| June 29, 2020

Ultimate Guide to Your Yosemite Wedding

Table of Contents

HOW TO PLAN A YOSEMITE WEDDING

A wedding or elopement in Yosemite National Park is an adventurous and beautiful way to begin this next chapter of your life together! Yosemite is one of the most famous and scenic places on earth, with millions of visitors who come to the park each year. Maybe you’ve seen stunning images of couples getting married at the base of a waterfall on the valley floor, or high above the valley on the edge of a cliff – whatever has led you here, we think Yosemite is one of the best places to get married!

On this page, we go over some of the history of Yosemite, explain why and how to plan a wedding in the park, and list our favorite designated ceremony locations. Keep reading to learn all about the permitting process, how you can apply, and what you need to know before planning your Yosemite wedding adventure!

YOSEMITE – THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE ON EARTH

Yosemite is 748,436 acres of towering granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoia and redwood groves, endless mountains, flowering meadows, glaciers, sparkling rivers, and immense biological diversity. Nearly 95% of the park is designated as wilderness and the park itself was labeled a World Heritage Site in 1984.  The park spans four California counties in the western Sierra Nevada mountains. Despite being such a massive park, the over 4 million annual visitors spend most of their time in Yosemite Valley, which is only 7 square miles. The range of landscape within the park is something you can’t find many other places – the valley floor is at an elevation just over 2,000 feet, whereas the highest peak within the park stands above 13,000 feet.

Yosemite was designated a national park in 1890, after years of effort by John Muir and other conservationists to establish protection for the incredible valley. However, the land had already been occupied for thousands of years by indigenous people and native tribes, all of whom were displaced in the years leading up to the official designation of Yosemite as a protected park. The park has a tumultuous history leading to what it is today, but it is often looked to as an example of immense coalition efforts to conserve large areas of environment for posterity – an idea that has taken hold of all future efforts to preserve national parks, forests, wilderness areas, and other monuments. An important moment in the history of Yosemite took place in May 1903 – President Theodore Roosevelt camped at Glacier Point with John Muir for three days, and the president was convinced to turn the park into a federally protected area. Thirteen years later the National Parks Service was formed and began to oversee Yosemite. That exact spot at Glacier Point is now a popular elopement destination today!

Maybe you’re not a history buff, but anyone who visits Yosemite can feel the weight of time that has formed these incredible cliffs, mountains, and valleys. Millions of years culminated to create what you see in the park today – a true testament of nature’s ability to adapt, prevail, and stand the test of time.

WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE A YOSEMITE WEDDING

There simply isn’t a more idyllic spot for people who truly love the outdoors! There’s a reason adventurers for generations have upheld Yosemite as the epitome of recreation and natural beauty. World-class climbing, hiking, and backpacking have made Yosemite the central point of some of the greatest athletic feats of mankind. From Alex Honnold’s free climb of El Capitan – documented in the film Free Solo, to the first ascent by Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell in Dawn Wall, to the wildly competitive annual lottery for John Muir Trail (originally called the Nuumu Poyo) permits – Yosemite inspires us to attempt the greatest adventurous feats imaginable!

What better place to celebrate the beginning of a lifelong adventure together than the place where some of humankind’s wildest adventures began?! 

Yosemite is a park where nature still feels truly wild. It’s a single location where some of the highest cliff faces, tallest waterfalls, and biggest mountains come together to create a scene so beautiful you almost can’t believe it’s real! You’ve seen photos of Half Dome – the famous granite wall rising from the floor of Yosemite Valley – but no single image can prepare you for the adrenaline rush of climbing to the summit!

Marriage is a huge decision – it’s saying “let’s do life together!” You’ve chosen your person to be the one you go through life’s adventures with, to overcome the hard times, and celebrate the best times – together. Start this new chapter in the most adventurous place!

Alongside being the epicenter of outdoor recreation, Yosemite is also a fairly regulated park. The rules and regulations are meant to preserve the natural beauty – something we are 100% in favor of – but things can get a bit complicated. We’ve simplified the process for getting married in Yosemite below – and of course we’re available to help our couples make sense of the process to ensure a seamless and stress-free wedding experience!  

GETTING MARRIED AT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

FIRST: PICK A DATE

Choose a date at least a few months out (at the minimum) to give yourself enough time to secure any necessary permits for a wedding in Yosemite.

SECOND: PICK A CEREMONY LOCATION

You’ll need to list your ceremony spot & date on your permit application.

THIRD: SECURE YOUR PERMITS & RESERVATIONS

Every wedding, elopement, anniversary & engagement photography session requires a permit at Yosemite. If you plan to camp or stay in the valley, those sites book up quickly!

FINALLY: HAVE YOUR DREAM WEDDING!

Now, all you have to do is get yourself to Yosemite!

PERMITS – HOW, WHY & WHERE

The Rule: If it looks like a wedding, sounds like a wedding, or in any way could be perceived to be a wedding – you need a permit.

In fact, you need to get a wedding permit to have any sort of celebratory event – engagements, anniversaries, commitment ceremonies, wedding portraits, or elopements. 

To cover these events, photographers also need a film/photo permit!

