If you’re dreaming of a Northern California elopement, you’ve come to the right place!
I created this Northern California elopement guide to walk you through everything you’ll need to get married in the Golden State.
We’ll cover the basics like California marriage license requirements, elopement packages, and, of course, the best places to elope in Northern California! I also want to share my best elopement tips as a professional elopement photographer.
There is SO MUCH to cover when it comes to California, so this guide will focus just on the best places to elope in the northern part of the state. (Let me know if you’re interested in a guide to southern California!)
Northern California is known for being less crowded and more laid-back than Southern California, so it makes a great destination for an outdoorsy elopement experience. The northern region is home to some amazing national parks like the Redwoods and Yosemite National Park, along with rugged coastline, mountains, and stunning beaches.
Where can I elope in Norcal?
Where can a Norcal adventure elopement take you? Just about anywhere! It all depends on the elopement vibe you’re looking for. Here are just a few of the landscapes Norcal offers:
- National parks
- Crystal blue lakes
- Big city vibes
If you elope in Northern California, you could arrive in San Franciso and enjoy one of the west coast’s best cities before heading out into the wilderness.
A Northern California elopement is perfect for a couple who wants an incredible ceremony location, whether it’s in town or off in nature. Let’s dive in and look at some of the best places for eloping in the golden state!
Best Places to Elope in Northern California
California is all about variety! This guide will give you a taste of some of the amazing locations in this state, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. As your California elopement photographer, I’m happy to help you find the perfect place for the two of you (and I always save the best secret spots for my couples!)
Keep in mind that the popular sites in California can get extremely busy. If you’re looking for an intimate elopement, talk to your photographer about how and when you want to elope so you can have privacy (and tourist-free photos).
Redwood National & State Parks
The Redwoods are one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring places in the world, so they’re an amazing choice for a wedding. There’s something truly special about standing beneath trees that are hundreds of feet tall and thousands of years old.
People come to the redwoods for the trees, but there are lots of hikes, beaches, and off-the-beaten-path spots to visit, so there are plenty of activities to make this an adventure elopement destination.
This is a slow-paced, secluded part of California, which makes it an ideal honeymoon retreat for couples seeking to escape the rush and bustle of city life.
The Redwoods are actually made up of four separate parks: Redwood National Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
The parks are all relatively near to one another (between half an hour and an hour apart). Each park is around 6-7 hours from the San Francisco and Portland airports, respectively.
There are other redwood parks further south in California, like Humboldt Redwoods State Park, but the biggest and most beautiful trees and largest redwood forests are up north, in the four national and state parks.
However, if you want to stay closer to San Francisco, there are parks like Humbolt Redwoods State Park, Smithe Redwoods State Park, or Mendocino Woodlands State Park that are a shorter drive.
Like most national park weddings, ALL ceremonies in the parks require a special use permit (yes, even an intimate elopement with just your photographer).
There are designated locations in the parks where elopements are allowed, although you can apply for a different ceremony location and the park can decide to allow it or not.
Here’s the official page with all the details on how to get a Redwood National Park wedding permit. (Remember, as your California Wedding Photographer, I’m here to help with all of your planning and permitting needs!)
The redwood parks are open year round, and because they’re right on the coast, they get mild weather even in the winter. Winter weather in Northern California can be rainy and misty, but snow isn’t common in this part of the state.
Yosemite National Park
Need I really say too much about this well known piece of Heaven on Earth? From the vast mountain vistas to the beautiful waterfalls, Yosemite really has it all. This is precisely why it is a pretty popular Elopement destination!
Located in part of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, this park is known for its giant granite cliffs such as El Capitan and Half Dome as well as many beautiful waterfalls and ancient sequoia trees. There are countless activities you can take part in here, from rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, and so much more.
You will want to plan far ahead for a Yosemite Elopement as the park does require day entrance passes as well the typical National Park Pass. These sell out super quickly when they first get released so it important to pay close attention to the parks website to see when they will be released each year. Accommodations will also fill up very quickly so you have to be on the ball about making reservations!
A permit ($150) is required to have your elopement in Yosemite as well as a California marriage license. ($70)You can find more information about that here.
