Whether you’ve been planning on eloping or had your wedding postponed and are eloping instead, here are the best places to elope and have a beautiful adventure wedding—no passport required
Where are the best places to elope to in 2020? I’ve spent years making up a great list (and can’t wait to hear your favorites, too)!
Look, 2020 is the year of craziness, and almost every elopement and wedding has been postponed, modified, canceled, or something-ed. If you still want to get married and are looking for incredible places to have your elopement, here’s my top 13 (plus a few bonus ideas) best places to elope in the U.S. Remember: Eloping is the first choice for many couples, and not a consolation prize. There’s far less pressure, there’s more flexibility, you can hike in to a gorgeous and secluded spot, and you can do something utterly unique.
Every year at Kathryn Cooper Weddings I photograph elopements around the USA and world, and you can bet that whenever I get married, I’ll certainly be eloping. It won’t be easy to pick a spot, but as an outdoorsy fanatic, I think it’s so much more exciting to celebrate in a gorgeous location than at a stuffy mini-mansion on a busy street corner on Long Island. Sorry, traffic-laden Long Island.
Just a note: These are more well-known, somewhat popular spots to elope in the USA. I love the beautiful outdoors, quirky places (that’s for another blog post!), and uniquely wild areas of the USA. But in the times of Corona, it sometimes makes sense to plan on eloping in a location that’s more well known so that everyone can arrive easily/safely (and you don’t have to research for months and months). In normal times, I would be far more inclined to pick a remote, no-one-else-knows-where-this-is spot…but now may not be the time. This may be a moment to pick a lovely spot and leave the rest up to your planner and photographer! Plus, it doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with your wedding photos. So in no particular order, these are my favorite no-passport-required, best places to elope in the USA:
St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands – I’m uber-familiar with the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) since I lived here! In fact, it’s where I started my elopement wedding photography career. I’ve photographed dozens of elopements, family sessions, maternity sessions, and full-on destination weddings here so I know the ins and outs of the islands. Plus, they’re open for tourism now! Whether you want to helicopter it, boat it, or drive it to one of the most beautiful (and warm) beaches in the USA, eloping in the USVI is an awesome choice. I’m happy to connect you with local wedding vendors since these beaches, villas, and mountains are beautiful for 2 people or 200. Magen’s Bay may be the most famous, but Sam’s Beach is my favorite. Plus, it’s just a 3.5-hour direct flight from NYC. Crazy!
Hudson Valley, NY – Often overlooked but becoming more and more popular as an elopement destination, the Hudson Valley is where I have spent over 25 years of my life. Whether you’re looking to do an elopement while rock climbing in New Paltz, a winery wedding on the Hudson, sneak away to a bed and breakfast, or get epic shots in the Catskills, the Hudson Valley really has it all. Waterfalls, ruins, mountains, and views are all here—just 1-2 hours from NYC. Yep, you can drive from Times Square and be out among deer, bears, and hiking trail in 90 minutes easy. I love photographing here, and recommend it all the time for those eloping from New York City and beyond. I mean, look at this place!
Eastern Idaho – Idaho is one of the best-kept secrets in the USA, and the locals like it that way. Not all of the state is hospitable, but boy are there incredible places and people! I’ve only seen a bit of the state, but the mountains of the East are incredible. And there’s waterfall kayaking right in Boise! Crazy, right? Hint: Ski resorts make for awesome mountain photos in summer.
Redwoods, CA – People think that the only redwoods in California are on Route 1 in the northern part of California, but these magnificent trees actually exist in quite a few places around northern and central California. From Santa Cruz and Big Basin State Park and Oakland (Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park) up to John Muir Woods and north to Mendocino and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, there are a heck of a lot of awesome locations with these giants. What beautiful surroundings for an elopement!
Ithaca, NY – I spent years living in Ithaca, and it’s where I fell in love with the outdoors as an adult. Waterfalls galore, state parks, preserves, hidden hiking trails, cliff jumping, boating…it’s all here, along with excellent food. But this isn’t a real estate pitch. If you love waterfalls and the outdoors, it’s an amazing place to hike and get photos in some spectacular areas. The best ones are only known to a few, but Buttermilk Falls, Cayuga Lake, and Ithaca Falls are all right in town and are lovely. Drive 20-30 minutes outside of town for the best ones.
San Francisco, California – Iconic city views, a great city hall, and nature surrounding it…it’s no wonder people from all over the country come to elope here. Plus, eloping at San Francisco City Hall means being part of a fraught history for LGBTQ rights involving Harvey Milk, same-sex marriage, riots, earthquakes, the Supreme Court, and so much more.
Colorado Springs, Colorado – All of Colorado is prime adventure elopement material, really. But this place—which contains Pike’s Peak, the cutest main street, and the amazing park Garden of the Gods—is hard to pass up. Basically anywhere you go on a drive in this state will have elopement-worthy spots to say your vows and take photos.
New York, New York – NYC is my home base, so how could I not mention it? It’s hard to beat the iconic buildings, the graffiti, the pizzazz, the sunsets, the bridges, and the history. Whether you’re eloping on a rooftop, saying your vows with an incredible skyline view in New Jersey or Brooklyn, or tying the knot at City Hall, reserve several hours for photos in Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, or some of NYC’s hundreds of landmark locations.
