Elopement Timeline & Easy Tutorial To Create Your Relaxed Day

couple standing on a mountain top after their adventurous elopement

We’re so thrilled for you to be planning an elopement timeline! But maybe you’re like most who haven’t ever been married before or don’t even know what an elopement day could include. Wondering what to do on an elopement day? Well, take a deep breath because we got you with our simple elopement timeline guide. 

Hey lovely, we’re Emmy and Brittany, elopement photographers and guides. We’ve been at this crazy adventure now for 11+ years and counting. We’re so excited for you to be breaking the mold and crafting an elopement wedding day experience instead of just hosting a party. So, let’s jump in… What do you need for your elopement timeline? Simply put, your elopement timeline could consist of these elements or aspects:
 

  • Getting Ready
  • First Look (a.k.a. the first time you see each other in your wedding garb)
  • Ceremony + Vows
  • Family & Friend Photos
  • Celebration or Reception
  • Activities (You could also include some epic adventures like a canoe ride, hot air balloon tour, or beach side fire picnic. Really any activity you love.)
  • Plus all the snacks in between because “hangry” never looks good on anyone.

Let’s break down these elopement timeline elements further. What could all of these elements look like and more importantly what should they look like for your elopement wedding day?

Elopement Getting Ready

bride getting ready at the best time after she followed this elopement timeline guide

You wake up: it’s your wedding day–yes! Now what?…Well, get ready, get dressed… Sure, but what about this instead:

 

You wake up before sunrise, press play on a yoga class pre-recorded just for you and maybe your partner on your wedding day. You flow with the rise of the sun and greet the day with all its magic awaiting you. 

OR

You wake up before sunrise, grab your coffee, a good breakfast, your gear, including your pre-packed elopement wedding dress, chasing the morning alpine glow, you pause to gaze at the lingering stars. Slip into your wedding attire and have your first wedding day experience together as the sun peaks over the horizon, illuminating your morning elopement wedding day in wonder. 

(P.S. Check out our video on how to pack your elopement wedding dress!)

Ok, ok, maybe you’re not a morning person. I get it: my pillow is usually way more appealing than anything else. 

So what if your morning began with a warm cup of coffee snuggled up near a cozy fire or the ocean lapping outside your window? You start your day strolling around, catching the gorgeous views from your airbnb wedding venue windows or patio, soaking up the sounds of the birds singing their morning song, smelling the salty air or pines blowing in the gentle breeze. You take your time to get ready. Maybe have a hair and make up artist come pamper you. Zip up your dress with your bestie or mama. Then greet your partner just outside your rental home after you’ve both gotten ready. 

You get the idea here:

Make your morning meaningful and filled with the experiences you love

Elopement First Look

You’ve gotten ready, maybe mid-morning, maybe before the sun has risen or maybe you’ve had the morning to linger and take the day in methodically. You’ve gotten ready, maybe with the help of a lovely hair and make up artist. You’re dressed, but you want to wait to see each other. 

As tradition goes, couples only see each other before the wedding ceremony. Many couples find this endearing and exciting to build up suspense to see each other. Just because you’re eloping doesn’t mean you cannot have this experience too.  In fact, you can take your time because you get to craft your timeline, not your dinner menu or guests needing your attention.

groom seeing his bride for their elopement first look in a mountain valley knowing the best time because they followed this elopement timeline guide

But instead of seeing each other for the first time at the ceremony (especially if you’re more of an introvert), it can be helpful to have a sacred time for just the two of you before even your small crew joins you for the ceremony. 

First looks are a great time to exchange a note with your partner (not your vows or promises, but a good old fashioned love letter), a wedding gift or just spend some extra time adventuring together. 

Elopement Ceremony Structure

For your elopement timeline, you’ll want your ceremony to include a time to exchange vows and rings. Depending on your place of elopement, an officiant or elopement minister may have some words before or after and you may need to sign your marriage license. 

If you’re eloping in Colorado, you can marry yourself. Head here for elopement ceremony script or self solemnizing script for Colorado elopement weddings!

Elopement Ceremony Ideas

couple who followed this elopement timeline to craft their elopement ceremony structure couple exchanging vows on a mountain top

When crafting an elopement timeline, most couples just think: ceremony = exchange vows + rings + officiant has to say some legal stuff and sign a license. 

But what if your ceremony contained a piece of sacred magic or religious practices for you? 

What if this was a cherished time to not “get the thing done” but a time to step in deep –together.

