How to Elope in

Lake Tahoe

a complete guide from a born & raised local, who eloped here, too

If you're in the market for an epic place to say I-do and have the world's most gorgeous photos, Lake Tahoe is probably on your short list for Elopement Destinations. Lake Tahoe Elopements are full of vibrancy and magic, with no shortage of great vendors and epic backdrops. If you're considering it, this is my attempt to convince you...and if you're already decided, this is your affirmation!

Hi! I'm Ruthanne - a lifetime local, elopement expert, fellow eloper, and I think you should absolutely elope in Lake Tahoe.

3 reasons to elope in Lake Tahoe




Lake Tahoe is unique in that it's not a national park - meaning that regulations and permits are limited. We'll get to the things you need to know to do it ethically in a minute, but in general, there are a lot of options that don't have the same restrictions you see in many National Parks. 

Lake Tahoe has some of the most straightforward access of any mountains in California. We're less than 4 hours from three major metropolitan cities; San Francisco (4 hours), Sacramento (2 hours, give or take), and Reno, Nevada - only 30-60 minutes away!

Every single season in Lake Tahoe is special and unique - and while it can be entirely unpredictable (hello, record breaking '22/'23 winter!) there is something so grounding about being immersed in a region that truly moves and evolves with the seasons.

We want to elope in lake tahoe with you!

  • Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America

  • Second in depth only to Crater Lake in Oregon, Tahoe is 1,645 feet deep

  • During the winter of  '22/'23, Lake Tahoe's water completely "flipped", meaning all of the water that was on the bottom surfaced to the top. It's also the clearest it's been since 1980! 

  • On average, Lake Tahoe receives about 600" of snow annually - which is equal to 50 feet! 

  • Tahoe is so clear that in some places you can see up ot 70 feet beneath you

  • If you took all of the water out of Lake Tahoe and poured it onto an area the size of California, the water would still be 14 inches deep

Fun facts about Lake Tahoe

How to Elope in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe elopements have taken off in the last 5 years. I was born & raised here in the basin, and actually chose to elope myself! After my sunrise elopement overlooking Lake Tahoe & Truckee, I realized that I needed to help other couples have a day like mine - and shifted my existing business to do just that. 

More than anything I want this page to serve as a guide to empower you to plan your best day and to do so in a way that is thoughtful and ethical, to preserve the place that I call home for future generations to enjoy, while also creating your best day ever. However - I also want to help you see the importance of our local economy and how special it can be to keep your business local, even if it's not with me! 

This guide is broken down into different items for your consideration; not so much a step by step walkthrough. It's up to you to decide what's important and at what stage you'll move forward with certain things - but this should give you all the tools you need to plan your best day.  

determining the best season for your lake tahoe elopement

Deciding what season to visit Tahoe to elope can be one of the hardest choices couples face. Yes, it is the mountains and yes, there are a lot of variables...however, Tahoe is known for legendary bluebird days during winter months and the most epic summers you can imagine. Here's a breakdown of each season!

There's nothing predictable about October-May; sometimes it snows non stop from Halloween on, and other years our first snowfall doesn't really come until Christmas. What you can count on are cool temps, snow up high, and lots of stoke. Winter requires willingness to be flexible and I cannot stress enough how important local vendors are for this time of year. Interstate 80 and Highway 50 (both give access to Tahoe from Reno/Sacramento/San Francisco) both close frequently when it snows. This past winter (2023) we had a 3 month period where it was closed more than it was open due to relentless storms. The best way to combat complications from this is to plan to arrive 2-3 days prior to your elopement date, book local vendors (not Reno, not Sacramento - Tahoe or Truckee based only!) and give yourselves the buffer to get stuck. It's an adventure to say the least! 

Snow is way easier to photograph in than rain, however, having the right vehicle, shoes, equipment, and safety precautions is important. Be aware of avalanche danger ( visit for daily updates) and road closures (follow @chptruckee on Instagram for a good laugh and updates, as well) and of course, you can expect if it's snowing, that you may not be able to see a view or access high up locations. 

Spring is not traditionally rainy here, but there is always a chance of snow falling from the sky or a good bit of snow still on the ground. March and April have historically been "miracle" snow months some years, and are not really a reliable option if you want nice weather. May is a 50/50 shot in the dark - but generally even if you were to experience a storm, it's more mild in nature and manageable. There will likely be snow on the ground at high elevations most of the time, so plan accordingly!

