An Eleven step blueprint to planning your perfect Sedona Elopement
Updated for 2022
This 11 Step blueprint will help you outline your one of a kind Sedona Elopement, helping your avoid as much stress and uncertainty as possible!
Sedona has long been described as one of the most beautiful places in the world, so it should come as no surprise that it has also become a highly sought after place for couples looking for the perfect location for their destination elopement.
Whether you are local to Arizona and fell in love with the majestic red rocks like I did, or coming from another state or country, you can’t go wrong with eloping in Sedona.
Surrounded by towering red rock formations, Sedona has a robust outdoor community for the adventurous at heart, including a seemingly endless trail system, off road adventure opportunities, helicopter tours, and so much more! For couples looking for a more relaxed experience, the nearby local wineries, historical sites, arts and crafts center, and award winning restaurants may be more your preference. With so much to see and do, I highly recommend planning at least three or four days for your visit.
Over the years as a Sedona Elopement Photographer, I realized that while eloping is a liberating decision, the actual planning can be overwhelming for couples who have never planned, or in many cases- even been to, a destination elopement. I put together this Sedona Elopement Guide as a step by step roadmap to help you get started! A few of the steps could change in order depending on your unique situation, but most Sedona elopements will have each of these steps that will need to pull off the perfect Sedona Elopement!
Want your own one on one expert Sedona Elopement photographer & planning consultant to help guide you through the process right from the start? Let’s schedule a time to chat and see if we mesh well!
Step 1- Choose the Best time of year for your Sedona elopement
The first step in planning your elopement in Sedona is to decide what time of year you would like to visit. Unlike many locations, Sedona is known for its relatively mild climate year round, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t weather and scenery factors to consider based on your unique vision for your day.
Spring or Fall
Spring and fall are the easiest times to plan a Sedona elopement because of the mild temperatures, mostly sunny days and more predictable weather.
In the spring, the non-evergreen trees may not have all of their leaves yet, but as the weather starts to warm and days get longer, the blooming desert cacti and plentiful fruit trees add pops of color in and around Sedona. The days are generally drier, or dappled with light scattered showers with little to no cloud cover, really showing off those clear blue skies the desert is known for. Spring elopements have produced some of my all time favorite images in Sedona.
In the fall the landscape is generally still very green around the base of the red rocks after a summer of monsoon storms. We also get hues of gold and red fall leaves towards the end of fall/ early winter before they drop to the overnight frosts. The chance of cloudy skies is higher than in the springtime, but clear blue skies are still the norm. The evenings come with a chill once the sun goes down, so be prepared to bring a light jacket or cover of some sort.
Summer or Winter
While most people choose spring or fall for their outdoor wedding in Sedona, it is accessible all year. With sunrise ceremonies or shaded water activities during the summer, and cooler, shorter days in the winter- sometimes it pays to go against the norm and choose a less popular elopement time.
In the summer, sunrise elopements are the best way to beat the heat, monsoon storms, and the crowds! Summer is also nice if you are wanting to spend time down at Oak Creek wading or kayaking in the water. If you have your heart set on longer hike, I do not suggest late June-August, as temperatures regularly climb into the 90-100F range. The chance for spectacular sunsets go up in the summer monsoon season, but you have to be flexible with the chance of rain. (Side note- I LOVE the rain! If you want to dance in the rainy desert on your wedding day, I will 100% be there to photograph it with a cheesy hat and cover to protect my camera!)
Another consideration is that although it is hot, summer is a popular time for tourism in Sedona, so trailhead parking and privacy considerations definitely need to be taken into consideration.
In the winter we sometimes get sprinkles of snow (lovingly called Snow-dona by the locals) that spend a day or two nestled upon the red stone, making for one of the most striking views you will ever witness. The skies are generally clear and blue, but we do get some overcast, chilly, and windy days perfect for cozy jackets and hot cocoa. Trails in the shade may have ice to navigate.
As your Sedona Photographer, I’m here to help you as you choose the right time of year to fit your dream Sedona Arizona Elopement, along with tips on what to wear, how to stay cool (or warm!) and other recommendations for staying happy and healthy in the high desert.
There really isn’t a “bad” time for eloping in Sedona, but I do strongly suggest fall or spring for anyone that is not used to the heat, wants to avoid most of the monsoon storms, and prefers a more mild temperature outlook. Spring is the least busy, but fall in the high desert is one of my favorite times of year.
Step 2- Prepare your Guest list
Knowing the total number of people you will have in attendance, and what limitations you need to account for will be one of the largest determining factors in every other decision that you make for your Elopement in Sedona, AZ. Spending some time to really figure this part out before moving too far forward into the process is an absolute must.
