Where should I elope in Alaska and how?
As a photographer, this is the one question I am asked most by couples who are planning to elope in Alaska. If you are drawn to the wild, rugged, beautiful, and off the beaten path, then surely this place is for you. The only problem is, the options for eloping here are endless and can be a bit overwhelming.
Having been born and raised here in this great state, I have had the opportunity to explore some pretty incredible places. One of my favorite things about being an elopement photographer is sharing these locations with others. The wide open spaces, room to breathe deeply, and explore in this corner of the world truly make Alaska the perfect place to begin the rest of your lives together.
Here you will find what I would consider some of the best places to elope (or have an intimate ceremony) in Alaska. Some involve legwork, a small plane, or boat to reach, while others merely require that you step out of your car door. All are beautiful and promise adventure. This is by no means an exhaustive list of locations (I mean it when I say the options are endless!) but are just some of my personal favorites.
But first, a few things you should know...
The best time to visit is generally June-September. The snow typically melts away in late April, but spring "breakup" in May is just not pretty. (The melting snow leaves a layer of scum and trash over everything!)
Temperatures range from 60-80°F in the summer months. July tends to be the warmest and sunniest month and you can generally bet on more rain and moody skies in August. Come September the leaves begin to change and paint the mountain sides red and gold.
Regardless of the month, the weather varies greatly across the state and can be quite unpredictable. So prepare accordingly!
Come summer, the farther north you go, the longer the day. At the solstice, there are about 19.5 hours of daylight in Anchorage. This is only the amount of time the sun is above the horizon. Even after sunset, the sky never goes completely dark. In the winter, things reverse a bit and 5-6 hours of daylight is typical in December (in Anchorage.)
Check out this calculator to find out what daylight will look like when you visit: Alaska Daylight Hours
Make it Legal
In order to obtain an Alaska marriage license, you will need to submit an application to the Bureau of Vital Statistics (in person or by mail.). There is a three-day wait period after submitting your application and license fee of $60. Two witnesses and an officiant are also required for the wedding ceremony.
For more information, visit the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics website.
Anchorage + the Chugach Mountains
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska. It is situated at the edge of the Cook Inlet and backed by the Chugach Mountains. Because of the close proximity of this range, there are many great trailheads and access points just 20 minutes from downtown.
The Seward Highway will take you out of the south side of town and winds along the Turnagain Arm, with mountains to your left and the inlet to your right, it is an incredibly stunning drive, no matter the weather. Beluga Point (milepost 110.5, just 6.5 miles south of Anchorage) is by far the most popular of the viewpoints along this route and is often more crowded on nice days, so I recommend stopping at one (or a few) of the many unmarked pullouts to explore. (Side note: There are no warning signs, so take care not to venture out onto the mud flats at low tides.)
In autumn you may spot beluga whales in the inlet as well!
Random fact: Anchorage encompasses an area of 1,961 square miles from Portage Glacier to Eklutna and is about the size of the state of Delaware.
Girdwood is a little ski town just 36 miles south of Anchorage. It is surrounded by the Chugach Mountains and lush green forests, and is home to many hikes and woodland walks. (Not to forget my personal favorite eats, Jack Sprat.)
Honestly, Girdwood offers a little bit of everything.
If you dream of saying your vows with a view, but don't quite have those mountain legs yet, you can take a ride on the Alyeska Tram. If you want that PNW lush woodland feel and waterfalls, there’s a place for that. Wildflower meadow? Check. Mountain views? Check. You want to elope on a glacier? They’ve got that too. (Book a glacier landing with Alpine Air.)
About 19 miles further south of Girdwood you will reach Portage Lake. While Portage Glacier itself is not visible from the visitor’s center, there are plenty of beautiful places to explore and elope in this area. In the winter you can trek across the lake (2.5 miles) to the glacier’s edge. In the summer, you can book a “glacier cruise” or take a short but fairly steep 3/4 mile hike up Portage Pass Trail which will give you an incredible view of the glacier on one side, and the Prince William Sound to the other. (This is one of my favorites, especially on a clear day!)