Joshua Tree, California – It’s one of the top places in the country to elope for its crazy cactus-type-tree scenery and boulder-ridden dessert landscape. Along with Yosemite, it’s one of the most popular spots to photograph in 2019. While summertime is dreadful (I once got hiking sunburns through my Keens that lasted for 6 months…in April), fall and winter are quite lovely, and sometimes even cold. There’s a certain magic about Joshua Tree, and while many wedding photographers like to use trendy filters on this place, I think its vibrant, unique colors and lovely sunsets need no filter. But nighttime…you WILL want to stay up during these times. Plus, you could get a Neowise Joshua Tree shot! How epic would a comet be in this landscape?!
Hawaii(?) – It’s hard to have this on the list, even though I used to live in Hawaii and thus adore it. Why? Because at the moment (July 2020), Hawaii is still on a 2-week quarantine for all incoming visitors. As of July 14, 2020, Hawaii will have a 2-week mandatory quarantine through at least September 1. While the downturn in tourism is definitely making it hard for the economy (which relies HEAVILY on tourism dollars), it also means that Hawaii is safer, and I hope it continues. If the state remains safe and that 2-week quarantine changes—or if you have the funds and sanity to last in a hotel for 2 weeks—then by all means, elope there. It would be at the top of my list if not for COVID! Big Island and Kauai are my favorites for epic elopements. (P.S. It’s not a bad place to propose, either.)
Yosemite, California – THE most popular elopement spot in the country, methinks. Right now, it’s hard to get permits due to COVID. In 2021 and 2022, the roads to many of the best photo spots will be undergoing roadwork, meaning it will be very hard to get there. But either way, there are tons of beautiful spots in the park, and no need to take the same ol’ photo (even though it’s epic).
St. John, United States Virgin Islands – Most of the island is actually a national park, but it’s not complicated. In fact, you can elope in the late afternoon on world-class beaches for a very small fee (and you can go to a lot of places for $0.) It’s not one of those $20 entrance fee national parks. Also, go early and explore more than just the usual. It’s easy to swim with turtles and manta rays here, and the water is awwwesome. Who said underwater elopement?
Acadia National Park, Maine– If rocky, wild, and mountainous with ocean views are your vibe, then an Acadia National Park elopement may be just your thing. The place goes by many names, depending on your exact location—Acadia, Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island, Cadillac Mountain—but they’re all within a [relatively] small area in a tiny bit of the Maine coast. Fall is my favorite time there, because the colors of the trees are outstanding. There are roads meandering in and out of the park (and in and out of private property), so make sure you research hiking trails or get a good map. Either way, photos here are EPIC…as long as you’re not afraid of heights.
Other amazing elopement locations/dream elopement photography areas for me:
Moab, Utah: It’s an amazing destination with incredible national AND state parks. So many arches, so little time. Even the highways are full of incredible places to elope! I never get enough time here.
Glacier National Park, Montana: This park is often closed due to snow, safety, or animals, and the glaciers are all but gone. 2020 is a wash due to COVID. That makes the majestic nature of this park beckon even more, with wildlife, mountains for days, and unique views. The glacial lakes are the stuff dreams are made of (and as close to Banff’s Lake Louise as it gets).
Hubbard Glacier, Alaska: You always remember seeing your first glacier, and I’m lucky to have seen a bunch. But to photograph a couple on one in Iceland or here? That would be pretty epic.
Ozarks, Arkansas: I’m a sucker for beautiful mountains in fall and waterfalls.
Sedona, Arizona – I mean, duh. This place has always been cool, but with adventure elopements gaining in popularity, it seems everyone wants to go to Sedona! Unfortunately, rates for COVID in Arizona are crazy high—so I just can’t put it on my main list until it’s safe again.
The Wave, Arizona: Getting a permit to go here means having multiple days and a lot of luck. It’s done via a lottery system. I’ve never won. But boy, would it be epic!
Painted Rocks, Michigan: I think the photos speak for themselves. I have never been to this spot, but can’t think of a cooler place to do a kayak elopement and photos with no crowds.
Olympic National Park, Washington: I’m obsessed with rainforesty spots, so taking elopement photos in this temperate rainforest has been high up on my to-do list for a long time. I was supposed to visit my brothers there this spring, but…’Rona.
Maroon Bells, Colorado: Colorado has so many gorgeous spots, but the Maroon Bells has such a plethora of hiking trails with amazing views. They’re all perfect for an elopement!
White Sands, New Mexico: I’ve photographed in a bunch of beautiful dunes in India, Utah, and Namibia, but something about these white sand dunes have me itching to do an adventure session here!
Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana: Try saying this one three times fast! But seriously, these moss-on-trees mangroves are the stuff romantic movies are made of.
Remember that there are hundreds of amazing elopement wedding destinations that are famous, but thousands more that don’t have a name, or are located in state parks, county parks, or just random areas. That’s all for another blog post, another time. If your wedding plans were messed up due to COVID-19, I hope you can take this time to do what’s most important—get married to your favorite person—and spend your time with the people you care about most. Plus, you can do an adventure session now and get amazing photos, and still celebrate next year by throwing a fun, relaxed party!
So, how to elope? As a couple, I’d start by figuring out where, or figuring out your photographer. Facebook groups, blog posts like this, and Google images are great places to start. Photographers know lots of secret locations that aren’t all over Instagram, while planners are usually more familiar with specific vendors and spots. So if you’re trying to figure out where to elope to and just can’t pick a spot, ask a photographer to help you narrow it down. You can also Google phrases such as “Where to elope near me,” depending on where you are. Once you have a state or an area, you can narrow it down with the help of bride/groom sites or photographers. Most people are more than happy to give advice!
I’d love to hear about your dream elopement location, or where you’d like me to photograph yours (hint, hint). I haven’t figured out my dream elopement spot, but you better believe I’m going to elope when I do. Until next time, I’ll be dreaming of the next awesome location.