From towering Sequoia trees to majestic waterfalls, Yosemite National Park is full of some of nature’s most breathtaking sites. Millions of people travel to the park every year to experience all it has to offer—and, for some couples, a question comes to mind while they’re immersed in the natural beauty.
Can you have a Yosemite wedding?
The answer is yes. In fact, there are many places throughout the park where you can have a wedding. This guide will go over your options and touch on some of the practical issues you will need to consider while planning your Yosemite elopement or wedding.
So, where can you actually have your wedding? Well, there are a lot of options. We’ll look at some of the most popular choices. Keep in mind that all of these choices are booked on a first-come, first-served basis. That means that the earlier you book, the more likely you are to secure a spot.
If you’re looking for a more traditional ceremony while still being able to enjoy the beauty of Yosemite, then looking at an indoor venue may be the way to go. Indoor venues allow for more guests and are easily accessible. Many also have facilities to host a reception after the ceremony, as well as attached lodging options.
Indoor venues offer you the best of both worlds as you will still be able to take majestic Yosemite wedding photos and be in nature, while also providing you with more options for how to plan your wedding. They do book up fast, though, so be sure to plan in advance.
Any talk of indoor wedding venues at Yosemite has to mention the Yosemite Valley Chapel. Built in 1879 as “an undenominational house of worship,” the chapel has been a setting for weddings since 1884. While it’s primarily used as a house of worship, it’s still a lovely venue for a wedding even today.
Especially for those looking for a religious ceremony, the chapel may be a perfect choice. So, if you’re thinking of the chapel, here are some things to keep in mind.
Book in advance – The chapel is one of the most popular venues for Yosemite weddings, which means that availability can be limited. The chapel is available to be booked up to eighteen months before your ceremony.
Rental fees – The chapel costs $850 to rent during peak season (April to September) and $750 to rent all other times. You’ll also have to pay a $50 candle fee. On top of that, couples will be required to pay a fee to use the chapel’s minister for your ceremony. If you choose not to use the minister, you’ll need to pay an attendant fee.
Resident minister – The chapel’s minister is available to perform traditional Protestant weddings. If you use the minister, you will need to enroll in a mandatory one-day marriage enrichment seminar. You can also use your own officiant so long as you can provide any one of these three options:
Chapel facilities – The chapel can seat up to 125 guests. It has an altar, an organ, and a baby grand piano. There’s only one bathroom that can’t be used as a dressing room. The chapel is wheelchair accessible.
Decorations – Decorations are allowed so long as they don’t leave any remaining trace (so no tape or tacks). Since the chapel is a small space it is recommended to keep decorations to a minimum.
If you’re looking to get the most out of your decorations, Zola’s wedding boutique has the solution for you. With everything from jewelry to decor, you’ll be able to find the items to best suit your theme and accentuate the natural beauty of your surroundings.
Music – You can provide your own music so long as it is appropriate for a chapel.
Reception – The chapel is for ceremonies only. No food or drink is allowed on chapel grounds, including the parking lot.
Marriage license – You must have a valid California marriage license issued within 90 days of your ceremony. You do not have to be a California resident to acquire a marriage license.
Weather – While the chapel is an indoor venue, weather can still play a factor in getting there. During the winter it is common for snow to be in the area, so prepare accordingly and be sure to arrive with shoes that will keep you safe on snow and ice.
If you’re looking for a luxury spot for your wedding, The Ahwahnee should be at the top of your list. It mixes architecture, fine dining, and luxury accommodations to be the only four-diamond hotel in Yosemite.
The Ahwahnee can accommodate weddings of up to 150 guests.
The Yosemite Valley Lodge is another beautiful option for your wedding. It can host your ceremony, reception, and serve as a hotel for your guests. Its central location in the heart of the Yosemite Valley also makes it a convenient starting spot for you and your guests to explore the park.
The Yosemite Valley Lodge can accommodate weddings of up to 150 guests.
The Wawona Hotel is a Victorian-era hotel that feels as if it has been transported from another time. It offers you and your guests the use of a swimming pool, nearby hiking trails, guided horseback tours, and views of the nearby waterfalls.
