PACIFIC NORTHWEST, seattle based

What Is An Elopement? Hint: It’s Probably Not What You Think It Is

Today I’m answering a big question I bet a lot of couples are wondering when they start planning their wedding: what is an elopement?

When you hear the word “elopement,” whether it’s in a magazine, a movie, or on social media, what do you automatically think of?

Maybe your mind goes to a couple in a courthouse. Or maybe you think about a couple running off together in secret, rebelling against their family. To which I say – hell yeah, go for it.

elope vs. wedding

Either way, you probably have some idea that’s been put in your head thanks to old stories of your grandparents running away together to get married, from the movies, or from a friend of yours who wants a courthouse elopement.

But I’m here to tell you today that elopements probably aren’t what you think they are.

what is an elopement

Mkay Makenzy, then what IS an elopement??

Long story short, an elopement can TRULY be whatever you want it to be. 

I know I know, that might not be helpful to those of you who like clear definitions and want to know exactly what to do.

But that’s the beauty of elopements: there are no rules you need to follow, nothing you’re “supposed” to do, no definitions of what your day needs to look like.

elope vs. wedding

The wedding industry has changed a shit ton in the past year and a half thanks to COVID – but in the best way. Couples are learning that they need to go with the flow and be adaptable to change – and that they can make their wedding day whatever they want it to be.

Tradition flew out the window during COVID. No inviting family members, no dancing the night away with 100 friends. Weddings turned into being all about the couple. Which is what they SHOULD be.

elopement ceremony

Soooo what are our options?

The options are endless. Truly. All you need to do is figure out what & who will make your elopement the most special day possible, the best day ever for you and your boo. 

Whether that means inviting 10 of your closest friends from college, your parents, your long-lost cousins who you’ve recently become close to, co-workers you love, or chosen family members that have supported your relationship from the beginning.

what is an elopement

Whether that means you keep it close to home and hit up your favorite local breakfast cafe that you know the owner of, you go to your favorite coffee shop, you say your vows in the park you used to go on dates on.

Or whether that means you go on a whole ass adventure together to a new place, somewhere you’ve always wanted to go together, or somewhere that’s special to you already.

I could go on FOREVER. But I’ll give you even more elopement ideas + options in a little while – keep on readin’ for those.

elope vs. wedding

What about traditions?

Traditions can be, well, bullshit sometimes.

Maybe you grew up dreaming of a first dance in front of your loved ones, or fulfilling the idea of “something old, new, borrowed, & blue.” I want to begin by saying that that is totally fine, and there’s nothing wrong with it. If there are traditions that would make your day extremely special and meaningful, fuckin’ go for it.

But I do want to tell you that traditions do NOT *have* to be followed just because your parents want you to, because that’s what your grandparents did, because that’s what you saw in a TV show or in Brides magazine.

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Whether you include certain traditions in your elopement day or you throw them alllll out the window, do so intentionally.

Be intentional about the elements you include in your elopement, and make sure that they all have some meaning to you & you’re not just going through the motions that you think you’re “supposed” to go through.

Love the idea of cutting a cake in front of your guests together? Do it. Would you rather have a buffet of s’mores ingredients for your guests to make over a campfire? Go for it. Dream big, my friends. The opportunities are endless.

what is an elopement

Okay, so who do you invite to an elopement?

Again, there’s no rule to follow here. So be intentional & invite the people who mean the most to you.

Maybe your immediate family means the world to you and you couldn’t IMAGINE celebrating without them. Or maybe your co-workers are your best friends and have been there for you through it all. Invite them.

Just please please don’t invite your Aunt Madge and all your extended family just because you feel like you “should.” Or because your mom says that they’ll feel left out if they’re not invited – but you barely know them and don’t really desire their presence on your big day. A good rule of thumb for elopement planning: don’t do ANYTHING if you’re doing it just because you think you’re supposed to. K?

what is an elopement

Let’s talk locations for your elopement ceremony

One of the biggest things I love about elopements is that you can hold them pretty much anywhere you dream of.

Long gone are the days where all elopements are held at the local courthouse or at a sleazy church in Vegas. I mean if you wanna do that, by all means, do it – but it’s not your only option anymore.