You most certainly cannot go wrong with choosing to elope here, but do keep in mind that this is one of the most popular National parks in America, so you will have to deal with crowds and traffic. It’s all worth it though for the magical views in stunning Yosemite National Park!
Sequoia National Park
This is easily one of the best places for a memorable Northern California elopement in the mountains.
After the redwoods, Sequoia National Park is home to California’s second-most famous trees. While the redwoods are the tallest, the sequoias are the largest trees in the world. The biggest tree in the whole world, the General Sherman Tree, is located in the park.
The sequoias make an amazing elopement destination if you’re looking to be in the forests or the mountains on your wedding day. While the trees are the main attraction, this national park is located high up in the mountains. The drive in, along winding mountain roads, is spectacular.
This park is formally known as Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. King’s Canyon is a less-visited national park with beautiful high Sierra landscapes located right next to the sequoia park. The two parks offer amazing hiking, rock climbing, and backpacking.
Sequoia National Park is located about five hours south of Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada. Some people might not consider this northern California, but it’s in the mountains and definitely more of a Norcal vibe, so I wanted to include it.
An elopement in the park requires a special use permit. Permits cost $150, and you’ll need to apply at least a few weeks in advance. The official permit info for a Sequoia National Park wedding can be found right here.
Like many other parks, there’s an official list of locations to choose from, which you can see right here. Be aware that some locations are closed as of 2022 to allow for regeneration after forest fires.
Lake Tahoe is a well-known California classic. With sparkling blue waters, towering peaks, and lots of public land, it makes the perfect destination for an adventurous northern California elopement.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in the country and easily one of the most beautiful lakes anywhere in the world. The lake straddles the border between California and Nevada, just west of Carson City. There are tons of sites on the lake to host the ceremony of your dreams, from deep forests to high mountains, ski resorts, and lakeside cliffs.
The most popular spot is Emerald Bay near the southern end of the lake, famous for its incredible crystal-clear water, but there are so many awesome elopement locations around Lake Tahoe. Sugar Pine Point Pier, Bliss State Park, and Reagan Beach are all great spots for an elopement ceremony.
There are also lots of wedding venues in Lake Tahoe that offer elopement packages or other packages for small, intimate weddings if you’re having just a few guests.
The best thing about having your Northern California elopement here is that there’s so much to do, whether your vibe is laid back or super luxe. You can spend the morning of your elopement rock climbing, hiking, or paddleboarding on the lake, and then finish the day with a meal at a phenomenal restaurant, or retire to a four-star hotel suite.
Lake Tahoe also has some excellent wedding vendors, so you can be sure your hair, makeup, and flowers will be on point. For elopement taking place on state forest land around the lake, you will need a permit, which you can find out more about here.
This is the perfect Northern California elopement location for a couple looking to get married in the high mountains, surrounded by nature. Donner Memorial State Park, which is only 30 minutes from North Lake Tahoe, is just as stunning as its more well-known neighbor.
There are some incredible short hikes here, including the 3.6-mile circle hike around Donner Summit Canyon which takes you to some amazing cliff views that would be perfect for an intimate ceremony (arrive early because it gets busy here!).
Or, you can tie the knot looking out over Donner Lake at one of the public piers. The use of piers is first-come, first-served, but if you show up early you can have a beautiful private point for your elopement.
Another great thing about Donner Lake is that it’s pet-friendly, unlike many preserved areas in California.
Dogs are welcome on the Lakeside Interpretive Trail, Zig Zag Trail, fire roads, and along the coast of Donner Lake, with the exception of China Cove Beach.
Mount Shasta might not be the first thing that comes to mind if you want to elope in California, but there are lots of reasons to consider getting married at this Northern California gem.
First, it can be challenging to find some privacy in popular tourist destinations like Yosemite National Park and coastal areas like Big Sur. While Mount Shasta isn’t exactly an undiscovered spot, the Shasta Cascades area features a ton of lesser-known destinations, many of which are accessible by car.
Second, there’s so much natural beauty here, from sparkling lakes to alpine meadows and the towering peaks of the Shasta Cascades.
Mount Shasta is also a great year-round destination. It’s ideal for outdoor activities like trekking and climbing in the summer. You can ski, snowboard, or just enjoy the snow in the winter. No matter when you visit, the Shasta Cascades have something special to offer.