Just the two of you
Are you eloping just the two of you? Great! This offers the largest amount of flexibility both with locations available to you, as well as what activities you can include as it will be based solely on your needs and experience as a couple.
Eloping with Guests
Are there people you can’t imagine saying your “I Do’s” without? Knowing who you will have with you will help determine where you can go based on accessibility, which locations are able to support the desired number of guests, transportation logistics (parking in Sedona can be a real nightmare), and whether or not you are required to rent out a space to support the size of your group. In general, expect to start seeing significant differences in ceremony location options for what is considered a Sedona wedding elopement once you go over 15 people total.
Step 3- Choose your Sedona elopement photographer
If you haven’t already chosen your Sedona Elopement Photographer, this is where you should definitely reach out, especially if you already have a specific date in mind!
Hi! I’m Shannon Durazo
and I would love to be your Sedona Elopement Photographer!
Sedona is my home base for photography, and I love helping couples create the perfect destination elopement surrounded by the red rocks and enchanting energy of this desert oasis. The way your marriage begins matters, and I would love to help you tell your story through a wonderful experience and epic photographs so you can relive the moments for years to come!
Sedona Elopement Packages
Four (4)+ hour to Multi-day Sedona Elopement Package Options Available
Step 4- Choose the location(s) for your Sedona Elopement vows and portraits
Deciding to elope in Sedona is the easy part. The hard part is narrowing down WHERE to Elope in Sedona.
There are so many breathtaking spots to say your vows and take epic wedding day portraits, you really can’t go wrong. I will help you pinpoint the features that drew you to Sedona, give feedback on ease of access, accessibility for parking and terrain for you and your guests, and help you factor in all the unique details of your vision to find the perfect location for you.
Top Elopement Locations in Sedona, Arizona
Below are a couple of the top requested places to elope in Sedona that offer the striking, world famous red rock views, along with a couple of my personal favorites . While actual ceremonies are not allowed at some of the well known trails, knowing where other couples have chosen to take portraits can help you narrow down what look you are wanting for your wedding adventure. Remember- these are only the tip of the iceberg. With over 200 official trails, and many more social trails to explore, there are many choices for Sedona elopement spots surrounded by 360 degree red rock views.
1. Cathedral Rock Trail
We will start with THE most requested Sedona Arizona elopement location- Cathedral Rock Trail. If you have searched for pictures of elopements in Sedona- it is almost guaranteed your search included images of the iconic Cathedral Rock. While this location is definitely high on the popularity list, there is a reason couples feel drawn to this impressive rock formation. Whether you are choosing to tackle the steep hike to the top for those towering spires, or prefer taking a less traveled trail to have the peaks rising up behind you, the view is absolutely breath taking. I highly recommend doing this hike Monday – Wednesday to be able to use the parking at the base without using the shuttle system. You will also avoid as much of the crowds as possible. It is usually busy anytime of year, even in the summer heat, so be prepared that this is a location that rarely comes with much privacy. Many couples choose a less traveled location for their actual vow exchange, and then go to Cathedral for the epic views for their couples portraits either on the same day, or as a day after Adventure Session.
- Setups: Not Allowed
- Parking: Parking at the main trailhead is open open Monday- Wednesday, and spaces fill quickly. I recommend planning extra time to wait for a space to open, and to carpool when possible. A Red Rock Pass or America The Beautiful Pass is required. Thursday – Sunday the shuttle system is required to the main trailhead.
- Accessibility: The hike to the top of Cathedral is not for the faint of heart. It is a shorter distance, at only 1.2 miles in length, but is straight up with some very steep slick rock spots. Be prepared to use your hands and navigate vertical sections that require light climbing. The slick rock is a different kind of balance game if you haven’t navigated it before. Good shoes with grip, plenty of water, sunscreen, and a secure bag to carry your items is a must. I would rate this as kid friendly- possibly dog (2 of my three can do it with no issue), but not good for people with limited mobility, struggle with incline, balance issues, or struggle with fear of heights.
- Time of Day: The fiery views from the main ledge are best shot at sunset, although sunrise lends to more privacy and some unique shots as well, especially at the spire.
Pro-tip: There are several trails that offer incredible views of Cathedral Rock as a backdrop if you love the unique look, but don’t want to hike up the steep slick rock to the top.
