How to Plan an Olympic National Park Elopement
Why you should look at the Olympic Peninsula for your elopement, and how to plan it.
The Olympic Peninsula is unreal. There’s so many options for different scenery within such a small area. Most places only have one or two, while the Peninsula offers any kind of landmark you could want. Somehow, these things packed in a small enough area that you can see all of them on your elopement day.
Planning an elopement can be overwhelming, especially when most people you know went the traditional wedding route. This blog will get you started on the right path to planning your unconventional, true-to-you wedding day.
Let’s dive into how you can get started on planning your epic Olympic Peninsula elopement.
Areas to Elope
The Peninsula boasts two main kinds of beaches: the western side and the northern side (facing Canada). The western side has crashing waves, raging wind, and rocky beaches - all the characteristics of a typical PNW coastline. The scenery is epic, if you don’t mind some wind. It also sits on the rainy side of the mountain range so you’re more likely to hit inclement weather. These sections are typically more isolated. There are fewer towns, and the towns that are there are much smaller.
The second kind of beach is the northern edge of the Peninsula. This is the coast along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is the stretch of water between Washington and Canada. This sheltered sections make the waves far more mellow and beaches less windy. While the beaches are still beautiful, they don’t have the same epic scope of the western coast beaches. Some stretches have a view of the Olympic Mountains, and some conglomerate rock cliffs. The northern coast of the peninsula has larger towns and more town amenities.
You really can’t go wrong with either stretch of beach. They’re both beautiful in different ways and offer different conveniences. Talk with your elopement photographer about the other areas you want to visit and what’s important to you to figure out which spot will best fit your vision.
Mountains are awesome… but how about mountains you can easily view from a parking lot? Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park has just that. The Olympic Peninsula has some of the most beautiful mountains you can view from your car. A few short hikes can get you away from the parking lot for some beautiful views and lose some of the crowds. The hillsides overlooking the Olympic Mountains fill with wildflowers in July and add some extra magic to the stunning mountains.
This stunning location is accessible year round. In the winter though, it is only open Friday through Sunday. All vehicles are required to have chains for their winter visit. Check out the National Park Service’s site for updated info for your visit. Accessibility is much easier in the summer months but is also much busier. There’s one main parking lot and it is often full in the summer. Make sure you work around the crowds to make sure you get a parking spot and a more private elopement experience.
It’s tough to beat the Hoh Rainforest. Dense green forest, moss covered trees, fern-covered forest floor, and a variety of a plant life like you've never seen. While it does get a lot of rain (as the name implies), summer is a great time to catch the rainforest a bit drier and explore the incredible biodiversity of the forest. Science nerds, there’s no way you’ll want to miss this spot.
There’s a couple trail options in the Hoh Rainforest and there’s plenty of other rainforest areas to hike outside that famous area. The Hoh definitely sports some of the most impressive rainforest views, but it is certainly not your only option. You can easily pick your rainforest views according to another location you already have planned, because on the Olympic Peninsula, nothing is ever all that far away.
Make sure you’re prepared for mud! Even without recent rain, the sheltered forest floor can be muddy and covered in puddles.
There’s a waterfall around every corner. All the rainforest rain creates tons of waterfalls. Even the dry side of the mountains have plenty of falls for you to choose from. With so many waterfall options, it’s not hard to find one with minimal crowds. You don’t have to look far to find a hidden falls that misses most of the tourist traffic. There’s also a waterfall within a short distance of any of the other epic landmarks we've talked about so far. So you can get not only a waterfall, but another location as well.
I’d recommend some looking around on AllTrails (or talking with your elopement photographer) to find a waterfall closest to whatever other location you’re working with. There really is some kind of falls everywhere and it comes down to what level of hike you want and the location you want.
As a born-and-raised North Idahoan, I’m a snob when it comes to lakes. Lake Crescent and Quinault Lake are two of the only lakes I’ve found that can top the North Idaho lakes I was raised on. Towering mountains surround both lakes. Both have extensive beaches you can visit to get away from the crowds.
