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Ultimate Guide to Elope in Washington

Washington-elopement-photographer-couple-walks-through-the-forest
Washington-elopement-photographer-couple-walks-through-the-forest

Table of Contents

You made the brave decision to throw tradition to the wind, to get married in a way that is wild and different and true to who you are, and as epic as your life adventure together. You’ve decided to elope in Washington.

You might be wondering, what the heck? I thought eloping was about ditching the stress, all the overwhelming frivolous details, tradition for the sake of tradition (and other people’s opinions) and focusing on what really matters. And to that I say hell yes, it sure is! Eloping doesn’t mean there is nothing to do. Eloping means that you’ll be doing the things that make YOU over the moon excited. You’ll be planning your best day ever!! After all, an elopement is no less special than a traditional wedding. An elopement is your wedding day, just without a rulebook.  In this post, I’m going to break it all down and provide you a roadmap for exactly how to elope in Washington and plan your very own unforgettable wedding adventure.

couple reads vows at gold creek pond elopement

1. Imagine your best day ever (in great detail)

Rule number 1 – have fun with this! This is literally the best part, aside from actually HAVING your best day ever. I encourage my couples to make an evening of it. Cuddle up on the sofa with a glass of wine, and go through this activity together.

Remove your filters. You know, the filters we apply to all of our thoughts subconsciously. Like when you have an amazing idea but quickly brush it off because of the “rules”, because of what “others will think”, because it’s “not realistic”.  You won’t need those pesky filters.

Then ask yourselves this question:

What does your best day ever look like – if you could do anything from the time you woke up until you went to sleep, what would it be?

Then start to break it down and get detailed. Ask yourselves:

Document your answers. And bonus step, start a mood board (Not of wedding pictures, but of the experience you want to have). A beautiful and thoughtful experience = amazing pictures. I promise!) Pull images that represent your answers. Images of special or bucket list Washington locations, of activities that make you excited, of the general ambiance that makes you feel happiest, of how you want to feel on the best day of your life. Once complete, you will have a map and the rest of the steps will all tie back and bring that vision to life.

2. Choose the vibe of the day and who will be there

It’s like a choose your own adventure. What kind of experience feels right for you?

There is no right or wrong answer here. Your Washington elopement experience is uniquely your own. But what you choose may impact the possible locations (ie. Local versus abroad. Cliffside on a mountain top versus venue that can accommodate a small guest list). It may impact activities and will also impact the overall vibe of the day. Again, there’s no right or wrong, just soul searching and personal preference.

If you are having trouble deciding the best fit for you, try asking yourself the following questions: 

3. Decide where to elope in washingtton

Geographical location

Here’s a breakdown of some of the best geographical locations to elope in Washington State!

Once you decide on a general geographical location to elope in Washington, you can narrow in on specific locations. Lean on your photographer and guide to help you! For example, I provide all of my clients with questionnaire and custom location suggestion list designed just for them.

Specific Elopement location

Ok, so you’ve narrowed in on a geographical Washington location. Time to get specific. Again, your photographer brings a wealth of experience and if you pick the right one, they will provide you with a super custom list with some great options of where to elope in Washington. Often times, your photographer can also provide options adjacent to National Parks so that you can enjoy the breathtaking wonder that makes the area so popular, without the massive crowds. For example, if you’ve selected the Olympic National Park and Peninsula for your Washington elopement– you’ll narrow in to decide on the best beach, or nearby rainforest, (This area has both!!) or local hike, and local accommodations.

couple stands apart from each other and bride flirtatiously twirls, on the beach in the Olympic National Park

4. Decide on a date and the best time of year to elope in washington

Time: Sunrise or Sunset?

Great light = great pictures. For this reason, photographers will typically always guide their clients to plan their ceremony for sunrise or sunset when the light is golden, and most flattering (both on couples and the environment). Simply nothing sweeter and more epic than saying your vows on a sweeping vista when the sunlight covers the mountain-tops with an alpine glow.