Even if you aren’t religious, there are many sacred or meaningful acts you could perform to make your ceremony even more special. Here are some common ceremony rituals done throughout history from different cultures across the world. While we could write a whole other blog post about this and the history behind each one, we’ll leave you with some ideas to inspire you and let you find the meaning behind these for your story.

Elopement Ceremony Ideas

When crafting an elopement timeline, most couples just think: ceremony = exchange vows + rings + officiant has to say some legal stuff and sign a license. 

But what if your ceremony contained a piece of sacred magic or religious practices for you?

What if this was a cherished time to not “get the thing done” but a time to step in deep -- together.

Even if you aren’t religious, there are many sacred or meaningful acts you could perform to make your ceremony even more special. Here are some common ceremony rituals done throughout history from different cultures across the world. While we could write a whole other blog post about this and the history behind each one, we’ll leave you with some ideas to inspire you and let you find the meaning behind these for your story.

  • Wrap yourselves in blankets
  • Sign the Ketubah
  • Exit under an arch of swords
  • Sundial ceremony
  • Light a fire
  • Wine ceremony
  • Receive “Tilak”
  • Pass the rope
  • Have a Chuppah
  • Light a unity candle
  • Mix two different types of sand
  • Circle one partner
  • Have a crowning
  • Lasso ceremony, draped in garland or rosary twisted into the symbol of infinity
  • Handfasting
  • Tie the knot, literally
  • Jump a broom
  • Plant a tree or pot
  • Pass your rings around
  • Create a time capsule
  • Feet washing
  • Paint a picture

Elopement Timeline Elements: Friend & Family Photos

bride hugging here friends on her elopement wedding day

Since we know that elopements don’t always mean no friends and family, it can be a fun time to include photo ops with everyone. We’ve even had couples who have a wedding “cabinet” as they called it to join them for part of an adventure where we took photos of them all hanging out in their first look elopement location!

Just because you’re having an elopement doesn’t mean you cannot have photos with your besties. 😉 In fact, we say toss out everything you think you “have” to do and start creating a day full of what you really want. 

Elopement Reception Timeline or A Time Of Celebration

bride and groom celebrating with their family and friends after eloping

Guess what, your elopement celebration or a reception doesn’t have to be on the same day

Instead of trying to stuff everything into one day, why not embrace the art of Celebrating Again. 😉 

Have an elopement reception or wait until you can have an epic dance party with all the guests you maybe didn’t or couldn’t have at your ceremony. 

So, how to celebrate after eloping? You do you.

Life’s what we make it...We’re here to empower you to do this with your wedding day too.

Elopement Activities

Wondering what to do on elopement day? Or how to plan an adventure elopement?

If you ever wanted to go on a grand adventure, try something totally wild like a hot air balloon ride, take a jeep tour through the highest alpines, rock climb, sky dive, helicopter ride, or any other grand adventure, why not do it on your wedding day? 

But maybe you’re not the adventurous type, and sitting by a warm fire or taking a stroll along the beach is perfect for you.

  • Private helicopter ride to a remote location
  • Canoe or rowboat
  • Romantic picnic packed by a personal chef
  • Standup paddle boarding
  • Rock Climbing
  • Repelling
  • Hiking
  • Hot air balloon ride
  • ATV ride
  • 4×4 Jeep tour
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowshoeing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Private yacht rental 
  • Pontoon boat rental
  • Beach side camp fire
  • Backpacking
  • Camping
  • Celebration by a fire
  • Stroll down the streets in a mountain town or city downtown
  • Brewery hopping
  • Dance clubbing
  • Bike riding 
  • Tandem bike riding
  • Playing basketing ball or any sport you love together
  • Putting together puzzles
  • Sitting some place beautiful with your favorite books
  • Reading poetry together
  • Drinking craft coffee
  • Walking along the beach
  • Exploring waterfalls
  • Driving alpine roads
  • Fruit picking
  • Exploring corn mazes
  • Stroll through your favorite winery

Consider your dream elopement together. What would a perfect day look like to you? Not sure? 

Don’t worry! As your elopement guides, this is what we can help you with too!

Skipping Hangry

couple having snacks on there wedding day following this elopement timeline guide recommendations

Emmy and Brittany, what is “hangry”? It’s hungry + angry. It’s a real thing! (Okay, it’s not an actual medical diagnosis, but we all know what I’m referring to, don’t we?) And we don’t want you or your partner to get hangry on your wedding day.

Pro Tip: Pack snacks and plan for meal breaks throughout your elopement day. We love stasher bags specifically for packing snacks without adding single-use plastic.  

