Elopement Options - What to do during an Elopement

Taken From Adventure Instead - HAD TO SHARE!!!

Often, I get asked by couples who choose eloping “What do I do for my ceremony?”

An elopement ceremony is different than a traditional wedding ceremony because there’s more freedom to create something that you both feel represents you as a couple. We wanted to share a few ideas for what to do during your elopement ceremony, whether you choose to have a self solemnizing ceremony on a mountaintop or a intimate wedding ceremony with a few close family and friends.


Vows for elopements tend to be personalized and handwritten. Some couples choose to have their vows be a surprise to the other person. When they say them, it’s the first time the other person is hearing them which tends to bring out a lot of emotions. When writing your vows it’s helpful to think about what you want to promise to the other person and what you want to tell each other. The best way to read your vows is to write them out by hand. You can get custom vow books, write them in the back of your favorite book to gift the other person after, or write them on nice stationary—so you don’t have read them off your phone.

Couples have also written vows or sections of their vows together before their ceremony. These are predetermined promises that they want to collectively agree on. This keeps part of the ceremony still a secret surprise but can ensure that you still say specific promises that are important to you.


Rings are long standing tradition as part of a traditional wedding ceremony as symbolism of love that has no end or beginning and is eternal. We frequently see them exchanged by our couples during their elopement ceremonies as well. Some couples have engagement rings as well, some don’t. Some choose to get tattoos instead of wedding bands. Couples creating their own rings has also gained popularity recently. This is a particularly meaningful way to create something together that will last a lifetime.  It’s really up to the couple, their personal preference and what they feel fits themselves the best. Many couples also choose to surprise each other with the ring they’ve chosen. The other person hasn’t seen the ring they’ve picked out before the big day. It’s almost like Proposal 2.0 and creates some very fun emotions which are great for photos.

Real Couple: The grandfather of a groom was an extremely talented metal smith. The bride surprised the groom with a beautiful custom ring designed by his father and grandfather with the beautifully intricate metal etching done by his grandfather. He had never seen it before she pulled it out to put it on his finger. This was a really special and meaningful surprise and beautiful to incorporate into their elopement wedding ceremony.


Similar to traditional wedding ceremonies, a kiss at the end helps couples who are eloping end their ceremonies. Some couples also want to pronounce themselves as married after their ceremony, which is very cute when they do a self solemnizing ceremony. There’s usually lots of cheering and laughing at the end, especially if they choose to pronounce themselves.


Once a couple has finished saying their vows, exchanging rings and the big kiss, they usually do something to celebrate their new marriage. Please, if you’re going to celebrate by throwing something in the air, pick up every little piece. Leave no trace and don’t litter when you plan your elopement. Biodegradable confetti can be purchased. We’ve also had couples choose local native to the area wildflower petals to throw. Don’t throw seeds or wildflowers that aren’t native to the area; these can be very damaging to ecosystems. Rose petals are also fairly easy to pick up. Just ensure that you make sure you pick up every piece.

Champagne popping is very popular. The best tip is to shake the bottle a crazy amount. You really can’t shake it enough. The only mistake people make when doing a champagne popping is to not shaking the bottle enough.

Cheering and yelling is also very fun after a self solemnizing or self officiating ceremony. It’s really fun to scream on the top of a mountain top when no one is around. Some couples also want to jump in a nearby lake or ocean when they’re done. However you choose to celebrate, make sure it’s meaningful to you.


Having an officiant with you or a witness with you is still an elopement ceremony. In addition to the traditions listed in the self-solemnizing or self-officiating ceremony above, we’ve seen couples add other meaningful elements to their elopement ceremony if they have an officiant.


Sage smudging ceremonies are about clearing the energy, especially the bad energy and replacing it with healing, positive energy. All that’s needed for a sage ceremony is a bundle of sage, some way to light it and a bowl. Some couples choose to say an affirmation or have a prayer said over them during the sage smudging ceremony, either privately or out loud.


Handfasting is a Celtic pagan tradition. It’s simply tying braided rope around the clasped hands of a couple and symbolizes binding two together. It’s helpful to have an officiant or witness who can perform this ceremony for you.


An officiant can make elements of your ceremony a surprise for you. You may not know everything that’s going to be said which can lead to very serendipitous emotions.

Real Couple: A bride was very close to her sister. They had planned a destination elopement and the officiant was their only witness. As a surprise, the sister worked closely with the officiant to make the ceremony unique and personalized for the couple. Even though her sister wasn’t there and the couple was eloping in a foreign country, it was a beautiful surprise done with love. It was unexpected but very cute.


Having an officiant is helpful to perform specific cultural or religious traditions that may be important to you during your elopement ceremony. If you’re worried that you’ll be too emotional or focused on other things during your ceremony, it’s nice to have someone who can walk you through the steps and make sure that you do everything that you want to during your ceremony.


