Top Desert Elopement Locations in California [2024]

As an elopement photographer, I’ve had the privilege of capturing some of the most intimate and beautiful moments for couples. One of my favorite settings? The stunning deserts of California. Beginning your marriage against the ladnscape of California’s mesmerizing deserts can be an unforgettable adventure. Let me take you on a journey through the top Desert Elopement Locations in California. Whether you’re drawn to the iconic Joshua Tree National Park or the lesser-known gems awaiting discovery, these spots are sure to create magical moments and everlasting memories. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like exchanging vows under the desert sky.

Table of Contents

Why Choose a Desert Elopement in California

The Unique Beauty of the Desert

Desert weddings aren’t just about saying ‘I do’ in a unique location; they’re about experiencing an adventure together. The desert offers privacy, simplicity, and an almost mystical backdrop that’s hard to find anywhere else. The soft glow of the setting sun casting golden hues over the land makes the desert one of my favorite places in the evening. It’s nothing short of magical. Apart from the sunset, the stars are typically much more visible in the desert night sky due to their remoteness.

Privacy and Seclusion

There’s a particular kind of romance that thrives in the quietness of the desert. It’s just you, your partner, and the wilderness. I remember photographing a couple at Joshua Tree, and the way they looked at each other against the backdrop of the giant boulders and Joshua Trees was pure magic. The seclusion offers opportunities for an intimate vow exchange away from the crowds, wedding portraits without an audience, and an experience where it’s just you and the land.

Cost-Effective and Environmentally Friendly

Desert elopement weddings can be significantly more cost-effective than traditional weddings, and the natural setting ensures a lower environmental impact. The fees for eloping in these natural areas are so much lower than what you’d pay for a typical wedding venue!

Desert Elopement Locations in California

Alabama Hills

The Alabama Hills are a range of hills and rock formations near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Owens Valley of California. They’re enowned for their distinctive rounded contours and the contrast they offer to the jagged peaks of the Sierras. This area has served as a popular filming location for a multiple movies and commercials. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management and designated as a National Scenic Area, Alabama Hills offer opportunities for hiking, photography, rock climbing, and exploring natural arches. This otherworldly landscape offers a secluded atmosphere- perfect for couples seeking a more intimate setting away from the crowds.

Permit Information

The first step to securing Alabama Hills as your elopement location is to contact the Bureau of Land Management Bishop Field Office. They can be reached at tel:760-872-5000 and You’ll need to obtain a Special Recreation Permit Application to have your ceremony here. This application must be submitted 180 days prior to your elopement date and you’ll receive a response within 30 days. For more information visit the BLM Special Recreation Permit website

A dirt road leading towards snow-covered mountains with clouds above during sunset.

Two women standing on a pale, textured landscape of ridges and valleys with a clear sky overhead for their elopement wedding.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is really something else. Located in the Mojave Desert, this region is known as the “Hottest, Driest, and Lowest National Park,” this place is all about extremes. Spanning more than 3 million acres, it is home to a diverse range of landscapes, from salt flats at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level, to the snow-covered peaks of the Panamint Range. It’s truly a stunning scene for a desert elopement wedding. Death Valley features colorful rock formations, canyons, and even remnants of ghost towns from the mining era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Death Valley National Park definitely takes a spot in my top three favorite national parks. If you’re thinking of eloping here, you’re really in for something special and intimate. Picture saying your vows in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, in the painted canyon of Artist’s Palette, or under a sky full of stars at Zabriskie Point. This place is far from your average elopement spot.

Permit Information

For couples intending to host an elopement wedding ceremony with guests in the park, securing a special use permit is mandatory. It’s crucial to reach out to the park authorities and visit the permit website for any potential price revisions; as of now, the non-refundable processing fee stands at $300. To ensure a seamless process submit your permit application 30-60 days before your elopement date. And note-that processing your application will take between 30-60 days, and urgent requests cannot be accommodated. Despite the necessary steps, the application process is relatively straightforward:

  1. Complete the permit application.
  2. Email your application to
  3. After the Office of Special Park Uses reviews your application, you will receive information on how to submit payment.
  4. Pay your fee and a special use permit will be mailed to you for signature. 
  5. Upon receipt, you will sign and return the permit to Death Valley’s office for final approval.

In addition, weddings are subject to monitoring fees to ensure safety depending on the group size. The Office of Special Park Uses will determine if an NPS monitor is required depending on your permit activities. At the present time the hourly rate is about $50 and $.55/mile on government vehicles used for monitoring. It’s important to be very detailed in explaining the amount of people and what items will be used for your elopement when reaching out to DVNP rangers.

Note: A Certificate of General Liability Insurance in the amount of $1,000,000 listing the United States of America as additional insured may be required. As your photographer, I carry this insurance and will submit your permit for you.