For more information and images of Cathedral Rock visit:
2. Merry Go Round Rock
Merry Go Round Rock, or Carousel Rock, is known as one of the most spectacular views overlooking Sedona down below. It can be reached both by hike (I do not recommend), or more commonly, by navigating the very bumpy, high clearance 4×4 Schnebly Hill Road. While this is easily one of my favorite Sedona elopement locations, the rough ride and limited access make it best for smaller groups. Many jeep tours make a stop at this gorgeous overlook, but most have to be back down before the best lighting sets in. The best option if you do not have your own high clearance 4×4 is to rent a jeep for the day!
- Setups: Not Allowed
- Parking: Limited at the base Munds Wagon trailhead, which requires a Red Rock or America the Beautiful Pass, and very limited up the 4×4 road that does not require a pass.
- Accessibility: This location requires a either a longer somewhat steep hike- or an hour each way by an experienced 4×4 driver with a high clearance vehicle. Kid and non-car sick dog friendly (the ride is VERY bumpy) If driving, there is still a short hike down to the overlook area and to the top. Appropriate footwear and water is a must. There are no restroom or water facilities, so plan accordingly.
- Time of Day: Merry Go Round is best at sunset.
Pro-tip: This location is less busy than many of the most iconic views because of the difficulty reaching it, but has an extra cost factors of time, difficulty, and rental expense if you do not have a high clearance vehicle to take into consideration while comparing places to get married in Sedona. But good news! I drive a lifted 4runner, so my travel is included!
For more information and images of Merry Go Round Rock visit:
3. Bell Rock
There are many easily reached locations with wonderful views of Bell Rock featured in the background available for you to say your vows. With several paths to choose from, including a few secret locals favorites, you can have a beautiful 360 degree view of red rocks with minimal effort, making this an area that is a favorite for elopements with guests.
- Parking: There are three parking lots with access to views of Bell Rock depending on the exact location. All three require a Red Rock or America the Beautiful Parking Pass. They fill up quickly, so like most of Sedona, carpooling and getting there early to wait for an open spot is key.
- Accessibility: Most of these views require a shorter hike and can be extended for a longer full day hike, with options for local trail offshoots. This area is kid and dog friendly. Appropriate footwear and water is a must.
- Time of Day: This area is beautiful at both sunrise and sunset.
Pro-tip: There are trails that go all the way around Bell Rock, so you can see it from many different angles depending on which area you choose making it gorgeous for both sunrise and sunset.
For more information and images of Bell Rock visit:
4. Doe Mountain
Doe Mountain is another one of my very favorite picturesque elopement locations in Sedona. It is gorgeous, and seriously underrated, in my opinion. I love the diverse scenery with trees, cliffs, and red rock formations in the distance.
- Parking: Parking is extremely limited and requires a Red Rock or America the Beautiful Parking Pass.
- Accessibility: This location requires a short somewhat steep hike up switchbacks to the top. There are no restrooms or running water on site. Doe Mountain is kid and dog friendly. Alltrails lists it as Moderate. Appropriate footwear and water is a must.
- Time of Day: Doe Mountain is best at sunrise due to the way the light hits and also the tiny parking lot without overflow options.
Pro-tip: If you choose a sunrise elopement, you may get lucky and have hot air balloon rising up behind you in the distance!
Special Use Permits for Elopements in Sedona
One of the incredible things about Sedona is that most outdoor areas that allow elopements do not require a special use permit for ceremonies with 0-15 guests and without props (arches, tables & chairs, etc…). BUT, this is does not mean you don’t need to reach out to the proper land managers to gain written permission prior to your event. Permitting and rules on specific areas are always in a state of flux, and can change depending on your specific needs. For most of Sedona this will be the Red Rock Ranger District of Coconino National Forest.
If you do want an arch, seating, or other setup items, there are parks and properties that allow them with a permit/ reservation fee. Setups including arches or any free standing arrangements are not allowed on most trail locations.
Leave No Trace
What are LNT principles, and how do they affect my wedding?
Leave No Trace (LNT) is a simple set of principles designed to help you leave public places as good as (or better!) than you found them. This means following common sense principles- like not popping confetti (yes- this includes those that advertise themselves as biodegradable!)on the trail or leaving trash behind, to principles you may not think of like not spreading non-native flower petals in an area or walking off trail on cryptobiotic crust. Don’t worry- I’m not here to be a party pooper- but I WILL help you find ways to have your perfect day while also helping ensure you can still come back and visit your wedding location 10 years from now!
Step 5- Plan your Travel
Sedona is relatively close to a major international airport and has many lodging choices ranging from resorts, vacation rentals, and unique alternatives readily available, making it an easily accessible location for your destination elopement. Transportation within Sedona can be a bit more challenging to navigate, as there is little to no ridesharing options, so I highly recommend renting a vehicle even if you plan to access trails by shuttle or trolley.