If you have an intimate wedding with other guests, there are other fun ways to involve your guests in the wedding ceremony so that their importance is felt.


Similar to a handfasting ceremony done by an officiant, couples have had guests at their elopement ceremony perform the handfasting ceremony. Each guest was given a mini handfasting cord. One by one, they came up, said a blessing over the cord and couple, and tied the cord around. Each guest felt like they were part of the joining of this couple figuratively and literally.


Pick a favorite passage from a book or poem or a piece of scripture. Break it into parts for how many guests you have. Then the guests read the parts in order so they’re all a part of the reading.


Having guests at your elopement ceremony is a very personal decision and each guest there is important to you as a couple. There are many ways to involve them in blessing you as you start your married journey together. First, you can give everyone who attends the opportunity to write a short and sweet bit of advice to share with you during the elopement ceremony. Keep it to about 100 words or less.

Before the ring exchange, pass the rings around to each person in attendance. Each person has the opportunity to say something privately or out loud, whichever is preferred.


If you have family members who are particularly skilled at playing music or singing, involve them in the elopement ceremony. They can perform a special song that’s meaningful to you as a couple. Music played intimately for a small group of people is very powerful and emotional.


Whether you choose to self solemnize and elope completely alone, or you choose to have a small number of guests surround you on your wedding day, there are traditions and unique elements to incorporate into your elopement wedding day.


Surprises are so fun during an elopement because they elicit a genuine emotional response. You can surprise each other during a first look or another part of the day but surprising each other during your ceremony is also special. Some couples have surprised each other with special gifts or by doing something special for each other.

Real couple: A bride collected letters from their family and friends who loved them and supported them but weren’t going to a part of their elopement day ceremony. The couple read the letters together during the day and as part of their ceremony. It was beautiful to watch them read letters of love and support and was a total surprise to her partner.


We all sadly have loved ones who are not with us physically anymore but with us in spirit. Take a moment during your ceremony to pause and be silent and think of loved ones that were lost. You can also bring a memento of them as part of the ceremony or incorporate something from them into the day.


There are many different ways of creating unity during an elopement ceremony. At the basic level, you want to have two pieces that you mix into a third piece. The unity ceremony represents binding something together that’s very difficult to break apart. Some couples choose to do a more traditional unity candle, but this isn’t as common as it’s difficult to do outside. Sand is also very common. You can use two different colors or kinds of sand. Then pour them together into a vase or bottle. One couple even combined a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine together in a unity ceremony.

Planting a tree together is also very popular and can be done alone in a self solemnizing ceremony or in a way that involves your family and friends who are attending the ceremony. Bring sand or soil from a special place and have your guests to the same. Then take turns pouring it into a pot and planting a tree.

Real Couple: A couple who was self solemnizing got two big easels and two big canvases. They each picked a color of paint and painted their canvas a solid color. While the paint was still wet, they squished the wet canvases together and swirled them around. When they took the canvases apart, they had two unique but similar canvases. They pronounced themselves married and had two pieces of cool art to hang on their walls!

There are many ways to make an elopement ceremony unique and special. Most of all, think about what the two of you care about and what or who you want to be a part of your day physically or in spirit. If you have other ideas to make an elopement ceremony special, share them below!

Max Patch - Adventure Shoot

First off it was COLD. VERY windy you never would of guessed it with how warm the photos turned out. So yeah Max patch is about an hour and a half from me and it’s a relatively short and easy hike, be careful if it’s rained as it’s slippery. Why do I know that? lol cause that’s what happened. And yes that is snow. Seriously cannot wait to see Spring at Max Patch omg I’m ready!!!!!

Western North Carolina Elopement Blog Sunset Haze

You probably have realized it's western north carolina is my favorite elopement destination for any couple. Moods for days here and with every season within access it’s your decision. It’s my favorite place to photograph adventure engagement sessions, weddings, and elopements too. So it should be no surprise that these photos of Riley + West in the mountain tops of Asheville and it’s one of my favorite adventure photos yet. These two are so adorable together and we had so much fun with them! I had so much fun working with everyone

Elopements - You have Questions and I have Answers

“Elopements - Everything you need to know, didn’t know, and thankful you know now Guide”

Elopement Photography by Ashley Lee

Hey ya’ll this is pretty straight forward. This is an Elopement Q&A as well as a guide that links to Planning your Elopement and Packing, along with potential Elopement Destinations in Western North Carolina and much more. Elopements are so exciting and thrilling but it’s good to know everything to see if that is what you truly want for your day.

How do Elopements work?

It seems like when a lot of people imagine eloping, they imagine running down to city hall, finding the judge, and getting married in five minutes or less after filling out a bit of paperwork. That is one way to do it.

