I’ve been meaning to type out a longer wedding post for the past two years, but wifely duties like dishes and laundry have gotten in the way… (my husband will laugh at what a big fat lie that is when he reads this). I’ve gotten lots of fun emails lately from newly engaged girls interested in a Yosemite wedding, so I decided to post some planning advice in case it helps anyone else out there. Cheers to long overdue posts!
First of all, a quick recap of why we chose to get married in Yosemite. My parents say that the idea sparked when I was about seven years old (yes, seven years old and already planning my wedding). I was standing in a meadow in Yosemite and I told my mom I was going to get married there one day. Years later, I was planning Marshall and I’s big Texas wedding and our outdoor wedding venue fell through due to construction delays. We looked at probably 20 other venues and I couldn’t force myself to get excited about any of them. I feel most alive and myself in the mountains, especially alongside my crazy playful and adventurous husband, and Yosemite was where God has romanced me all my life. My childhood dream of getting married in Yosemite came bubbling back up to surface and I called my mom and made my pitch. Expecting her to tell me that I was crazy, she paused and just replied with, “You know, I think this could work. Let’s do it.” Marshall was on board from the beginning, but he fell in love with the park when we visited six months before the wedding. We had a “Send-Off” party in Houston the week before the wedding weekend, where we invited friends and family who couldn’t make it (and many who could) to celebrate with us. The “Send-Off” party was a combination of our rehearsal dinner and reception.
Anyway, that’s why we did it. Now here’s how:
Let’s kick this off on a fun and positive note: The first thing I realized when I was planning a Yosemite wedding for a large group was how tough the planning process would be. You have the basic logistics like getting cake and flowers to a national park (more on that later), coordinating travel and lodging for guests, and packing decor in a suitcase. But then you have the tougher stuff: Explaining to family why you and your soon-to-be husband want to get married across the country, even if it means they can’t be there due to expense or physical ability. Or trying to convince your bridal party and friends not to feel obligated to come, while still conveying how excited you would be if they did make it. This was the stuff that Marshall and I realized early on that we had to be completely, 100% united on before moving forward with our Yosemite plan.
PS – My advice for dealing with family and friends stuff: 1. Decide early on and together if a destination wedding is worth it. (And have a better reason to do it than “The pictures would be so cool!”) And 2. Wedding planning is naturally a little selfish. So in the midst of your excitement about your upcoming wedding, be incredibly sensitive to people’s (especially family’s) frustration and sadness if they can’t come. We had good days and bad days at this.
Moving on. My biggest piece of advice when brides email me is simply, KNOW YOUR VENUE. This doesn’t really apply if you’re planning a small elopement or hiring a wedding planner, but if you’re like me and 70+ people come and/or you’re on a tight budget, knowing your venue inside and out is key. Yosemite, and most National Parks, don’t necessarily want to become popular wedding venues (because they don’t want regular park-goers to be inconvenienced), so they don’t make it easy for you to plan a wedding. I grew up going to Yosemite every summer and my mom had grown up going there when she was a kid. I’m convinced that her expertise of the park is what pulled the whole wedding off. She knew which airports to fly into, average travel time between locations like the ceremony, reception, and send-off, which hikes were best, where to get cell phone service in the park, how to secure cheap lodging for guests even when the website says it’s all booked, etc. Getting married at Yosemite (and any destination, for that matter) is definitely doable, but if you’re not fully familiar with the venue, you’re going to have to visit at least once or twice before the big day to feel comfortable with “hosting” guests when they arrive.
Next, this is pretty Yosemite-specific, but consider getting married during park “off-season”. We chose to get married in late September, because: 1. There was NO way we’d find lodging for everyone in the summer. 2. Roads to Glacier Point and other lookouts were still open. 3. The park wasn’t as crowded and therefore a lower chance of someone photobombing our ceremony. 4. Also, big perk of an off-season wedding — Cheaper honeymoon (and later anniversary) trips!
