What is an Elopement?

So.. What IS an elopement?

If you’ve ever wondered – what is an elopement and what makes it different from a wedding? Here’s my take! All elopements are weddings, but not all weddings are elopements. A wedding is a celebration of marriage. Family, extended family, and friends are invited to witness the ceremony and to enjoy each other’s company and food at the reception. There are MANY traditions that can be a part of a “traditional” wedding. And a wedding doesn’t have to have all of them to be considered a wedding. You might be thinking of the garter toss and parent dances. But even a bride wearing white is a tradition! Similarly, an elopement may include any of these traditions, but there are no expectations of “should” and “must do”.

TAKE THE QUIZ at the end of this post to see if a wedding or elopement is right for you!

What makes an elopement different?

The difference between an elopement and a wedding is simply the intention of the couple. If the couple is planning their event to suit their guests; to appease what the family wants or expects; and putting their own wants and desires second to those of their guests- it’s a wedding. Some folks want a wedding, and let me be very clear: there is nothing wrong with that! For some people, a wedding can feel like a production. Between the centerpieces.. the order of the processional.. the music choices – sometimes there is just too much going on that isn’t important to the couple and their story. Some folks don’t want all eyes to be on them. And some folks don’t want to dance! So, elope! Carrie and Brooke’s love of hiking led them to a beautiful hiking elopement.

Myths about what an Elopement is

Time to break down some elopement myths! There are more myths about eloping than I can count. There is so much media that tells us from an early age what a wedding is. And sometimes when we go off that script, we don’t realize how much weddingness is still embedded in our brains. I’m talking about folks who elope, but think they still have to have cake. Go to a donut shop! Don’t want to have a first dance? You don’t have to. Start fresh with a blank slate of what your elopement day could be, and put all the stuff you love on it.

Myth 1: Elopements are quick.

Elopements can be short. But so can weddings! I’ve seen more short backyard weddings than short elopements though. A key thing to note is that elopements don’t have to be short. In fact, elopements are often packed with amazing adventures and go from sunrise to sunset! Conversely, weddings are usually limited to 4-6 hours of venue rental. Your elopement day will mark your anniversary, and every year you’ll remember who was there, what you did, and the words your partner said to you. So don’t miss out on the chance to have the best. dang. day. ever. See this full day elopement at Twin Lakes for an example.

Myth 2: Elopements are planned short notice and are secret.

In the past, elopements were definitely kept on the down low. My own parents eloped before it was cool – they didn’t tell anyone they knew they were married for over a year! But nowadays, not all folks feel the need to keep their plans secret. (nor should they!) Of course, if privacy is a motivating factor in your decision to elope, then tell no one! Many elopements are planned 1-2 years in advance, or as quickly as a week or two.

Myth 3: An elopement is just a wedding but smaller.

Wrong again! An elopement can include ANYTHING at all. Activities that were impractical with a large wedding suddenly become possible. You can tour a cave. Take a scenic drive to 11,000 feet. Have a snowball fight. Visit a spa for some pampering. Take a helicopter tour. Go hiking or backpacking. You can do whatever you want! Planning an elopement is much more like planning a honeymoon than a large-scale event. Pick where you want to stay, what you want to see, and what memorable activities will make up your day and boom – it’s planned.

Myth 4: An elopement is just the couple.

Sometimes an elopement is just the couple choosing to get married alone together. But other times, the couple wants to invite guests, and it can still be an elopement. The couple may choose to share their ceremony with their guests present, or sometimes they read their vows privately and celebrate with friends and family at a mealtime before or afterwards. Still an elopement. The focus of the day is on what the couple wants, and not what would please others.

What about a guest limit?

Some folks say an elopement is anything under 30 people. Some say 10 people or even 5. I personally don’t think setting a hard number is constructive. I think It’s more helpful to remember that the primary focus of the day is on the couple. And that planning your elopement should feel more like planning a trip than an event. However, when you’re planning to host more than 10-15 people, the logistics to accommodate them start to escalate. You have to plan for transportation to get them to the ceremony site, especially if it’s in the backcountry. Planning to feed that many people and let them have a place to stay, or have enough bathrooms.. now that starts to sound more like an event. Keep that in mind when you set your guest list.


I’m a nomadic and colorful elopement photographer with an obsession for mountains, hiking, and my cats. My photography style emphasizes the epic landscape of your dreams and the authentic moments that make you two.. well, you two! Crafting a unique elopement experience for each of my couples is a super fulfilling part of my job. If you can’t wait to start your elopement journey with me, get in touch! You will look epic. We will have fun. And I will get dirty.

Should we elope or have a wedding?

Take this short quiz to see if an elopement or a wedding is right for you!

If you..

  • Aim to make your family happy
  • Want a packed dancefloor
  • Want see everyone you love
  • Are comfortable having all eyes on you


If you..

  • ..and your partner’s happiness is the primary focus
  • Want to go on a great honeymoon
  • Value spending quality time with a few important people
  • Don’t want to feel watched


Need more elopement planning tips? Don’t miss my other guides!
How to write elopement vows
-How to include family in your elopement
-Why you should hire a professional photographer
-How to make your elopement unique
-Guide to your winter elopement packing list

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