Considering Your Whole Day Elopement Experience

couple hiking before the sunrises for an adventure elopement wedding

Ok, so you now have a good gist on what your elopement timeline could include, but one thing we really want to encourage you on is considering your day as a whole day experience. 

If you didn’t start your elopement planning with dreaming this would be a good time to press pause and let that inner dreamer take over. 

What do you want to feel, taste, see, smell on your wedding day? Let these sensations guide  you to knowing what to include and do on your whole wedding day.

Pro Tip: Elopements give you the gift to not just be about your ceremony and reception, but about the whole day experience.

How To Craft Your Own Elopement Timeline

Set 1 Decide On Your Elements + Activities

Use the steps above to decide on what elements of an elopement you want to include on your wedding day. Then consider what activities you want to do and when is the best time to do those activities.

For example: Hikes in Colorado are best in the morning as thunderstorms roll in in the afternoon. So if you want to do a hiking first look it’s best to do it earlier in the day.

Your elopement photographer and guide can help you with these tips or a tour guide.

couple snowmobiling on their adventure elopement wedding

Elopement Wedding Day Timings

You can expect these different elements to take roughly these amounts of time listed below. Don’t forget to allow for travel time, unexpected traffic and accounting for time to gear up.

Getting Ready: 30 minutes – 2 hours (longer if you’re having hair and make up done)

First Look: 20 minutes – give yourselves time to just be together

Ceremony: 10-60 minutes most will average about 15- 20 minutes

Receptions: 1- 4 hours

Elopement Day Activities Timings

  • 4WD Jeep tour: 2 – 8 hours
  • ATV/HOV Riding: 4 – 8 hours
  • Hiking: 30-60 minutes per mile
  • SUP/Canoe/Rowing/Kayaking: 1 – 2 hours
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride: 1 – 2 hours
  • Helicopter Ride: 1 – 2 hours
  • Rock Climbing/Repelling: 2 – 8 Hours
  • Building A Fire: 15 – 30 minutes
  • Meals: 30 – 60 minutes
  • Time to do nothing but enjoy the beauty of your day: 30 – 60 minutes

Step 2 Understand Location, Weather & Lighting

Social media really has given us so many false expectations for life and especially for what the weather can be like outside in these epic locations. 

Make sure to do your due diligence to understand what weather to expect at your locations.

For example: In Denver the sun might set at 8pm but if you’re in a valley with mountains around, the sun will go behind the mountain around 6pm. Where as the sunset is the best on Cannon Beach.

elopement wedding standing in front of the setting sun on the oregon coast after following this elopement wedding day schedule guide

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry we got you, friend. Not only are we elopement photographers, but we also guide you through making sure we schedule and account for all these factors! 

Step 3 Craft Your Elopement Wedding Schedule

Once you know the best time for your activities and lighting you can start to use those to then decide when is best to have your ceremony and celebration or reception.

Elopement Ceremony Structure

eloping couple exchanging their vows on the beach at sunset

Lovely flowers for this beach elopement by Sarah Renard Floral

While you really can craft your ceremony to be whatever you want using our element suggestions, here are some basic elopement ceremony structures. We’ve put an asterisk * on what is optional. 

  • *Precessional (walking down the aisle)
  • *Welcome
  • *Readings (from parents, a meaningful poem, scripture, letter from someone unable to attend, etc)
  • Vows
  • Rings
  • Sign Marriage License (this structure is variant upon your elopement location) 
  • Pronouncement
  • Kiss

Elopement Reception Timeline Samples

eloping couple cheering with their family and friends after their elopement

Now for your reception timeline, here is a quick sample (don’t worry, we’ll give you full elopement day timeline samples below too!)

  • Start with a bang (sparklers, poppers, bubbles, local leafs stuffed into a popper…just be mindful of your environment to Leave No Trace)
  • Give speeches or read letters from family and friends who couldn’t/didn’t attend
  • Give a toast or reminisce about your day together
  • Enjoy a meal
  • Have first dance
  • Cut your cake, or pie, or cookie 😉 
  • Take time to relax and enjoy

Step 4 Make A Plan B & C

While we always hope your elopement timeline goes as planned, it never hurts to have a plan B and C if weather arrives or something goes wrong. We like to approach all of life as “prepare for the worst and expect the best.” 

Sample Elopement Timeline Examples

Now to the elopement examples! Hooray! Here are some real life elopement timelines we’ve done over the years. We hope this will help you get an idea for what your elopement wedding day experience could look like

Keep in mind that when asking how many guests at an elopement, the count is usually less than 30 people, otherwise you tend to be hosting a party instead of focusing on your experience.

