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Change of Plans: Washington State Forest Elopement
Initially, Lindsey and Charlie had planned a big, traditional wedding at a lodge in Washington state. They wanted to invite friends and family, and spend the whole weekend celebrating with their loved ones. However, as the day got closer, the stress and expectations of a big wedding began to take away from the joy and spontaneity they love. The idea of hosting a big celebration no longer fit their idea of a dream wedding–they didn’t want to lose their excitement for the event itself because of stressful logistics, so they decided to elope.
Lindsey and Charlie decided to elope, in Scotland, just the two of them, in May 2020–then, the world fell into a pandemic.
Traveling overseas was no longer a viable option. They waited a few weeks to see what would happen, but quickly decided they just wanted to be married already. Lindsey and Charlie went back to planning a Washington elopement. This time it would be just the two of them.
After 11 years together, the final months of Lindsey and Charlie’s engagement were almost comically frustrating–it seemed everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But, as I think they would agree now, their “Plan E” turned out to be everything they wanted in a wedding!
After deciding to elope in Washington, in a private ceremony in June, we began the process of scouting the perfect location. Lindsey and David wanted to elope in the mountains, somewhere with stunning views and an intimate atmosphere–we found the perfect place!
In an ironic twist, their plans fell through once again. The early summer of 2020 saw Washington’s alpine slopes holding onto an unusually high snowpack–at the last minute, we changed plans to a location at a lower elevation. The day before their ceremony, Lindsey and Charlie drove their rented jeep out to scout the trail and view their ceremony location in person. Unfortunately, they found the washed out dirt roads to be more treacherous than their preferred avenue for a sunrise expedition the next day. The long winter resulted in deep ruts and washed out sections on a road Lindsey and Charlie didn’t want to drive in the dark–we made one last shift to a location nearby that we knew would be accessible.
We met up the next morning at 4 a.m. It was still dark out, but this ceremony location was accessible via a trail closer to Lindsey and Charlie’s rental cabin–we didn’t have to venture quite as far in the early hours of their wedding day. We met at the trailhead to their chosen hike. It was raining a bit, and the mood was relaxed. After all the waiting, changing of plans, and disrupted expectations, Charlie and Lindsey were getting married today–nothing was going to change that now!
After everything they went through to reach this moment, a few drops of rain weren’t going to spoil the fun. Lindsey and Charlie were all laughs and smiles as we donned headlamps and began the 1.5 mile hike into the woods–the faintest hint of sunrise was turning the sky slowly from pitch black to dark grey.
The trails were completely empty–only the handsomely dressed up marriers and me, walking through the woods listening to the birds twittering their morning songs. We hiked amongst the towering trees and giant sword ferns which embody the illustrious nature of the Pacific Northwest. The high snowpack, which we had shook fists at earlier in the week for disrupting plans, we now praised for leaving the rivers and waterfalls swollen and rushing. We hiked across a bridge at one point to reach the ceremony location, the waters raging below us.
Intimate Elopement Ceremony in Washington
When we reached the end of the trail, we were at a place called Trout Lake–it was possible to see Mt. Adams in the distance, beginning to take on the colors of sunrise. The glassy waters of the lake made a fairytale reflection of the sky above. Lindsey stepped behind a stand of trees to get into her wedding dress while Charlie walked down to the shore of the lake to get himself ready. When Lindsey joined him and they had their first look, it was like all the anxiety from months of uncertainty melted away–there was no more changing plans, this was where they would get married!
Charlie’s reaction to seeing Lindsey for the first time in her dress was so sweet to witness. After a sweet moment together, they wanted to begin the ceremony. There was all the world around us to choose from, and they stepped into the forest a short way to get married amongst the giant Douglas fir trees.
Because something had to not go according to plan, we realized at this moment that Charlie forgot to transcribe his vows into the book Lindsey gave him. Instead, he placed his phone between the pages and read from there. It didn’t matter that they weren’t handwritten, Charlie and Lindsey’s vows were heartfelt, personal, and spoke volumes to the journey they had taken to get here today. They exchanged rings and shared a first kiss with only centuries-old trees standing witness–finally, they were married!
Their ceremony over, Lindsey and Charlie returned to the lake to share a breakfast of their favorite croissants–ham & cheese, and almond. The lake itself was glassy and calm, now lit with morning light and beautifully reflecting the surrounding forest and mountains on its surface. They pulled letters out of their bag and read aloud to each other the heartfelt well wishes of their loved ones who weren’t able to join them.
After breakfast, we began the hike back through the lush green forest. It felt truly magical in the morning light–sun beams and glistening moss above us, wildflowers lining the path before us. We could see waterfalls flowing in the distance that weren’t visible during the hike up in the dark, and we took our time going back to explore more of the forest. It wasn’t until we had nearly reached the parking lot that Lindsey and Charlie met the first person they saw all day, aside from myself.
A hiker, surprised to turn a corner and encounter a man in a suit in the forest, paused to ask Charlie what the occasion was. Lindsey wasn’t far behind and stepped forward to add to the hiker’s confusion–they explained they had just gotten married by the lakeshore. The hiker seemed taken aback at the realization–I laughed later that she seemed as shocked to encounter newlyweds on her morning hike as she might have been to see a wild animal. Lindsey and Charlie asked her if she would be willing to sign their marriage license as a witness, and she did.
Washington state requires the signatures of a licensed officiant and two witnesses to any marriage. When photographing “just us” elopement ceremonies like Charlie and Lindsey’s, I often sign as the officiant. Then, we need to find two witnesses at some point throughout the day to sign the certificate as well. Some states allow what is called “self solemnizing,” which means you can marry yourself and don’t require an officiant or witnesses at all!
One witness down, one to go. On the way back to their cabin, Lindsey and Charlie drove their jeep across a beautiful creek and we stopped for more photos. When we got back to the cabin, they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their elopement day there–we had considered a second afternoon hike, but the afternoon relaxing at the cabin turned out to be perfect! They pulled out more letters from family and friends to read, and Lindsey unwrapped a gift from her mom. She had created a photo book filled with years of sweet and funny memories–exactly the kind of sentimental gift to get Lindsey and Charlie laughing and crying!
They took out a wedding cake to eat on the front porch of their cabin, and Lindsey even climbed up on the jeep at one point to pop champagne! It must have looked like a lot of fun, because Charlie began looking around for his own bottle to pop, and came back with a beer from the fridge that he shook up and then failed spectacularly to erupt! We all shared a good laugh at the attempt–it was the most fun and relaxing afternoon celebrating this beautiful marriage that took months of planning to finally happen! It was truly a beautiful thing to witness.
The day was coming to an end–after so much fun, we still hadn’t run into a second person to sign Lindsey and Charlie’s marriage license as a witness. Out of options at this point, they walked over to a neighboring cabin and knocked on the door. A kind elderly gentleman answered, and Lindsey tried to explain why strangers in wedding attire needed him to sign a piece of paper. After a moment of utter confusion and a few attempts to explain they would be grateful for his signature, their weekend neighbor became Lindsey and Charlie’s second legal witness to their marriage.
This Washington elopement didn’t go exactly as planned. In fact, I don’t think anything that happened aligned much at all with Lindsey and Charlie’s initial vision for their wedding–instead, it was a truly authentic representation of their adventurous relationship! After meeting in college and spending the next 11 years exploring the world together, Charlie and Linsey were finally married in exactly the way they wanted! So many different iterations of their plans, a global pandemic, and a ton of last-minute flexibility to accommodate for the weather shaped this celebration into the romantic Washington elopement it was–and it was perfect.
Ready to plan your own Washington forest elopement?