Couple laughing after elopement ceremony in the snow up on a mountain with a lake and snow in the background

Why You Should Plan A Winter Elopement in California

It’s well known that spring, summer and fall are very popular times to get married, but have you ever considered a winter elopement in California? Like for real? Every season has its perks, but let me tell you, wintertime is an often overlooked option in the wedding and elopement space, and I think the colder months come with some serious magic!

Why winter, why not spring/summer/fall?

I should start off saying that California has a lot of diverse weather, and a ton of diverse land, all across a huge state (about the size of Japan!). What is normal for Joshua Tree can be vastly different than Yosemite, Tahoe, Mt. Shasta, and so on. Spring comes with blooming poppies and green grassy hills, but can also be rainy and cold. Summer is nice and warm, especially in Southern California where the weather is usually great, but those 110 degree days in central valley will burn your wedding day joy to ashes! In the San Francisco Bay area, it’s just plain unpredictable. Up here, we can find summerdays blistering or freezing, and the fog can roll in either way (we don’t call it Fogust for no reason!). Summer is also typically the busiest across the state, as most parks will be at their peak visitation numbers, and because of that, your elopement location might not be as intimate as you would like…unless you enjoy lining up with other guests, couples, and photographers! Fall in the Bay Area is surprisingly one of our warmer seasons (weird right?), and like Summer, also a super popular time to get married, but like spring, comes with a high risk of rain! Check out this awesome rainy fall wedding here. Fall in the more mountainous areas can be cold and even snowy, at which point you are just having a winter wedding anyhow. 

Couple and their officiant perfoming a wedding ceremony on the beach at winter

With all of this being said, I think there are great opportunities to get married in the winter, “off” season so to speak, from December-March. A lot of parks will have a decreased visitor numbers, giving you elbow room for a more intimate elopement, and helping you feel less rushed. However, I do have to say that if your favorite winter spot is known for winter sports, then you should expect it to be crazy busy as well, you just can’t escape that. In that case, I definitely recommend trying to elope on a weekday if possible, as things tend to be less busy (and cheaper!).

Depending on the area and it’s winter time popularity, you might find lodging to be more affordable and easier to book. You also might find that your favorite vendors have more availability than they typically do the rest of the year. Potentially cheaper flights and travel (outside of holidays) especially if you are flying in, or having friends and family visiting, is another killer perk.

My favorite benefit to a winter elopement is that it won’t be blistering hot! You won’t be sweating through your clothes unless you are a winder champion, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing your way into your marriage! Lets not forget those memory making cold weather activities, snuggling up and drinking copious amounts of hot cocoa, mulled wine and cider, and chilling by a cozy fireplace! Any excuse to get comfy with my partner and babies (read “cats”) is good for me! If you choose to elope around December you can even use all of the pretty lights and decorations to your scenic and photographic advantage!

A beautiful elopement in the cooler months is something different and unique, and we can fill your day with awesome events and gorgeous views without the hassle of the crowds of summer. Thanks to California’s deserts, forests, beaches and mountains, wintertime can still be a sweet time to elope!

Why elope in the snow?

If you are feeling super adventurous, choosing a snowy elopement might be for you! Having your elopement day in the snow is dope, everything always looks so beautiful covered in that sparkling white powder.

You can plan some rad activities, like snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating (I might have to practice beforehand), or even have the fanciest snowball fight ever! A great thing about these activities is that you can incorporate them into your elopement experience, or just blow some steam in the morning before getting all dressed up for the ceremony.

Bride and groom showing off their snowshoes in the snow with the groom holding the bouquet while the bride holds her skirt aside

It’s true that a lot of National Parks are less busy when extra frosty, but its also wise to keep in mind that a lot of roads can be closed as well. It’s kind of a toss up on what might be open, but I know, for example, that in Yosemite the roads into the valley are generally fine, but you won’t be able to drive up to Taft or Glacier Point. Regardless, there are still a ton of amazing spots to choose as your backdrop, and we can even hike or snowshoe to get to some great alternative locations, if you are up for it!

It’s super romantic to kiss in the snow, trust me, my partner proposed in the snow and it was the most romantic moment of my life! I didn’t even feel the cold anymore!

Now for some helpful lists…

Bride and groom kissing in a snow covered forest

Some things to consider.

  • It’s going to be cold, your hair and clothes might get wet if it is actively snowing.
  • You might need to change plans or locations if roads are closed due to heavy snow.
  • Some locations listed have areas that you can’t access by road in the winter (usually Nov-May)
  • You will need to be comfortable driving in snow/ice/using tire chains or plan on hiring someone that is.
  • Sunset will be earlier so you will need to make sure your ceremony isn’t too late so you will have time for photos and be able to get back to your cabin/airbnb for a catered dinner or dinner with family and friends to celebrate (I always recommend finding a place that has a nice cozy fireplace to warm up by!)
Couple with their foreheads touching in front of Donner Lake in wider

What might you need?

