From cathedrals of old growth redwood trees to rugged windswept coastlines cloaked in fog or bathed in that unmistakeable golden California glow, Humboldt is a study in good old fashioned soul saturating immersive natural beauty. Banana slugs to be counted and breathtaking trees aside, planning an elopement itinerary requires a few more details. Here are some fantastic locations and venues to kickstart your elopement or intimate wedding plans.
Redwood Elopement Locations
An old airplane hangar turned low key coastal Northern California resort with a laid back mid-century modern meets rustic surf cabin chic. Bar and comfort food restaurant on site. Perfectly suited for an elopement getaway or an evening around the fire pit grilling oysters. The Humboldt Bay adjacent property has multiple venues that can be rented separately or together for larger group celebrations. Pet friendly. Kid friendly. Awesome.
Trinidad ocean front bed and breakfast a short drive from Redwood National Park. The Lost Whale also features a private fairy trail to a secluded beach, perfect for tide pool wading or a brief respite from wedding festivities. The path is windy but worth the walk. In spring and summer the gardens are a gorgeous explosion of color.
A historic inn tucked along the banks of the Eel River. The perpetually green lawn overlooks an old stone bridge and makes a serene backdrop for ceremonies, cocktail parties and lounging alike. The Inn features numerous rooms and a beautiful outdoor dining terrace to accommodate events intimate and large alike. Located not far from the Avenue of the Giants, this hotel is a great base for Southern Humboldt Redwood adventures.
Located right above the ocean in Shelter Cove, every room features an incredible view of the waves below. Nearby you will find Black Sands Beach and the 24.6 mile Lost Coast trail – an unparalleled (and mostly level) coastal hiking experience. Be forewarned that the road in to Shelter Cove is steep and twisty and best attempted in daylight. The sight of ocean stretching in all directions at the edge of the world makes the adventure entirely worthwhile. Visit the The Gyppo Ale Mill to relax your phantom steering wheel grip.
Redwood park weddings are very popular with couples that want a weekend in the woods with their favorite people and a side of wedding. Campground weddings are great because they can provide accommodations for quite a few like-minded outdoor loving guests in a breathtaking natural surrounding.
If you are considering a weekend camping wedding for a group, don’t sleep on your reservation as dates often disappear as soon as they become available. Small elopement ceremonies are easier to arrange if you can be flexible with your dates.
25 miles north of Eureka, this rugged park combines dense forest and ocean headland. Two group camp sites are available in addition to the standard campsites which accommodate up to 8 individuals. Reservations may be made up to seven months in advance. Campsites are reserved first-come, first-served and are site-specific.
There are several sites within the park that may be used for wedding ceremonies. Wedding Rock and Patrick’s Point are ideal for elopements with up to 30 guests. Permits are required – please contact the park directly for current rates.
A DIY redwood forest dream minutes from Eureka and Arcata with ducks, goats and dogs. This beautiful orchard property is all yours for a flat weekend rate. Far from a completely blank canvas, the grove offers essentials absent from a standard campground wedding including wooden chairs for up to 150 guests, four stocked bathrooms, two BYOB bars with taps and outdoor heaters, to name a few perks. Guest camping for Friday and Saturday nights is included in the weekend flat rate.
Weekend group camping with a fantastic swimming hole on the Van Duzen under a towering redwood canopy. Stone steps lead to a natural clearing suited for ceremonies large and small. Plenty of open field for lawn games. Spot the found riverbed heart rocks tucked into the base of a redwood tree by decades of lovers. As with most parks, there are noise restrictions in place to preserve the habits of area wildlife so if you have a dance party in mind, plan on a silent disco. The grove is closed to outside visitors when reserved for a wedding. Summer weekends in Pamplin Grove are hard won so be ready with the speed dial and have acceptable alternate weekends in place when you call.
Old growth redwoods near the Avenue of the Giants and walking distance from the Eel River. Two group sites are available, one which can accommodate up to 40 people and the other up to 60 people. The sites can be combined, accommodating up to 100 guests.
A 35 minute drive from Trinidad, Prairie Creek is a coastal oasis of old growth redwood trees. Taking its name from both the open prairie that runs along the park entrance and the nearby creek, Prairie Creek’s network of low key trails means you only have to take a short stroll to find yourself amidst jaw-dropping giants.
Located along the scenic Avenue of the Giants. Tranquil old growth redwood grove on the Avenue of the Giants and the South fork of the Eel River. Reserve a picnic area for a morning ceremony and an early lunch spread before continuing with the day’s adventures.