Here are factors you might consider for sunrise versus sunset. (And your photographer can help you make this decision!):

5. The legal logistics to elope in washington

Whether you decide to deal with the legal aspects of getting married on your elopement day, or not, is a personal decision. That said, I believe your wedding day is the day you choose to commit your lives to each other, and not necessarily the day you sign on the dotted line.

Every country, and even state has its own laws for what is required to become legally married. It is important that you research and understand what is required to be married in the location you are eloping (if you decide this is important to you). For example, in Washington state, an officiant and two witnesses are required for a legally binding marriage.

Some locations are super simple with few requirements for a legally binding marriage. For example, there are some states that even allow self-solemnizing marriages, meaning that all you need is you and your love (no witnesses or officiant necessary). But in most cases, witnesses and/or an officiant is required for a legal marriage.

You choose what's right for you?

Forget the legal stuff and focus on having your best day ever. Many couples choose this route. Often times getting legally married at your elopement location is more trouble than it’s worth, or would require you to design your day in a way that does not fit your vision. In this case, I would recommend you plan on handling the legal logistics at home in advance or afterwards.

If it’s important to you to get legally married on your elopement day, I’m down to help you make it happen! Be sure and research the requirements for a legal marriage in the location you are eloping. If an officiant and/or witnesses are required, you have a few options.

The process for eloping in Washington State?

But the bottom line, your wedding day is not the day you become legally bound to one another, and this will very likely not be the most memorable part of your day. By choosing to handle the legal details before or after your elopement day, you free yourself up to focus on each other and the special activities that you have planned.

Bride and groom dance on the beach and hold hands on their wedding day in an artful double exposure image

6. Decide on activities for your washington elopement

You’ve already thought about THE WHERE and THE WHO – Now it’s time to think about THE WHAT. Your day doesn’t have to look like every other traditional wedding day. You don’t need to cut a cake, or do a first dance, or hire a DJ, or say your vows in any specific way. You can literally do whatever you want.

Again, go back to the dream board – you’ll notice I say that a lot! What’s the vibe? What kind of activities do you love to do together? Or are there any bucket list activities you’ve always dreamt of doing?  Do the things that feel like you, that light a spark, that bring you joy, that you can look back on and say, our wedding day was perfect, and special, and so US.

As a Photographer and Guide, I love to help my couples dream up all the possibilities! You have the answers. You know what you love. But…sometimes couples don’t realize that they can actually do those things on their wedding day. 

Here are some ideas to get your mind spinning around the all the possibilities (and to give you permission if you need it!):

Ceremony

'Just Us' Adventure

Getting Ready

Party Time

7. Choose the team of vendors for your washington elopement

Ok, you’ve dreamt a BIG dream – you’ve narrowed down WHO, WHERE, WHEN, and WHAT, and now you need vendors to answer HOW. Your team of vendors will bring your dream wedding day to life!

As a guide and resource, I love to help my clients build their dream team. Your elopement can be as simple or as extravagant of you want. Depending on your priorities and what you choose to do, you may have one vendor, or you may have ten.

Here's are a few scenarios:

1. Maybe you’ve opted for a ‘Just Us’ experience.</b> You wake up in a little cottage in the woods. Cuddle up in front of the fire together with your morning coffee and then get ready in separate rooms. You have your First Look and a little picnic in a nearby meadow. You take a hele-tour mountain hopping, explore mountain-tops, and say your vows when the moment calls. And then you return to your cottage in the woods to a candlelit table set for two and private chef-prepared meal.

Vendors would include: Home rental such as AirBnB, Hele-Tour rental, probably some florals, and a local Private Chef.

Other vendors you might consider: Cake, Officiant, Hair and Make-Up, or an Elopement Planner and Designer.

2. Or maybe you’re having a backyard soiree on your grandmother’s big farmhouse property and inviting 20 of your closest friends and family. You’ve opted for a day that mixes some of the more traditional elements and some of your own. You’ve grandfather will officiate the ceremony. And instead of dancing, You’ll have a lawn party with a taco truck, pie truck (and pie cutting), lawn games, and a beer toast.