OR if you want to truly elope (just the two of you) but aren’t interested in the city hall/courthouse route… why not pick an epic location and go for it? Think next to the Blue Ridge Mountains, standing on a cliff in the Great Smoky Mountains, or somewhere in Asheville that you love. You’ll need an officiant to legally seal the deal, but that’s just about it. 

Eloping Is a personal decision . Every couple has their personal reasons and definitions of what it means to elope.

But really, what is the definition of Elopement?

Yes, 'elope' has historically meant "to run away secretly with the intention of getting married usually without parental consent." But it has also meant—and still means—"to escape." Elope appears to have become shorthand for "small destination wedding," "wedding that is not financially insane," or "wedding that allows us to not invite all the people we would rather not invite." This certainly differs from the "disapproving parents and sudden questionable decisions" sense of the word, but is it new? Click here to see history of the word.

Do we have to plan ahead for our Elopement?

Yes. Even couples who are choosing to elope will need to make some plans to ensure that their ceremony is seamless and legal. Depending on the location, the couple should contact the local city hall to understand the marriage license requirements. Some locations will require an appointment, a waiting time, and designated witnesses to conduct a wedding ceremony or issue a marriage license. The couple will also likely need their birth certificates and official identifications, so if you are planning a destination elopement, be sure to check local laws prior to leaving for your trip. To see a link scroll to mid/bottom of page for websites in areas around western north carolina, click here

Reasons why Elopements rock:

Saves you a lot of money
No stress no stress no stress
Go wherever your heart desires
Make it all about you two
Party the way you want
You can splurge on things you wish

Difference between an Elopement and Intimate Wedding?

An intimate wedding is just a “normal” wedding day with a smaller guest list.  You opt for a smaller location and a guest list of maybe one or two-dozen people tops.  Intimate weddings aren’t necessarily smaller budget weddings; in fact, a lot of the time a bride or groom will splurge more on their guests with intimate weddings because instead of using a $20,000 wedding budget to create an event for 120 people, they can use the same amount and give 20 people an amazing experience.  Intimate weddings are often very relaxed and to a certain extent, non-traditional.  Sometimes the bride and groom will get ready in the same house and simply have their first look casually in the hall way.  Sometimes there isn’t even formal seating for dinner.  While there is a focus on on beautiful portraits, there’s also a focus on photojournalistic images; a storytelling approach to the day in order to capture all the intimate moments between the few guests present.

Does Eloping Mean Not Having a Wedding at All?

Forgoing a traditional wedding to elope does not mean completely skipping a ceremony or reception to celebrate the occasion. Sometimes, couples who elope simply want to have a more intimate and quiet wedding with a limited amount of guests. 

Other couples may elope to a destination, then return home and host a small reception that includes family and friends to celebrate their union. You might even find couples who exchange vows in front of their guests, even though they're already legally married because they eloped and had a private ceremony first. Totally up to each couple. That’s the beauty of it. You decide.

Eloping and Wedding Etiquette

Gifts - It is not traditional for couples who elope to register for wedding gifts. If the couple is having a celebration after their private elopement, they may still register for gifts, up to couple. If you hear about a friend or family member's elopement, it is proper etiquette to send a gift or a card sharing your good wishes. Even though you won't be attending a wedding, this is still a nice practice and allows you to extend warm thoughts to them.

Intimate Wedding vs Elopement: Photographic coverage

Elopements - Couples often need 3 or 4 hours of coverage for an elopement; that’s it.  It’s photographing of the ceremony and an intimate adventure portrait session.  There’s rarely any getting ready images and never any cocktail hour coverage or reception coverage because elopements don’t have those things.  Period.  The photographer’s job will be the 3 or 4 hours of work on the day to capture the ceremony and portrait session and provide an amount of images reflective of how many hours they photographed.

Intimate weddings, photographically, are the same as full day “traditional” weddings.  Couples almost always still want getting ready coverage, the ceremony, formal photos with family members as well as the couple and coverage of their reception.  A photographer can still spend 8, 10 or 12 hours photographing an intimate wedding day.

A photographer’s job, and thus the cost of their services, is not reflective of how many guests are present.  So intimate wedding vs elopement means you’re still going to pay, for the most part, the same hourly rate.  An hour of a photographer’s time is an hour of a photographer’s time – whether they are photographing 2 people, 20 people or 200 people.  They still process a number of photographs reflective of the number of hours they were shooting for.

Elopement in Asheville or Western North Carolina?

Visit this link here for suggestions and much more info such as permits, ideas for elopements, etc.

Planning an Elopement in North Carolina or U.S.?

Visit here for a in depth blog.

Some parting words from a wise bride “it was easiest & most relaxed way to get married!” 

Isn’t that just what you want for your own wedding? You shouldn’t have to pull your hair out trying to plan the happiest day of your life. It can be as relaxed as you want it to be. It’s your day after all. So many couples are choosing to elope these days, how about you?

