How to Plan an Oregon Elopement - Tillamook, OR Photographer
A step-by-step guide on how to plan your Oregon elopement and simplify the planning process.
Oregon is a true gem. It has a little bit of all the natural beauty you could want. It has towering mountain peaks, stunning rocky coastline, massive crashing waterfalls, rolling fog, and expansive forest. Each of these alone are stunning but you could hit each of those in a day of exploring in Oregon. You spend most of the time wondering how this place is even real.
Beyond its beauty, it’s a great elopement spot for practical reasons. Oregon has plenty of secluded locations for privacy, marriage licenses are straight forward, and permits for elopements/photography are easy to get and reasonably priced.
Here's what you're going to get out of this post:
Part 1: Picking a Location
Part 2: Oregon Marriage Licenses
Part 3: Being Prepared for Oregon Weather
Part 4: Best Time of Year for an Elopement
Part 5: Permits for Elopements and Photography
Let’s dive into how you can get started on planning your epic Oregon elopement.
Locations to Elope
The options are endless for an Oregon elopement. The scenery is so diverse and there’s lots of options to fit exactly what you want. Here’s my top 5 favorite Oregon locations:
I’m a bit impartial because I live on the Oregon Coast but there’s a reason I dropped everything to move here. This rocky coastline has me in awe no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Oregon’s ocean coast is especially awesome for several reasons.
First off, the topography and landscape is incredible. It’s super easy to find a spot for your elopement that has jaw dropping views. Even better, the beaches are super expansive so you can pick a spot that gets you away from the crowds even on the busiest Saturday.
Oregon beaches are unique because 100% of the ocean coastline is public land. This makes them accessible and easy to explore. You’d be amazed how hard it is to find a spot on the Washington coastline since you’re allowed to purchase sections of the beach in their state. Even if a home worth millions is on the edge of an Oregon beach, the actual beach is still open to the public.
Since it’s all public land, the coast is elopement friendly. You don’t even need a permit to elope on the beach is you have less than 50 guests and you don’t set up any structures (like an altar or expansive chairs, a few scattered lawn chairs are fine). Even if you do push these limits, the permit costs are low. Check out this resource from the Oregon State Parks on special use permits to see exactly how much your permit for your dream elopement would be. (But always make sure to get the approval by talking with someone with the the state parks to make sure you get the right permit for your specific circumstance.)
My personal favorite about the coast is that it’s dog friendly! Your dogs are family and you want at least the option to bring them for such a special day! Your dogs are welcome to frolic in the waves and dig in the sand to their heart’s content. Most beaches require dogs to be leashed but some let your dogs run free.
Mt. Hood National Forest and Columbia Gorge
Mountains, waterfalls, rolling fog, rainforest, and all the PNW vibes! The whole area is absolutely breathtaking. If you’re looking for a classic Oregon backdrop for your elopement, you can’t go wrong with the Mt. Hood area.
Mt. Hood easiest to get to from one of two towns. There’s Hood River and Rhododendron. Hood River has a population of 8,000 and has all the town amenities you’d need. It’s a great access point for the forest and is around 30 minutes from the main attractions of the area. Rhododendron is much smaller at 2,000 but has all the rural, camping, and rainforest vibes. It has some cute shops and restaurants and the coolest camping. I haven’t seen a form of lodging at Rhododendron that I didn’t love. It’s also around 30 minutes from the main attractions. This area is in a unique rain shadow. Hood River gets much less rain than Rhododendron because of the impact Mt. Hood has on the weather. You get dreamy rainforests on one side and drier (and much less rain hiking) on the other.
Mt. Hood area has so much to offer that it really doesn’t matter if you can see the mountain or not. Regardless of the weather conditions, it’s a stunning location. It’s especially important to have alternatives when dealing with a mountain that large. It can easily be covered in clouds all day. Whether the clouds are dense or the sky is clear, the waterfalls and forests are stunning. There’s a waterfall around every corner and they’re huge. We’re not talking little, cascading creeks but massive thundering falls. They vary in accessibility from just off the road to a short quarter mile walk to a five mile roundtrip hike. There’s enough options to easily pick a waterfall that fits exactly what you need for the group (or lack of) that you bring on your elopement day.
If you’re falling in love with Mt. Hood area, let’s finish it off by checking out an elopement at a vacation rental outside Rhododendron. It rained most of the day so it truly shows how beautiful the area is under bad weather conditions.
Crater Lake National Park (and beyond)
We’ve all seen photos of this massive crater filled with stunning blue water. It’s an inspiring location that’s enough to make anyone interested in geology for a day. While many stop by to take a picture of this gem and then move on, the entire area has so much to offer. The surrounding forest is filled with waterfalls and miles of forest hikes. You could easily fit a first look at a waterfall in the forest and wrap up with a sunset at the lake.
The surrounding area of Crater Lake isn’t as congested or popular as many famous Oregon spots. Crater Lake takes the crown and prevents the hoards of people from reaching the forest. Even with the crowds at Crater Lake, its entire circumference has a road and you can easily beat the crowds by moving to an overlook farther down the way.
Crater Lake is a more secluded location with the nearest sizable towns being around an hour and a half away (both Medford and Bend are 1.5 hours from Crater Lake). There’s also Prospect and Fort Klamath that are each around 30 minutes away (both very small towns). There’s still lots of options for places to stay, especially for tent or RV campers.