Eloping in Lake Tahoe in Winter or Spring

If you want to have a beautiful High Sierra elopement with mild temps, epic adventures, and world class activities - summer is for you! On average, June is when our temps really start to level out and be consistently warm. You can expect daytime temps of 65-80 through the end of June, and by July we'll usually have some days in the high 80's and sometimes the low 90's. July is my least favorite month here as a local, because it is so busy. I do not recommend planning your elopement in July if you want a peaceful experience. Tourism is at a high for the summer, it's hot, and personally it's super overwhelming. August is a great month provided we've had a good snow year; tourism dies down and it's just the best.

The mountains (no matter where you go!) are unpredictable so I do not like to fear monger because you could find an "issue" with any season; however, I do like to be honest about the risks with each season. The later we get into the summer, the higher the risk of a potential problem to arise, such as forest closures. I've only seen the forests close 2x in my entire life of living here; 2020 for fires late in the year (September and October) and 2021 they shut down in mid August due to the Caldor fire, which led to the evacuation of South Lake Tahoe entirely. 

With that being said, summer here in Tahoe is glorious in all of the ways. Sunrise hikes, beach days, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding...the activities are endless and the days are glorious. I cannot recommend spending time here in the summer enough - especially for your elopement!

Eloping in Lake Tahoe in Summer

I may be biased because I'm a September baby - but I think the most magical and wonderful month of the year is September. Kids go back to school, tourism dies down after Labor Day, and it's still warm enough for all of the fun activities, but the wind shifts and the air changes and the mountains really sing to me. 

As stated in the Summer segment - fire season is always a risk, but much less so after an epic winter. If you are wanting to elope in Lake Tahoe in the fall, keep an eye out on the kind of winter we've had leading up to it and then make your decision! Some of my most favorite elopements ever have been September and October days; the fall colors pop off at some spots around the lake, bears start to prep to hibernate, and there is a stillness that you just can't miss. 

There's always a chance of snow later in the fall (my birthday is September 17 and many birthday parties were pushed inside as a kid due to snow!) but in general, they are nothing crazy and totally work-around-able. If you're prepared to follow the guidance of your photographer and be flexible if need be - Autumn elopements are the best! 

Eloping in Lake Tahoe in Autumn

let's work together!

Want to get started on your Lake Tahoe Elopement?

tahoe is 72 miles around - where should be your home base for your elopement?

Something that is overlooked a lot is how large Lake Tahoe is. A lot of times, folks will plan to stay in one region, but want their elopement to take place 30+ miles away. In a mountain setting like the Sierra, that adds up quickly in drive time and effort. Finding the best region of the lake to stay in is key to a great experience all around!

I consider the North Shore of Lake Tahoe to be from Tahoe City all the way east to Incline Village. This includes Carnelian Bay, Tahoe Vista, Kings Beach, and Crystal Bay. The North Shore is bustling with a lot of full time locals. Tahoe City has a little downtown area with lots of shops and restaurants. Kings Beach is the next defined town, and it has some quintessential classics as well, but fewer amenities. Incline Village is on the Nevada side (just across the border!) and while they don't have a "downtown proper", there are lots of great things to do there and restaurants to enjoy. If you're into casinos and want the option to go out a night or two, North Shore is a great way to do that without being confined to a larger town and the vibe that comes with that. Incline Village gives you great access to the East Shore of Lake Tahoe, which doesn't have homes on it and is protected land. You can ride the East Shore bike trail, the Flume Trail, visit Sand Harbor, and enjoy all of the magic that side of the lake has to offer.

North Shore Lake Tahoe

Because there are no houses on the East Shore, we're skipping down south! Glenbrook, NV is the first development you hit when heading south; it's a high end community with lots of epic homes. You'll then pass Zephyr Cove, another old school classic, and from there, Stateline, NV, where there are all of the big casinos. South Lake Tahoe proper is on the California side just past Stateline, and there are no casinos on that side; however you're very close to accessing them. Something that is key to know in planning for a South Lake Tahoe elopement is that there is nothing quaint about the main part of SLT. It's great in it's own right, and a lot of folks love it. But I describe it like Vegas and a National Park had a baby; it is really busy, there's a 4 lane road through the main part of town, and lots of big box stores. Which, that might sound like your jam! But if you're wanting something more quaint, hang on, I'm getting there! 

