I like to consider myself somewhat of a Stanley pro 😉 However, anyone who has been to the Sawtooths knows that it’s a rookie mistake to pretend to be able to predict what the weather will be like on any given day in the Sawtooths. The Sawtooths are my favorite place in the entire world to shoot and it’s only 2.5 hours from my front door! I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Sawtooths before I could even walk and my parents had me hiking the Bench Lakes and Sawtooth Lake when I was 10. I took some of my first photos with disposable cameras as a kid who wanted to document our annual summer trip to the mountains every year with our huge extended family. It’s the place that means the most to me on this earth – it’s such a personal place to me! I shot my first elopement in Stanley in 2016 and have since photographed over 75 elopements, weddings, and sessions in the Sawtooths. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can almost always count on unexpected challenges in Stanley when you shoot – whether it’s a road closure, rain and snow and sun on the same day, flat tires on back roads, or most lodging being closed nine months of the year. It’s the unpredictable nature of these towering mountains in a remote town that keeps every shoot exciting and different. No two Stanley sessions are ever the same and I love it for that reason!
Here are my tips for planning your elopement in the Sawtooths:
Most couples I work with spend an average of $5-10,000 on their elopement. The national average is $34,000 and even an elopement day will require you to hire some important vendors to make your day special!
2. Guest Count
Do you want to bring any guests? I consider an elopement any event not at an official venue with under 24 people. Typically your guests are not required to bring presents or traditionally fed “dinner” at an elopement. However, you can customize your elopement to mean whatever you want it to be. If you want to have a small formal dinner with your guests, go for it! If you want it to be just you and your partner, that is also great! I’ve seen couples invite only their immediate families, and some bring extended and close friends, too.
3. Elopement Package
Book an elopement package with elopement planner Emily Aitken Events! I teamed up with Emily Aitken to provide an all-inclusive experience for your elopement day in Stanley. It might seem silly to hire an elopement planner for a “simple” wedding, but, the fact is, even on an elopement day there are many undesirable tasks that take time and planning. If you want to sit back and relax, hiring an elopement planner is the best way to ensure you aren’t the one problem solving the day of when little things give you trouble. Emily and I will take over the set-up and design of a sweetheart tablescape, a ceremony arch, florals, officiant services, booking lodging, location scouting, sourcing wedding desserts, and more! We have worked together in the Sawtooths since 2017!
4. Time of Year
Be warned in Stanley that the weather is almost always unpredictable. I’ve experienced snow in July and 65 degrees + sunny weather in November. Summer months are most popular because most lodging is open from June to September, however, in the shoulder season and winter, certain cabin rentals and hotels start to close down limiting your options. Also, many backroads that take you to epic lookouts or scenic locations are only open June to October! However, if you love snow or fall colors, the offseason is still a great option if you are prepared to work around unpredictable storms and pick a place on the side of a highway or a lake depending on access. I also love late spring in Stanley when the sagebrush is the most beautiful shade of green and the mountains haven’t warmed up enough for the snowmelt to come off. There are positives to every season and challenges as well!
5. Private Chef or Dinner
Hire a private chef or book a private dinner! Some couples like to make it easy and eat pizza or grill on their wedding day, which is great! However, as an elopement photographer, I typically love shooting up until sunset to get the best possible lighting for you and your partner! Most restaurants in the area close before 10 pm and a few offer reservations. However, there are amazing chefs available who travel and offer a custom private dining experience from the comfort of your cabin! That way, you can eat when you want and structure your day around having the best photos and experience in the mountains without rushing to a dinner reservation.
Find lodging that suits your needs! If you’re an adventurous couple, you might want to stay in a rustic cabin or camp on your wedding day. Both options are great. Campsites tend to fill up really fast in the Stanley area, but booking a campsite is still possible if you look at Recreation.Gov if you book early enough. If you love rustic cabins, there is limited availability on Airbnb. I also recommend Stanley Vista Rentals and the Triangle C Cabins! If you want a bit of modern luxury, the amazing Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch has an all-inclusive package with meals and all activities included. It’s one of the most beautiful ranches I’ve ever experienced and a great place for a honeymoon too!
