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creating the ideal elopement timeline

While it is usually easy to decide on a location for your elopement — be it a general region or a more specific trail — coming up with a timeline for your day can be a bit more daunting, as there are several logistics to take into account and the possibilities are nearly endless. So whether you are relying on yourselves or collaborating with your photographer and/or planner to create the ideal timeline for your elopement, these are some of the biggest factors to take into consideration when doing so.

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

This seems like a no-brainer, but even elopements can have their fair share of external opinions and pressure to do something(s) in a way that you, the couple, might not want. That’s not to say that you should be completely uncompromising, as outdoor adventure elopements require a flexible mindset (hello, unpredictable Mother Nature!), but rather to hold true to the intention behind your day and what will bring you joy and fill your day with meaning. It’s natural for friends and family to want to be part of that process, share their excitement with you, and offer ideas; and that’s perfectly okay — to a point! Just remember to always come back to your “why” for eloping and to center yourselves and your ideas rather than those of others.

But what if you don’t actually know what that looks like yet? When there is no rulebook and the sky's the limit, it can be hard to narrow it down to what you would most like to include in your day. The first thing I suggest to couples is to start by daydreaming and brainstorming together. Imagine what your absolute ideal day together would look like outside of an elopement, with no limitations on finances, location, or activities. Where are you? What kind of scenery are you surrounded by? What is the air temperature like? What kind of weather do you have? Is it during a particular season? What are you two doing together? What kinds of foods are you eating? Can you smell, feel, see, hear, or taste anything in particular? Are you with other people, or is it just the two of you? What kind of travel and transportation did it take to get to these different places? From sun up until sun down, think about every detail that you can.

Only YOU know what your perfect day together looks like and having a well thought out idea of what you would most enjoy doing on an adventurous day off will in turn give you a solid plan for how you might want to elope. While it might not be feasible for one reason or another to go somewhere in particular or to do a certain activity, you can use these ideas as a jumping off point to see how close you can get to that ideal for your wedding day. Instead of flying to the Italian Alps, you can venture to the Tetons in Wyoming. If you can’t take a helicopter tour, maybe you try paragliding off nearby Jackson Hole instead.

With all of that said, knowing what you want basically sets the stage for every other decision you’ll need to make in regards to planning your elopement and its timeline. For example, knowing that you want to hike to a lakeside in the mountains with autumn foliage will not only narrow down the time of year you would prefer to have your elopement, but also the location as well. What mountainous areas have amazing fall colors? Are there alpine lakes, and are they accessible by a hiking trail during that season? The more specific you can get, the better and easier experience you’ll have throughout the rest of the planning process.

SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS AND PLAN FOR CHANGES

Of course, being specific doesn’t always mean you’re going to be able to have everything exactly how and when you want it. One thing I always communicate to my couples is the importance of a flexible mindset. When choosing to have an adventurous, outdoor-centric elopement, you are at the mercy of the elements. This can be anything from wildfires and road closures, to storms, crowds, and a plethora of other unpredictable scenarios. However, and to sound as cliche as possible, you can plan around expecting the unexpected. This means back up plans, and having more than one.

If you’re unfamiliar with the area you will be eloping in, a local photographer and/or planner can help immensely with this! Experienced vendors have intimate knowledge of the locations, accessibility, permitting systems, and what kinds of situations you can potentially run into and how to plan ahead for them. What if you can’t find a parking spot at a certain trailhead? Are there other hikes you can fall back on and enjoy just as much? Say a summer afternoon thunderstorm is now predicted to take place during your day — are you able to finagle your timeline to do the hike earlier in the day?

On the flip side, don’t let your vendors set unrealistic expectations for you. You know your budget, physical and mental capabilities, and strengths and weaknesses better than anyone. As yet another example, if you are unequivocally NOT a morning person, don’t feel, or let anyone talk you into feeling, as though you need to be up before sunrise. Yes, this could mean that you may or may not snag a parking spot for that uber popular trail you wanted to do, but it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of this decision before finalizing it. Would you rather feel more like yourself, sleep in, and be well-rested for your day and, in turn, choose an alternate hike to do? Or is feeling a bit groggy a sacrifice you’re willing to make to ensure you can get the location you favor most? Ask yourself, for each decision you need to make, which of these choices would give you the best possible version of your day, both in the moment day-of AND when you look back at your photos afterwards?

PLAN AROUND YOUR PERMIT

In most cases, locations will require some kind of Special Use Permit in order to conduct a ceremony on public lands. This is common practice, and your photographer and/or planner should be keenly familiar with this process (if not, beware — negligence on their part can have harsh financial/legal ramifications on you, the couple!). These types of permits usually include a set date, time, and location for where the ceremony will take place, thus this portion of the day is almost always the first thing to be nailed down, making the timeline planning process both easier and a little bit harder at the same time. It’s a bit simpler because you have one less thing to worry about, but more complicated because now you don’t have any wiggle room for this particular portion of the day. Keep in mind that certain locations will have limitations on what times of day you can perform a ceremony, how many people are allowed in the space, and how much time you are allotted to be there, which can greatly aid in your decision-making process. Usually, you will have roughly decided on what the entirety of the day will look like before settling on the ceremony time and location, as everything that happens before and/or after matters just as much in making sure you will have time for it all! Just maybe not the nitty gritty details just yet.