This place also has lots of options for any waterfall access you could want. There’s some off the road, a short walk, and some that are multiple miles. As long as you’re outside the national park, the falls hikes are fairly empty if you go on a weekday.
This town sits at the base of Mt. Bachelor. Nearby Smith Rock State Park and miles upon miles of forest gives you plenty of options. Smith Rock has epic mountains like you’ve never seen. Drive west and find miles of forest with waterfalls hidden everywhere. It’s even an option in the winter if you want a winter elopement. Check out this Bend, OR elopement to see all the area has to offer.
Literally Anywhere Else
Oregon is such an incredible state that I’d feel wrong not mentioning the hundreds of hidden gems throughout the state. It takes one peek online or on AllTrails to see there’s a beautiful place to elope wherever you go. Make sure to hire an elopement photographer that will help you find and comb through the gems so you get the perfect spot for you. Oregon has so much to offer and you don’t want to miss out on your perfect location because you went with what most people pick.
Oregon Marriage Licenses
The legal hoops for marriage in Oregon are pretty typical to other states. You need an officiant and two witnesses to get married. You do not need to be an Oregon resident to get the license but you both must be there when you get the license. All you need is a photo ID in terms of official documents. You can pick up your marriage license in any county and you don’t need to get married in the same county you get the license from. You do HAVE to get married in the state of Oregon for it to be valid though. There’s a 3 day waiting period on the license until it’s valid to get married with. Thankfully, it’s only $10 to waive it if you provide a valid reason for needing it waived (telling them you’re traveling from out of town is classified as a valid reason).
My partner and I got married in Oregon as Idaho residents and it was an easy process. We waived the waiting period since we were traveling and it was no problem. We had a pastor from Idaho that we knew come to marry us and we had no problems with him signing as our officiant. The officiant just needs to be officially ordained to marry you (even if that's a quick internet certification). So from experience, I can say that it was a nice, easy process. I'm even ordained so I can help you with that part of the process.
Make sure you remember to plan around getting your license on a weekday given that government buildings aren’t open on the weekends. We personally decided to pick up our license halfway through the drive to our ceremony location so we could easily make it in the 8am-5pm time frame on a weekday. We picked ours up in Hood River County on a Friday and then dropped it off on our way back on a Monday. Finding a place in the middle was a life saver because we wouldn’t have made it to an Oregon Coast office on time. Find a county building that’s close to the highway/freeway you’re traveling on and make sure you can comfortably get there while they are open. Check out this resource from Hood River County to see updated information. Each county has its own site so make sure to check the relevant county before you drive all the way there. Many county buildings currently have appointments due to COVID so make sure to check in on that as well.
If all this sounds too stressful, there’s always the option to get legally married where you’re from before your actual ceremony. Just because the law says you were married one day doesn’t change your anniversary for you. If legalities stress you out, skip them on your actual elopement day so you can just enjoy your day. The legalities don’t change your commitment to your partner!
Being Prepared for Oregon Weather
Oregon is infamously beautiful but it’s also well known for it’s wide variety of weather. Good news, the PNW looks stunning in the sun and rain. Layers are your best friend in Oregon. Make sure to pack thin layers for the patches of sun and puff coat/rain coat for any high winds or bursts of rain. Always pack more layers than you think you'll need! I'd recommend packing at least 3-4 layers you can stack up. Oregon is covered with rain shadows where driving a few miles can totally change the weather conditions. On the ocean, it can be significantly cooler than even just a few miles inland.
Despite these shifting conditions, they’re easy to deal with as long as you’re prepared. Expect the weather to randomly change and be prepared for all feasible conditions for that time of year.
Time of Year
Oregon can show off 4 seasons and each are beautiful in its own way. Regardless of the season backdrop you want, there’s a spot for it.
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 in the state.
Place like Mt. Hood and Bend are great candidates for winter. The mountain resorts and snowy forests create a beautiful backdrop. The Oregon Coast on the other hand is a constant rain storm in the winter. The rain is challenging on the beach since there’s no where to shield you.
To make sure you pick the right season, check out the weather reports for the time of year you want to go. Your photographer is also a great resource for that since some may have been to the same location at the time of year you're considering.
Elopement Permits and Photography Permits
Every spot is unique and they all have slightly different requirements in terms of permits. In general though, Oregon state parks are pretty easy going when it comes to elopements. Often, if there’s less than 50 people, you don’t need a permit. Even if you do need a permit, you’re looking at around $50-100. A lot of the beaches don’t even have a day use fee. Just a side note to brag on how awesome Oregon is about letting people enjoy public lands.
Make sure you look into permits even though there’s a good chance you won’t need it for an elopement. Permit rules can vary depending on your specific day/events so the best thing to do is ask a person and not just guess from a website. Permits are put in place for a reason and it’s a super important part of Leave No Trace (LNT). Often your photographer is happy to look into this for you or help guide you in the right direction. Make sure you’re hiring someone that respects the permit system and is checking all the right boxes. Parks are closing down to elopements due to misuse and you may even get kicked out of the park without proper permits. Getting a permit is easy and it ensures that the next people visiting the park can easily enjoy it.
Check out this blog post about LNT and why it’s so important. I for one, will not shoot an elopement unless the proper permits are in place. Make sure whoever you hire is following the right steps so you don’t get hit with a fine or be forced to leave your ceremony spot before you’re even married.
When it comes to epic elopement locations, it’s really tough to beat Oregon. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by this process, start asking your photographer questions. If you’re liking my work, feel free to reach out so we can chat about creating your perfect experience.