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 vast and stunning deserts of California. Embarking on the journey of marriage against the backdrop of California’s mesmerizing desert landscapes can be an unforgettable adventure. Let me take you on a journey through the best 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.
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Why Choose a Desert Elopement in California
Embrace the Unique Beauty of the Desert
Desert elopements are not 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. Imagine the soft glow of the setting sun casting golden hues over your ceremony – 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.
Romance and Intimacy in Abundance
There’s a particular kind of romance that thrives in the quiet expanses of the desert. It’s just you, your partner, and the vast 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
Many of you are not just looking for a unique experience but also something that’s both budget-friendly and eco-conscious. Desert elopements 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 also much lower than what you’d pay for a typical wedding venue!
Desert Elopement Locations in California
Nestled in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, the Alabama Hills presents an otherworldly landscape in California. This unique destination, bringing visitors for its smooth, orange-hued boulders and stunning rock formations, creates a serene setting. As the sun casts its glow on the rugged terrain, Alabama Hills offers a secluded atmosphere for eloping couples. With the majestic Mount Whitney in the background and the vast desert stretching outin every other angle, this cinematic location provides a picturesque canvas for your elopement. Whether exchanging vows beneath Mobius Arch or sharing a quiet moment against the panoramic Sierra backdrop, an elopement in Alabama Hills promises a truly remarkable, breathtaking experience.
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 BLM_CA_Web_BI@blm.gov. 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
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is really something else, isn’t it? Known as the “Hottest, Driest, and Lowest National Park,” this place is all about extremes. It’s like a giant canvas where the vast desert meets rugged mountains, creating a stunning scene for an elopement. You’ve got everything from the lowest spot in North America to the high peaks of the Panamint Range. And don’t get me started on the Artist’s Palette – the colors there during sunrise and sunset are just out of this world, painting the desert in a whole rainbow of hues.
If you’re thinking of eloping here, you’re in for something truly special and intimate, surrounded by nature in its most raw and untouched form. 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, and that’s why it’s one of my top picks for Desert Elopement Locations in California.
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:
- Complete the permit application.
- Email your application to DEVA_Permits@nps.gov
- After the Office of Special Park Uses reviews your application, you will receive information on how to submit payment.
- Pay your fee and a special use permit will be mailed to you for signature.
- 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.
For detailed information check out my complete guide on How to Elope in Death Valley National Park in 2024.
The Trona Pinnacles are like a landscape from another planet, making them a super unique spot for an elopement. Picture this: over 500 of these huge tufa spires, some towering up to 140 feet high, creating a scene that could be straight out of a sci-fi movie. The colors are amazing too, with shades from ivory to warm tans standing out against the clear blue desert sky. It’s the kind of backdrop that can make your special day feel like a dream.
The area is vast and open, offering a peaceful and private setting. It’s just you, your partner, and these incredible natural sculptures that have been around for ages. Saying your vows here isn’t just an event – it’s a one-of-a-kind celebration where the desert’s raw beauty becomes a part of your love story. Eloping at Trona Pinnacles means starting your journey together in a place that’s as unforgettable as your own story.
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 BLM_CA_Web_RI@blm.gov.
Red Rock Canyon State Park
Red Rock Canyon State Park is seriously a work of art by Mother Nature. It’s like she took a paintbrush and splashed all these gorgeous rust and ochre colors across the desert. The cliffs here are massive, all shaped by the wind and water over countless years, and they make for a cinematic backdrop for any elopement.
If you’re looking to get married surrounded by raw, natural beauty, this is your place. The rock formations are so dramatic and bold, they give off this feeling of being in a movie. It’s perfect for a cozy, intimate ceremony where it’s just you, your partner, and the incredible views.
Choosing Red Rock Canyon means you’re in for a mix of peaceful vibes and stunning scenery. It turns your big day into something straight out of a romantic film, set against the stunning backdrop of the desert. Trust me, it’s a spot that’ll make your elopement unforgettable.
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. It’s a stunning spot that perfectly reflects the vastness and depth of your love. Imagine yourselves amidst endless stretches of golden sand dunes under a bright blue sky. The sun adds this warm, golden touch to the rugged scenery, making everything look like it’s glowing.
The Mojave is famous for its Joshua trees, standing tall in the arid landscape, and they make for an epic backdrop for your ceremony. As the day ends and the sun sets, the whole desert changes. It’s like watching a live painting with pinks and oranges sweeping across the sky. It’s a sight that’s both breathtaking and deeply romantic.
A lot of people don’t realize just how perfect the Mojave National Park Preserve is for desert elopements in California. Eloping here is more than just a ceremony. It’s about making a bold statement of love amidst the wild, untouched beauty of nature. The vast, open desert is like a symbol of your endless journey together. It’s not just beautiful; it’s deeply meaningful.
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 email@example.com.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park really holds a special place in my heart, especially for its almost magical landscapes. It’s got these amazing spots that are just perfect for a cozy, intimate ceremony. Picture this: a blend of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, complete with those whimsical Joshua trees and huge rock formations that seem like they’re straight out of a Dr. Seuss story. It’s this unreal beauty that makes Joshua Tree such an incredible choice for couples looking for an elopement spot that’s as one-of-a-kind as their own love story.
Imagine exchanging your vows surrounded by this striking yet captivating desert scenery. It’s like you’re pledging your love to each other in a world under a blanket of stars. There’s something magical about the whole place, making it an ideal backdrop for couples ready to take that lifelong leap together. Joshua Tree isn’t just a location; it’s a part of your love story, setting the stage for a truly memorable commitment.
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:
- Complete the permit application.
- Email your application to Special Park Use Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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 on How to Elope in Joshua Tree National Park in 2024 for detailed information on this amazing place.
Anza-Borrego State Park
Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California is a hidden gem for those seeking a unique elopement destination. It sprawls over a massive desert area, offering a landscape that’s unlike anything else. The park is filled with vast stretches of wilderness, rugged canyons, unique geological formations, and an abundance of desert flora and fauna. Choosing Anza-Borrego for your elopement means you’ll be exchanging vows surrounded by towering cacti, ancient badlands, and expansive desert vistas.
As the sun sets, it bathes the sky in warm hues, creating a romantic and intimate atmosphere for your ceremony. The park’s serene seclusion and natural, untouched beauty provide a distinctive setting that’s perfect for couples who want a deep, natural connection as they begin their journey together. Anza-Borrego offers a serene and beautiful backdrop that truly complements the essence of a desert elopement.
A permit is required to hold an elopement ceremony at Anza-Borrego State Park. To obtain more information email email@example.com.
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. You’ve got these amazing golden dunes that rise and fall, creating a scene that’s both dramatic and beautiful. The way the dunes move and change under the sunlight really opens up a world of possibilities for a special, intimate celebration. Walking on these soft sands, you can’t help but feel a sense of freedom and privacy that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Choosing to elope at the Imperial Sand Dunes means you’re looking for something truly special. It’s like saying your vows in the heart of nature’s grandeur, a place that reflects the immense depth and commitment of your relationship. It’s a setting that’s as vast and beautiful as the journey you’re about to embark on together.
View this Glamis Sand Dunes engagement for more information on how to access this beautiful space.
Contact the Imperial Sand Dunes recreation office to obtain permit information 760-337-4400 and BLM_CA_Web_EC@blm.gov.
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
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.