Getting to Sedona
Phoenix Sky Harbor is the nearest major international airport. You will need to rent a vehicle and drive approximately 2 hours north to Sedona. The drive back down can get backed up with traffic, so I recommend leaving ample time to catch your flight. There are car rentals on site.
Flagstaff Airport is a small regional airport with limited flights in and out each day about 45 minutes north of Sedona. I always suggest checking pricing, because sometimes they run good deals that make it worth it, especially if you are planning to check out some of the attractions in northern Arizona on your trip like the Grand Canyon (hello- wonder of the world!), Page (Horseshoe Bend), the Vermillion Cliffs (the Wave and slot canyons), Flagstaff itself, or Monument Valley. There are car rentals on site.
Sedona Airport is a private airport if you have your pilot’s license and plane or wish to charter a flight in. It is also one of the most beautiful airports I’ve ever seen, set on the top of red rocks with one of my favorite restaurants in the area on site. Flying into the Sedona airport is a sight to behold, and I highly recommend it if you have a chance.
For a searchable list of where to stay including local Hotels, Resorts, Bed and Breakfasts, and more, visit this Sedona Chamber of Commerce Where to Stay Web Search tool.
Consider staying at a unique Sedona location
While Sedona has world class Resorts and Spas, there are also more unique vacation rentals and Bed and Breakfasts that can elevate your stay in Red Rock country. Options like Tiny Camp, Creekside Inn Sedona, where you can wake up to red rock views in a more secluded atmosphere.
Transportation in Town
- Ride the Trolley
- Take the Sedona Trail Shuttle
- Local Jeep Tours
- Rent a Jeep
Step 6- Brainstorm Activities to Maximize those Sedona vibes during your elopement day
The draw is all about the surreal red rock formations, so a heavy emphasis on outdoor activities and incredible views is the priority for most couples eloping in Sedona. Enjoying the landscape can be as adventurous or easy going as you wish as you maximize those quintessential Sedona vibes.
Say your Vows at the top of a Hiking Trail
Choose a hike in mother nature as your venue. Almost all Sedona outdoor elopements involve at least a short hike to one of our many magnificent canyon overlooks. With so many gorgeous options to choose from, saying your vows beneath blue skies surrounded by sprawling red rock valleys and towering mesas is the epitome of a Sedona elopement experience.
Rent a Jeep to Get Out Amongst the Red Rocks
Not into a long hike, but still want a bit more privacy than the easier to reach spots? Rent a jeep! Some of the most incredible views of the red rocks are most easily reached by an off-road excursion that requires high clearance 4×4 vehicles. The good news is that most are not super technical, so are beginner friendly with an experienced travel companion to follow (me!). Or, you can hire a driver to navigate the more technical aspects for you so you can sit back and relax during the drive, then enjoy a shorter hike/ walk down to a secluded ledge to find the best place to elope in Sedona.
Celebrate with a Toast
Large weddings generally have a cocktail hour following the ceremony, elopements often celebrate with a champagne toast! Not a champagne lover? Bring a couple of your favorite micro-brews or non-alcoholic beverages instead.
Enjoy a First Dance On the Red Rocks
Having your wedding out in nature does not mean that you have to give up your first dance as a married couple. You can download your favorite song, have a family member or friend play an instrument or sing, or hire a private musician for your elopement music. There are limitations on decibel levels allowed, but a small portable speaker or live musician falls within those limits in most locations.
Private Picnic Overlooking the Sedona Canyons
Speaking of celebrating, enjoying a picnic overlooking the canyons is a relaxing way to really be in the moment with your partner and enjoy the scenery as a newly married couple. It can be as simple or extravagant as you wish, but most couples like to bring a blanket and snacks in their backpacks, then choose a spot off a trail that speaks to them.
If you would like a more grand setup with a table, cushions, and consider hiring a local company to do the heavy lifting for you!
Hire a local Officiant to Perform your Ceremony
Hiring a local officiant to create a personalized ceremony for you helps take the pressure off of your individual vows and adds a touch of structure for the flow of your day. You can choose a traditional reading, or go with a more spiritual celebration such as a hand tying ceremony or sage ritual. Several of the local officiants are even willing to hike or drive an off-road trail with you to your perfect ceremony location!
Cool off down by Oak Creek
Are you a water lover? Consider a trip down to Oak Creek to enjoy the sound of rushing water while having a picnic down by the edge of the creek, or wading through the cool water rushing over red sandstone to say your vows framed by mini waterfalls and towering cottonwood trees. This is an especially nice activity to add to summer elopements as a reprieve from the strong sun and summer heat.
