Planning our elopement: how we did it, what we learned, and tips and tricks on how to plan yours!

If you’ve read my elopement story (parts one and two), you’ll know that eloping in the wild involves contingency planning, a close watch on the weather, and some good old fashioned adventuring. Being an elopement photographer, I knew what to expect on many fronts, but it all hits different when you’re the one walking down that aisle (or rocky mountain shore). Our elopement and celebration were both filled with amazing memories that we wouldn’t change for the world, but we also learned some things through experience that we would have done differently if given the chance. Read on to see how I planned my elopement, what I learned, and tips and tricks on how to plan yours!

Key considerations in planning our elopement

A few things were very important to me in planning our elopement: I wanted to be completely secluded; I wanted to be out in the mountains; and I wanted to have some family there to celebrate with us. If you want to see how this all played out, head over to read part one of my elopement story. If you want to know the logistics, read on for what you need to know.

Total seclusion

We decided to get married at Lake Minnewanka, but its beautiful scenery and views also makes it one of the most popular lakes in Banff. The area is always crawling with tourists, so we knew the only way we were going to find a private spot was to take a boat across the lake or hike. The whole reason I wanted to get married there was because of the hike we planned to take at sunrise, which begins at a trailhead across the lake. The campsite we ended up booking was right at the start of that trailhead!

Matt and I went across with a few people the day before, followed by our family the next morning. We wanted to canoe across the lake as a way to start off with some adventure in nature, but the winds were just too strong. Making headway would have been impossible without a motor involved. Luckily, Lake Minnewanka is the only lake in Banff you can take a motorized boat on. We still did boat across a day prior, in order to hike up the mountain in time for the sunrise, but this was definitely an example of how you have to work with, not against, the environmental conditions you are dealt during your elopement.

attempting to canoe across Lake Minnewanka to our elopement destination campsite, but it was too windy so we had to take a fishing boat across the lake instead

Bear smarts

Being out in the mountains means being bear smart. Our wedding day was actually the last night the campsite was open before it closed for bear activity, and my family coming from Saskatchewan was a little worried about the prospect. We had bear spray on hand, and everyone was educated on how to store food and waste to be safe in the backcountry. Never fear, this story does not end with a bear attack (or even sighting) on our wedding day! But it’s important to be prepared when you are choosing bear country as the venue for your perfect elopement.

Elopement packing essentials

Since we were backcountry camping to begin our elopement, the packing essentials were more extensive than for some other elopements. See below the list that I used to get you started on your own elopement packing list. Keep in mind how location, time of day, and the abilities of guests will impact your essentials.

For the hike:

  • Hiking backpacks
  • Wooden signs
  • Bouquet
  • Emergency kit
  • Touchup kit
  • Water bladder/bottles
  • Blanket
  • Snacks
  • Hiking boots
  • Dress rolled up in a plastic bag
  • Suit
  • Sticky bra + seamless underwear
  • Swedish dishcloth + waterproof bag for bouquet
  • Bear spray
  • Headlamps 
  • Pain medication (for my bad knee)

For the campsite:

  • Sleeping mats + bags
  • Camp pillow
  • Tents
  • Waterproof bagging
  • Hammocks
  • Lighter, fire starter, matches
  • Dishes
  • Enamel mugs
  • Camp stove
  • Bug spray
  • Bear spray
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Portable battery + charger
  • Melatonin

Getting ready:

  • Mirror
  • Makeup and deodorant 
  • Hair brush
  • Hair ties and bobby pins 
  • Hairspray 
  • Butane curling iron
  • Light
  • Spray bottle
  • Blundstones + socks


  • Rings + ring box
  • Marriage license
  • Clipboard + pen
  • Chair
  • Pitcher + bowl (for foot washing)
  • Speaker

You can also view my elopement packing list on Amazon.

How we chose our elopement vendors

Choosing our elopement photographer and videographer

Before getting married, people would always ask me who would photograph my wedding when it came to it. I even got asked if I would take my own wedding photos, or edit them myself. But when it came time, there was no one I trusted more than Doxa Photography. She is someone from whom I learned a lot when I was just starting my career. She took me on as a second shooter and taught me so much. I’ve always looked up to her skills in photography, and she did an absolutely spectacular job. Photography was a massive priority for me when eloping, because I truly believe in the importance of photography and being able to relive my day through beautiful imagery. Claire captured so many gorgeous images that serve as a true reflection of who we are as a couple. Now we can look back and remember our stunning location and candid memories forever.

