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STUNNING SUNRISE HIKING ELOPEMENT
LAURYN + DAVID
COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE & WASHINGTON
When Lauryn and David were planning their elopement, they had a few specific things in mind.
They wanted a family ceremony, but they also wanted a private, intimate adventure for just the two of them. They wanted their elopement ceremony to be somewhere overflowing with dreamy, scenic nature, but they didn’t want to be too far away from a city full of epic food choices. They wanted to hike somewhere beautiful together, but they also didn’t want to force their families to endure miles and miles of rugged wilderness just to attend their ceremony.
With all that in mind, they settled on something uniquely meaningful — a two-day elopement spanning the PNW, a region they’d already fallen in love with.
For the first day of their elopement adventure, Lauryn and David planned a small, intimate ceremony with their closest family in the Columbia River Gorge. The day began with Lauryn and David getting ready separately so they could experience the surprise and excitement of a first look. But — as I’ve learned to expect (and love!) from adventurous couples — they put their own little, custom twist on their moment.
Instead of David standing somewhere and waiting for Lauryn to sneak up and tap him on the shoulder for their big reveal, Lauryn and David decided they’d swap roles. Lauryn stepped out on a rocky ledge overlooking the Columbia River and patiently waited for David to surprise her for their first look.
Let me just say, this was absolutely adorable.
No matter how you plan your elopement — first look, no first look, family ceremony, or just the two of you — make sure you’re doing exactly what you want to do, big wedding traditions, expectations, and opinions be damned. This day, this beautiful and meaningful day, is about what you and your partner want—lean into that as much as you possibly can.
After their first look, Lauryn and David gathered with their family at their ceremony spot in the Columbia River Gorge. All in all, there were about 10 people in attendance, which in my opinion, is just about the magic number for an intimate ceremony — you’re inviting the people who are closest to you, while maintaining a meaningful, private day.
Lauryn, David, and their chosen officiant took a few moments before their elopement ceremony to arrange a circle of flowers and foliage that would surround them during their vows. Their sunset elopement ceremony was intimate, sweet, and emotional — they said meaningful vows, were surrounded by people who loved and supported them, and incorporated handfasting into their ceremony.
Once their ceremony ended, Lauryn and David took a few private moments away from everyone to soak it all in together. They’d signed their marriage license, they’d said their vows — after ten years of being partners, they’d chosen to commit their lives to each other.
We spent a while exploring a special section of the Columbia River Gorge, picking and eating wild blackberries growing in abundance, and scrambling up some coastal rocks to pop a bottle of celebratory champagne.
Just like Lauryn and David wanted, they were in a gorgeous, nature spot that was nearby to an epic city filled with incredible food choices — Portland. The rest of the night was spent eating delicious food, cutting into their wedding cake, hearing amazing (and hilarious) toasts from their families, and enjoying genuine, sentimental moments.
The two got barely any sleep before they rousted themselves out of a warm bed for the second half of their elopement — their epic, hiking adventure. We rose well before dawn, piled into the vehicle, and we were on our way to Washington for an amazing sunrise hike, which we’d read was proceeded by a pretty challenging 4×4 road.
Lauryn and David had come prepared, though. They’d rented a Jeep, we did our research, and readied ourselves in the wee hours of the morning to face the notoriously rough 4×4 road leading to our trailhead.
There was just one tiny issue — neither Lauryn or David had driven on an off-road trail before. That’s where I stepped in. I’ve driven on back roads and 4×4 roads several times (for elopements and for my own personal adventures, too). With Lauryn at the wheel, and me doing a little passenger-assisted-driving to help her maneuver some major potholes and obstacles (mostly shouting out “left!” “right!” “swerve!”), we carefully crawled our way up the trail head.
And you know what? They had an absolute blast. (Such a blast, in fact, that they mentioned later the impromptu driving lesson was one of the factors that put their elopement experience over-the-top).
That’s one of the best parts about the kind of adventures I’m able to help couples embark on. They’re experiencing something new (maybe something they’ve never done before), with the person who matters the absolute most to them, and they’re choosing to take it on together.
Here were Lauryn and David, newly married, trekking out into the dark in the Washington wilderness at 3 in the morning with no 4×4 driving experience whatsoever and they’re still so enmeshed in each other, so enthralled in their partnership, that they’re willing to take on anything to make their dream day happen.
It’s hard to not love that about adventure elopements.
When we made it to the trail head, we were met with exactly what Lauryn and David wanted — solace and isolation. We flipped our headlamps on, Lauryn packed her epic hiking bouquet into her backpack (it was absolutely amazing), and we started the trek up to their scenic hike in complete darkness.
There’s something so other-worldly about hiking in the dark.
It’s so much more ethereal than day-hiking. You’re wrapped in total quiet — no fellow hikers, no chatter from passersby, no wilderness white noise. It’s just you, your footsteps, and your own heartbeat. With only your headlamp to guide you, there’s nothing to rely on but your own feet marching on, one after the other. There’s no timeline, no sense of distance traveled, no visual to psych you out or make you second-guess your abilities.
There’s nothing but you, the path ahead of you, and the promise of what’s waiting.
As Lauryn and David crested the top of their mountain, the black outlines of the landscapes melted away into a gauzy, glowing sunrise over the volcanic mountain peaks in the Washington wilderness.
This view, this unreal, can’t-be-replicated, dramatic view was entirely theirs — well, almost.
Right as we hit the top of the mountain, we stumbled on a camping couple and their tiny (adorable) puppy, who promptly attacked Lauryn with sloppy kisses and nuzzles — it was pretty obvious La
uryn and David didn’t mind.
From where we were, we could see everything that makes Washington so uniquely beautiful — volcanic mountains, salt columns like you’d find in Scotland, and an entire forest filled with the dreamy trees that the PNW is famous for.
We soaked it all in. Lauryn let her hair down. The hiking bouquet came out. Lauryn and David, so perfectly in sync and enthralled with each other, embraced this experience with genuine amazement.
When it was time to leave and hike back down (which, admittedly, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the view), we trekked back down the mountain the same way we came up, truly seeing the trail for the first time.
When we’d embarked on our adventure this morning, we’d had our grounding, ethereal experience. But with the sun up, everything was illuminated. It didn’t matter that we’d technically done this entire trail before. With the light, it was all beautifully brand new.
I think there’s something meaningful in that.
You’re choosing to embark on this wild adventure, committing your lives to each other forever, never wholly certain of what’s in front of you — just complete uncertainty.
But you’re choosing it, and you know that even if you can’t see the steep inclines, the rough roads, the rocky terrain, you’re going to be okay — because you’re doing it together. Because all you need is your partner — your guiding light — to help you get through it.
And when you’re at the top of it all, with the sun coming up, illuminating a view so beautiful it doesn’t seem possible to be standing there, you’re able to confidently look back down from where you came, hand-in-hand, finally able to really see how beautiful your journey here was in the first place.
THINKING ABOUT HAVING YOUR OWN ADVENTUROUS ELOPEMENT?
Hey there! We’re Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori, elopement photographers & guides who are based in Colorado and Washington. We’re here to be you guides and to help you document your intimate and meaningful elopement experience. We’re also able to help you pinpoint the greatest vendors, the dreamiest locations, and more! We can’t wait to connect with you.
DON’T LET YOUR SPECIAL DAY DISSOLVE INTO THE EXPECTATIONS, OPINIONS, AND TRADITIONS THAT BIG WEDDINGS TELL YOU ARE REQUIRED—HAVE YOUR OWN UNIQUE, MEANINGFUL ADVENTURE ELOPEMENT YOUR WAY.