For self-uniting ceremonies without guests, you will not need a permit.

Trona Pinnacles rock formations rise from a barren landscape under a cloudy sky.

Trona Pinnacles

The Trona Pinnacles are an unusual geological feature, making them a super unique spot for an elopement. Picture this: over 500 huge tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, creating a scene that could be straight out of a sci-fi movie. If you’re into history and old formations like me, you may be excited to learn that these formed between 10,000 to 100,000 years ago. The pinnacles are the remnants of an ancient lakebed and are now protected on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The colors are amazing too, with shades from ivory to warm tans standing out against the clear blue desert sky. The area is vast and open, offering a peaceful and private setting for your elopement wedding. Eloping at Trona Pinnacles means starting your journey together in a place that’s as unforgettable as your own story.

Permit Information

Information on how to obtain a special use permit is not readily available on the Trona Pinnacles website. Please contact their office at 760-384-5400 and

Multicolored rock formations with white, beige, and red layers under a blue sky with clouds.
Photographer John Fowler

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Red Rock Canyon State Park is known for its scenic desert cliffs, buttes, and rock formations. The park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converges with the El Paso Range and covers approximately 27,000 acres. It’s a beautiful choice for couples seeking an elopement wedding with a natural, rugged setting that provides both privacy and memorable veiws. The park’s accessibility and the variety of its landscapes, from striped rock layers to Joshua trees, make it a practical yet visually striking location for any intimate ceremony.

Permit Information

A Special Recreation Permit is required to hold an elopement wedding ceremony in Red Rock Canyon State Park though very little information can be found on their website. For special events call the park at (442) 247-5160.

Mojave National Park Preserve

If you’re looking at desert elopement locations in California, don’t overlook the Mojave National Park Preserve. This desert offers a diverse range of geological features, including sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, canyons, and mountains. Its a place where the desert environment has remained preserved and undisturbed. The remoteness of the preserve ensures privacy and a sense of escape, ideal for couples looking to exchange vows in a quiet, personal setting.

Many don’t realize just how perfect the Mojave National Park Preserve is for desert elopements in California. From the Kelso Dunes, the Marble Mountains, and to the Cima Dome- the Mojave Preserve is an amazing elopement location of untouched beauty.

Permit Information

An elopement wedding in the Mojave National Park Preserve follows the same process of obtaining a special use permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The fee is unknown and the park requests they be contacted for more information at (760-221-4740) and

Two people in formal attire standing on a rocky terrain with sparse vegetation and orange flowers, with a hill in the background under a clear sky.

Two people walking away hand in hand on a dirt road in a desert landscape with Joshua trees and bushes, with mountains in the background and a twilight sky above.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a special area characterized by rugged rock formations and a stark desert landscape. Named for its bristled Joshua trees, the park straddles the cusp of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts, offering a variety of natural sights. You can’t beat whimsical Joshua trees that seem like they’re straight out of a Dr. Seuss story. The park is also known for its clear night skies, ideal for stargazing. In my opinion, it’s one of the best places to watch a sunset.

There’s something magical about the whole place. Joshua Tree offers a unique setting for an elopement wedding, as well as a private and personal experience. Its a popular park with no shortage of secluded areas for your ceremony.

Permit Information

For the most recent updates on permit information contact the park office at (760) 367-5551. At this time you are required to obtain a $120 “Special Park Use Permit” for any size wedding and it must be less than 25 people. You will need to submit an application for this permit at least 30 days before the date of your elopement. Here is the step-by-step permit process:

  1. Complete the permit application.
  2. Email your application to Special Park Use Coordinator,
  3. After the Office of Special Park Uses reviews your application, you will receive additional information on how to proceed and submit payment. The park does not accept checks.

Note: A Certificate of General Liability Insurance listing the United States of America as additional insured may be required. As your photographer, I carry this insurance and will submit your permit for you.

For self-uniting ceremonies without guests or solely wedding portraits, you will not be required to apply for a permit.

View my complete guide to learn how to plan your Joshua Tree elopement wedding.

Anza-Borrego State Park

Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California is a hidden gem for those seeking a unique elopement location. It’s the largest state park in California, offering over 600,000 acres of desert wilderness. The park is known for its varied landscapes, from desert flats and rugged badlands to palm oases and slot canyons.

Choosing Anza-Borrego for your elopement means you’ll be exchanging vows surrounded by towering cacti, ancient badlands, and expansive desert vistas. With minimal distractions, and the untamed desert, Anza-Borrego is the perfect area for a quiet ceremony.

Permit Information

A permit is required to hold an elopement ceremony at Anza-Borrego State Park. To obtain more information email

Two women standing on a rocky overlook holding lanterns, with one dressed in a black outfit and the other in a red dress. The background features a canyon landscape under a cloudy twilight sky.