As you’re planning, always remind yourself to make the weekend worth guests’ time. Accept that your wedding is inconvenient. Epic, but inconvenient. People jumped through hoops to come, so you can’t have the same “this weekend is all about me” mentality that you could if you planned a convenient wedding — Plan (free!) activities to involve the guests in the entire weekend, not just the ceremony and reception. Have a good mix of activities for all age groups and activity levels. Here was our weekend itinerary:
Friday evening (guests arrive to Yosemite)
- We rented a couple 12-passenger vans for our bridal party that my parents and Marshall’s parents drove from the airport to Yosemite (to help save our friends $$)
- When guests arrived, we gave them a goody bag with snacks, a Yosemite map, and a wedding “field guide” (in place of a typical ceremony program)
- Shuttle tour (free): My parents (the resident tour guides, haha) showed everyone around the park.
- Welcome campfire (free): We reserved two campsites in the camping area of the park (super cheap) and everyone had s’mores and we officially “welcomed” everyone to the wedding weekend.
- Stargazing at Sentinel Dome (free): This never happened because it was too cloudy…but great idea, right?
- Vernal/Nevada Falls Hike (free): Lasted morning through early afternoon. This might have been my favorite part of the weekend besides the actual wedding.
- Texas A&M vs. Arkansas football game (free): The dining hall in Curry Village put on the game for all of us Aggies and it ended up being an epic game.
- Rehearsal for bride, groom, bridal party, etc. at ceremony location.
- Pizza Party in Curry Village: We bought pizza for everyone and hung out before the big day.
Sunday (Wedding Day)
- 11am — Ceremony at Sentinel Beach
- 12pm — Lunch reception at Curry Village Dining Hall
- 2:30pm — Drive to Glacier Point for send-off. (Guests changed into hiking clothes before driving up.)
- 4pm — Send-off. Many of our guests hiked down from Glacier Point after the send-off.
Monday (guests depart)
A few other logistics:
Reception decor — I made everything packable (fabric bunting, table runners, small trinkets wrapped in bubble wrap, etc.) and we ordered some extra greenery and baby’s breath from the florist. We also rounded up some fallen pine cones from outside for the tables 🙂 You don’t need much decor when you’re in a place as beautiful as Yosemite.
Pictures — Marshall and I took pictures AFTER the send-off. This way, we didn’t have to rush pictures before our lunch reception and didn’t have to do a first look before our ceremony. I LOVED having an early wedding and doing pictures after.
Ceremony location — Yosemite has designated ceremony locations you can use. They are first-come, first-served and you are not guaranteed privacy from other park-goers. Here is the list of locations and rules: Yosemite Ceremonies
Cake and flowers — We used “Sweet Dreams Wedding Cakes and Flowers” from a nearby town and they delivered right to us. Since we couldn’t meet with them in person beforehand, we had to just send pictures of what I wanted and trust that they would get it right on the wedding day.
Ceremony music — I always wanted bagpipes, so I found someone on Gigmasters from a nearby town who was willing to travel to Yosemite. My bridesmaid’s husband was also kind enough to bring his guitar and play worship music during the ceremony (because there’s nothing like worshipping in the middle of Yosemite).
Hair and makeup — Done by myself, my sister, and my cousin. But you can also hire someone from Mariposa to do it.
And finally, a piece of advice that every bride has already heard: Accept that everything won’t go as planned. This especially applies with a D.I.Y. destination wedding. It was a miracle that my wedding weekend only had a couple minor things that didn’t work out like I hoped it would. For example, I woke up early on my wedding day and it was drizzling outside, so I fully expected it to rain all day. Instead, the clouds just hovered between the mountains leaving the dreamiest scene only God could dream up. BUT, my “epic Glacier Point send-off” I had planned for (Glacier Point is my favorite place in the park) was a big fail — Guests drove about 45 minutes up to the top of the mountain, only to have clouds obstructing the view. Apparently it cleared up some after Marshall and I drove off, but all my plans to have pictures up there were squashed. But that’s what I signed up for. (Another big fail was my hair in my bridal pictures — the mist outside made two pieces I had curled go stick straight on each side of my face and I had no idea… because there aren’t many mirrors in a National Park. I laugh every time I look at those pictures.)
We LOVED our wedding. As tough as the planning process was, Marshall and I are so happy that we decided to get married out of state. We always say that it set the tone for our marriage: Adventuring in God’s creation with the best dang community of friends and family in the world.