Kenai Peninsula (Homer, Seward, Kachemak Bay)
The Kenai Peninsula offers more of a coastal vibe, with access to the Kenai River, Prince William Sound, and Kachemak Bay. (ie: fishing, sea kayaking, more hiking) Seward is a quaint and artistic coastal town with wonderful beaches and mountain views. If you love the ocean, you can catch a chartered trip across the bay to one of many coves and tiny towns, or say your vows out on the Homer Spit near the harbor. Depending on the time of year you will likely spot whales, otters, seals, and other wildlife in these areas.
Just an hour north of Anchorage, you will reach the Mat-Su Valley. (Referred to around here simply as “the valley.”) The crowning jewel of this area is Hatcher Pass. (Just a 20 minute drive from the city of Palmer.)
If you daydream about the Scottish highlands, Hatcher Pass is your place. (You’ll be feeling serious Outlander vibes up here!) It also happens to be one of those places where you can drive, roll on out of the car, and get married on the spot, OR you can hike around and explore. There are several trails leading to small alpine lakes and creeks in the area, or you can head off of the path and chart your own course.
The gate to the upper parking lot at Independence Mine (at the end of the main road into Hatcher Pass) is closed September-April, but the lower parking area remains open year round.
For the most adventurous, Reed Lakes Trail follows Reed Creek (envision Middle Earth) and passes turquoise lakes, waterfalls, and the abandoned Snowbird Mine ending at Upper Reed Lake. The first 1.5 miles are easy and follow an old road to an abandoned cabin. The rest of the trail is a bit more challenging and includes two boulder fields but the views along the way are well worth the trek.
About 100 miles northeast of Anchorage (about an hour and 20 minutes from Palmer), lies Matanuska Glacier. At approximately 26 miles long and 4 miles wide, this glacier is a spectacular and otherworldly place to elope. There is a $20 per person fee charged by the private landowner for access. While guided tours are available, it is fairly easy to pick your way along the (somewhat) marked trails. Ice cleats are recommended.
Where to stay: Elope at the glacier, then settle in for the evening at Sheep Mountain Lodge, located just 12 miles from access to the Matanuska Glacier.
Juneau + Southeast Alaska
For me, Juneau, Alaska will always hold that sparkling dreamlike nostalgia of childhood memories. Part of my childhood was spent there, I fell in love with photography there, and married my husband surrounded by the walls of a 100 year old house there.
It's a place where the trees grow tall and the mountains tumble right down into the ocean. In the summer, it comes to life, bustling with visitors. Come winter, it slumbers. In all seasons it is an often misty, mysterious, and inspiring place to visit.
Juneau is also home to Alaska’s State Capitol and the world’s best waffles. (Oh GonZo…Last time I photographed an elopement in Juneau I ordered waffles there three times in one day. No, I do not have an ounce of shame.)
There truly are countless scenic places to elope around here. Take a walk to one of many hidden beaches, explore the ruins of Treadwell Mine, hike around Mendenhall Glacier…the possibilities are endless! Bonus points if you say your vows in the ice caves, then hop on a cruise ship for a honeymoon adventure to see more of Southeast Alaska.
Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains
Nestled in the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains, there is a place that offers both the ultimate in adventure and luxury: Ultima Thule. It is not a city or town, but a lodge situated along the bank of the Chitina River. Privately owned and built by the Claus family, it truly is the most incredible place to experience the Alaskan wilderness. One hundred miles from the end of any road, it is so remote, that many of the mountains in the region are unnamed.
Five luxurious private cabins sit beside the main lodge where meals are prepared with fresh Alaskan game and fish, home grown vegetables, and fresh baked bread and pastries. Elope amidst the gardens at Ultima Thule Lodge, or fly with one of their world class pilots to a remote location - the sky is quite literally the limit.
Check out the Ultima Thule website to see the lodge and learn more about the unique experiences offered here.