's a perfect way to do something you love, to then marry your love, all on the same day.

Elopement Ideas #5: Rent ATVs and ride out into the desert

Somewhere like Sedona, Arizona, you can rent ATVs and ride out to a secluded location to have your intimate ceremony. Afterwards, you'll ride out at sunset for some epic landscape scenes and photos. How absolutely rad does that sound? I might do this myself!

Elopement Ideas #6: Find a castle in Europe to galavant around

Castles are some of the most magical places in the world and are a perfect place to get married. There are plenty of castles out in Europe that you can rent out and stay at with your 30 closest people. What a magical day that would be.

Elopement Ideas #7: Fly to your favorite country and make a vacation out of it

This is a fun way to celebrate your love - travel. Make an adventure out of your wedding day and have a full on vacation with your closest people, or just each other. Take a trip to Hawaii, or even cruise to Antarctica! OH, and that way, you can also combine your wedding AND honeymoon together too!

Elopement Ideas #8: Spend the full day at the ocean exploring

Stunning Oregon Coast intimate elopement at Harris State Beach
Acadia National park adventure elopement at Cadillac Mountain

The ocean is a beautiful place to play and have an intimate day. Spend the morning walking the beach with one another with your coffee followed by a stunning backdrop ceremony. Then you can do a campfire dinner on the beach (if permits allowed!). Some of my all time favorite ocean locations are Acadia or the Oregon Coast!

Elopement Ideas #9: Rent a helicopter and say I do somewhere secluded

Everytime I see couples doing this, I can't help but think how absolutely unreal the experience would be. Taking a helicopter somewhere secluded to adventure around and say your vows - now that is an intimate elopement. It's also a chance to create a memorable experience that you'll definitely be able to look back on. You'll remember absolutely everything about that day!

Elopement Ideas #10: Sleigh ride, sled ride or snowmobile

If you're planning to elope in the winter, this could be a fun way of making the most of the snow and cold weather. Bundle up and hire out one of these activities to get somewhere in the woods or a pretty location. Then have a picnic or dinner party set up with a campfire waiting for you.

Elopement Ideas #11: Create a two day adventure

Some of my favorite elopements have been when the couple has split their time. Generally the first day is spent with their families, their ceremony, and having a relaxed dinner together. The second day can be filled with adventuring and exploring just the two of you. I think this is one of my all time favorite ways to get married!

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Adventure elopement photographer team

A New Hampshire + Vermont based adventure elopement and intimate wedding photographer team for the adventurous souls. We specialize in New England and destinations worldwide, empowering you to create the most beautiful, adventurous day and give you the memories you'll be able to look back on for all the years to come.


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