Beyond photography, it was also important to us to have the day recorded on video. While this is another great way to relive the day, the main reason for this choice was because we wanted to share our day with everyone who couldn’t be there by having a viewing at our reception. Our elopement videographer was another easy choice, because not only is Owen Belanger incredibly talented at what he does, but he is also a very close friend of Matt’s. Having him shoot and put together our elopement video meant having our wedding day captured by someone we trusted, and someone we would want there anyway. It was another great way to remove the need for a stranger to join us on our intimate day.

Choosing our elopement officiant

As already shown through our choice in videographer, we wanted to have friends and family in our elopement use their gifts wherever it made sense. This helped to keep the ceremony as close-knit as possible. In keeping with this idea, my brother-in-law obtained a temporary marriage commissioner license specifically for that day. Having Jared officiate the ceremony made it a lot more personal, and allowed us to keep the people in attendance to a minimum. If you don’t have an officiant in mind for your wedding, having a friend or family member you trust to perform the ceremony is one really special way to eliminate that need for someone outside of your close circle of friends and family to be in attendance.

On the note of ceremonies, one thing we learned during ours was that sometimes it’s worth sacrificing a perfect shot to have a better moment. I wish we had our families stand on opposite sides of us, rather than behind us, so I could have actually seen my family during the ceremony. The pictures were beautiful, because it allowed us to be in the foreground with our family and the mountains in perfect proximity behind us, but it felt more disconnected to not be able to see them ourselves.

Choosing my elopement hair and make-up

Personally, I’ve never been big into extravagant hair and make-up, but I have always loved really long hair. Instead of spending money on a veil, I spent money on hair extensions so I could have the long, romantic bridal hair that I’d always dreamed about. Hairbysarinaa did a phenomenal job on the extensions, and then my sister learned how to do the half-up style I wanted, so we didn’t need a stylist to join us on the elopement. I also have never been one for wearing a lot of make-up, so my sister actually did both my hair and make-up that morning. It turned out beautifully, and ended up being completely free.  

Choosing my elopement wedding dress

When I was trying on wedding dresses, The Bridal Centre gave me a fantastic experience, and I would highly recommend visiting them to find your perfect dress. They have a huge selection of dresses and their stylists are fantastic. They made me feel like a beautiful bride and found me the most perfect dress. The two things I was looking for were long, romantic sleeves and an open back. All you have to do is look at the photos to know I definitely found my dream dress! I would like to say I knew immediately, but I had to try on every dress possible before I could make that decision. I was never rushed, and got to enjoy the process of finding that perfect fit. In the end, I ended up going home with the first dress I tried on at The Bridal Centre (Sorvete by Willowby Watters). I couldn’t be happier with my experience or my decision.

After I had bought my dress I went to Anna’s Alterations in Calgary to get it altered since I bought it off the rack. They did a fantastic job and I was given a great experience, however, I was not prepared to spend half the cost of my dress on alterations. So keep in mind when buying your dress, alterations can be quite expensive depending on what all you need done and where you go.

my elopement wedding dress, long and flowy with loose long sleeves and an open back, bought from The Bridal Centre, Sorvete by Willowby Watters

After the wedding, I saved money by washing my wedding dress myself! I didn’t want to spend $400 for cleaning, but it got very dirty and I needed to be able to wear it for my post-elopement party a month later. I used Oxiclean Stain Remover, Borax, Vinegar, and Baking Soda and it only cost me $25. View my full list of products I used on Amazon.

Another pro tip: if you have a dress with an open back and lower-cut design, definitely get the Boomba sticky bra. It’s sticky on both sides, so you don’t have to worry about nip slips (Use code LIV05631 for 10% off).

Choosing our elopement honeymoon destination

Since summer is the busiest work season for both Matt and I, we decided to plan a big honeymore to the Dominican Republic for the winter. We’ll spend two weeks at an all-inclusive resort in January, so stay tuned for pictures and updates from that! But even having this plan in place, we still wanted to get away for a little bit for our first few days as husband and wife. Although we eloped in Banff, the cost of staying there for even just a mini three-day honeymoon felt a little outrageous. We spent one night in a hotel in Banff, and then decided to take the short drive to Fernie for the rest of the time. It was so worth it. Not only was it less than a third of the price compared to Banff, but also there was so much to do, and it was a new area I’d never visited before! 