As you continue west through town, you'll take a right onto Highway 89 which will point you towards Camp Richardson and eventually, Emerald Bay. Camp Richardson is popping and so busy (but fun!) during the summer. Meyers is just south of the main drag in South Lake and has a lot of full time residents. If you want the amenities of South Lake but not the craziness, this is where you'll want to stay! 

As you pass Emerald Bay you'll start hitting some sporadic housing developments. Meeks Bay is where I consider the "end" of the South Lake region. Which - by the way - is a great campground if you want to go that route, or rent a home in that area! It's beautiful and gives you access to a lot of wonderful trails and adventures, Emerald Bay included. More on that in a bit! If you choose to stay between Camp Richardson & Meeks Bay, stores are limited to camp shops & you just need to plan accordingly.

It's worth noting that the portion of Hwy89 that goes between Camp Richardson and Meeks Bay often closes during winter months for safety. 

South Lake Tahoe

From Meeks Bay north to Tahoe City we have the glorious, quintessential West Shore of Lake Tahoe! Many will claim "West Shore Best Shore" and while I'm a North Lake/Truckee girl myself, I do love everything about the west shore! 

West Shore is one of the oldest parts of the lake in terms of development; Sugar Pine Point State Park boasts rich history and gorgeous old growth cedars & pines. The cabins are old and quaint, with so much history. Bears are common and the vibes are just top notch. There aren't endless options for food however the choices you have are great and worth your time! 

West Shore keeps you close to all of the things you may need while also offering one of the most quiet and peaceful locations on the lake. Plenty of hiking, biking, and other activities are steps from your door. I always tell people: if you want the cabin in a woods feel - West Shore is the place for your elopement. 

West Shore Lake Tahoe

Truckee is a wild west town just 15 minutes northwest of the lake - and is buzzing. I was born and raised here and we have seen a lot of growth over the years to support growing tourism and all that comes with it, so when I tell you it's an incredible home base, you best believe me! Right off of Interstate 80, Truckee has a few grocery stores, an amazing old downtown (we're often voted the best mountain town in America by various publications) and is a gateway to anything and everything you may want to enjoy - any season of the year. 

Aside from access to Tahoe, Truckee is known for Donner Pass (where the Donner Party met their fate) and Donner Lake - and incredible alpine lake that has 39 public piers and is the place to be all summer long. Truckee is full of locals and passionate outdoors-people. Plus, we're like, really dog friendly. 

The beauty of staying in Truckee as your home base is that you're a 15 minute drive to Tahoe via either Hwy 267 or Hwy 89. You're smack in the middle of access to Northstar, Palisades and Alpine, easy access to and from the airport in Reno, and can really do anything you want within an hour and enjoy the trip to and from. 

Truckee, California

how to travel to lake tahoe for your elopement

As I mentioned earlier, Lake Tahoe is easily accessible (all things considered) from 3 major metropolitan areas. Reno is the closest - at just a 30-45 minute drive from the northern parts of the lake and Truckee. Sacramento is the next closest - you can access Lake Tahoe via Hwy 50 or Interstate 80. As I mentioned in the winter section above, roads close often during winter months. Reno has nonstop flights from a lot of major airports and it's worth it to go there, always! 

If you choose to fly into Sacramento, you'll have just under a 2 hour drive up. And from the Bay Area (Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose - wherever) you're about 4 hours away.  You will absolutely want a rental car; Tahoe has very few Uber/Lyft drivers. Truckee does have a program called "Tart Connect" that is super helpful, and there is some public transit available as well.

Now: the people who are going to make this happen for you. what about them?

Obviously, Lake Tahoe is an epic place to have your elopement and and epic place to participate in an elopement as a vendor. There is no shortage of incredible people within the elopement industry who are excited to be part of your day and help bring your vision to life. However, having live in a rural-tourist-wedding destination my whooooole life and now being part of the industry myself, I want to share some thoughts on this to ensure you are taken care of and have the best experience. 

In general, most people are looking to avoid travel fees for their vendors and therefore will hire locally most of the time. However, it's not uncommon for people to find a vendor they LOVE and want to bring them along - for which I fully support. Couples like this are reasons I get to travel to destinations outside of my home base here in Tahoe, myself! The tricky part about this, though, is finding the balance of a vendor you LOVE and a vendor who GETS IT. 

A lot of people will offer their services free of travel fees just to get experience in an area; and this can work out really well sometimes, while other times it's a risky decision. There are a lot of variables and moving pieces to a town/region like Lake Tahoe, and unless you live here and are in it you aren't able to anticipate that. 

