How long does it take to plan an elopement? Two brides kiss after their elopement ceremony in Acadia National Park

A Photographer’s Honest Opinion to “How long does it take to plan an elopement?”

Remember the days when eloping means secretive, last-minute marriages? Yeah – us either. We are so glad those days are long gone! Today, eloping is more about crafting a more personal and intimate wedding experience, free from the constraints and expectations of a traditional ceremony. With that said, eloping isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair. Whether you’re sparked by a spontaneous desire to say “I do” under the stars next weekend or you’re dreaming of exchanging vows in a bucket list national park (with excursions and permits!) in a year, there’s no wrong way to plan an elopement! So how long does it take to plan an elopement? It’s entirely up to you! For those of you who want even more details on what goes into planning an elopement, you can read our step-by-step guide for how to plan an elopement here.

Before we jump in – if what we’ve shared resonates with you and you’re ready to learn more about what your elopement day would look like in front of our lens, we’d love to hear from you. Whether you’re ready to book your elopement photography or just want to learn more about us, don’t hesitate to reach out. Connect with us here to get started.

Alright, let’s get right into it! How long does it take to plan an elopement? And what exactly does an elopement planning timeline look like?

Bride and groom stand in front of Broken Top mountain in Bend, OR. How long does it take to plan an elopement

Planning an Elopement in 24 Hours

Yes, you read that right! Believe it or not, planning your dream elopement in just 24 hours is possible. If you are sitting there thinking, “Can we get married tomorrow?”, you’ll be prioritizing simplicity and spontaneity. There’s nothing wrong with that (and in fact, we think it’s pretty romantic). You’ll need to be flexible with vendors and locations, but with a go-with-the-flow attitude, you can organize a memorable day that’s both beautiful and stress-free. Here’s the gist: pick a local spot that’s beautiful or means something to you, keep your guest list minimal (if you have one at all), and find a licensed officiant (or even have a friend get ordained online!). 24-hour elopements like these often forego formal vendors, opting instead for the basics like an officiant/friend and a photographer.

Planning an Elopement Within A Few Months

Want to get married soon (but maybe not quite tomorrow)? Planning your dream elopement in only a few months (or even a few weeks) is entirely doable, especially for couples looking for something lowkey and meaningful. We’ve worked with many couples who have planned epic elopements in 3-8 months complete with vendors, excursions, and amazing experiences. With this timeline, allow for some flexibility with vendors and locations. Some vendors like photography (hi!), officiants, and hair and makeup can book up quickly, so the earlier you book, the more options you’ll have!

If you’re considering an elopement within the next few months, one thing to keep in mind is your guest list (if you choose to invite anyone!). On top of it being hard to coordinate schedules with guests, depending on your elopement location, you may also need to apply for a permit. When it comes to answering, “How long does it take to plan an elopement?”, permits are key. Some places don’t require permits at all. Others, like Acadia National Park, require a permit for any ceremonies with over 10 people present, but it’s nothing you can’t handle in this time frame. And some national parks limit wedding permits monthly (looking at you, Rocky Mountain National Park), making it harder to apply for on short notice. 

Finally, marriage licenses can have different waiting periods depending on the state or country you’re looking to get married in. So this is something you’ll want to check in advance, but know that this is rarely something that can’t be accommodated within a month or so. In general, elopements planned within a few months tend to be more low-key and prioritize time spent with each other!

Bride and groom hold hands and walk down wedding aisle during elopement in Acadia National Park. How long does it take to plan an elopement

Planning an Elopement in 9-12 Months

We consider this the “sweet spot” of elopement planning! Most of the couples we work with plan their elopement in this 9-12 month range. While we do love a last-minute or shorter time frame elopement, planning an elopement in 9-12 months can give you plenty of time to book vendors, excursions, and create an overall incredible wedding experience. Most couples planning within this time frame, choose to plan full-day elopement experiences. These elopements look a bit different for everyone but are always epic and unique to each couple. Whether your dream day starts with a sunrise mountain top vow renewal and ends with a helicopter ride and a picnic, or you want to spend your elopement day rock climbing before an intimate sunset reception, your options are endless. 

And if you’re planning an elopement with guests, this is plenty of time to coordinate schedules, find accommodation, and plan fun excursions and/or a reception!

TLDR: If you are looking to plan an epic all-day adventure full of unique experiences, and personal touches, and to create a day that is unique to you and your relationship, this is the perfect amount of time!