The Wawona Hotel can accommodate weddings of up to 85 guests.
If you want a blend of indoor and outdoor experiences, then Curry Village may be just what you’re imagining. You and your guests will stay in tent cabins. Your ceremony will be held in the central pavilion with a choice of an indoor dining area or outdoor patios.
You and your guests will also be able to enjoy many activities around the ceremony including:
While the indoor venues around Yosemite offer spectacular views and top-rated accommodations, maybe you’re the type who wants to be out amongst the stunning scenery. If that sounds like you, the park has a variety of picturesque outdoor wedding locations for a wedding ceremony.
While the indoor venues have staff members used to hosting weddings who can help you through the wedding planning process, an outdoor wedding is often more of a do-it-yourself affair. But, we at Zola can help. With Zola’s expert wedding advice, we’ll be there to help guide you from the early wedding planning stages through to the day of your ceremony, so that you never need to feel alone or overwhelmed.
Of course, the first part of planning your outdoor wedding is choosing your location. While your options are most open if you have a small wedding with fewer than 11 guests, you can still have larger outdoor weddings in the park. You just need to know where they’re allowed.
So, let’s go through a list of larger outdoor locations and let you know a little about each, plus how many guests they can accommodate.
One of the most popular areas of Yosemite, the Yosemite Valley offers scenic backdrops for any wedding ceremony. It’s advisable to plan for an early ceremony to avoid crowds. Also, all wedding locations are located near waterfalls, which may make it difficult to hear people speaking (though extremely epic).
So, here are your options with a few of the most important points about each:
Cascades picnic area – 30 people maximum. Ceremonies must take place at least six feet from the river’s edge. Ceremonies are not allowed on the falls viewing platform. Easily accessible.
Lower Yosemite Falls paved trail – 50 people maximum. Ceremonies are not allowed at the base of the waterfall or on Yosemite Creek Bridge. Accessible with a brief walk.
Swinging Bridge picnic area – 20 people maximum. Ceremonies are not allowed on the bridge or in the meadows. Easily accessible.
Cathedral beach picnic area – 50 people maximum. Easily accessible.
Sentinel Beach picnic area – 100 people maximum. Easily accessible.
Bridalveil Falls – 50 people maximum. Accessible with a brief walk.
These areas are also popular, so early morning ceremonies are advisable.
Glacier Point amphitheater – 50 people maximum. Seating is included at the south end of the amphitheater. This is a high elevation site that can become inaccessible due to road closures during storms.
Chilnualna Falls trailhead parking lot – 50 people maximum. Ceremonies take place down a slope, southwest of the parking lot.
While ceremonies are not allowed on the meadows themselves, there are areas available. The high elevation of these sites means that they can become inaccessible due to road closures.
Tenaya Lake beach – 50 people maximum. Not open during winter months, but snow may be present even during some open periods. Accessible with a 100-yard walk.
Tuolumne Meadows lodge area – 25 people maximum. Ceremonies take place upstream from the lodge on the Dana Fork granite slab. Accessible with a 250-yard walk. Closed during the winter but some snow may be present even during the open period.
This is another set of sites located at high elevations, which may become inaccessible due to road closures.
Tuolumne Grove – 30 people maximum. This site is for the outdoorsy types, as it is only accessible with a two-and-a-half mile round trip hike. The path you take is paved, but steep with an elevation change of 400 feet. Ceremonies must remain on the footpath and avoid any sequoia trees or roots. Plan to bring plenty of water so that you stay hydrated.
Merced Grove – 30 people maximum. This is for those who thought the Tuolumne Grove hike sounded fun, but too easy. This site requires a three mile round trip hike with a 600-foot elevation change. The path is unpaved and rated easy to moderate, so leave your fancy footwear at home. Again, be sure to have plenty of water to stay hydrated.
With such a long history and the beauty of its natural surroundings, it’s no wonder that Yosemite National Park is such an attractive wedding destination. Of course, that popularity means that when you are planning your Yosemite wedding, there are procedures you have to follow. These will help ensure that your wedding can take advantage of the park’s natural beauty without affecting it in any unintended ways.