12 Hour Timeline - Multiple Adventures - Just The Couple

bride and groom standing on a mountain top

This sample couple had an adventurous sunrise Elopement, private helicopter tour, rented a canoe and enjoyed a privately catered picnic.

4:00 AM Meet at trailhead & Hike Up 1 mile

4:30 AM Pause mid-mountain for star photos

5:00 AM Arrive to alpine lake, get dressed

5:30 AM First look as sunrises over the horizon

5:45 AM Enjoy scenery exploring area taking candid photos

7:00 AM Hike back down 

7:30 AM Drive to the helipad

8:00 AM Take Helicopter Ride with officiant and photographer to ceremony location

8:30 AM Arrive to the ceremony location

9:15 AM Ceremony

  • Officiant speaks
  • Vows
  • Rings
  • First Kiss
  • Sign Marriage License

9:40 AM Read notes from family and friends

10:00 AM Take Helicopter back

10:30 AM Drive to airbnb rental home 

11:00 AM Break to take a mid-morning nap and eat

1:00 PM Drive to Alpine lake to go on a canoe ride

2:00 PM Arrive at Alpine lake get in boats, enjoy exploring

3:00 PM arrive to remote island in the middle of the lake, explore, enjoying outdoor picnic pre-packed by a private chef and have first dance

3:30 PM Row back to mainland

4:00 PM Photographer leaves, couple heads to local brewery and enjoys the rest of the evening privately.

8 Hour Timeline - One Short Hike & Hotel Reception - 25 Guests

couple hiking on their adventurous elopement

This couple enjoyed a hike for their first look, had some close friends with them for photos, had a mountain top ceremony and reception at a small hotel.

12:30 pm Meet at Trailhead: Groom’s friends “cabinet” photos, Groom hikes up to first look location

12:40 pm Bride & friends arrive

12:45 pm Bride “getting ready” putting hiking shoes on

12:50 pm Bride & friends “cabinet” photos

1:00 pm Bride and photographer hike to first look location 1 mile up – Groom will be there awaiting Heather

**”Wedding Cabinet” folks will leave for ceremony**

1:30 pm First look 

1:50 pm Hike back .9 miles taking time to explore the area & take candid photos

3:00 pm- 4 pm Drive to Ceremony – 1hr 30min

4:15pm Guests arrive  

4:30 Ceremony 

  • Bride escorted by Grandfather 
  • Officiant Talks briefly
  • Vows/Rings/Kiss

4:45 pm Champagne toast

4:50-5:15pm Photos with family/guests

5:15 pm Guest drive to the hotel reception

5:15-5:30 pm Couple photos at ceremony spot

6:20 pm Bride and Groom “arrival” to reception

6:30 pm Reception Toasts

6:45 pm Dinner

7:15 pm Sneak outside for  sunset photos at reception with friends too

7:45 pm First Dance 

8:30 pm Photographer Leaves



8 Hour Elopement Timeline - Multiple Adventures - 10 Guests

couple standing on a mountain top after their adventurous elopement

This couple got ready at a hotel, snowshoed to a frozen waterfall, had their ceremony mid-mountain at a ski resort, snowboarded down and had dinner in a private room inside a restaurant. This couple had two photographers.

10:30 am Photographers arrive and photography wedding details of groom and bride 

10:45 am Getting ready photos of bride and groom

11:00 am Couple eats a quick lunch and reads notes from each other

11:20 am Bride gets dressed. Groom is hanging out with his family and friends

12:00 pm Couple leaves in separate cars to waterfall

12:40 pm Couple arrives in waves to waterfall snowshoeing to a designated spot on the trail.

1:00 pm First look

1:30 pm Couple of photos and exploring the area. Hiking down to the waterfall and back up

2:30 pm Couples drives to ski resort

3:00 pm All Guests meet at gondola 

3-3:30pm In different groups everyone rides the gondola up to mid mountain

3:30pm Ceremony just off the ski run

  • Readings from family and bride’s best friend
  • Father officiant reads
  • Exchange vows
  • Exchange rings
  • Pronouncement
  • Kiss

3:50 pm Family and friend photos

4:15 pm couple photos on ski hill at sunset

4:30 pm guest take gondola ride down

4:30 pm Couple snowboarding down the hill

5:15 pm Everyone drives to restaurant

5:30 pm Appetizers at private room in restaurant

6:00 pm Dinner and speeches

6:30 pm Photography finishes

8 Hour Elopement Timeline - Three Adventures - Just The Couple

couple swimming in a mountain lake on their elopement wedding day

This couple got married by the beach, went surfing and swimming, played in a waterfall and had a sunset ceremony.