When we arrived in Fernie, we stayed at Lizard Creek Lodge. It was very central, so gave us quick access to all the activities Fernie has to offer, and the lodge also provided us with so much space just for ourselves. Our room came with a full kitchen, living room, bedroom, two bathrooms, and two outside decks. We enjoyed an incredible meal at Cirque restaurant, relaxed in their outdoor hot tub, and took the sightseeing chairlift up the mountain for a hike. We got to explore downtown, do some shopping, go for walks, and (always Matt’s favourite) go out for some delicious Mexican food. It was such a relaxing three days, and I highly recommend checking out Fernie in the summer. If you want to see more about our experience there, check out the reel I made all about our experience.

our honeymoon in Fernie at Lizard Creek Lodge in the summer

Elopement cost breakdown

When doing your budget for your elopement, consider all the areas where you can save, and all the areas where you’re not willing to sacrifice quality for cost. For our elopement, we splurged on the things that truly mattered to us, and saved by tapping into the talents of our loved ones for some aspects. The experience, and capturing that experience through photos and videos, was the most important reason behind our elopement. Our costs naturally reflect those priorities. With that said, check out the cost breakdown of our elopement below.

Dress alterations$628
Hair extensions$300
Wedding bands$560
Marriage license$90
Boat rental$245
Hotel in Banff (one night)$500

The biggest thing we learned from our elopement (and would do differently if we could)

I love our elopement story, and I wouldn’t change much about the whole adventure. But having gone through the whole experience now, there are a few things that we learned and would change if we could. The biggest is that we would not keep the elopement a secret prior to it taking place. Honestly, it was so hard to lie to people when they asked questions about our plans or when we were getting married. We would tell them the day of our wedding celebration (the post-elopement party), but not the day of the actual wedding. And since I’m an elopement photographer, everyone wanted to know if I’d be eloping. It was a question I had to answer more than I’d anticipated, and it would have been nicer to not have that extra layer of stress to keep it so secretive.

If I could do it again, I would keep the date and details of the elopement day a secret, but still share with people that we were having a private ceremony. This situation is ultimately different for everyone, and it depends on the relationship that you have with your family and friends. You can check out my blog on how to announce your elopement for further considerations, and make the decision that is right for you. We had considered keeping our engagement a secret as well, and then just eloping and surprising everyone. But we decided we wanted to enjoy the whole being engaged part of getting married as well, and have all the fun pre-wedding festivities. This choice made sense for our situation, but I wish we could have been more free with the news of our elopement from the get-go.

our backcountry banff elopement ceremony with family at Lake Minnewanka

The elopement of my dreams and the elopement of yours!

This summer I got to experience the elopement of my dreams. I hope everything I learned can help you plan the elopement of yours! Set your elopement date, find your perfect location, and make your plan and your contingencies with a calm mind and excited heart. And if it seems overwhelming, just give me a call. As an elopement photographer, I am here to help in so much more than just taking pictures on the day of. So click here to contact me, and let’s get you your perfect elopement, just like I got mine!






I’m your elopement hype girl and a photographer for the goofball lovers + those who want to make their wedding day an adventure. I’m also the owner of a converted camper van and love exploring the outdoors. You’ll find my heart on this blog. Whether it’s documenting my real life couples or giving my brides + grooms the tips + tricks they need to plan their best elopement, I’ve poured my heart out for you here. 

I'm Liv Hettinga


Planning our elopement: how we did it, what we learned, and tips and tricks on how to plan yours!

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"Liv is extremely talented and great to work with! She gave us enough direction in our shoots to know what to do but still left tons of room for candid, genuine moments. Nothing beats seeing real smiles and laughter in your photos! She was more than willing to collaborate and go for some sillier ideas, and was always super encouraging. She's an incredibly sweet person and we felt very comfortable to be ourselves around her. Liv's talent is beyond just the technical knowledge, she really has an artist eye for beautiful photos. Her editing style is perfect, not too dark or light but still brings personality with the warm tones she adds. I HIGHLY recommend working with Liv!!"

- Cassie + Matt

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