How to Elope in Joshua Tree National Park in 2024

If you’ve been dreaming of an intimate and unforgettable elopement in a location that takes your breath away, Joshua Tree National Park might be the perfect spot for you. With its iconic trees and rock formations, eloping in Joshua Tree is an amazing landscape for your elopement. In this article, I will provide all the information you need to create an unforgettable elopement experience and How to Elope in Joshua Tree National Park in 2024.

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Couple holding hands in the middle of Joshua Tree with a large boulder behind them.

Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeast California, north of Palm Springs and east of San Bernardino and Los Angeles.

Closest Major Cities/Towns:

The closest major cities are Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

  • Driving Time From Los Angeles: 2.5 hr; 131 miles
  • Driving Time From San Diego: 3 hr; 164 miles
  • Driving Time From Las Vegas, NV: 3.5 hr; 218 miles
  • Driving Time From Phoenix, AZ: 3 hr 45 min; 224 miles

How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park

I highly recommend renting a car for your stay. Most Airbnb’s are at least a 10-15 minute drive to the park’s entrances. Once you’re in the park, it’s a short drive (and very long walk) to get to the first parking lot. If you plan to explore and check out as many spots as you can, a car is your best choice.

Map of Joshua Tree National Park.

There are three park entrances:

  • The West Entrance is found in Joshua Tree and nearby the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. This entrance is the most popular and sees the most visitors.

  • The North Entrance is located in Twentynine Palms and recommended for entry during the busier months(October-May) to avoid long wait times at the other entrances.

  • The South Entrance is located near Cottonwood Spring along Interstate 10.

Closest Major Airports:

The two closest airports to Joshua Tree are Palm Springs International Airport and Ontario International Airport (usually the more budget-friendly airport). There are a variety of other airports located within three hours in Southern California to fly into as well.

How to Drive to Joshua Tree National Park?

Driving to Joshua Tree National Park is a smooth route via Interstate 10 or California Highway 62. Check out all your car rental options via Expedia or Turo. Navigation systems may route you to roads with soft sands where you could get stuck without the right vehicle. I recommend coming prepared with directions that guide you to enter the park from I-10 or CA-62.

Couple holdiing hands and running away on a road at sunset.

Joshua Tree National Park is created by two desert landscapes- the Mojave and the Colorado. It’s home to the famous Joshua Tree that looks as if it popped out of a Dr. Seuss book. The geologic formations are popular amongst rock climbers and hikers. The sunrise and sunsets provide some of the best lighting across its neutral backdrop. This is the place for your elopement wedding if you’re looking for a dreamy southern California bohemian vibe!

Can I bring my dog?

Pets are not permitted in the backcountry, within park structures, or on hiking routes. Pets on leashes are welcome as long as they stay at least 100 feet away from campers, picnic spots, and highways. Please note that your pet can get hurt by rattlesnakes, jagged rocks, and cactus spines. There are also nearby predators like coyotes and mountain lions, so you will need to keep your pets close to you at all times on a leash that is no longer than six feet.

What time does the park close?

The park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The gates are open at night when the entrance stations are unattended. At these times, vehicles are permitted to enter and exit the park. Stargazing is a popular activity in Joshua Tree National Park.

Where can I get water?

The West Entry Station, the Black Rock Nature Center, and the Joshua Tree Cultural Center all include water bottle filling stations. At the West Entrance Station, Indian Cove Ranger Station, Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds, as well as Park Headquarters, water jugs can be refilled. Black Rock Campground and Cottonwood have RV filling stations. 

Can I have a campfire?

Within authorized campsites, campfires are permitted in the allotted campfire ring.

Wedding Special Use Permit

I always advise to contact the park office at (760) 367-5551 and check the permit website for any recent updates. At this time, you’ll need a “Special Park Use Permit” for any size wedding and it must be less than 25 people. The fee for this permit is currently $120. You will need to submit an application for this permit at least 30 days before the date of your elopement (the sooner, the better!). The process is quick and easy:

  1. Complete the permit application.
  2. Email your application to Special Park Use Coordinator, jotr_permit_office@nps.gov
  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.