7. Elopement Photographer
Find a photographer who has the proper gear to handle snow, rain, dust, extreme weather, and is down for an adventure. Stanley definitely poses challenges to a photographer navigating tricky roads and unpredictable lighting all day long. Finding a photographer who can nail direct harsh light at a high elevation as well as a photographer willing to tough it out in the cold is worth it! I also typically recommend hiring an elopement photographer for more than 1-2 hours. You want to take advantage of the many beautiful areas in Stanley and typically an adventurous elopement photographer will want to make the experience of sightseeing and taking photos fun without a time limit imposed! A lot of experienced niche elopement photographers will have experience with all of the above circumstances and average pricing starts around $4000.
8. Weekday Elopement
Consider getting married on a weekday! A weekday elopement guarantees more privacy, more options when booking lodging and vendors, fewer tourists, and more flexibility all around! Stanley weekends in the summer are extremely popular and draw tourists from Boise, Sun Valley, and central Idaho so getting married privately on a beach is very difficult. Weekdays are a lot quieter and you’ll usually only run into relaxed locals!
9. Go Off-Grid
There are so many “secret” locations I’ve found when exploring the many BLM roads and NFS dirt backroads in the Sawtooth wilderness. There are some scenic drives in the White Cloud mountains and even directly next to Stanley Lake and the Sawtooths worth considering for your elopement for added privacy.
10. Take a Hike
The benefit of Stanley is how many accessible trails there are to gorgeous meadows, alpine lakes, and serene mountain views. I love Fish Hook Creek near Redfish Lake and Iron Creek if you’re up for some uphill elevation. The views are worth it!
11. Hire an Officiant
In the state of Idaho, you’ll need an officiant legally to be present for your ceremony to be “legal.” Hire an adventurous officiant who is willing to hike or explore a little bit with a 4WD vehicle for your epic adventure ceremony.
12. Wedding Bouquet
Have an epic elopement bouquet! I know it may seem silly, but having amazing flowers can really tie your wedding outfits and scenery together! Most elopement floral packages average $400 and include custom-ordered and designed flowers. A pop of color in your bouquet is a fun way to show off your style and personality and make your photos even better.
13. Elopement Day Fashion
Speaking of wedding day outfits… for an elopement, I definitely recommend that for gals, stick to something flowy with a lot of movement! You won’t want to be pulling up at your strapless dress all day hiking or walking around or have a hard time spreading your legs to hop across streams or rocks 😉 I also usually recommend bringing an adventure shoe! Hiking boots, Chacos, Birks, and Tevas are all fitting for your elopement look! For dudes, a solid colored pair of Chinos, a button-up shirt, a bow-tie, or a fun hat will do the job. Make it comfy and feel free to get a little more relaxed for your mountain elopement!
14. Make it Fun
Incorporate a fun activity into your elopement day! The best part about eloping? Your whole day is yours! Prep time is minimal on an elopement day so you can include your favorite activities together. Stanley has so many amazing hot springs close by if you want to go for a morning dip. If you want to go on a morning hike with your pup, that’s also an option! Consider writing sweet letters to read over coffee or breakfast, or having your families send you letters to open together on your elopement day. Other options include Mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, taking a dunk in the lake- there are endless possibilities when you have your entire morning to spend together!
15. Consider a Morning Ceremony
Just think about it! Most people don’t know that the way the sun is oriented in the Sawtooths means the sun rises to face the mountains and when it sets, it sets behind the mountains. This means the best alpine pink and orange glow happens in the morning, whereas at sunset the mountains become silhouetted and the detail of the mountains are lost until the sun is all the way down at blue hour.
Planning your elopement in the Sawtooths will be a breeze with these tips! Get in touch with any questions you may have, and let’s start to plan your dream elopement!
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Ummmmm OBSESSING over these photos, and thanks so much for so many helpful tips!!
This is an incredible guide- by the time I read your last tip i was like, TAKE MY MONEY I WANT TO ELOPE. The Sawtooths looks absolutely incredible!
Ahhhh how I miss the Sawtooths (Sawteeth?). What a magical location to shoot.
This is an AMAZING guide Maggie! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Great advice for planning and gorgeous photos! The Sawtooths are so stunning.
Oh wow! Thank you for all the information you put together in this blog post. I think the Sawtooths are an amazing place to elope, and you definitely know how to make the best out of it!