Yes, you need two permits to get those gorgeous Yosemite weddings photos, but don’t despair! We don’t normally like getting caught up in the red tape of wedding planning, but we love our national parks and this permit process helps us give back to these places so they stay open, pristine, and accessible. It’s worth it! Let us explain:

Getting a permit to get married in Yosemite is still WAY cheaper than any traditional wedding venue! Instead of poor fluorescent lighting and cheap plastic decor you get backdrops of Half Done, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, and more beautiful places to choose from – all of which are a million times more spectacular than any indoors wedding venue.

There’s a full guide on the National Parks Service website outlining the process of applying for a Yosemite wedding permit. Be warned – you don’t want to wait until the last minute – weddings can be scheduled up to a year in advance, but no less than 3 weeks prior to your date. 

To get your Yosemite wedding permit, you need to mail in your application (get it online from the link above) with a $150 check.

Mail your application & check to – 

Attn: Catherine Carlisle-McMullen

Special Park Uses/ Film and Weddings

Yosemite National Park, National Park Service

P.O. Box 700

El Portal, CA 95318

On your application, state which of the ceremony locations you’ll be at (listed below). Once your initial application is reviewed, a special use permit will be mailed to you for a signature. Sign and return via mail for a final approval. THEN you’ll receive an authorized copy IF your application is approved. Basically, we’ve never had any issue with application approval as long as you give the people at Yosemite plenty of time for processing, and don’t miss filling out anything on the form. On the day of your elopement, you’ll need to have that final copy of your approved application on hand!

WHAT DOES IT COST TO HAVE A YOSEMITE WEDDING?

  • Wedding Permit – $150
  • Film/Photo Permit – $150
  • Additional Fees – $50/hour for event monitoring 
  • Entrance Fee – $35 per car (or $80 America The Beautiful pass)
  • Campsite/Cabin – Varied $$$ 
  • Total: $335+

A FEW YOSEMITE WEDDING RESTRICTIONS:

We know, “restrictions” sounds lame. You want to be able to do what you want at your wedding! Well, each limitation below is simply meant to uphold the virtue of our national parks and maintain their pristine accessibility for other visitors. None of them prevent you from having a perfect wedding day! We think it would be wrong of us not to let you know the rules for getting married in Yosemite – so here they are:

  • No permits are granted for holiday weekends or holidays.
  • No pets are allowed.
  • No amplified music.
  • You cannot turn away other visitors or in any way block off your location to attempt privacy.
  • You must avoid stepping on any plant life.
  • You cannot get married under a sequoia.
  • You cannot “release” anything – butterflies, seeds, rice, or confetti-like things.
  • No balloons, signs, or decor.
  • No seating is allowed, with the exception of those with special needs.
  • No drones.
  • No formal receptions within the park.

Whew! That seems like a long list, but we don’t think any of those restrictions are deal-breakers. In fact, Yosemite will always be one of our favorite places in the world to explore – we hope you agree!

YOSEMITE WEDDING VENUES

The ceremony locations within Yosemite where you can get married are on a first-come-first-served basis. You’re limited to two hours at that location, and if your choice location from your application is unavailable – you’ll be contacted after applying and given the option to choose a second spot. 

If your guest count is 10 people or less, you aren’t limited to the below ceremony locations. So, small elopements and commitment ceremonies do have access to more of the park! But, if you’re hoping to celebrate as a group of 11 or more, choose one of these locations on your initial application: 

YOSEMITE VALLEY LOCATIONS:

Each Yosemite Valley location is near a river or waterfall, and the highest flow of water in the valley is from March through June. High water can be gorgeous! But, it can also drown out voices, making it difficult for a large group of guests (or guests who are hard of hearing) from being able to hear your vows. Keep water flows in mind while choosing a date for a ceremony in Yosemite Valley. One of the greatest things about these ceremony locations in the valley is their accessibility for people with mobility difficulties – but these are also high-traffic locations and your best chance for privacy is a very early ceremony.

Cascades Picnic Area

This ceremony location is open year-round, and weddings can take place within the designated picnic site, and at least 6 ft from the water’s edge. Parking is limited to 8 vehicles, so carpooling is encouraged! This is the perfect location for a low-key ceremony and picnic with guests – there are facilities nearby and picnic tables. 

Max. Group Size: 30

Lower Yosemite Fall Paved Trail

*Wheelchair Accessible * Keep in mind that Yosemite Falls has little to no water from July through October. This location is open year-round, and there are two benches at the ceremony site as well as other facilities. You must take the shuttle, as there is no parking available. This is a gorgeous and accessible location for couples who want to celebrate with family who might not be able to hike very far but want to see one of the valley’s most famous water features!

Max. Group Size: 50

Swinging Bridge Picnic Area

*Wheelchair Accessible* This site is located on a beach just north of the bridge – ceremonies are not allowed on the bridge itself. Limited parking is available – carpooling is recommended. There are facilities nearby and this site is open year-round. Swinging bridge is a gorgeous location and perfect for couples who want an intimate but accessible ceremony location.