Entry Fees & Passes

The park assesses a $30 fee per vehicle and allows you to re-enter as many times as you’d like within a seven-day period. If you frequent National Parks, I 100% recommend purchasing the “America the Beautiful” National Park Pass for $80! Another option is to purchase the Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass for $55.

Elopement Ceremony Locations

The park has a selection of beautiful locations to have your nature-inspired elopement ceremony. The following locations are available for just you two or 35 or less:

Quail Springs Picnic Area

Maximum Guests: 15

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 5

View of picnic tables at Quail Springs Picnic Area.

Live Oak

Maximum Guests: 25

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 8

View of picnic tables at Live Oak in Joshua Tree.

Hidden Valley Picnic Area

Maximum Guests: 35

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 8

Hidden Valley Picnic Area boulders and bushes.

Cap Rock

Maximum Guests: 25

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 8

Cap Rock boulders and Joshua Trees and sunset.

Split Rock

Maximum Guests: 15

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 5

View of picnic tables at Split Rock with a large boudler wall.

Queen Valley Mine Intersection

Maximum Guests: 15

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 5

Lost Horse Picnic Area

Maximum Guests: 10

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 5

Porcupine Wash

Maximum Guests: 10

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 4

Rattlesnake Picnic Area

Maximum Guests: 20

Maximum Vehicles Allowed: 8

Top Hiking Trails for Elopement Wedding Portraits

1. Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a short, interpretive trail along a dirt path with unique rock formations. It is very well marked and easy to find from the parking lot. It’s a popular trail among hikers and climbers.

Hike info:

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 118 feet
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Average completion time: 24 minutes
  • Trailhead location: Park Boulevard (Loop Road), Joshua Tree National Park, CA 92277
  • Trailhead coordinates: 34.01237, -116.1680
  • Dog friendly? No.
  • Wheelchair friendly? No.

2. Barker Dam

Barker Dam Trail is a mild trail which walks beyond the historic Barker Dam and past monzogranite stones.

Hike info:

  • Distance: 1.1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 50 ft
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Average completion time: 45 minutes
  • Trailhead location: Barker Dam, Joshua Tree Parkway, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
  • Dog friendly? No.
  • Wheelchair friendly? No.

3. Arch Rock Nature Trail

Arch Rock Nature Trail is an out and back trail featuring a natural arch within the rock formations.

Hike info:

  • Distance: 1.4 mile
  • Elevation gain: 88 feet
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Average completion time: 30 minutes
  • Trailhead location: Twin Tanks Parking Lot
  • Trailhead coordinates: 33.9899, -116.02275
  • Dog friendly? No.
  • Wheelchair friendly? No.

4. Split Rock Loop

Split Rock Loop is a loop trail where you can find wild flowers, stunning sunsets, and small wildlife. There are large boulder formations to be seen on this walk along with the famous Joshua Trees.

Hike info:

5. Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain is one of the more popular hikes that offers panoramic views of Joshua Tree from above. This is an amazing location to view the sunset.

Hike info:

  • Distance: 2.9 mile
  • Elevation gain: 1,062 ft
  • Difficulty level: Moderately challenging
  • Average completion time: 2 hr
  • Trailhead location: Park Boulevard (Loop Road), Joshua Tree National Park, CA 92277
  • Trailhead coordinates: 34.00257, -116.13594
  • Dog friendly? No.
  • Wheelchair friendly? No.

6. The Maze Loop

The Maze Loop is a fascinating trail that runs past sizable rock formations, arid washes, slot canyons, and Joshua tree woods; it encapsulates pretty much everything visitors come to Joshua Tree for in a single path.

Hike info:

  • Distance: 4.9 mile
  • Elevation gain: 374 ft
  • Difficulty level: Moderately challenging
  • Average completion time: 2.5 hr
  • Trailhead location: Maze Loop Trailhead, 64227-64237 Park Blvd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
  • Dog friendly? No.
  • Wheelchair friendly? No.