Two people are embracing on a sand dune with shadows casting across the sand, in a desert setting.

Imperial Sand Dunes

The Imperial Sand Dunes, also known as Glamis Sand Dunes, stretch out for over 40 miles and offer a landscape that’s nothing short of spectacular. A significant portion of the dunes area is designated for off-highway vehicle use, which makes it a popular destination for recreational activities. There is one section of wilderness off-limits to vehicles, allowing plants to grow and space to explore on foot. Historically, the dunes have been used as a filming location for various movies due to their striking and relatively undisturbed natural landscape.

Choosing to elope at the Imperial Sand Dunes means you’re looking for something truly special. The natural simplicity and the grand scale of the dunes provide a breath-taking setting that would complement the intimacy of an elopement ceremony. Walking on these soft sands, you can’t help but feel a sense of freedom and privacy that’s hard to find anywhere else.

Permit Information

Contact the Imperial Sand Dunes recreation office to obtain permit information 760-337-4400 and

When to Elope in the Desert

The best time to visit desert elopement locations in California is generally during the fall, winter, or early spring months. These seasons offer the most comfortable temperatures for hiking, exploring, and, of course, having a wonderful elopement day. During these times, the weather is just right – not too hot, not too cold – making it perfect for all your outdoor adventures and special moments. Let’s break it down by seasons and months to give you a clearer picture:

  • Winter (December to February): In the winter the desert cools down quite a bit. Daytime temps usually hover between the 50s and 70s Fahrenheit (10°C – 21°C). Nights can get pretty chilly, often dropping below freezing. You might even see some snow in higher elevations, which can lead to road closures or impact your plans. Plus, winter is usually the quietest time for visitors, so you might have more of the desert to yourself.
  • Spring (March to April): Spring is a sweet spot for visiting. Temperatures are mild, typically around 70°F (21°C), but they can get up to 90°F (32°C) as you get into late April. This is also when some deserts burst into color with wildflowers – it’s quite a sight. Spring tends to attract more visitors, thanks to these milder temperatures.
  • Fall (October to November): Then there’s Fall. It’s a great time for hiking and exploring, with daytime temperatures that are really comfortable – think 70s and 80s Fahrenheit. Nights start to cool down, so packing layers is a good idea. Fall and spring are my personal favorites for desert visits, but keep in mind, this is also when you might see some rain. In the desert, even a little rain can lead to flash floods, especially in areas that aren’t used to much rainfall.

Summertime in the Desert

Summer in the desert is pretty tough, to say the least. It gets super hot, with daytime temperatures often soaring above 100°F (38°C), and places like Death Valley National Park can even hit a scorching 120°F! Even at night, it doesn’t cool down much, making it pretty uncomfortable. This intense heat makes spending time outdoors a real challenge, especially since there’s hardly any shade to escape to.

Also, remember, deserts are usually remote areas. So, if you find yourself lost, without enough water, or facing any other kind of trouble, it can get risky pretty fast. All in all, summer isn’t the ideal time for a desert visit or an elopement. It’s better to wait for cooler months when the heat isn’t so overwhelming.

Desert Elopement Packages

I offer personalized adventure elopement packages to help you create an amazing experience at any of these desert elopement locations in California.

Elopement packages curated just for you start at $3,800:

  • 4 hours to 1.5 days of adventuring through California’s desert
  • Personalized location research
  • Customized elopement timeline
  • 80+ page elopement guide
  • Vendor/activity recommendations
  • Huge gallery of full-resolution, edited digital images
  • Private online access to your gallery with printing rights
  • Sneak peeks delivered within 72 hours
  • Photographer travel expenses included
  • Support with securing your permit

In conclusion, California’s deserts offer a variety of landscapes that cater to couples looking for a simple yet remarkable elopement wedding location. From the sculpted rock formations of Joshua Tree to the towering sand dunes of the Imperial Sand Dunes, each site presents its unique characteristics for a nature-inspired ceremony. As you consider the location that best suits your preferences, remember the importance of capturing the moment. If you’re in need of an elopement photographer who is familiar with these desert terrains and can document the occasion with a documntary approach, feel free to reach out. Contact me to discuss how we can immortalize your elopement with photos that resonate with the straightforward beauty of your chosen desert venue.

Here's to co-creating an unforgettable elopement experience.

Here's to co-creating an unforgettable elopement experience.

I’m Karen, a Southern California Elopement Photographer who empowers couples to create memories that will last a lifetime. I am dedicated to providing the tools you need to create an unforgettable experience. 

I help couples by providing personalized location lists, planning resources, vendor recommendations, permits, timeline-curation, and much more to curate elopement days that will be cherished forever.

Your Southern California Elopement Photographer, planning expert, and adventure pal.

I'm here to empower you to create memories that will last a lifetime.

About Karen

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