Vendors would include: Food and desert truck rentals, probably some florals, and beer from favorite local breweries.

Other vendors you might consider: Hair and Make-Up, or an Elopement Planner and Designer.

You get the idea – and no need to go it alone! I highly recommend you book a photographer and guide who will work with you to build out your dream Elopement and then help you find the vendors to bring it to life.

8. Building the timeline for your washington elopement

If you haven’t noticed by now, each step is building on the last. You dreamt all of the possibilities of your dream day, and you put it to paper. You decided on the overall vibe of the day, where it will be, who will be there, the activities that you’ll do. Now is the time where it all flows together. It’s time to create a timeline!! Your photographer/guide, and or planner if you’ve elected to hire one, should do this for you.

You might be wondering, timeline, do we really need one? I thought we were eloping because we wanted a spontaneous and stress-free day? And my answer to that is yes and yes! And it’s not what you’re thinking. The timeline of a traditional wedding with 100+ people, looks very different than a timeline for a ‘just us’ wedding adventure. There might literally be a block of time that just says ‘spontaneously exploring the mountainside’. Heck you might even just decide to say your vows when the feeling strikes. But having a timeline ensures that you still make it to dinner to celebrate with your friends and family afterwards, and in general gives us all peace of mind that the day will be just as epic as we imagined it to be (even if things don’t 100% go to plan, as is often the case!)

Oh, there’s one more step of course… 

STEP 9 – Have the kick-ass Washington elopement of your dreams!!! 

So your stoked right?! I mean yea, there’s stuff to do. But isn’t planning the best day you could possibly dream up pretty dang exciting. You’re not crafting table assignment cards, or picking linens, or cake shopping if you dont want to, or cramming every last second of your timeline with traditions that don’t light your pants on fire. You’re dreaming big (even if that big is small and cozy and intimate), and then bringing it to life! 

And you’re so not alone! Well, you don’t have to be at least. I’ve given a whole lot of advice in this post, but the most valuable thing I could share would be this – Find the right photographer and hire them EARLY in the planning process. 

Look for a photographer who is MORE than a photographer.

Trust me, this is important. You want a photographer who is also a guide and elopement expert – who will take the time to get to know you, who will give custom locations and vendor suggestions, take the time to scout, educate you about permits and how to prepare, talk you through the legalese. Hire early and you get so much more than photography! You’ll get a guide through the whole process!  (Yes – I offer all of the above! 
Whose values you align with. 
Whose images you can feel and whose artistic vision you are really drawn to.
Who is awesome, genuine, whose energy you match, who you could grab a beer with, and who you seamlessly connect with (This is important with traditional wedding. And it’s 100X more important at an elopement. Sometimes your elopement photographer is the other other human that will, not only be present for your elopement, but that will adventure by your side and capture your whole beautiful wedding story as it unfolds. 

portrait of elopement photographer on the beach with driftwood

Book Your Photographer

Hey there, I'm Jess

I’m your Wedding and Elopement photographer, but i’m also your dream enabler, permission grantor, and co-conspirator. I’m here for you, holding your hand, and helping you to craft an outside the box wedding experience that is unique, intentional and true to you and your life adventure together.

Washington & Oregon Weddings & Elopements

Packages starting at $2,800 – Contact for full pricing and all locations. All packages include:

  • Local to Seattle? Let’s grab a beer! Otherwise we begin with a get to know you questionnaire and phone/video chat. My connection to you is what allows me to weave together and tell your unique story.
  • 40+ page Exclusive Planning Guide 
  • Unlimited calls and planning guidance
  • Custom location recommendations (for elopements)
  • Timeline planning
  • Fully-edited high-resolution images delivered in a beautifully curated gallery
  • Creative editing that brings your story to life
  • My travel is included – I fly free

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Jess Albonico

Jess Albonico

Seattle + PNW Wedding Photographer, helping couples ditch the rulebook and have a wedding day as epic and unique as there life adventure together.

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