A small redwood gem 20 miles south of Eureka and 15 miles east of Highway 101. Well off the beaten path. Large redwoods rising from relatively flat, sorrel carpeted ground. The grove also famously provided one of the backdrops for the speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi. Ideal for tiny elopements with a guest cap of 7.
Whether you want to stretch your legs on a flat path among towering redwoods or step barefoot between mossy rocks in a fern lined canyon creek bed, Humboldt has an elopement hike to suit your adventure fancy. Build these hikes into your elopement day timeline or as a day after destination as most of these locations are off limits for ceremonies.
A heavily visited grove in Humboldt Redwoods and a local favorite a.k.a. the grove you bring all of your out of town guests to visit when they say “I want to see some trees.” Located just off of Highway 101 on the Avenue of the Giants.
A short flat loop trail with large redwoods and a spectacular fallen tree. Because the location is so easy to access, the paths get a fair amount of foot traffic during the summer season. If you’d like to check it out for wedding portraits – ceremonies are not permitted – aim for an early morning visit.
Classic. Legendary. Epic. Jurassic. Park. The towering canyon walls lined in ferns and bedazzled in mist from trickling waterfalls make this location another Humboldt fan favorite. The trail runs along and sometimes through a creek bed so plan to get your toes wet. Set aside a morning or an afternoon for a Fern Canyon visit as the road in is a slow crawl that can become congested in summer months. Rainy weather can turn sections of the dirt road into creek crossings so four wheel drive is optimal in the off season. Ceremonies are not permitted in Fern Canyon to limit trampling damage. Visit early in the morning or in the off season to avoid crowds.
If you came to party… An awesome all day (11.6 mile) hike that loops through stunning redwood forest, over Gold Bluffs beach, between the impossibly green fern walls of Fern Canyon and through the Godwood Creek Valley.
The Humboldt Redwoods are stunning year round but a date between May through mid October tends to offer the greatest chance for a sunny day. If you opt for an off season elopement, be ready for rain. Having a back up location in the form of your chosen lodging is a great idea. If need be, you can stay dry for the ceremony and adventure out for portraits after the fact.
Fun fact: The Arcata-Eureka airport is actually located in McKinleyville. Less or more fun fact depending on whether or not your flight is on time: the ACV airport was built by the navy to test defogging systems and is often shrouded in fog.
Most flights connect through San Francisco. SFO is also notorious for delays and cancelled connections so aim for early (but not too early)flights and cushion your itinerary with the possibility of a layover.
San Francisco is roughly 6 hours north of Humboldt, exact drive times varying based on your particular destination. Many visitors opt to pick up a rental car at SFO and take a leisurely drive up the coast. A rental car will come in handy either way as the destinations you will want to visit require a vehicle to transport you from point A to B.
Because you don’t really want bystanders filming your elopement for internet strangers. Pick a weekday, Monday-Friday. The weekend is a popular park adventure time during peak summer months.
Light in the redwoods is constantly shifting. If you are a somewhat early bird, schedule the ceremony a couple of hours following sunrise to give those rays just enough time to break through the massive canopy. Likewise, the sun definitely slips away much faster at the end of the day so your standard golden hour calculation will need adjustment.
For a coastal elopement, schedule the ceremony roughly two to three hours before sunset. At or near sunrise on the beach is also a fantastic option if you want to skip lingering late day crowds. If you are planning to spend time on the beach, be sure to have a look at what the tide will be doing at that point in the day. Moonstone Beach, for example, offers wide open expanses of sand and dune when the tide is out.
Remember three things when it comes to your personal comfort: trail appropriate shoes, optional layers and a an adventurous spirit. You can tromp through the woods in semi-formal attire but not if your feet hurt. In terms of temperature, the shade of the redwoods is considerably cooler than in open areas so bring layers for warmth as needed.
If you want to take care of the legal logistics here in California, visit the Humboldt County clerk’s office or any clerk’s office in California for that matter. There is normally no waiting period for marriage licenses in California but please call ahead to see what current processes are.
Let me say this as loudly as a I can: Your guest count does not dictate the meaning or emotion in your wedding day. An elopement centers your love story and the way you do life together – however you imagine the day unfolding and whatever you want to do.
There is no right or wrong way to get married. Skip the pretense and focus on what brings you the most joy.
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Kate Donaldson is a wedding and elopement photographer based in Arcata, California. Servicing the local areas of Arcata, Eureka, Trinidad and the surrounding region. Specializes in soulful portraits paired with cinematic moments creating vibrant, heart centered wedding photography. Humboldt County is home but available for travel.