Hidden Locations

There are a lot of hidden, lesser-known locations in Joshua Tree National Park that would be ideal for a vow exchange or wedding portraits in complete isolation due to the park’s size. As a California adventure elopement photographer, one of my responsibilities is to locate secluded locations for my clients who are seeking a more private setting to exchange vows and take wedding portraits.

I will provide you with a personalized list of recommendations for your elopement so you can pick the location that really feels right! To find out more about planning your Joshua Tree Elopement Wedding, get in touch.

Weather

The best time of year for an elopement wedding in Joshua Tree National Park is typically during the cooler months, avoiding the extreme heat of summer, where there is minimal shade, creating dangerous hiking conditions.

The fall (September to November) and spring (March to May) are generally considered the best times to visit Joshua Tree. During these seasons, temperatures are more moderate, ranging from comfortable to warm, making outdoor ceremonies and celebrations more enjoyable for both the couple and their guests.

Keep in mind that Joshua Tree can be quite hot during the summer months (June to August), with temperatures often exceeding 100°F (37.8°C) during the day. Winter (December to February) can be cool, especially in the evenings, so if you’re planning an outdoor event during this time, be prepared for cooler temperatures.

Seasonal Temperatures:

  • Spring (March to May):
    • Daytime temperatures typically range from 70°F to 90°F (21°C to 32°C).
    • Nights can be cool, with temperatures ranging from 40°F to 60°F (4°C to 15°C).
  • Summer (June to August):
    • Daytime temperatures can be quite hot, ranging from 90°F to 105°F (32°C to 41°C).
    • Nights are warmer but can still cool down, with temperatures around 60°F to 75°F (15°C to 24°C).
  • Fall (September to November):
    • Daytime temperatures start to moderate, ranging from 75°F to 95°F (24°C to 35°C).
    • Nights become cooler again, with temperatures ranging from 40°F to 65°F (4°C to 18°C).
  • Winter (December to February):
    • Daytime temperatures are mild, ranging from 60°F to 70°F (15°C to 21°C).
    • Nights can be cold, with temperatures ranging from 30°F to 45°F (-1°C to 7°C).

Crowds

Joshua Tree National Park sees the most visitors in the springtime. The best time to visit for a more quiet and exclusive experience is during the colder months from November to February. 

There is no shortage of Airbnb’s in Joshua Tree or its neighboring cities! From unique architecture to stargazing rooftops, Joshua Tree has a plethora of stunning homes for your stay. Just make sure to let your host know your plans if you plan to have guests over. However, if you’re looking for a more rugged stay- camping and backpacking is available inside the park. Your campsite can be reserved up to 6 months in advance. For backpacking, there are first-come, first-serve locations available as well.

Nearby Cities:

  • Twentynine Palms: Another nearby town, Twentynine Palms, is located to the north of the park. It offers additional lodging options, including chain hotels and independent motels.
  • Yucca Valley: Yucca Valley is another nearby community with a variety of lodging choices. It’s a bit larger than Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, providing more amenities.
  • Palm Springs: If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive, Palm Springs offers a wider range of accommodations and amenities. It’s approximately an hour’s drive from Joshua Tree National Park.

While these are the biggest cities nearby, I also recommend looking into Landers. You’re more likely to find accommodations with large plots of land and wide open backyards. If you’re a dog family, there’s plenty of homes with fenced acres for your pup to safely roam.

Hotels, Lodges, & Resorts:

Autocamp

Sacred Sands

Castle House Estate

Pioneertown Motel

Airbnbs/VRBOs:

Area 55 Futuro House

Rock Reach House

Architect’s Off-Grid Stargazing Cabin

Hawkeye Dome

Campgrounds:

Developed Campgrounds:

Bella Campground

Hidden Valley Campground

Black Rock Campground

Cotton Wood Campground

Indian Cove Campground

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Sheep Pass Campground

Ryan Campground

White Tank Campground

Primitive Campgrounds:

Beginning March 1, 2023, Joshua Tree National Park will require all overnight stays in the backcountry to be accompanied by a permit. The permit cost is $6 and allows for a group size of up to 12 people to stay up to 14 nights. Permits will be available for booking 6 months in advance. To secure a permit, book here or visit the permit office located at 74485 National Park Dr, Twentynine Palms, CA.