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There are a ton of places you could elope – here are some general ideas to get you started:

  • In a cozy Airbnb
  • In your backyard (or a family member/friend/Airbnb’s backyard)
  • At a park near your house
  • In a national park
  • On the beach
  • In the mountains
  • In the forest
  • On a cruise
  • In a hot air balloon (yes, this is really a thing!)
  • At the top of a mountain
  • On a glacier

Now let’s go into some of my favorite elopement locations in Washington & Oregon for all my PNW lovers.

elope vs. wedding

Best places to elope in Washington 

Olympic National Park

I live in Port Angeles, so I’m a bit biased (& so damn lucky) since I live right near this national park. ONP is one of the coolest, most beautiful places in the PNW and is the perfect location for an elopement.

It’s filled with plenty of variety, too: mountains, moody as hell PNW beaches, rainforests, & waterfalls. If you want to see a real-life elopement in ONP, check out this stunning Lake Crescent Elopement!

And make sure to read my full guide on How to Elope in Olympic National Park: Permits, Vendors, & More for a tonnn of good inf!

elope vs. wedding

Mount Rainier National Park  

Mount Rainier is a famous one – you’ve probably heard of it. Another absolutely incredible national park in Washington that’s the perfect place for any elopement.

This NP is full of wildflowers, alpine meadows, mountain views, lush greenery everywhere, and beautiful lakes. It’s peaceful and has stunninggg sunrises + sunset in the summertime.

Take a look at Sam & Cody’s Mount Rainier National Park Elopement to see if Rainier might be the right place for your elopement!

elopement ceremony

North Cascades National Park  

Finally, we have to talk about North Cascades National Park – the third and final national park in Washington.

The North Cascades are an absolutely beautiful mountain range full of mountaintops (obviously), amazing views, valleys, and incredible lakes. (Diablo Lake – I’m lookin’ at you)

The Cascades, like Mount Rainier and Olympic NP’s, have a ton of hiking options for those of you who love to hike, and plenty of outdoor activity opportunities. You’ll fall in love with these mountains as soon as you look at photos.

Best places to elope in Oregon 

The PNW is not only filled with amazing locations in Washington but Oregon, too. Below are three of my favorite elopement locations in Oregon!

The Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is truly magical. Stretching allll along the state, it’s filled with beautiful beaches, moody PNW vibes, driftwood, rocky beaches & tidepools, and epic rock formations.

A few gorgeous spots to consider for an Oregon Coast elopement:

what is an elopement
Photo by Catalina Jean

Mt. Hood/Columbia River Gorge

Damn the Columbia River Gorge is a stunning landscape. The gorge stretches along a ton of the state, with areas that have mountains (hello Mt. Hood), beautiful waterfalls, desert hills, tall grass, and super pretty bodies of water. The gorge is one of the most diverse areas in the state, and simply driving along the scenic highway will make you want to move to Oregon ASAP.

Crater Lake

Finally, Crater Lake (the deepest lake in the country) has to take a spot on this list. It’s got epic cliffsides, views, blue water, and plenty of hiking opportunities. The lake is absolutely a spot you need to consider if you’re thinking of eloping in Oregon.

Fun + unique elopement ideas

Now, let’s talk elopement IDEAS and start brainstorming a bunch of fun stuff you could include in your elopement. This list isn’t complete with allll the ideas out there, of course – but will hopefully help get you started & get you to think outside of the box!

what is an elopement

Elopement activities

  • Pick a fun theme
  • Get creative with your food
  • Have a campfire & drink + make s’mores
  • Sleep under the stars (go camping)
  • Book a unique venue
  • Take a boat to a cool location
  • Go for a swim in a waterfall/nearby body of water
  • Exchange vows at sunrise
  • Take a Jeep or four-wheeler into the mountains
  • Bring your dog(s) along

& check out my recent blog post for 5 Fun Elopement Ideas to Make Your Day Unique + Personal!

elope vs. wedding

Elopement food

  • Hire a private food truck to feed you your fave food
  • Visit a local pub/brewery/bar at the end of the night
  • Make (or hire someone to make) a charcuterie board
  • Pack a picnic
  • Get creative with your snacks/desserts
  • Make your favorite cocktails together in your Airbnb
elopement ceremony

Where to stay

Get creative with where you stay – it doesn’t need to just be the closest, cheapest hotel. Find a cozy Airbnb with a hot tub, a fire pit, a big fireplace, a huge TV, whatever will make you feel at home and will allow you to have a memorable time together.

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Some rad Airbnb’s to check out in the PNW:

elopement ceremony

Elopement inspiration on Pinterest

For more beautiful elopement inspiration & all sorts of ideas, give me a follow on Pinterest!

elope vs. wedding

My best elopement resource

Finally, below is my best elopement resource to help you plan your dream day. I’m ready to make it happen with ya!

How to Elope: A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Your Elopement

what is an elopement