Planning an Elopement in 12+ Months

On the flip side, some couples dream of an elopement that’s carefully curated and rich with detail, in a bucket list destination, and luxury experiences. Is that you? Planning an elopement in over a year or more allows you to book your ideal vendors, secure permits for stunning locations, and invite/coordinate your loved ones to join in your special day (with a reception space – if needed!). This elopement planning timeline is perfect for those dreaming up an intimate wedding in a national park, a new country, or a luxurious getaway that feels like a destination wedding or mini-vacation for everyone involved. And yes – we WOULD love to travel with you!!

In our experience, planning an elopement over a year in advance is a great choice for couples who want their elopement planning experience to be as stress-free as possible (or they simply want a more luxury experience). Planning over a year in advance will not only give you first dibs on your vendors, but it will also give you a ton of time to research your destination, book luxury experiences, and really go as extra or minimal as you want to.

At the end of the day, planning over a year in advance gives you plenty of time to slowly check things off your to-do list and take as long as you want to make the big decisions. It’s OK if you want to elope AND also just want to spend some time enjoying being engaged. Plus, if you are planning a destination wedding in a different country, planning over a year in advance makes the experience as stress-free as possible (and gives you extra time to watch for travel deals!).

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve answered the question, “How long does it take to plan an elopement”, but while we have you, let’s dive into some other frequently asked questions you might have as you navigate the nitty-gritty of planning your dream elopement! This isn’t our first rodeo!

What’s the difference in planning time between a local and destination elopement?

Local elopements naturally take less time to plan. You know the area, the requirements, and possibly have connections for quicker arrangements. Destination elopements add the complexity of travel, accommodations, and sometimes language barriers, extending the planning timeline. Ultimately though, either can be beautiful! If you want to plan a destination elopement on a smaller timeframe, find an elopement photographer who’s either local to your elopement destination or specializes in destination elopements that can guide you through the process and make it easier on you!

How long does it typically take to obtain a marriage license?

This varies by location but typically ranges from a few days to a month. Some places have waiting periods, while others offer licenses on the spot. We always encourage our couples to double-check local regulations early in the planning process (and we are happy to help!).

Can I find my wedding attire quickly if I’m short on time?

Absolutely! Many bridal and wedding attire shops offer off-the-rack options that are both beautiful and budget-friendly. There are also plenty of online shops that cater to quick turnarounds. However, if you’re dreaming of a traditional bridal boutique experience or want to order custom wedding attire, we recommend starting that process at least 6 months in advance. If you think alterations will be needed, give yourself 4 to 6 weeks of extra time just in case.

What are the best times of day for an elopement ceremony, especially for photography?

As experienced photographers, we can work with all different lighting styles, but golden hour—just after sunrise or before sunset—is our favorite! The light is softer which leads to absolutely stunning photos. These times also tend to be quieter and can have more comfortable temperatures, depending on the location! We have a blog post all about the best time to have your ceremony, and we are always happy to give more custom advice for you if you ask!

What should we consider when choosing vendors for our elopement?

Look for vendors experienced with elopements. Their style should match your vision, so check their portfolios and read reviews. In our opinion (as elopement photographers), you should expect your vendors to be flexible, communicate well, and offer packages tailored for smaller, intimate ceremonies. If you’re looking for photographers, you can learn more about us here!

How do we choose the perfect location for our elopement?

Your elopement photographer will help you A LOT with this. If when you start reaching out to photographers your only idea is that you want to elope in a pretty place, that’s okay! Most of the couples we’ve worked with didn’t even know their elopement location existed until we recommended it to them! Here are some tips for starting the process though. First, consider what type of scenery you would love to explore on your wedding day, or locations that are meaningful to you. Make sure it’s accessible for everyone involved and (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) check if you need a permit to elope there.

Keep in mind the season and weather, and opt for a spot that offers some privacy (if that’s important to you!). As elopement photographers who have visited many, many different locations across the US, we are more than happy to share our recommendations too! We love to find hidden gems and share them with our couples.

How Long does it take to plan an elopement? It’s your move!

The beauty of eloping is that it’s all about what feels right for you. Have we said that enough throughout this blog yet? Whether that’s pulling everything together in a day or savoring the planning process over a year, there is no right or wrong way to plan your elopement. In our opinion, your elopement should reflect your relationship and the commitment you’re making to each other. There’s no right or wrong way to plan it, just YOUR way!

And, we’re always here to help! If you have questions about whether your dream elopement is possible within your timeframe or about elopements in general, don’t hesitate to reach out! If you want to learn about our pricing you can do that with a quick click right here or if you’re all set and eager to get started, you can reach out now. We’re really looking forward to connecting with you!

Meet your photographer team

We’re Bridget & Ryan!

Adventurers turned adventure elopement photographers specializing in national park and hiking elopements! We help couples craft a wedding day that feels authentic to them in a meaningful and epic location. Life’s an adventure, let’s make your wedding one too!