  • A good attitude in the cold, if you know you are miserable when cold then this might not be the best choice for you.
  • An understanding that if it is actively snowing, your hair might not look perfect (but it will be awesome).
  • Hand warmers, foot warmers, body warmers.
  • A jacket. You can wear any old jacket that’s warm but this could also be an opportunity for you and your partner to invest in a nice winter coat. I mean if not for your wedding then when?
  • Cold weather wool socks (and a back up pair, no one likes wet cold feet).
  • A cute hat or earmuffs.
  • Scarf.
  • Fleece lined leggings/ warm base layer.
  • gloves/mittens or a muff.
  • Good pair of winter snow boots.
  • Snowshoes + Trekking poles (can rent).
  • Snacks (always have snacks).
  • Thermos of hot cocoa/ cider/ tea.
  • Snow gaiters.
Bride and groom snowshoeing in wedding clothes in a snow filled forest in Tahoe

Great snowy locations for your winter elopement in California.

Weather in the winter can be unpredictable. The date ranges provided are based on historical weather data, but cold temperatures and snow can come a month or two early or stay a month or two later. You and your photographer should always plan for a backup location just in case there are road blockages or park closures.

Bride looking at the groom while holding her bouquet and walking on the beach

Not into snow but still want a winter elopement in California?

Literally anywhere in California but to name a few…

Here’s some sample timelines for inspiration!

Joshua Tree Elopement with 10 Guests

  • 11:00 a.m. Getting Ready Photos at cute Airbnb 
  • 12:00 p.m. First look at your Airbnb taking advantage of the cute architecture/desert around it
  • 12:45 p.m. Head out to Joshua Tree for ceremony
  • 01:30 p.m. Arrive at ceremony location and meet up with Guests (some locations have guest limits and car limits so double check when you get your special use permit on what is allowed)
  • 02:00 p.m. Ceremony out in the dessert
  • 02:30 p.m. Celebrate + Group Photos
  • 03:00 p.m. Couples photos with the gorgeous scenery around
  • 05:00 p.m. Sunset. Start heading back to Airbnb or Restaurant for dinner
  • 05:45 p.m. Dinner with guests, speeches, and dancing! Party On!
    (Bonus: Plan a next day session to get more photos at a relaxed pace!)

Snowy California Elopement in Tahoe/Donner (just the two of you)

  • 09:00 a.m. Start the day with a warm cup of coffee or tea and breakfast in bed, get some cozy photos of just the two of you!
  • 09:45 a.m. Get ready together  at your cute A-frame Cabin. Helping each other with all the details, taking in the romantic moments in between.
  • 11:30 a.m. Take some cute photos outside of your cabin and play in the snow
  • 12:00 p.m. Warm up and grab some lunch before heading out to Ceremony location (grab all necessary gear too, snow shoes, poles, microspikes if needed, thermos with warm beverage, celebratory drinks, florals, snacks, marriage license, warm layers etc)
  • 12:45 p.m. Head to Donner lake for some epic wintery lake photos
  • 01:45 p.m. Drive up to the ceremony location (mountain views in Donner, forest vibes, lake vibes so many possibilities). 
  • 02:30 p.m. Pick the perfect spot to say your vows and get married.
  • 02:45 p.m. Celebrate! Cheers with something warm to drink (i.e. Hot toddy)! Read letters from family and friends and spend a few minutes together!
  • 03:00 p.m. Photos of just the two of you around the gorgeous ceremony location
  • 04:00 p.m. Head to a second location for some more photos (further up the mountain, into the forest etc)
  • 05:00 p.m. Sunset, start packing up to head back to Cabin for some warm drinks by the fire
  • 05:30 p.m. Take some fun cozy photos at the Cabin snuggled up together getting warm.
  • 06:00 p.m. Celebrate just the two of you with a catered dinner plus some awesome desserts!

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  1. YES to winter elopements! And yes to all of the incredible inspiration you put into this post, I feel like I wanna elope tomorrow!

  2. Having driven from Vancouver (Canada) all the way to SoCal in the winter, I can vouch that winter is the perfect time to elope in California. Mt Shasta is so gorgeous with all the giant red woods, as is Lake Tahoe and don’t forget the Sierra Nevada Mountains!!! Have you had the chance to check out the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in Inyo County? It’s a magical spot where you’re surrounded by some of the oldest Pine Trees IN THE WORLD!

    1. Ooh that sounds like an awesome drive! I will have to plan something like that. I have not check out the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest but now I am dying to it sounds perfect! Thanks for the new location inspo!

  3. These are such great tips for planning a winter elopement in California! I love all the tips about what to pack and how to set your expectations, I think that’s SO important for eloping couples to know! Great article!

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