A great example of this is a couple who, while not having a traditional wedding, may want to incorporate some chosen traditions, such as not seeing one another until the ceremony, but they do want to go hike somewhere. Thus, hitting the trail first wouldn't be ideal here. In this case, they would plan on having their ceremony first thing, leaving the rest of the day for hiking and site-seeing.

EXAMPLE TIMELINES

So how do we take all of this information and make a coherent itinerary from it? This is where you are likely to lean on your photographer’s expertise a bit more, as they will have a good idea for how long each portion of the day will take. Here, I give an example of a timeline I provided to a recent client showing what we could potentially fit into their elopement day based on various conversations, questionnaires, and location recommendations. This includes rough (and slightly overestimated, in case of mishaps) timeframes based on travel time and distance, a reasonable hiking pace for the length and difficulty of the trail, what time I would need to adequately capture photos, and some wiggle room built in for spontaneity and the unexpected.

12:00pm - 1:00pm

1:00pm - 1:45pm

1:45pm - 2:15pm

2:15pm - 3:45pm

3:45pm - 5:15pm

5:15pm - 6:45pm

6:45pm - 8:00pm

8:00pm

Photographer arrives at AirBnB — Details + getting ready photos

Leave Air BnB — Travel to ceremony location

Arrive at ceremony location — Ceremony and Portraits

Leave ceremony location — Travel to pass trailhead

Hike to pass (4.5 miles roundtrip) — Candid portraits along the way

Explore pass — Picnic dinner with champagne and portraits

Hike down from pass — Candid portraits along the way

Photography coverage ends

12:00 - 1:00 pm

Photographer arrives at AirBnB — Details + getting ready

 

1:00 - 1:45pm

Leave Air BnB — Travel to ceremony location

 

1:45pm - 2:15pm

Arrive at ceremony location — Ceremony and Portraits

 

2:15pm - 3:45pm

Leave ceremony location — Travel to pass trailhead

 

3:45pm - 5:15pm

Hike to pass (4.5 miles roundtrip) — Candid portraits

 

5:15pm - 6:45pm

Explore pass — Picnic dinner with champagne and portraits

 

6:45pm - 8:00pm

Hike down from pass — Candid portraits along the way

 

8:00pm

Photography coverage ends

We did stick to this original timeline fairly closely, though they ended up choosing one of the other locations I had sent them in a recommendation list, which in turn changed the timing required for hiking and allowed us to add a little more into their day within the same original time frame. Below is what their final elopement day actually looked like:

12:00pm - 1:00pm

1:00pm - 1:45pm

1:45pm - 2:15pm

2:15pm - 3:45pm

3:45pm - 5:15pm

5:15pm - 6:00pm

6:00pm - 7:00pm

7:00pm - 8:00pm

8:00pm

Photographer arrives at AirBnB — Details + getting ready photos

Leave Air BnB — Travel to ceremony location

Arrive at ceremony location — Ceremony and Portraits

Leave ceremony location — Travel to saddle  trailhead

Hike to saddle (2 miles) — Candid portraits along the way

Explore saddle — Picnic dinner and portraits

Hike down from saddle (2 miles) — Candid portraits along the way

Lake — Champagne, cupcakes, lake swim

Photography coverage ends

12:00 - 1:00 pm

Photographer arrives at AirBnB — Details + getting ready

 

1:00 - 1:45pm

Leave Air BnB — Travel to ceremony location

 

1:45pm - 2:15pm

Arrive at ceremony location — Ceremony and Portraits

 

2:15pm - 3:45pm

Leave ceremony location — Travel to saddle trailhead

 

3:45pm - 5:15pm

Hike to saddle (2 miles) — Candid portraits

 

5:15pm - 6:00pm

Explore pass — Picnic dinner and portraits

 

6:00pm - 7:00pm

Hike down from saddle — Candid portraits along the way

 

7:00pm - 8:00pm

Lake — Champagne, cupcakes, swim in lake

 

8:00pm

Photography coverage ends

I use these as examples because it’s easy to see how, even if they hadn’t CHOSEN to change their location, if a situation had occurred on their elopement day that FORCED us to change our plans, we still would have been able to accommodate what they wanted to do in a nearby location with similar scenery and make it just as amazing. And hey, sometimes Plan B, C, or D ends up being more epic than Plan A, which is why your back up plans should be equally as exciting to you as your first choice!

Every couple, photographer, and/or planner will have a different process for how they go about planning an elopement and its potential timelines, but a constant commonality should be experience and expertise. You can write out a hundred different itineraries and, sometimes, absolutely none of them will be feasible. Flexibility, being able to pivot, and still having options even when you think you’ve run out of them, are all incredibly important. Above all, though, remember to prioritize YOUR wants and needs, and the rest will fall into place for having a truly wonderful and memorable elopement to both experience and to look back on.

backcountry weddings for the WILDLY in love