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How to Elope in Joshua Tree National Park

Bride and Groom Wedding Elopement in Joshua Tree National Park
This couple scrapped their big wedding day plans and decided to elope in Joshua Tree instead! We can't blame them.

If you want all the boho vibes during your elopement, we highly recommend looking into Joshua Tree National Park. This southern California park is famous for its distinct trees, stunning sunsets, and incredible stargazing. Plus the desert serves as such a magical, other-worldly setting for a unique wedding experience such as an elopement!

Going into the desert as a couple of outsiders, we learned a few things along the way. If you're considering Joshua Tree as your wedding destination, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Scenery at Joshua Tree National Park Wedding Elopement
On the West side of the park, you'll see the famous Joshua Tree everywhere you turn.

1. Joshua Tree is made up of two distinct desert ecosystems: the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert.

The characteristics are determined by their elevation. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the famous Joshua Tree. You will find several stands of these trees throughout the Western half of the park. On the Eastern side of the park is the low, dry Colorado Desert. This part of the park is dominated by bushes and cactus. So, when a ceremony site within the park, consider which side of the park you'd like to be your backdrop. If you would like to be surrounded by the famous Joshua Trees, look for a ceremony site in the Western side of the park.

2. The park has designated ceremony sites throughout the park and a permit may be required.

Whether it is just you two celebrating or you’re bringing a few guests along, these are the best locations where you can legally have a ceremony in Joshua Tree National Park:

  • Hidden Valley Picnic Area (not permitted March-May)

  • Quail Springs Picnic Area (not permitted March-May)

  • Cap Rock

  • Rattlesnake Picnic Area

  • Live Oak

  • Split Rock

We've heard mixed things about this, but our couple went ahead and purchased a "special use" permit for their small ceremony. These permits are $120 and need to be submitted at least 30 days prior to your date. In our opinion, it's ALWAYS better to just buy the permit. It's such an avoidable mishap in case a park ranger does come along and try to break up the ceremony, and park ranger fines are no joke.

Click here to view the park's permit information.

Bride and Groom Wedding Elopement at Cap Rock in Joshua Tree National Park
This couple held their ceremony at Cap Rock.

3. Be prepared for tourists and traffic.

Parks are seeing record attendance across the country right now, and we sat in a big line at the Joshua Tree entrance. Map your route ahead of time and know how long it will take to get from your AirBnB to your ceremony site. Many of the popular ceremony sites and trails are well within the park, and it may take you longer than you think to get out there. Make a point to leave 30 to 60 minutes early--especially if it’s later in the day. Remember that sunsets tend to draw more crowds. If you’d like to avoid all the fuss, consider a sunrise elopement. You’ll likely have the place to yourself, and you can’t beat the traffic!

4. Sunset is quick and you'll lose light fast.

The warm glow of the sun looks absolutely stunning in the desert, but Joshua Tree is surrounded by mountains and hills which block the setting sun. Our "golden hour" was cut about 30 minutes short because of this and we were forced to move on to the after party. Thankfully, the area has a lot of cool pull-off spots we were able to do some edgy portraits with car lights! Considering how vast and open the town is, it's much easier to do something like this here than it would be, say, in the mountains.


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