Last year I got married outdoors in Yosemite National Park. This blog post is my advice for others planning or considering Yosemite for their wedding. There is also some advice specifically for expats.
We had a small wedding with just 6 guests. We had a traditional ceremony outside but no formal reception. It was a beautiful day.
Photography: Patrick Pike Studios
There are a couple in the area. The one at the national park and one that is ran by one of the local celebrants. We did investigate using the one but given the small size of our party it didn’t seem like they would offer a suitable package for us so we just arranged everything ourselves.
There are about 4 or 5 different celebrants who serve Yosemite. We contacted all for their prices and decided on Carol because she was a women (I wanted a lady to perform the service), seemed the most laid back and friendly. Emily also seemed nice but was unavailable when we first contacted her. There is a bit of paperwork to get booked but once sorted Carol was very helpful in planning the ceremony via email. She suggested some standard service formats and vows. We used those to design what we wanted. We met her for the first time right before the ceremony to finalise what would happen during the service. The prices for each celebrant were similar and were around $400.
You will need at least one person to witness the wedding. We had my brother and sister-in-law do this for us but I believe the photographer has witnessed many!
You will need a California marriage license to get married. It doesn’t matter if you are not a citizen but you need to get the license in advance of the ceremony. You can get this in San Francisco at the City Hall like we did or closer to the park in Mariposa if needed. Your celebrant will help you get this sorted out. This is about $50.
The biggest pain comes after the ceremony as California do not automatically provide a marriage certificate. This means you must request and pay for one yourself. It took ours about 3 months to arrive. I believe once you have it it’s simply a matter of providing this to the UK to get the marriage recognised at home. We haven’t done that yet though.
Providing you have less than 10 people (including the celebrant and photographer) you can get married in many places around the park. Some people even hike out to places to get married! We reviewed the standard list of places and then asked the celebrant to recommend somewhere in the valley with a view of the waterfalls that was private and intimate. Someone suggested Superintendent’s Bridge because it was easily accessible, with a stunning view but was generally not too busy. We had no issues with people interrupting the ceremony at all.
There is also a small church very close to where Ian and I got married so you could do that if you wanted as well.
You must apply for a permit to get married in the park and this can only be done by filling out and posting forms but once it’s done there’s no trouble. Carol asked to see it but no-one else did. This cost about $150. You also have to pay the normal entrance to the park which is $20 per car.
We used Patrick Pike. We had the elopement package which included 3 hours of shooting, digital photos and some credit for prints.
He was super nice and took care of us on the day. He also recommended some places for the ceremony as well. He knows all the good places for photos and is willing to make suggestions based on your personal needs. We basically said “take good photos” and he did!
It was the most expensive part of our day (around $1500) but we decided it was worth it and were very happy with the results.
If you want to go with him I recommend getting booked early as he does get busy and actually photographed another wedding right after ours that day. Due to him being very busy it did take about two months for our images to be available for review.
Hair and makeup
I used Carol Cardinale at Bellisimo Brides. Carol was very cheery early in the morning and curled my hair just like I asked for. Carol cost approximately $200 for hair and makeup.
There are places you can collect from on the way to the park. Or often Patrick, Carol or Carol will collect them for you. I didn’t do that as I wanted to make my own so I brought flowers at the market in SF and made them when I arrived at the hotel.
Likely the ceremony will be away from the accommodation. If you don’t want to drive there Patrick or the celebrant can help. They don’t have glamorous cars though. We just used my sister-in-law’s hire car. You could arrange something else if needed.
We stayed in the park at the Ahwahnee. It is a little on a pricey side at about $400 per room per night. It is rustic and old but grand and calm. The location is amazing. I’d recommend it. We stayed in the Classic Rooms which are mid priced. There are other places to stay in the valley and just outside the park.
There are wedding cake places that serve the park but we didn’t bother with this. We just brought in a cake from our favourite local bakery in San Francisco called Tartine and ate that in the hotel grounds after the ceremony.
We didn’t really have a wedding dinner. After the ceremony we had drinks in the Ahwahnee bar and ate our cake in the grounds. In the evening we got changed and just had dinner at the Ahwahnee. It’s a grand old dining room with a great atmosphere. It gets busy so book ahead. The food is ok, not amazing. The servers had been tipped off that we got married so we had a nice reception when we arrived, a special dessert and the piano player toasted us. That was all very nice. Dinner (3 course) is close to $100 per person with a tip. They have a decent wine list.
Hope this helps others getting married in the park!