There are so many spots for an elopement here, but three of the most popular are Bunny Flats, Castle Lake, and McCloud Falls. You could make all three part of your special day and get married in a meadow below the mountain, then take portraits at McCloud waterfall, then watch the sunset at Castle Lake.
Most of the best elopement spots in Mount Shasta are on national forest land, which means permits are generally easier to come by (if you need one at all). Your California elopement photographer can help you get the paperwork in order if you decide to elope at Mount Shasta.
Burney Falls is one of the most stunning waterfalls in all of California (no small feat in the Golden State). In fact, it’s so beautiful that even Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president, famously called it “the eighth wonder of the world.”
If you’re looking for a magical, romantic place to elope in California, this secluded, 130 ft waterfall has you covered. The falls themselves cascade down into a lagoon draped with ferns and surrounded by beautiful trees.
It’s a short, half-mile walk to the waterfall (1-mile round trip).
Burney Falls is 60 miles northeast of Redding, in a part of the Shasta Cascade range. The closest town of Burney is home to only 3,000 people, so this is a great place for a quiet, intimate elopement.
While the falls are peaceful in the winter, spring, and fall, they’re very popular in the summer. Consider eloping on a weekday or avoiding the summer for more privacy.
Lassen National Park
Want your Northern California elopement to feature some truly unearthly scenery? How about volcanoes, lava tubes, and high alpine passes? Lassen National Park has it all!
This is an unconventional choice for a California elopement. If you’re searching for something a little less well-known (at least to Bay Area residents), Lassen National Park, which is located about 4 hours north of San Francisco, is a great choice.
In addition to volcanoes and steam vents, this venue offers wildflower meadows and excellent hikes. You’ll need a permit to have your elopement at Lassen, which you can get right here.
Lassen is an easy road trip from other neighboring places in Northern California and beyond like Reno, Nevada (2.5 hours), Sacramento (3 hours), and the Bay Area (4 hours). It’s a great choice if you have guests coming from around Northern California.
Castle Crags State Park
Another unconventional place to elope in northern California is Castle Crags State Park. The park, which is encircled by wilderness, is located on Interstate 5 about 25 miles north of Lake Shasta and six miles south of Dunsmuir.
Castle Crags is home to a ridge of jagged, dramatic granite spires that would make an amazing backdrop for an elopement. If you’re looking for elopement photography that you haven’t seen a million times on Pinterest, this park is a good choice.
There are lots of things to do at Castle Crags before or after your elopement. You can swim in the beautiful Sacramento River, hike the 5 mile trail to the Crags, or even climb the granite cliffs.
Dogs are allowed in the campsite and around the park (just not on the hiking trails) so if having your pet present at your elopement is important to you, Castle Crags is a good choice.
The Mammoth Lakes area, north of Death Valley, is one of the most diverse and unique spots to elope in Northern California.
The landscape in the eastern Sierras around Mammoth Lakes is varied and wild. There are volcanic cinder cones and calderas, hot springs, and sparkling alpine lakes. In addition, these are some of the most accessible alpine locations in the lower 48.
You can drive to some of the best sites here, so there’s no need to get your dress dirty on a hike!
There are LOTS of places to elope here, from easy-access mountain meadows to hidden lakes requiring a long trek in. Some of the most popular are Lake Mary, June Lake, and Convict Lake.
You can also ride the gondola at Mammoth Ski Resort and get married at the top of the mountain!
Whatever you do in Mammoth Lakes, don’t forget to set aside time to visit the amazing natural hot springs. They’re the perfect way to relax and unwind after your elopement.
There’s so much to see and do here that I’d recommend taking at least a few days to soak in all the sites in the Mammoth Lakes area, and potentially combine your trip with nearby attractions like Death Valley.
Alabama Hills Recreation Area
Another Eastern Sierra gem, the Alabama Hills feature gorgeous desert scenery with Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48, as their backdrop.
This is a great place to elope in California if you want some stunning, unique photography. If you’re looking for an incredible sunset wedding venue, this is the place.
The Alabama Hills are a vast, wide-open space of public land famous for their dirt roads and interesting rock formations. It’s a great place for off-road driving (an awesome spot for a jeeping elopement!), hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding.
