This 3-Day backpacking elopement at Evolution Lake was one of the most magical, most intimate weddings I’ve ever witnessed. Gary and Carmen reached out with only 5 week’s notice with their dream to elope at Evolution Lake over a 3-day weekend. In a year of unknowns, sometimes the last minute ideas are the best. Thankfully, we are all seasoned hikers so we knew what we were getting into. We planned a 3-day itinerary of crossing over Lamarck Col (quite the feat!), camping and hiking through the Darwin Bench, and ending at Evolution Lake. I was so psyched to get back out to the Sierra Mountains, even after hiking the entire John Muir Trail a few weeks prior. This post should help you think through all the logistics for how to plan your own backpacking elopement.
The cliché goes, “The journey is better than the destination,” and I have to agree. If all you want is some stunning photos, obviously we can find some easier destinations with a quick hike and a vista. There is nothing wrong with that. Each kind of elopement comes with pros and cons, and I’m here to share details so you can decide for yourself what you want.
1) Best Season for a Backpacking Elopement in the Sierra
The Sierra backcountry is only accessible during the warmer season while snow has melted. This can begin as early as June, but some years the snow doesn’t melt until well into August. Then, access continues through September, and sometimes into October.
Honestly, a backpacking elopement is not for the faint of heart. In the best of years, there’s only a 2 week window where you might avoid all of the following challenges. And we can’t predict that window so there’s no way to plan perfectly. But here are some of the primary seasonal challenges we are up agains while planning a backpacking elopement.
a. Early Season Challenge: Snow preventing access and Dangerous River Crossings
Depending on the year, snow lingers in the backcountry well into summer. After a dry winter, you can access the mountains in early June. After a wet winter, it can be August or later before it’s easily accessible. If you do choose to go out, we will consider a trail that does not cross high/fast rivers as those can be dangerous.
b. Mid Season Challenge: Mosquitos
While less of an issue, mosquitos can be quite frustrating during the first few weeks after snow melt. However, these little pests are probably the best challenge we have to face, as we can at least wear bug spray and nets.
c. Mid to Late Season Challenge: Forest Fires
This is sadly a reality that we must consider now every year. 2021 and 2022 were actually mostly free of fire! We will see what the future holds. The most likely season is August – September. The gallery you see here was actually in the midst of a lot of forest fire smoke. While this is not ideal, it did not ruin the experience. But you can see some orange tinted haze.
Permits & Logistics for Eloping in the Sierra
You do not need a special permit to get married in the backcountry. You DO, however, need a hiking permit any time you enter the backcountry with plans to spend the night. This depends on which national forest, and which trailhead you start at. For some areas we may even need a special photography permit. Each location is so specific, that you will have to do some research to know what is necessary. Thankfully, I am happy to do a lot of that research for you!
In California, you need at least 2 people to witness the ceremony in order to get legally married. That includes an officiant and a witness. Gary and Carmen invited their friend Bergen to officiate and also perform music during the ceremony.
Alternative Day Hike Elopements
Maybe you read through this and realize that while this all sounds EPIC but not quite the adventure for you. Maybe you want to have a little more rest and leisure, sleep in a real bed, and eat real meals, but still want some epic views. In that case, you should plan a 1 or 2 day elopement with a day hike! Here are a few of my favorite day hiking elopements.
Enjoy this 10 minute video of the experience (footage taken on an iPhone, music by Bergen the Officiant/Musician!) or the 1-minute Reel on my IG!
The Hike over Lamarck Col: Day 1
Gary and Carmen spend a lot of time in the Sierra each summer. Rather than going for miles or distance, they go for time spent in the backcountry. By some magic they manage to pack their bear canisters with 2+ weeks of food without resupplying! For this journey, they packed 17 days of food for our 3-day backpacking elopement, after which they honeymooned for 14 more days in the Ionian Basin. Here are some photos of us trekking over Lamarck Col, an “off trail” pass that requires a bit of navigation skills and a lot of stamina.
After we made it over Lamarck Col, we hiked through Darwin Bench which is one of the most beautiful places I have explored in the Sierra.
The Hike into Evolution Valley: Day 2
After an afternoon of swimming and resting, we got ready for an evening of portraits. I cannot imagine a more perfect backdrop for these wedding portraits. Gary wore a kilt to represent his Scottish heritage, and Carmen joined with a matching shawl.
Sunset Portraits: Day 2
The Sunrise Ceremony: Day 3
On the 3rd morning we all woke early to get ready for the ceremony. The ceremony was unique, beautiful, and intimate. Gary and Carmen spent the time create a ceremony that fully reflected their own lives and their special relationship. It was a sight to behold. The sun peaked out above the mountains just as they said their vows. We wrapped up the ceremony with a fun reception: Champagne, cake, and lots of celebrating with a few more friends!