How to Elope in Upstate New York- Here's Everything You Need to Know!
Updated: May 18
In Your Elopement and Intimate Wedding Planning Guide:
Eloping- why is it great? Because you can have a day planned around you and what you love to do together. No fuss. No rules. For me and my husband, we both don't like big parties, so eloping was right for us! We actually, sort of, eloped twice! We got legally married at the courthouse and then did a mini-ceremony with our parents and siblings on a mountaintop at my parent's home in Austria a few months later. If you want the best of both worlds, you can always elope and then throw a party afterwards. Eloping means having the ultimate flexibility to do exactly what you want to do.
And yes, this guide to eloping in Upstate New York is long because I have filled it with important information for you. Fair warning :) And after you read through this, check out this post for recommendations for where to stay during your Upstate New York intimate wedding!
In this guide you will find out what an elopement is (and why you CAN invite your family and friends!), how to decide when to elope, sample elopement timelines, how to plan your elopement, and what sort of legalities you need to know to get officially married!
Are you interested in receiving my pricing guide? Contact me today. In addition to receiving your pricing guide, we will schedule a free consultation call and we can discuss your perfect wedding day!
What is an elopement?
This question seems so easy, doesn't it? But ask people what they think an elopement is and I guarantee you will get several different answers! So, here is my definition:
An elopement is an intimate, meaningful experience, in which the focus is on the couple.
That's it. It means having a day (or week?) in which you do what you love to do together. It is an opportunity to focus on your relationship and your journey together. It is a chance to get married whenever and wherever you want! It can be an all day experience or a week-long celebration. It can be just you two or you can invite others to witness your commitment. It can be legal or not. And it is certainly not just a two-hour photoshoot.
In short, eloping provides you with an extremely personalized experience in expressing your commitment to each other.
So, we've defined what an elopement is...so what is a capital "W" Wedding*?
To me a capital "W" wedding and an elopement are extremely different. A wedding is an event where the focus is on the performance of getting married and guest experience. So, can you have a 10 person elopement? YES! Can you have a 10 person wedding? Also YES! The difference is in where the focus lies.
*For the purposes of this document, an elopement also includes intimate weddings. I find that once the guest count goes over 25 people or so, it is hard to keep the event focused solely on the couple and the experience of getting married.
Types of Elopements
An elopement can be anywhere that feels like you! So, if you want to marry your person as the sun rises while backpacking in the Adirondacks, DO IT! Or perhaps, you want to get married in the living room of the home you purchased together and where you are raising your children- yep you can do that too. It's your day and you should make your commitment to each other in the place that is authentic to you and your relationship.
Choosing a Courthouse Wedding
Getting married at the courthouse is one of my favorite types of elopements! Perhaps I am biased though since my husband and I chose to get legally married at the Albany Courthouse. You can read exactly about how to get married at a New York courthouse in my blog post. It was a quick process that took place first thing in the morning. Different courthouses have different protocols, so you will have to check with your local courthouse about marriages. The great thing about getting married at the courthouse is that it is so easy to file your marriage license and get your paperwork processed right then and there. No extra steps needed. The best part is that you have the whole rest of the day to spend however you want to!
Embarking on an Adventure Elopement in the Adirondacks, Catskills, or Finger Lakes Region
Having an adventure elopement in Upstate New York is right up there with courthouse elopements in my opinion. I guess, if I really had to choose, I would say having both would be my choice! I would get married legally at the courthouse and then embark on an adventure elopement and exchange vows surrounded by the beauty of nature. Living right in the middle of the Adirondacks and the Catskills, I'm out hiking every weekend and know some of the most private spots with a view perfect for exchanging vows. Whether you want a 2 mile hike or a multi-day adventure, I can advise you on my favorite destinations.
Or maybe you would prefer to see some waterfalls, explore some gorges, spend the day sailing, bike some of the best country roads in New York State (my opinion), or have delicious wine. Then eloping in New York's Finger Lakes Region is for you! I spent several years hiking, biking, and exploring the Finger Lakes Region and would be excited to help you plan your perfect adventure elopement in the area.
Eloping with an Intimate Group of Friends and Family
Yes, an elopement can include more than just you and your partner! Remember when I talked about the difference between an elopement and a wedding being where the focus lies? So yes, bring your closest friends and family along to witness your vows. Perhaps you spend the money you would have spent on a wedding on unique experiences like a half-day rafting trip for the whole group followed by dinner at a local farm to table restaurant where everyone can order exactly what they want- no rubber chicken dinners here!
Whether at your home or at a beautiful Air BnB, having a backyard elopement can be so beautiful. You can decorate exactly how you want to, including ordering elaborate floral arrangements from a local florist or building your own unique arch to get married under. I recently shot a backyard elopement in which the couple's son served as best man and the bride's father officiated their elopement. Perhaps you have a fire pit and you would love to end your evening under the stars with a fire while roasting marshmallows, just like this couple did. You do you (and enjoy that ooey-gooey treat!