More Sedona elopement Activity Ideas
Check out this list of Romantic Things for Couples to do in Sedona, AZ for a ton of local activity options that you can incorporate into your elopement day or wedding trip to Sedona.
Check out this post of 101 Fun Elopement Activity Ideas for even more Sedona Elopement Activities inspiration to make your wedding day unforgettable
Step 7- Build out your ideal Timeline
This is where having a Sedona Elopement Photographer is crucial! An outline of your day or multiple days is important to be able to communicate times with additional vendors like hair and makeup, officiant, and any meals to make your day run smoothly!
Timeline example- Full day (sunset) Relaxed
9:30 am – Photographer arrives at Bed and Breakfast to capture detail shots & getting ready photos
10:45 am – First look outside Bed and Breakfast
11:00 am – Head to ceremony location, stop along the way for photos at scenic overlook
2:30 pm – Arrive at location; ceremony followed by exploring & portraits
5:00 pm – Head back to Bed and Breakfast (30 min drive)
5:30 pm – Arrive back at the Bed and Breakfast for dinner catered by local restaurant overlooking the red rocks
7:30 pm – Photo coverage wraps up- we say goodnight!
Timeline example- Full day (sunrise) with family
3:00 am – Meet at the trailhead, gear up
3:15 am – Begin hike in the dark with headlamps (1.8 miles)
4:45 am – Arrive at first look location, golden hour begins, change into wedding apparel
5:30 am – Sunrise first look followed by portraits & exploring
8:00 am – Begin hike back to trailhead, portraits along the way (1.8 miles)
9:30 am – Arrive back at trailhead, head to vacation rental (30 min drive)
10:00 am – Arrive at vacation rental for ceremony
10:30 am – Ceremony
11:00 am – Family photos
11:30 pm – Brunch party with champagne popping & Brunch
12:30 pm – Detail shots
1:00 pm – Photo coverage ends
Step 8- Book additional vendors for your Sedona Elopement
From Officiants, Florals, and Hair and Makeup Artists to Jeep tours, musicians, furniture rentals, and other activities- Sedona has a wide range of service providers to help make your elopement everything you’ve imagined. Below are just a few from my preferred vendor list to get you started!
Step 9- Prepare for your visit to Sedona
From proper gear, to what to wear during your stay, getting prepped ahead of time for your Sedona adventure will make your trip go smoothly for you and your guests!
Step 10- Getting Legal
Legalities of getting married in Sedona
Arizona requires a MARRIAGE LICENSE, an OFFICIANT and TWO (2) WITNESSES to sign your marriage license. There is no waiting period once you obtain your marriage license from the courthouse.
For a more detailed list of ALL the steps and links to where and how to get your marriage license, and how to file it, visit the link below.
Step 11- Plan the rest of your visit to Sedona
Historic & Artistic attractions to visit while in Sedona
- Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Center
One of my favorite places to visit in Sedona, the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Center is gorgeous to just walk around for the day, or stop into one of the many restaurants to have a bite. This is a must see for me, and I always tell visitors if you don’t have time to do anything else- spend a couple hours enjoying this wonderful area.
- Sedona Heritage Museum
The Sedona Heritage Museum are the caretakers of Sedona area history. Visit them for personal enjoyment, entertainment, education and research.
- Sedona History Walk
A Self guided stroll through art, cinema, history, geology and nature. For more information visit https://walksedona.com/
- Chapel of the Holy Cross
The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude (a student of architect Frank Lloyd Wright) in the 1950s and is studied by students of architecture. The main stained-glass window is held together by a giant cross and overlooks the Verde Valley.
- The Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park
Many people don’t realize that you can visit the Amitabha Stupa- a symbol of the Buddha- in the middle of the red painted desert for prayer, meditation, and the experience of peace and balance.
Easy day trips near Sedona
The Grand Canyon
There is a reason the Grand Canyon is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. There is this feeling you get while standing on the edge, peering into the vastness, that can never be described with mere words or experienced through an image. I believe everyone should go at least once in their lives.
Horseshoe Bend & Page, AZ
Nestled on the border of Arizona and Utah, Page has activities ranging from tours through slot canyons, kayaking up the Colorado River, to watching the sunset overlooking Horseshoe Bend. It is well worth a full day or more to explore.
Monument Valley, AZ
One of the most iconic desert views made famous by old western movies is even more breathtaking in person.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma’s Castle is a FIVE (5) story, 20 room cliff dwelling high in the walls of the cliffs by the Sinaqua Indian Tribe in the early 1300s. A very cool visit.
The most common Sedona Elopement faq’s at a glance
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