Both lakes are similar. One is closer to the western side’s rain forest and rocky coast. The other is closer to the bigger towns and Hurricane Ridge. This is another option you can’t go wrong with. Both are amazing and you can picked based on convenience.
Washington Marriage Licenses
Most of the areas in the Olympic Peninsula that you’d pick for an elopement are in Clallam County, and in Washington, you get your marriage license through the county level. You can pick up your license in any county and get married in another county as long as you’re still in the state of Washington. You do not have to live in Washington or the county to be able to obtain a marriage license there.
To pick up your marriage license, you both must be present and have valid photo IDs. You don’t need an appointment to get your license under normal circumstances. Currently with COVID, you must make an appointment to get your marriage license.
When picking the county you want to pick up your license in, consider your plans. If you live in WA, it will be easiest to get it through the county you live in. If you’re traveling from out of town, make sure you pick a county seat along the route that you’ll be driving through during normal business hours during the week. Oregon has similar laws and my partner and I picked up our license in a county on the way to make it easier to pick up and possibly drop off.
There is a 3 day waiting period for your marriage license to be valid. The license expires 60 days after the 3 day waiting period is over. You must mail or drop off your signed documents to the original county within 30 days of your ceremony.
Some technicalities: both people must be unmarried, 18 years old, and can’t be more closely related than second cousins (I know, the fun regulations).
The ceremony must be performed by a judge, ordained minister, or priest. Finding someone ordained can be as easy as having your friend go online and get ordained for your ceremony (just make sure WA recognizes it). You can also hire someone to do a more formal ceremony. The officiant does not need to be a resident of the state of WA to perform the ceremony. Two witnesses are required for your wedding ceremony.
Olympic Peninsula Weather
The Peninsula has bizarre weather. We have the mountains to blame for this. On one side of the Peninsula, there’s a rainforest where most of the rain drops. On the other side and the opposite side of the mountains, it rarely rains. The mountains force the rain out of the clouds and there’s far less showers. So even if there’s rain in the forecast on one side of the mountains, it may not rain on the other side. This gives you flexibility to shuffle your location if a rainstorm is in the forecast.
Thanks to the coastal location, there’s not much change in the weather. The temperatures drop in the winter but very rarely hit freezing. The temperatures are largely similar in on both sides of the mountain’s rain shadow.
The main seasonal change is the rain. The rainy side of the mountain (Forks area) sees a huge spike in rain in the winter. You have a high chance of running into rain if you pick winter and much lower chance in the summer months. You can see more data on weather in Forks, the rainy side of the Peninsula here.
On the rain shadow side, you’ll have better luck year round. The temperatures get lower there, but you’re significantly less likely to run into rain in the winter. We’re talking 300 mm of rainfall difference in comparison to the rainy side! If you want to elope in the winter, you’ll probably want to stick to the Port Angeles side. Here's more data on the rain shadow side of the Peninsula (Port Angeles).
There’s definitely better spots than others for each season. If you want overall pleasant weather, June-September is your best bet. I’m personally a fan of September since there’s less tourists but the weather is still nice like summer. The summer gives you less rain days regardless of where you pick.
Elopement Permits and Photography Permits
Permits are a very important part of using public land for weddings. Make sure you are getting the appropriate permits from the park. Not having the appropriate permits can lead to all sorts of issues on your elopement day including having to stop festivities. Bigger picture, getting the proper permits means people can continue to elope in Olympic National Park. To help with this effort to keep parks open for elopements, make sure you are hiring a photographer that respects the park system and going through the proper steps.
The best advice I can give you for getting a permit: get on the phone with an actual person or email the appropriate park worker. The wording on the permit website can be confusing and explaining your specific plans to a worker will clear it up. While your photographer can help you get this information and contact people, you will be responsible for applying for the permit. Each park has its own policy and permit costs. Most of the land with epic landmarks is Olympic National Park. There are other kinds of public land as options and you will want to check in with whoever runs the public land for each location you use.
If you’re looking for a place with variety and epic views, the Olympic Peninsula just might be your elopement location. Check out these other blogs if you want to dive into more eloping information!