You can have your ceremony here beneath the Sierras, then head out off-roading or climbing. If you’re looking to throw a camping elopement with friends and family, the Alabama Hills offer plenty of space for guests to set up and spread out.
The Alabama Hills can get very hot and dusty in the summer, but the weather is milder in the spring and fall (there are even lots of wildflowers in the spring!) Winters are cooler but the area typically doesn’t see much snow, so it’s a good year-round destination.
Big Sur is another classic California wedding destination, and with good reason. It’s an absolutely beautiful place with all the Norcal elopement classics packed tightly together.
Big Sur sits on the coast surrounded by breathtaking rocky beaches, turquoise waters, calm mist, and green hills. This area on the central coast off state Highway 1 is only a few hours from the Bay Area, so it’s a great choice if you’re coming from San Francisco.
Big Sur offers a unique coastal and woodland vibe perfect for any couple dreaming of a romantic ceremony on the beach or by the coast. This is the location for those moody, dramatic elopement photos.
There are also beautiful wooded hills dotted with redwood trees, as well as comfy homes to rent or camp nearby. And because the Big Sur area is so popular for elopements, it’s easy to find an officiant and wedding vendors.
If you’re worried about crowds here, don’t be. There are lots of secluded beaches and lesser-known spots where you can have an intimate ceremony.
Your California elopement photographer can help you find the perfect place and figure out when to elope to avoid crowds and have the best light for photos.
How much does it cost to elope in California?
That’s up to you! One of the great things about an elopement is that you can do whatever you want.
On average, California elopements cost between $3,500 and $10,000. Femember, this is an average and your budget is completely up to you!
Travel and lodging costs often make up a bog portion of an adventure destination elopement, but once again, you can camp, travel by van, or find a cute Airbnb to keep costs down.
Other vendors and wedding features you might want to consider are hair and makeup, flowers, live music, and a videographer. (But there’s no limit to creativity here. Horseback riding, gourmet picnics )
Feel free to check out my elopement packages for some insight on elopement photography. Remember, all my elopement packages come with location scouting, permit help, vendor suggestions, and a custom timeline for your special day.
Marriage Licenses – How can I legally elope in California?
Marriage licenses in California cost between $90-$100, with prices varying from county to county. There’s no waiting period in California for a marriage license, so you can apply for your marriage license and pick it the same day!
You’ll need a valid ID, and be aware that some country clerk’s offices only take cash. (They also close early and they’re not open on weekends).
Also, you don’t need to apply for your license in the county where you’re getting married— your license is good for the whole state.
In addition to your marriage license, you need two more things to legally elope in California: an officiant and one witness. (I can serve as either officiant or witness!)
It’s also usually pretty easy to find someone at a trailhead or parking lot who is willing to sign your marriage license. People are usually very happy to help.
All the details on how to legally elope in California can be found on this website.
Northern California Weather
Northern California weather varies greatly according to where you’re going. The coast is cool and moody all year, with much more sunshine and warmer temps in the summer. Snow is rare in the coastal areas of Northern California.
Inland, in the mountains, there are four distinct seasons with icy cold winters, hot summers, and more pleasant spring and fall temperatures. Golden fall foliage and springtime wildflowers are popular in the inland eastern Sierras. California’s central valley has mild winters and extremely hot summers.
The best bet to finding a great time of year for your wedding is to talk with your elopement photographer about the locations and vibe that you’re interested in.
How to get to Northern California?
Northern California is a large region, but provided you’re comfortable with driving, all of these destinations are very accessible. (And road tripping around California is part of the destination in itself!)
There are major airports in San Francisco and San Jose (pro elopement tip: this is often the cheaper option!), so it’s easy to fly into Northern California.
If you want to get to the major sites like the Redwoods, Big Sur, or Yosemite, renting a car is the easiest way to go. There just isn’t frequent public transportation in these remote areas.
If you want to avoid driving during your elopement, there are lots of great ceremony locations closer to the Bay Area, like Bodega Bay, Stinson Beach, and Point Reyes National Seashore. You can hire a car and driver from San Francisco to get you there.
Hope this guide gave you some great ideas for planning your California Elopement!!