On public lands outside of the park that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), there are some camping options. Dispersed camping is governed by their own rules and regulations. Find more information here.

Joshua Tree under a starry sky with Milky Way in the background.

  • Hike Skull Rock
  • Backpack
  • Rock Climb or Boulder
  • Bird Watch
  • Stargaze
  • Attend the annual Night Sky Festival
  • Explore the Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Off-road adventure on a backcountry road
  • Go on a horseback riding tour at Knob Hill Ranch
  • Tour the Ruins of Ryan Ranch
  • Rent a bike
  • Dip into a hot spring
  • Enjoy a picnic at Jumbo Rocks
  • Go thrifting
  • Check out Keys Ranch

8-HR Private Elopement Timeline (without guests)

1:00 – 1:30 Enjoy an espresso or hot chocolate together at Joshua Tree Coffee

1:30 – 3:00 Get ready separately in unique Airbnb

3:00 – 3:30 Exchange first looks in the open desert landscape just steps from Airbnb

3:30 – 4:00 Drive to ceremony location in Joshua Tree National Park

4:00 – 4:30 Ceremony and vow exchange

4:30 – 6:00 Explore the landscape and capture wedding portraits

6:00 – 6:30 Return to Airbnb

6:30 – 8:00 Enjoy a private catered dinner by Salt + Leisure

8:00 – 8:30 Watch videos or read love letters of warm wishes from friends and family

8:30 – 9:00 Soak in Airbnb hot tub together to end a magical day

8-HR Intimate Elopement Timeline (with up to 15 guests)

12:30 – 2:00 Get ready in Airbnb

2:00 – 2:30 Exchange first looks in the open desert landscape just steps from Airbnb

2:30 – 3:00 Drive to ceremony location in Joshua Tree National Park and meet up with guests

3:00 – 3:30 Ceremony

3:30 – 4:00 Portraits with guests

4:00 – 4:30 Drive to separate location for wedding portraits and vow exchange

4:30 – 5:00 Private vow exchange

5:30 – 6:30 Explore the landscape and capture wedding portraits

6:30 – 7:00 Return to Airbnb to meet back with guests

7:00 – 8:30 Enjoy a catered dinner by Salt + Leisure

I offer personalized adventure elopement packages for you to help you create an amazing elopement experience at Joshua Tree National Park.

Experience-motivated elopement packages start at $3,800:

  • 4 hours to 1.5 days of adventuring through Joshua Tree
  • Personalized location research
  • Customized elopement timeline
  • Vendor/activity recommendations
  • 80+ page elopement guide
  • 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
  1. Pack extra water. The desert heat can creep up on you and you want to ensure you are hydrated.
  2. Wear comfortable, closed-toed shoes with grip for adventuring through and over the rocks.
  3. Visit the park at sunrise or sunset for a stunning night sky and colorful show.
  4. Shop at the local grocery store prior to getting to your accommodation as it could be a 30 minute drive from where you’re staying.
  5. Prepare and anticipate limited to no cell service inside the park.
  6. Download/screenshot an offline map through AllTrails before entering the park.
  7. Pack a baseball cap or headwear to protect you from the direct sun.

From the desert landscapes to the unique rock formations, Joshua Tree National Park offers the perfect getaway for couples looking to elope. With its unique scenery and breathtaking views, eloping in Joshua Tree National Park will provide you with an experience that you’ll never forget. So take the time to plan ahead, find the perfect spot to say “I do”, and create an unforgettable day to commemorate your love. 

For other desert elopement locations in California, check out my list of favorite spots!

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.

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