Dazzling Joshua Tree, California. What can I say about this beautiful national park that hasn’t already been said? I could tell you about the whimsical trees and how their arms twist and turn as they reach the sky. I could tell you about the flora and fauna which have evolved over millennia to thrive in this harsh climate. I could rave about how the landscape arrests your gaze as soon as you enter the park.
But I’d rather tell you how to have your own perfect elopement in Joshua Tree.
One of the reasons Joshua Tree is so special to me is that I all but grew up there. I've visited the park nearly every year of my life since childhood - with both family and friends. Taking people to the park for their first time is a joy that I get to experience time and time again. So it wasn't hard to decide to elope there. Getting married in that gorgeous high desert had a lasting impact on me. Now, I want to help others have this same awe-inspiring experience. I want to help you and your fiancé have the best day of your lives, in the best park in the States!
The very first thing you’ll need to do is obtain a special use permit, which secures your date and location of the wedding in the park. Whether you’re having a wedding or taking engagement photos, it’s very important you receive this permit.
The process is simple: Fill out the form and pay a non-refundable processing fee of $120.00. How’s that for a wedding venue price?
This form lists where in the park you can have your wedding and photo shoots. Every national park is different. For Joshua Tree, there are only a few locations in the park where you can hold an event. Each location has a limit for the number of people and cars, so make sure to pay special attention to these details when choosing a location.
These locations include:
- Indian Cove Amphitheater
- Hidden Valley Picnic Area
- Turkey Flats
- Cap Rock
- Rattlesnake Picnic Area
- Quail Springs Picnic Area
- Split Rock
- Porcupine Wash
- Queen Valley Mine Intersection
- Lost Horse Parking Lot
- Live Oak Picnic Area
Choosing a location when you’ve never been to the park can be challenging. Check out Google Maps to see photos of each location, or ask your photographer to help you decide!
In addition to the permit, you’ll need to pay the park entry fee of $35. If you’re always in and out of national parks like myself, I highly recommend purchasing the “America the Beautiful” Passes for $80. There are a few benefits: It’s easy (you can purchase this as you enter the park), it’s affordable (pays for itself in just 4 visits), and it helps support national parks (it’s nice to give back).
Photographers, Officiants, and Witnesses, Oh My!
Choosing a photographer and officiant is an important part of any wedding day, but even more so for eloping in remote areas. An officiant makes your wedding official and a photographer captures your unique day and can serve as a witness if you have no guests. If you have a wedding photographer, they will need to obtain their own permit.
You’ll also need to touch base with your county clerk-recorder’s office to request a marriage license. The process is pretty easy. Depending on your area, you can likely request this online or in-person. All you need is a form of identification and for both partners to be present. You can either finalize the marriage right then and there, or get the paperwork to sign during your actual ceremony. If you have any questions, ask your officiant. It’s their job to guide you through the process. And best of all, we have one on staff!
Let’s Talk Temperature and People
Picking a date for eloping outside in the desert depends heavily on weather and temperature. The park is beautiful in all seasons, but consider the options and choose what works best for your needs.
- Winter: There are still crowds, but the daytime temps are much easier to bear. Don’t stay out too late, as freezing temps are common in the winter months. You can even get the rare snowstorm.
- Summer: It gets HOT in the summer. It’s the desert, after all. Temperatures in July and August can easily reach 100 degrees. You will sweat, and your makeup could run (mine did). So it might be good to have an MUA on hand, or have some makeup with you. But the heat means fewer people, longer days, and stunning views of the Milky Way. Sunset and sunrise are the best time for ceremonies since you can avoid extreme heat.
- Spring and Fall: The best temperatures overall. However, good weather attracts more people. Nevertheless, sunrise and sunset are still great times to avoid the crowds.
Having a wedding outside means you need to be prepared for the elements. Wind and dramatic temperature changes aren’t heard of, so come prepared. It’s always wise to bring extra water to stay hydrated and an extra layer to protect yourself from cold temps or too much sun exposure. As well as be prepared for seeing other people in the more popular months. But don't fret - this park is vast, and you can get away from people if you really try. Bring up any concerns about crowds and temperature with your photographer!