A great example of that is how to plan around fire season if the forest closes; does your photographer have the ability to find you a backup safely? How about winter - are they traveling in at the same time as you, and will you all get stuck? Road construction is a very real thing in mountain towns all summer - roads are destroyed by plow equipment and ice. Knowing what delays to actually anticipate can be the difference in your stress and sanity. 

Obviously, there are only so many local vendors and we are totally able to share the love! But! If you do choose to hire outside of our local pool, please consider the following:

  • is your vendor of choice well versed with the region?
  • do they understand outdoor ethics and will they be on the same page with you there?
  • are they charging enough to arrive the day before and stay through the day after, in the event of needing to pivot due to mountain circumstances?

It doesn't happen often - but I have had to move elopements to another day for smoke, rain, snow....I've had to rework a timeline 45 minutes before my arrival due to unforeseen circumstances...I've switched locations en-route due to a problem. There are a lot of great problem solvers in the wedding world but not all issues are equal, and there is always something to be said about having someone who lives and breathes the region you choose, to be there for your best day! 

Hiring Local

Given I'm an elopement photographer and planner here in Lake Tahoe, I work with a lot of folks! I have built countless wonderful relationships over the years with people I love dearly and trust with my life. Their businesses reflect my own ethics, and their heart and soul shines through in what they do. Here are all of my A team friend-ors that you should ABSOLUTELY consider working with! 

My A-Team




Charcuterie & Catering

Permits, state parks, Marriage licenses...
oh my!

Obviously you can't get married without the stamp of approval from the government, and you'll also need to be sure you can legally hold a ceremony where you've chosen! Let's break it down.

If you're wanting to host a ceremony within the State Parks, yes.

If you're wanting to elope on land that is not within the State Parks, it depends. Official Wilderness land in and of itself is generally a no go; while National Forest land (they're different!) is acceptable as long as you meet specific criteria. The policies can change frequently and it's best to work with someone local & familiar to the region if you'd like to steer clear of the State Parks. You can always reach out to the National Forest directly to speak to someone there. 

I do NOT recommend Emerald Bay State Park unless you're good with a hundred sets of eyes on you. While it's a gorgeous overlook, the light is tricky due to the trajectory of the sun/being beneath big granite peaks and it's just a really busy spot. CA State Parks | NV State Parks

Do I need a permit to elope in Lake Tahoe?

I'm a lifetime local, which means I've seen Tahoe change a lot over the years. Unfortunately, due to social media & general disrespect from visitors from all over, the region has suffered a bit. Here are some general tips for how to visit & enjoy Lake Tahoe for your elopement to keep it special & safe for future generations. 

  • Leave the plastic water bottles at home; bring a re-usable one and Drink Tahoe Tap! We have some of the best and freshest tap water in the country. 10/10!
  • Please do not toss confetti, even if it's biodegradable. 
  • If you're going to sprinkle floral petals for an aisleway, pick up some dried wildflowers from Love & Lupines. Please don't spread non-native florals on our forest floors. 
  • Pack it in, pack it out. Pick up trash, small pieces of plastic, food scraps, etc. Just because a banana or orange peel or apple core can biodegrade, doesn't mean the woods or our beaches is where it belongs. 
  • NO. FIRES. Unless you are in a designated campsite and there is not an active fire ban, please refrain from starting a fire of any kind. Not on the beach, or in the woods. Just don't do it! 
  • Stay on marked trails as best as you can; the forests of Lake Tahoe are resilient but the shoreline/sandy areas erode much faster. Don't slide down to save a few feet of trail wailking. 
  • Don't feed the animals and keep your distance from them! Our bears aren't aggressive (they're just giant trash raiders, to be honest) but they will break into your cars. And drive slow to avoid hitting them! 

Leave No Trace & Your Elopement

California and Nevada have different regulations for marriage licenses. I personally prefer to work within California for this reason, however both are fine! 

To elope in Lake Tahoe on the California side, you need a California marriage license from any county within CA. You can obtain one locally, M-F, from the Carnelian Bay office for Placer County. You can also get one in South Lake Tahoe at the El Dorado county office, Wednesdays and Fridays only.  

For Nevada, you'll need to get your license in Washoe county. 

Marriage Licenses

Download my FREE 10 page elopement planning checklist 
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Ready to elope in Lake Tahoe? I hope so!