Adventure Elope in Asheville & NC Mountains - Ashley Lee Adventure Photographer

Adventure Elope in Asheville & Western NC Mountains- Ashley Lee Adventure Photography

Many couples travel to Asheville and the mountains of North Carolina for an elopement or a small wedding celebration with a few friends or family members. It's the perfect place to elope. Since we have so many public lands such as national and state parks and forest, nature provides the ultimate setting and decoration! Having a simple wedding means there is more time for exploring.

Biltmore Estate
Elope on the private grounds of America’s largest home (you choose the spot) and get access to the entire estate for photos! Their Elopement Package ($2,000) includes luxurious overnight accommodations for the couple at the Inn on Biltmore and up to 12 chairs for guests. Biltmore’s wedding team books elopements within 90 days of the big day. You can add on special experiences like a carriage ride, special tours of the house and a romantic dinner. Go to their website.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Elopements with 25 people or less are allowed along the Blue Ridge Parkway with a permit (application fee of $60 and permit fee $40). There are many places, ranging from waterfalls to mountaintops, but none are private. So you may have some extra onlookers. The permit covers two hours for a ceremony - no receptions. Permits are not issued for federal holidays or the month of October (busiest month due to fall color). Keep it simple: no live plants, no releasing of doves/butterflies, no birdseed/rice throwing, no open flames, no decorating with ribbons, no balloons, no alcoholic beverages. For ideas, see our Top 50 Parkway Stops near Asheville. No weddings allowed at busiest spots such as Waterrock Knob, Graveyard Fields and Devil's Courthouse. Go to the Blue Ridge Parkway website for Wedding Policies & Permit.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A permit for a ceremony or portrait photography is required ($50) with application completed at least 14 days in advance. Much of the park is open to outdoor weddings with a maximum of 20 people and six cars. If you want a larger wedding, they have approved locations for a ceremony - including historic churches:

  • Road to Nowhere, Fontana Lake overlook, maximum of 15 cars and 30 people

  • Deep Creek Picnic Pavilion, a good choice if you want a picnic afterwards. A very busy area in the summer with camping, waterfalls and tubing.

  • Historic Mingus Mill (no private events March-Nov 9AM-5PM when open for tour) - perfect for evening wedding.

  • Historic Smokemont Church, maximum of 6 cars and 40 people (pic above)

  • Collins Creek Picnic Pavilion off Newfound Gap Road

  • Heintooga Overlook on Heintooga Ridge Road, adjacent to picnic area. Entrance from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • Historic Palmer Chapel in Cataloochee Valley - maximum of 10 cars and 50 people (pic at very top of page)

If you have a NC license, be sure to stay on the NC side of the park. Remember that since this is a national park, there are many regulations. Download a PDF of their Permit Guidelines for Weddings. For more info and permit applications, go to their website.

Pisgah National Forest & Nantahala National Forest
If you have 75 or fewer people, a permit is not required. If you want to get married at a developed site with an office, just notify them first. Otherwise, you can have a ceremony anywhere on public forest land. Of course, you cannot block trails or prevent other guests from visiting. You cannot bring in decorations, flowers or food (unless it's a simple picnic). Keep it simple!

Chimney Rock Park
Find a variety of spots for a wedding for the cost of park admission for each guests. Say your vows atop the famous Chimney or in front of Hickory Nut Falls if you have 15 guests or less. Stay away from weekends in July and October. Contact them to check dates - all weddings require a reservation. For larger groups, they have a Pavilion for up to 150 guests. And their Old Rock Café has a great outdoor deck for a meal afterwards. Read more.

Lake Lure
Morse Park by the marina offers a lot of lakefront spots - no reservations needed for a small wedding with no chairs / decorations. A gazebo is also available by reservation. Another option is renting a pontoon boat and getting married on the lake. Nearby in Chimney Rock Village is the Riverwalk with plenty of spots by the rushing river. Read more.

Lake Glenville
Rent a pontoon from Signal Ridge Marina and get married by a waterfall that cascades into the lake. Or find a secluded cove. Read more.

North Carolina Arboretum
The beautiful setting of gardens and natural areas has an elopement package for 10 or less guests. It includes one hour at a wedding site, table, folding chairs setup, free parking, event coordinator, bridal room, and one year membership. $500 for Sunday-Thursday dates and $1,000 for Friday or Saturday. Read more.

State Parks: Mt. Mitchell, Lake James, Gorges, South MountainsA Special Activity Permit is required, but it's only $35. Call the state park office first for best locations and their procedures. 

Bed & Breakfasts
These grand homes office the ultimate romantic setting for a wedding and honeymoon. Innkeepers love to help you coordinate and many have packages. See our Top 30 B&Bs.