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Abby & Don’s Olympic National Park wedding was Plan C – 2020’s constantly changing accessibility and availability of public spaces meant these two had to show a TON of patience as they shifted their wedding plans by months, moved locations, and didn’t even have a ceremony spot picked out until the day before they finally said, “I do.” But, they didn’t let the uncertainty stop them from having an epic celebration in what would become one of the most dramatic mountain top sunrises I’ve ever seen!
Sunrise Hike up Mt. Ellinor
Abby & Don’s elopement day began at 2 AM, when we met at the trailhead for the 3-mile hike up Mt. Ellinor. Actually, Abby’s day began at 11:30 PM the night before, when she got up to curl her hair! We met at the trailhead after a bumpy 30 minutes driving through very thick fog. We began hiking in the dark – the trail was lined with wildflowers this time of year, which we could only see illuminated by our headlamps.
It was a very steep hike – the elevation gain is over 3,400 feet in only 3 miles! It was basically like climbing stairs for 3 hours. As we hiked high enough to get above the treeline, the first glow of sunrise was starting to brighten the horizon – there was hardly any light coming from the sliver of a crescent moon, and the stars were insanely clear! Abby & Don were visiting Washington from their home in Chicago, where they never got a night without light pollution. While we were standing there, just staring at the blanket of brilliant stars above us, Abby witnessed the first shooting star she’s ever seen! It was a magical moment, and we all just paused in our hike to soak in the beauty above us.
Planning this elopement, we were a bit worried about the cold – the forecast called for 40-degree weather at the summit – but, the trail was so strenuous we were actually removing layers on the hike up. Despite working so hard, Abby’s hair and makeup were perfect when we reached the summit – looking at the photos it is hard to believe she’d just spent basically 3 hours powering straight up the side of a mountain!
As we got to the top of the trail, it was nearly sunrise. Still, it was only 5 AM! The brightening surroundings revealed to us that we had hiked above the clouds – the thick fog we’d driven through to reach the trailhead was blanketing the trees directly below us. None of us could contain our excitement at witnessing the scene! Abby & Don kept repeating that the hike was SO worth the effort for these incredible views – I never get tired of seeing the couples I work with truly in love with their elopement location, it’s the best feeling!
As the sky began turning purple, then pink, Abby & Don stopped to eat some snacks and simply enjoy their surroundings. She freshened up her makeup and pulled out the pins which had been holding her curls in perfect shape. It seriously looked like she had just gotten her hair and makeup done on top of the mountain, she did such a great job! They each changed into their wedding attire separately – then had their first look at an overlook surrounded by clouds. At this elevation, the view of other peaks across Washington was extremely clear. We could even see Mt. Rainier, which is nearly 100 miles away from where we stood on Mt. Ellinor.
Then, we just went off exploring. The peak itself was a small rocky outcropping, but the area just below was expansive. We kept seeing signs of mountain goats (droppings, tufts of fur clinging to branches, and animal paths criss-crossing the low vegetation). We actually followed one of those trails down to an overlook to watch the colorful scene unfolding before us – the clouds remained thick, and the sky just kept getting more dramatic. It seemed like a scene from Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones – the rosy sky paired with the sea of clouds, and Abby’s attire, which included a gorgeous cape flowing in the wind, all made her look like a magical forest being! It was perfect, and we had so much fun exploring the mountain all to ourselves.
This day was one of the most fun early-morning hikes I’ve had recently. We kept looking for these elusive mountain goats, but we just saw signs without any actual sightings. Instead, Don began hopping amongst the rocks and acting like a mountain goat himself, which had Abby laughing all morning! He was such a goofy and wonderful person to be around, and they obviously were enjoying everything about this beautiful experience in such a remarkable location.
Vow Ceremony at Sunrise
After exploring the mountain, we hiked back to the rocky peak for Abby & Don to say their vows to each other as the sun rose behind them. They were literally glowing in the morning light! Both admitted with a laugh that they actually hadn’t written their vows until they were on the way to Washington, but their words were super sweet and personal anyway. They included stories of their dog, Panda, even though she was back home in Chicago. To get a good idea for exactly how fun this couple is, you have to know they treat their pup like a child! When they adopted her, they even threw a party and did a dog DNA test to find out what mix of breeds she is. During the vow exchange there were a bunch of chipmunks running around the rocks, obviously expecting to get snacks (we didn’t feed them anything), and it was just another perfect part of this epic morning in nature!
After exchanging vows, we popped champagne and Abby & Don read letters from their loved ones – letters filled with sweet sentiment, congratulations, and hopeful wishes for the future. At this point it was nearly 7 AM and it was time to hike back down the mountain. They tied a train of beer cans to their backpack – a fun alternative to the “just married” signs. We had most of the hike back down the mountain to ourselves too, which was so amazing to be able to share this totally personal experience with Abby & Don on a normally busy trail. We didn’t see another hiker until almost 8:30 when we were nearly back to the trailhead.
The hike back down the mountain gave Abby & Don a chance to truly see the best of the Pacific Northwest – they just had a gorgeous clear mountaintop sunrise, and then the hike down through the forest was still below the cloud layer. They got to experience the magical misty rain-filled forests Washington is so well known for. It was a steep hike out, but went faster than the climb had earlier in the morning.
Morning Ceremony on the Lakeshore
After getting back to the trailhead, Abby & Don hopped in their jeep and we all headed to the lake at the base of the mountains to meet their family for an official marriage ceremony. This was the location that I actually found just the day before – I spent a long time exploring looking for the perfect place for their ceremony, but most everywhere was super busy. We talked about it, and decided to try for this spot that was a peninsula jutting out into the lake, and we got lucky! For their wedding ceremony, no one was at the lake except their friends and family. Their loved ones had managed to snag a picnic table on the peninsula jutting out into the lake, and when we arrived they were all hanging out there in coordinated attire. Abby & Don walked over to stand on the lakeshore, and their family and friends gathered around to witness them be married.
It was a classic Pacific Northwest day on the lake – the air was still a bit foggy, as the morning clouds were hanging around for this morning ceremony, and the trees across the lake were lovely in the background. It was a little windy, but nothing uncomfortable. After saying their vows and becoming married before their friends and family, Abby & Don toasted to their marriage while everyone congratulated them. Then, everyone gathered around for family portraits and group photos. Finally, Abby & Don signed their marriage licence and their wedding celebration, and I headed out. Their plan was to stay in Washington for a few more days exploring and enjoying the gorgeous Pacific Northwest!
How to Elope in Olympic National Park
If you want to have an Olympic National Park wedding, or elope anywhere in Washington, first check out our list of the best places to elope in Washington state! It’s truly an amazing place, with every imaginable landscape and environment to suit adventurous couples.
How to Get a Permit for Your Olympic National Park Wedding
To get married within the national park boundaries, you do need a special use permit, which you can download HERE. Don’t worry if it’s a little confusing, we can walk you through the whole process to keep it simple! Do notice that permit applications take 3-4 weeks to process and must be sent in with a $50 check made out to “National Park Service.” Send your complete application with the fee to:
c/o Olympic National Park
600 East Park Ave
Port Angeles, WA 98362
ONP also requests that you email them regarding your permit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more Washington elopement inspiration, check out this North Cascades elopement.