A place with the word “death” in the name might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about your outdoor wedding. But don’t be scared off—Death Valley National Park is one of the most beautiful and geologically diverse parks on the west coast.
There’s a number of reasons why Death Valley is so remarkable, from the Badwater Basin to the Artist Palette. The park even contains the lowest point in the continental US, all the way up to one of the highest peaks in California. How cool is that?
Don’t believe me? All of these images were taken on the same weekend in this incredible park.
Incredible, right? If you want to explore the wild west to celebrate your love—a Death Valley wedding elopement is for you!
Now let’s cover how you can get married in Death Valley National Park.
First things first, you’ll need to do is obtain a special use permit, which secures your date and location of the wedding in the park. It’s better to do this sooner rather than later since the park needs ample time to process permits, especially during COVID. These permits are required for weddings, elopements, or engagement photo sessions.
The process is relatively simple. Fill out the form and pay a non-refundable processing fee of $300.00. A small price to pay for protecting your favorite park on your wedding day!
At this time, elopement weddings are only held in Breakfast Canyon, a private area that is gated off from the general public. This is nice because you won’t have people outside of your wedding party at your ceremony. An NPS monitor will need to be present, but don’t worry—their only interest is in making sure the park is being protected. For smaller weddings, having a mandatory NPS monitor will cost $50/hour. Larger weddings will require more than one monitor.
Beyond the permits, you and your guests will pay a $30 park entry fee. It’s not much, if you’re inviting guests you should give them a heads up. Personally, I am always in and out of national parks, which is why I purchased the “America the Beautiful” Pass for $80. It pays for itself in no time, is easy to buy at the gate, and helps support the places I visit.
What About a Photographer, Officiant, and Vendors?
In a place as stunning as Death Valley, you’re going to want a photographer to capture your special day. Depending on your preferences, your photographer can cover the ceremony, the reception, the prep, or any combination of these. If you have an especially small wedding, your photographer can act as an elopement planner, helping you navigate things and plan your day.
To make your wedding legal, you’ll need someone to perform the ceremony. This person is known as an officiant and they perform the actual ceremony itself. But even before you get to this step, you’ll need to request a marriage license from your county clerk-recorder’s office. This can be requested online or in-person, depending on your location. You can either finalize the marriage right then and there. Or you can sign the paperwork for the ceremony. If this sounds complicated, ask your officiant for help.
As for vendors, the look and feel of your elopement are totally up to you. This can include catering. Florals are always popular. Some couples enjoy adding rugs, pillows, and other decors—just as long as you pack out what you pack in. Remember: Leave no trace.
Where to Stay
In the park: There are a number of campgrounds and hotels to choose from in the park, just make sure you plan ahead as these locations fill up during peak times. If you’re looking to have the full park experience without driving into the park every day, stay at one of these locations.
Outside of the park: Most Airbnbs are on the Nevada side of the park in Beatty and Pahrump, which can easily be 1-2 hours from the park entrance.
As for a few recommendations of my own, I say at least peruse Death Valley House and The Oasis at Death Valley, if you’re looking to stay in the park. If you’re willing to drive in and out, the Shady Lady Bed and Breakfast is a unique spot with a colorful history.
A Note About Dogs: While we love your four-legged friends, this might not be the best trip for Fido. Yes, dogs are allowed in the park. But only in campsites and wherever cars can go (i.e. parking lots). So, it’s very limited.
If it’s important to have your pup on your wedding day, you’ll need to look into venues in the park or getting married outside of the park in an area that allows dogs.
Getting There: Cars
Fun fact—Death Valley is the largest national park in the lower 48! That means yes, you will need a car. Bonus points if you can get a car like a Jeep that can handle off-roading. Some of Death Valley’s most beautiful spots are on bumpy dirt roads. But don’t worry, you can still visit most of the park’s hottest spots with a regular rental car.
If you’re local to Southern California or the surrounding areas, driving to the park is a relatively quick drive.
- Los Angeles - 4 hours
- San Diego - 5 hours
- Las Vegas - 2 hours
- Phoenix - 7 hours
Getting There: Planes
As I mentioned before, Death Valley is a remote park, so you’ll need to fly if you aren’t local to the area.
Check out your options and the distance to the park entrance.
- McCarran International Airport - 2 hours
- St. George Regional Airport - 3.5 hours
- Fresno Yosemite International Airport - 5 hours
Dressing for a Death Valley Wedding
You’ve settled on Death Valley. Now you need to settle on what to wear. Know that you can choose your style from a traditional wedding to something uniquely your own. Just keep a few tips in mind since you’ll be in the rugged outdoors:
- Dresses: Short dresses are popular since they are easier to hike in. But don’t discount a long dress if that’s what you want. Long dresses tend to drag on the ground, pick up dirt, and snag. But personally—I think that’s ideal for an elopement or outdoor wedding! It shows you’ve really roughed it to say ‘I do.’ Besides, when will you ever wear that dress again? Might as well have fun with it.
- Suits: Suits are always a safe bet. But if you’re worried about sweating under all those layers, consider a vest instead. It retains that classic feel while giving you a little breathing room. Black is standard, but you can also try maroon, forest green, a light purple, or a deep blue. Think about matching and contrasting colors. The options are endless.
- Accessories and Shoes: A sturdy pair of shoes is a must. Boots and wedges with a decent tread are popular. Yes, heels are acceptable for the ceremony itself, but it’s really hard to walk on jagged rocks and soft sand the rest of the day. So, that’s something to think about. Hats, flower crowns, and jewelry are all fun ways to add a little flair.
- Be Prepared: Outdoor weddings and elopements offer a wonderful experience for adventurous couples. But keep in mind that you are at the mercy of the elements. Prepare yourself for temperature shifts and weather changes. Jackets or blankets act as protection from the cold or sun exposure. Keep water and electrolytes handy, especially in a place as dry as Death Valley.
Protect This Place and Leave No Trace
Whenever we talk about outdoor elopements, we have to talk about Leave No Trace (LNT). This set of principles about how best to preserve and protect the outdoors is something that’s required to keep our park the way that it is.
Generally speaking, the following items are okay to pack in and out of the park: Free-standing arches, small tables, a guest book, coolers with water, live flowers (but check the specifics), battery-powered candles, runner rugs, cake, and champagne.
The following items are typically verboten to protect the integrity of the park: Drones, dried flowers, burning candles, bubbles, any live animals (including doves, butterflies, pets, etc.), confetti, rice, birdseed, balloons, and smoke bombs.
These rules aren’t meant to be a bummer. They are common-sense directives that help keep Death Valley, the park, and its visitors happy and healthy. We are all visitors to this ecosystem, so it’s prudent to reduce our impact.
Book Your Death Valley Elopement Photographer
If you want a photographer excited to brave the elements with you to capture your special day, book Love and Latitudes Outdoor Wedding and Elopement Photography today!