Max. Group Size: 20

Cathedral Beach Picnic Area

This location is closed from November through Memorial Day Weekend, and during the open season this beach closes at dusk. This is the perfect location for an early-morning ceremony with a beautiful backdrop view of the valley! 

Max. Group Size: 50

Sentinel Beach Picnic Area

*Wheelchair Accessible* This location is closed from November through Memorial Day Weekend, and during the open season this beach closes at dusk. There are facilities and limited parking at this location – and it’s one of the sites allowing the largest number of guests.

Max. Group Size: 100

Bridalveil Fall

*Wheelchair Accessible* This waterfall usually has flowing water year-round, but low flows from July-October. There is a short path to the ceremony location, and it is paved. This location is absolutely perfect for couples wanting to experience one of Yosemite’s only famous water features still active in late summer. It’s a popular destination for visitors, so you’re most likely to avoid the crowds if you plan for an early morning ceremony. 

Max. Group Size: 50

WAWONA LOCATIONS:

Early morning ceremonies are recommended for both of these locations, as they are extremely popular destinations for park visitors. 

Glacier Point Amphitheater 

*Wheelchair Accessible* This site is only available from the Tuesday after Memorial Day to September 30th due to road closures. The amphitheater is a gorgeous and stunning overlook with plenty of seating options for guests. You’ll get a perfect view of Half Dome in the background!

Elevation: 7214 ft

Max Group Size: 50

Chilnualna Falls Trailhead Parking Lot

Chilnualna Falls is a gorgeous waterfall, cascading over massive worn boulders into a beautiful pool below. 10 vehicles fit at this trailhead, so carpooling is recommended. The site is slightly downslope from the parking lot near a large privately owned house.

Max. Group Size: 50

Tuolumne Meadows Locations:

These locations are only available during the nicer months due to high elevation storms causing road closures. Both options give you stunning mountainous backdrops and are perfect spots for an early morning ceremony!

Tenaya Lake Beach:

Open from when the road reopens in late spring until September 30. The beach is a quiet and beautiful spot along the lakeshore. In the spring your backdrop will be snow-capped mountains and the lakeshore is a stunning clearing with large trees bordering your ceremony location.

Elevation: 8150 ft

Length of Hike: 100 yards (unpaved)

Max. Group Size: 50

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Area:

This location is open from when the road opens (late spring) to September 30.  The site is upstream from the lodge, and you can follow and easy dirt path toward the river. This site has extremely limited parking and carpooling is required.

Elevation: 8600 ft

Length of Hike: 250 yards (unpaved)

Max. Group Size: 25

Big Oak Flat Area:

This area is often open year-round, but keep an eye out for storms that can cause sudden and temporary road closures. These locations are ideal for couples looking for an intimate wedding ceremony amongst the towering trees in Yosemite!

Tuolumne Grove 

This hike to a sequoia grove is positively stunning! Accessible year-round, there might be snow on the ground from October-June. You must stay on the trail and cannot stand within the sequoia grove.

Elevation: 6200 ft

Length of Hike: 2.5 miles round trip (paved)

Rating: Easy

Max. Group Size: 30

Merced Grove

This hike takes you to a thick grove of towering sequoia trees! It is gorgeous year-round, but you might find yourself hiking in snow from October-June and you must remain on trail at all times.

Elevation: 6000 ft

Length of Hike: 3 miles round trip (unpaved)

Rating: Easy to moderate

Max. Group Size: 30

YOSEMITE ELOPEMENT LOCATIONS

The above officially designated venues are for wedding ceremonies in Yosemite National Park that have more than 10 people in attendance. If you’re eloping just the two of you, or with a very small number of guests, you have more options! Two of the most famous locations for elopements within Yosemite are Glacier Point and Taft Point – though, they aren’t your only choices. However, as you can see, it’s obvious why these two places are so popular!

Glacier Point

This location is ideal at sunrise! Located on the other side of the valley from Taft Point, this sunrise view of Half Dome is often a bit foggy at first, but the clouds always lift as the sun rises and warms the valley. Glacier Point is accessible by car from May through November, though the viewpoint is technically accessible via a 10.5 mile hike the rest of the year (though you might need skis or snowshoes in the winter). The trail around the viewpoint is about half a mile long, and it’s possible to find a place to yourself at this very popular viewpoint early in the mornings and especially on weekdays.

Taft Point

This spot is perfect for sunset photos! Though, I hope you aren’t afraid of heights. There’s a belly-flops-inducing overlook at Taft Point where you can watch the sunset turn El Capitan every imaginable blend of pink, red, orange, and purple! Truly, some of the best sunsets we’ve ever experienced were here. The trail is 2.2 miles round-trip with 250 feet of elevation gain. The dirt path is heavily trafficked, and you’re most likely to find the place to yourself on a weekday and avoiding holidays.

Ready to plan your Yosemite wedding or elopement?

We can’t wait to explore this incredible corner of the world with you!

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Maddie Mae

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Your Elopement Photographers & Planning Consultants. We are Maddie Mae, Amber, and Tori. We're your photographers, your elopement consultants, your cheerleaders, and your go-to adventure buddy on the day you say your vows.

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