I love splurging on salted caramel chocolate for s'mores!)
Two Day Fetes
Perhaps you want to have a multi-day elopement or wedding- YES, this is possible! You can exchange vows privately on top of a mountain looking over the Catskills and then celebrate with a party either the next day or a few months later with your family and friends. Or perhaps you get married at the courthouse and then the next day you exchange vows lake-side, either alone or with witnesses. Or, you have a party with your family and then escape the next day for a private vow and ring exchange in a place that feels authentically you. Multi-day weddings are actually quite common in cultures around the world. So why not have a multi-day elopement making your commitment to each other and celebrating in the way that feels perfect for you?
How to Decide When to Elope in New York
There is no wrong time to elope in Upstate New York and no timeline for planning your elopement. Some couples plan their elopement in two weeks, while others may spend 18-months planning their perfect elopement. And I'm game for both and would love to help you plan your elopement.
Scheduling Your Elopement
Most couples who choose to elope are rather private in my experience. Because of this, I often recommend mid-week elopements. Destinations tend to be less crowded and there are more options for private vow exchanges. Additionally, if you are having a destination elopement, Air BnB and hotel rates tend to be cheaper in the middle of the week! If you are choosing to get legally married, you will need to schedule a time to get your marriage license. And if you are choosing to get married at the courthouse, you will have to schedule your appointment in advance.
Different Seasons to Elope
Each season offers different perks for your elopement. My recommendation is to look at what you love to do as a couple and choose your elopement date based on that! Do you love to hike- please don't elope during mud-season when trails are easily damaged by foot traffic. And both the Adirondacks and the Catskills have different perks and drawbacks depending on which month you choose to embark on your hiking elopement. Below are some options for each season, ending with my favorite season, winter!
Depending on the month, spring in Upstate New York is wonderful for a bicycling, backyard, or ski/snowshoeing elopement.
Summer is great for backyard, hiking, bicycling, kayak/sailing/boating, or other outdoor adventure elopements.
Fall, like spring, varies with the month. Late summer and fall are my favorite for hiking and backpacking elopements. The weather is cooler and bugs are mostly gone. Depending on the month, spikes, crampons, or snowshoes may be needed in some of the higher peaks, but the beauty in both the Adirondacks and Catskills is unparalleled! During the fall, you can pretty much elope in any way that you want to, including a ski or snowboard elopement late in the season!
And winter. Oh gosh, I love the winter! Snowy and beautiful, winter is definitely underrated in my opinion. Eloping in the winter can mean discounted rates for many areas, excluding ski areas. Picture frozen waterfalls and snowy walks, ending your day snuggled up together with hot chocolate in front of the fireplace. Or maybe you want to get married on the slopes because you love skiing and snowboarding together! There are so many options for your winter elopement and I look forward to brainstorming and planning your perfect day.
Morning or Evening Elopements
Both morning and evening elopements have the perks. Personally, I like sunrise elopements the best, because sunrises always feel like renewal to me. Here are some sample timelines for both types of elopements.
Morning Hiking Elopement Timeline
3:30 AM Meet your photographer at the trailhead and begin your hike up to an epic open summit
6:00 AM Arrive at the summit and change into wedding clothes. And take time for the sweat to evaporate off of your face if you are anything like me ☺
6:45 AM Exchange vows privately as the sun rises
7:15 AM Boil some water for coffee and enjoy breakfast with each other before heading down the mountain.
10 AM Head to your Air BnB or hotel room and take a nap
2 PM Head to a local farmer's market or deli and grab some delicious cheese, fruits, and bread for lunch
4 PM Bring your kayaks to a lake and take an evening paddle together or explore another local hike
7:30 PM Go out for a fancy dinner or build a campfire and roast s'mores together
9 PM Go to bed as a married couple
Evening Lakeside Elopement Timeline
9:30 AM Keep sleeping in!
11 AM Welcome your private chef to your Air BnB and have a delicious brunch served for you just for you. Take your time eating, laughing, and maybe playing some backgammon.
2 PM Shower and start getting ready. Do some yoga, get your hair and make up done, have a glass of champagne, and practice your vows.
5 PM If you chose to get ready separately, now is a great time for a first look followed by travel by boat to your elopement location
6 PM Arrive lakeside to a private dock with a styled set up personalized for you
6:30 PM Exchange vows and rings
7 PM Enjoy a private picnic as the sun sets, full of many kisses in between bites!
Plan Your Perfect Elopement or Intimate Wedding in Upstate New York
Who to Invite to Your Elopement
First things first, decide who, if anyone, you want to be at your elopement. If you are choosing to legally get married during your hiking elopement, your photographer can marry you (if they are ordained). If not, you will need an officiant. Witnesses? No problem! During hiking elopements, it's easy to find a fellow hiker or two to sign as your witness. Or you can invite family or friends along to witness you exchange forever promises with each other!