Where to Stay
When it comes to staying in and around the park, there are a few fun decisions to choose between.
- Camping: You’ll want to plan ahead to camp inside the park. During weekends and holidays in the peak months of October through May, campsites will likely be full. You can reserve campsites at the recreation.gov site, and there are first-come-first-serve options. During the summer months, most campsites are reservation free. There’s also options to camp outside the park. Camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest and save money. Just know that it’s a little tougher to get wedding-ready in a tent or a van.
- Hotels: There are lots of interesting hotels in the area, no matter your budget. If you want to stay close to the park, aim for Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree, or Yucca Valley. If you’re down to drive, Palm Springs is nearby and a fun place to stay. Just don’t forget that it’s an hour long drive to the park’s north entrance.
- Airbnb: I could list my favorite Airbnbs near Joshua Tree NP, but it would be too many. There are hundreds of options near the park, all more beautiful than the last. Compounds are common in the area, which is perfect for a group of people. You can even get married at some of the larger Airbnbs! And most have a hot tub. You can’t go wrong with a soak the night before your wedding.
Getting There: Cars
Joshua Tree is a vast park with a lot to see. Most Airbnbs and hotels are easily 30 minutes from the park entrance, and it would take you an hour and a half to drive straight through the park without stopping. And let’s be honest, you’ll probably make a few stops as your traverse the park.
Luckily, most major attractions in the park are on paved roads, but for the more adventurous couples, a high clearance or four-wheel drive car gives you access to some other parts of the park. Consider renting a car, if you need to.
Getting There: Planes
If you aren’t local to the Southwest, you’ll need to fly.
Check out your options and the distance to the park entrance.
- Palm Springs International - 1 hour
- Ontario International - 1.5 hours
- Los Angeles International Airport - 2.5 hours
Find Your Vendors
The look and feel of your wedding are totally up to you. Florals are a great way to add some extra color and a special feeling to your wedding. So are arches, rugs, and other decors—just as long as you remove it when the ceremony is over. Leave nothing behind.
Don’t forget—cleaning up after yourself ensures the next visitors get to appreciate the beauty of this amazing park.
And if you're concerned about finding vendors, a photographer can make recommendations.
Dress for the Occasion
It’s your wedding—you still want to dress nice! Nothing makes the day feel more special at the onset than getting dressed in your beautiful clothes. But don’t forget—Joshua Tree can be rough and rocky, depending on the location of course. You’ll want to keep the possibilities in mind while you prepare for your big day.
- Dresses: Long dresses will absolutely drag on the ground, get dirty and snag. But personally, I think this is part of the fun! A dirty dress means you’ve eloped in the wild, and had an adventurous day of love and exploration. Besides, when will you ever wear it again?
- Suits: The desert is a great place to get creative with your colors. Not down with the transitional black suit? Try maroon, forest green, or deep blue. Or wear a vest with a vibrant tie. The options are endless.
- Accessories and Shoes: Hats, flower crowns, nice boots—this is your time to shine and dress in your own style! And speaking of shoes, leave the stilettos at home. Opt for shoes you can walk well in that have decent tread. Once you’re in the park, you’ll want to walk all over the boulders!
- Be Prepared: Having an elopement outdoors is a wonderful experience, but it comes with a bit of uncertainty. Be prepared for dramatic temperatures and weather changes. Bring a jacket or blanket, water, and electrolytes.
Don’t Want to Get Married in the Park?
Having your ceremony at a nearby Airbnb is a great way to be close enough to the park for photos, but in a location that might be more accessible to your guests. Check out a few of our favorite nearby spots!
Last, But Definitely Not Least: 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.
In that vein, there’s a list of items you can and can’t bring into the park for your elopement.
- Allowed: Free-standing arches, small tables, a guest book, coolers with water, live flowers, battery-powered candles, runner rugs, cake, and champagne.
- Not allowed: 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 Joshua Tree happy and healthy. We are all visitors in this ecosystem, so it’s prudent to reduce our impact.
Book Your Joshua Tree Elopement Photographer
If you want a photographer who loves Joshua Tree National Park to capture your special day, book Love and Latitudes Outdoor Wedding and Elopement Photography today!