Our wedding in Yosemite: planning advice and recommendations

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.

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Photography: Patrick Pike Studios

Wedding planners

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.

We used a lot of the information on My Yosemite Wedding and Yosemite Weddings to help us plan. Our photographer and celebrant were also helpful and gave advice.

Service

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!

Marriage license

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.

Location

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.

Photographer

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.

Flowers

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.

Transport

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.

Accommodation

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.

Cake

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.

Food

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!

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11 comments

  1. Tim Halberg

    As a wedding photographer I can say that Yosemite is for the win!!!

    You can’t beat a Yosemite wedding.

    Thanks for sharing your insight, I’ve been researching good articles to share with my couples and I’ll definitely be linking her for anyone who needs help planning!!

  2. Deborah

    Hi Suzi

    Have to say your post has been an incredible help to my fiancé and I planning our elopement in Yosemite this coming May. The only headache I’m having currently is figuring out how to get a certified copy of the licence once married and whether we need to register it here in the U.K.

    I have found the online form but see that it needs to be notarised if sending by mail! Can I ask how you went about this? Do you think we can go back to the county office where we get the actual licence a couple of days later and apply in person?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.

    Deborah

    • suziejprince

      Deborah

      I am so happy to help and I am so excited for you.

      This is a great question. I am not sure we did the correct thing but I am happy to share what we did.

      After the ceremony (probably a few weeks after) we contacted the Californian state government and had the Certified/Authorized Marriage certificates sent to us at our address in the US. We got a bunch as we knew we needed some for use in US and were not sure if we needed copies for any UK government agencies. As we live in the US it was easier for us to get the form notarised locally before we sent in our request for the certificates. I have a couple of suggestions of how you could do this if you will not be in the US long term. You could print out the form before you come to the US to get married and have it notarised while you are here and then just send it off once you are married. I believe the notary is only confirming who you are, not that you are married so the timing of getting the form notarised should not be of concern to the notary. All US notaries have accepted my UK passport as proof of identity in the past. I believe that the US embassy in the UK will notarise documents for you if you make an appointment and go in person to the US embassy.

      We have not registered our marriage with the UK government as we understood that as long as it was legal in the US (it is!) then it is legal in the UK. I had hoped to have a copy of the US marriage certificate stored at the records office in the UK but this no longer allowed.

      Since then I do not believe either of us has had to prove we are married in the UK and have had no reason to the use the US marriage certificates in the UK. We have however, simply said we are married whenever we are asked about our marital status in any official capacity.

      I understand that had either of us changed our name then this may have been different as we would have had to prove we changed our name as part of the marriage in order to update things like passport, driving license etc….I am not sure if your circumstances are the same.

      Here are some links that I just reviewed to see if I could help further.

      What is a legal marriage?
      https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/268020/marriage.pdf

      What to do if I get married abroad?
      https://www.gov.uk/marriage-abroad

      Why can’t I store my foreign marriage certificate in the UK?
      https://www.gov.uk/government/news/marriage-certificate-registry-service-discontinued-for-overseas-brits

      I got married. Who do I need to tell?
      https://www.gov.uk/changing-passport-information/changes-you-dont-report

      http://www.ukdp.co.uk/name-change-marriage/

      US notaries abroad
      https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal-considerations/judicial/authentication-of-documents/notarial-and-authentication-services-consular-officers.html

      Let me know if you have other questions. I am very happy to help.

      Good luck Suzie

  3. Deborah

    Suzie, that’s such a great help. Thank you so much.
    I think the plan now is to apply for the license in person so no notary needed (we think). Then I guess we’ll have to get them sent to the UK. We’re going to get a few copies as I will be taking my partners surname so lots of people to notify!

    Hopefully that will be it! We’ve heard of people getting their certificates apostilled??? Is that something you did?

    Again, thanks so much for all the helpful info and for taking the time to help!

    Much appreciated.

    Thank you 😊

    • suziejprince

      Hi Andrea

      I am afraid I have no other contacts that are not mentioned in the post. Tim (who commented in January) might be able to help you though.

      Good luck
      – Suzie

    • Dani

      Hi Andrea

      Just came across this post and saw your comment. We’re eloping to Yosemite in January 2018 (a snow wedding!). We booked Theilen Photography. They’re based in Lake Tahoe but they do travel to Yosemite for weddings. We just had to pay for their accommodation. Their work is amazing and they seem really nice. We live in Australia so everything has been by email but they’ve been great to deal with. Price wise, I’ve heard they’re a bit expensive but compared to Australian prices they’re quite reasonable. They’ll put together a quote for you based on what you want.

      Hope that helps and all the best for your spring wedding!!

      Dani 🙂

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