If you want to have a Yosemite National Park wedding, you need to have a special use permit. Permits cost $150. To obtain one, follow these steps:
Download an application from the Yosemite website.
Mail your completed application and the $150 application fee to Yosemite Park.
Once approved, a special use permit will be mailed to you.
Sign and return the permit to Yosemite Park.
Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re ready to get married. However, keep in mind that the application fee is separate and does not include any necessary entrance fees for you and your guests.
If you’re planning an outdoor ceremony with over 30 people, you will also need to hire an event monitor. These monitors cost $50 per hour.
Now that you have your wedding permit, you can start planning your ceremony. We’ve already shown that there are both indoor and outdoor venues to choose from at Yosemite. If you choose an indoor venue, planning is pretty straightforward and similar to other wedding venues.
Outdoor venues offer you the opportunity to take full advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds you. However, in order to protect the park, there are regulations you will need to follow:
Limits on where you can go – As we said earlier, if you’re having an intimate wedding with fewer than 11 people, much of the park is open to you for your ceremony, so long as you have a permit. However, there are still limits. Certain areas will be prohibited in order to protect the environment. For example, ceremonies are not allowed at the bases of Sequoia trees.
Outside food/animals – Outside food can be dangerous to the wildlife of the park so you will not be permitted to bring any—this includes birdseed or rice that you may have planned to throw at the end of the ceremony. You’re also not allowed to release any animals such as doves or butterflies. Pets are also not allowed in the park.
Signage – Be sure that your guests know where they’re going because you will not be able to put up any type of signs, including directional signs. Balloons and other decorations are also prohibited.
A great way to stay in contact with your guests and keep them informed of directions, parking, weather, and any other information they may need is Zola’s Wedding Guest List Manager. We keep track of your RSVPs and create a hub for you to communicate with all your guests so that it’s easy to stay in touch.
Seating – No outside seating is allowed to be set up. However, some areas do have existing seating such as picnic benches. Also, exceptions can be made for guests with special needs.
Audio – No amplified music or public address system is allowed in the park. Keep in mind that some sites (like those near waterfalls) can get quite loud. Be sure to plan for this so that your ceremony doesn’t get drowned out.
Vehicles – Vehicles must be parked in designated parking areas, so carpooling, when possible, is a good idea. Off-roading is not allowed in the park.
Special conveyances – Arriving at your ceremony in a hot air balloon or a horse-drawn carriage is a fun, romantic idea. Unfortunately, it would mean introducing outside elements into the park, so special conveyances like this are not allowed.
Drones – Drones are gaining popularity as a way to achieve new angles for wedding photos, but they’re not allowed in Yosemite.
At first glance, that may seem like a lot of rules. But, remember, these rules are all designed to protect the park, the wildlife, and you. To maintain the beauty that attracted you to Yosemite in the first place, it’s important to know and follow all regulations.
Yosemite National Park is a major tourist attraction. That means that there are plenty of areas outside the park that cater to tourists. You can use this to your advantage while planning your wedding.
While certain sites in the park offer accommodations, you can also look outside the park to find hotels and locations for your reception or rehearsal dinner. There are also local wedding vendors, wedding beauty professionals, and wedding photographers who know the area and can help you while you plan your ceremony. By using the surrounding area, you can still have an intimate wedding in the park, while also having larger gatherings and celebrations outside.
By using Zola’s pre-screened wedding venue and venue finder tool, you can search through trusted vendors in the area. We can even help by offering recommendations and streamlining the process for you.
From traditionalists to nature lovers looking for a hike through stunning scenery, Yosemite offers wedding options that can fit your needs. With stunning views of nature everywhere you look, no matter where you choose you’re sure to have a beautiful backdrop for your ceremony and some breathtaking photos to remember it by.
Do you know what else is beautiful and breathtaking? Having help as you try to make all your plans into reality, that’s where Zola comes in. We can help you sort out your venue, keep track of your guests, and make sure that you’re not forgetting anything as the day approaches.
Yosemite offers you the peace and calm of nature as a backdrop to your wedding ceremony. Let Zola help by offering you the peace and calm of having all your planning needs met by true wedding professionals, so that you can focus on enjoying your day to the fullest.