10:30 am Meet at the beach to play in the water and surf

12:00 pm Get smoothie bowl up the street

12:30 pm Drive to waterfall

1:00 pm Hike to waterfall 

1:30 pm Play in the water explore around

2:30 pm Hike back

3:00 pm Drive back to airbnb to get ready together and grab a snack

5:00 pm Drive to sunset mountain top

5:30 pm Ceremony

  • Officiant speaks
  • Vows
  • Rings
  • First Kiss
  • Sign Marriage License

6:00 pm Sun begins to set exploring around area taking photos

6:30pm Finish

6 Hour Elopement Timeline - Three Adventures - Just The Couple

eloping couple enjoying a beach side fire on their adventurous elopement wedding day in Oregon after following this elopement timeline guide

This couple had three adventures in an area with little drive and hiking time in between each location. They had played in the water, had a forest ceremony and beach side picnic and campfire to catch the sunset. 

3:30 pm Meet at beach

3:40 pm Hang out and play by the beach

4:30 pm Freshen up change on either side of the car into wedding clothes

5:15 pm Partner one hops in photographer car, partner two gets a head start

5:30pm Hike 1 mile to viewpoint

6:00 Have first look and ceremony

  • Vows
  • Rings
  • First Kiss
  • Sign Marriage License

6:45 pm Hike back

7:15 pm Drive to second trailhead to the beach

7:30 pm Hike down to beach .5 miles

7:45pm Arrive to beach

8:00 pm Build a fire

8:15 pm Have privately catered picnic 

8:45 pm Play around the beach as the sunsets

9:00 pm Build beach campfire roasting s’mores 

9:30pm Photographer leaves

4 Hour Elopement Timeline - 7 Guests - Mini Adventure

couple playing in the water on their wedding day

This couple got married at a popular overlook, rented an airbnb for their privately catered reception and played by an alpine lake after their ceremony for some alone time.

3:30 pm Photographer arrives to take photos of bride getting into dress

3:45 pm Drive to Ceremony Location

4:10 pm First look

4:20 pm Ceremony

  • Father walks bride down “aisle” the trail
  • Officiant speaks
  • Exchange Vows
  • Exchange Rings
  • Sign Licenses 
  • Announce Couple
  • Kiss

4:40 pm Family Photos

4:50pm Couples Photos At Ceremony Site

5:00 pm Drive to Alpine Lake

5:20 pm Couple exploring and splashing in the water near alpine lake

6:30 pm Drive back to rental home

7:00 pm Reception Photos

  • First Dance
  • Family enjoying themselves
  • Cake Cutting
  • Dinner

7:30 pm Photographer leaves

2 Hour Elopement Timeline Example - Just Couple - Just Ceremony

eloping couple laughing in the snow after following this elopement timeline guide

This couple had a Colorado winter wonderland wedding, stayed at a hotel and only had photographs taken of a first look and their elopement ceremony.

4pm Photographer arrives at hotel

4pm Getting ready photos

4:15pm First look outside of hotel

4:30pm Couple drives to ceremony location 

5:00pm Ceremony

  • Exchange Vows
  • Exchange Rings
  • Kiss 

5:30pm Couple dances in the snow and has fun for couple photos

6pm Photographer leaves

Ready for your elopement experience?

Ready to get help crafting your elopement experience? We’d love to come alongside you and make sure you have the best time of your lives. 

Brittany and Emmy, Colorado and oregon elopement photographers in a beautiful location

We believe that your wedding day is meant to be cherished as an experience and not just an event. We’d love to help guide you in crafting a wedding day experience that you’ll never forget. Learn more about hiring us as your Colorado elopement photographers.

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elopement checklist pdf on an phone on top of a calendar and keyboard near by

Not quite ready? Wondering what do I need for my elopement? Check out our free elopement checklist to make sure you have everything in order.

Or Check out these helpful articles

Elopement timeline a simple guide + real example as couple cuddles near a beach fire after eloping

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About the Author

emmy on mountain to laughing
Hey, I’m Emmy, the main voice behind Celebrate Again. Here you’ll find ways to live the Celebrate Again lifestyle. I want to help you to embody the joy of life by learning to Celebrate Again in everything from the practice of intentional breath to taking on major life events. I believe your life should be full and be what you make it. Whether you’re joining me to plan your wedding, celebrate an anniversary, adventure around the USA, stay connected to your beloved, practice yoga or whip up a plant-based recipe, I’ve got you covered, friend.

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