Style of Elopement
Aside from the types of elopements described in this blog post above, you will want to decide what vibe you want to have for your elopement. Would you like a meticulously styled elopement? I can hook you up with a stylist and planner! Or perhaps you want to have a simpler elopement with only a rough timeline and an idea of where you want to get married- that works too! Your elopement can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. With my combined experiences as a photographer and a producer of live events, I will be able to help you plan and budget realistically for your perfect day.
Elopements- Elements to Consider
What do you want to eat and drink?
Do you want to have a first dance?
Do you want it to be just you two of do you want to have others there?
Do you want flowers?
Do you want candles?
Are you going to have any rentals?
What are you going to wear? (I recommend owning whatever your wedding attire will be since you don't want to worry about damage while having fun!)
What sort of activities would you like to do?
Write your own vows or exchange more traditional vows?
Rings or no rings?
What ceremony elements would you like to incorporate?
Do you want to get ready together or separate?
Do you want to walk down any sort of "aisle"?
Will you need transportation?
What is your budget?
The list is endless, but thinking through the checklist will make sure your day goes smoothly so you can focus on each other. And I'm not going to lie- planning your elopement could have elements of stress, although if you work with me, I make the process as stress-free as possible. The only things you need to decide are what types of stress are good stress versus stress you would rather not have to deal with (like seating charts).
Finding a Photographer for Your Perfect Elopement in Upstate New York
Getting married is a big life event, whether it's with 150 people, with an officiant and witnesses, or alone by yourselves. You deserve to have your memories documented so that you can look back on this event!
For me it comes down to personality and knowledge- you will be spending several hours with this person, so you want to make sure that you will get along! That is why I always schedule a video call with all prospective couples. It's important that we both get along and that expectations are aligned. I only accept 16 elopements and weddings each year to ensure that I can give my all to each couple. Because so many of elopements are adventurous, it is important that I stay healthy and fit, so that I can give my complete attention to couples both before and during their elopement day. If it sounds like we are not a good fit for each other, I will let you know and recommend other photographers that I think will give you the experience you want. If a photographer does not offer to do a meeting before hearing about your dream day, I recommend moving on to someone who will give you that personalized attention before booking. And be wary of any photographer who guarantees a specific style regardless of season or location. In my experience, each album is edited for the light. That means if it is a bright, winter day, you may have a more light and airy album. If it's an overcast fall elopement, your album will be more dark and moody in style.
The Paperwork - Making Your Marriage Legal in Upstate New York
I saved the legal for last, because I believe that a real wedding or elopement is not necessarily the same as getting legally married. In many places around the world, couples may not have the privilege of getting married legally due to their sex, gender, race, religion, race, or ethnicity. If you are getting legally married, you can do so before, after, or during your elopement and the rules will depend on where you claim residency.
The first thing to do is know that you will need to visit your local court clerk in order to apply for your marriage license. You can find more about applying for your marriage license in this blog post. In New York State, you must apply for your marriage license in person. The license is then valid for 60 days. And you must wait at least 24 hours before getting married after receiving your license. In order to obtain a marriage license, you must have original documents with a raised seal. You will need your birth certificate and a photo ID with a birth date on it, such as a driver's license or a non-drivers/work ID). If you cannot obtain your birth certificate, you may use a baptismal certificate or naturalization papers. All previous marriage info is needed as well (Divorce, Annulment, and/or Death Certificates. The marriage license costs $40 and is cash only (as of the writing of this blog post).
If you are getting married in New York State, you can get your marriage license anywhere in New York State. So, no, you don't need to get your license in the same district that you are getting married in. Just remember to submit your marriage license afterwards so that you can get your certificate!
Your Elopement is About You - The Takeaway
If there is any take away from this guide to eloping in New York State, it is that you can elope in any way that you want to! There are no limits. By hiring me as your Upstate New York elopement photographer, you get more than just a photographer! You will have you a new friend and personal guide to eloping in Upstate New York- whether it's location advice, how to tell your family and friends, styling tips, or how to navigate the legal, I am here for you. I am full of helpful tips and advice, both from my own experience and from helping other couples like you plan their perfect elopement.
Want to read more and get recommendations on what venues are great to stay at for your intimate wedding or elopement in Upstate New York? This post lists some of the best lodges, inns, boutique hotels, and bed and breakfasts for you and your partner to stay at on your wedding day.
When planning your elopement in Upstate New York, remember why you are eloping- it's just about you two.
Are you thinking about eloping in Upstate New York? Let's book a discovery call and talk about your elopement ideas! Reach out today either through my contact form or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am so excited to meet you and learn about your elopement dreams!