As an elopement photographer based in Southern California, I cannot deny how much I love to shoot in Joshua Tree National Park, it is an incredible destination to elope to. The unique desert landscapes, the wild plant life, and picture-perfect sunsets combine to create an otherworldly destination to tie the knot in. While also offering those boho vibes that look so magical on camera.
If you are a couple who’s already in love with this majestic patch of Californian desert, then you’ll know how easily accessible it is by car and only a 2-hour road trip from LA or Orange County. If you are planning a destination elopement to Joshua Tree, you’ll find that it is only a couple of hours from the major airports in Southern California.
To help you plan your own Joshua Tree elopement, I thought I’d use my experience as a photographer in Southern California and create a handy guide offering all the local info you need to know.
Where to Stay During Your Joshua Tree Elopement
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to elopement accommodations in Joshua Tree, with a range of options available for all types of couples, or wedding themes. From camping under the stars in one of over 500 campsites, a stay in a rustic cabin, or booking one of the countless trendy motels nearby.
My advice, however, if you’re planning to elope to Joshua Tree, is to stay in an Air Bnb. This is because there are so many unique places to book! Luxury desert hideaways, off-the-grid lodgings, real-life spaceships, and super cool Air-stream campers, just to name a few places I love here. But there are many other Air bnb’s in Joshua Tree, all offering the perfect place to backdrop your getting ready photos, and could even work wonderfully as a mini reception party venue.
Take a look at these 5 Air Bnb’s in Joshua Tree that would work perfectly for an elopement.
Architect’s Off-Grid Stargazing Cabin
Architect Malek Alqadi designed this innovative desert oasis as a unique off-grid getaway. This tiny, yet super stylish home has ample room for 2 guests, but can easily sleep 4, or up to 8 with its two indoor beds, one indoor pull-out couch, and one outdoor bed!
Shangri-La: Mid-Century Mod Cabin
Although this cabin is less than 500 square feet (ca. 46 square meters), it still offers every amenity you could need for the perfect Joshua Tree elopement. After a day of celebrating your nuptials out in the desert, you’ll love relaxing in the outdoor galvanized steel soaking tub on your private deck. Not only that but it has a beautiful backyard area featuring a cactus garden and an outdoor dining area — the perfect spot for a little post-elope reception.
Experience the magic of the desert in this 25 foot Flying Cloud Air-stream, located on 1.5 acres of land with stunning desert and mountain views. Alongside the comfy queen-sized bed, you’ll find that the Air-stream is fitted with everything you’ll need to make your stay as comfortable as possible. From coffee makers and smart TVs to Bluetooth stereos and a propane grill. Plus, there’s even a stock-tank pool, perfect for cooling off after a long hike in the desert.
‘Desert Wild’ in Joshua Tree
This super cool oasis in the desert offers a sophisticated version of wild that is perfect for a Joshua Tree elopement. With two bedrooms and two baths, it’s both cozy yet spacious and benefits from a charming outdoor area, complete with a hanging chair and comfy seating. And outside you’ll also find the pool area, a great spot for cooling off or catching a tan. This could be your romantic hideaway or intimate party space in the desert.
Joshua Tree Desert Retreat
If you’re planning on eloping with friends, this Desert Retreat is mere minutes from Joshua Tree National Park and can sleep up to 8 people in 4 separate bedrooms. Each of the bedrooms has a queen-sized bed, while the master bedroom has a dual-vanity en-suite bathroom. But it’s the outside space that makes this cabin truly special, with its hot tub, propane BBQ grill, fire pit, and corn-hole setup. And there are also several elegant outdoor seating areas, including a ‘5 hammock hexagon’ and a charming pergola draped with white curtains. So many lovely spots to toast your nuptials with loved ones!
Where to Hold Your Elopement Wedding Ceremony in Joshua Tree
There are numerous locations around Joshua Tree National Park that are approved for wedding ceremonies and are ideal for an elopement, or small wedding. Each one is more beautiful than the next, so be sure to explore them all before deciding on ‘the one’. Or, speak to an elopement photographer in Joshua Tree-like myself, and they’ll be able to guide you towards the locations that will work best for you.
For a full list of approved wedding ceremony locations in Joshua Tree visit this website or take a look at some of my suggestions below, all of which allow for a range of guests. I’ve selected the top sites that are my favorites and that I feel have the best settings with large boulder rock formations and the iconic Joshua trees.
Max capacity: 25 people, 8 cars
Cap Rock is an iconic elopement location in Joshua Tree, which offers some gorgeous views of the surrounding desert. This short trail is under a mile long but has plenty of romantic spots, and unique rock formations for you to backdrop your ceremony against.
Max capacity: 15 people, 5 cars
This ceremony location is one of the smaller spots in Joshua Tree, with a limit of 15 people allowed to be present for your elopement. But the hike itself is just so pretty, and at 2 miles long, it serves as the perfect path to take on your wedding day.
Rattlesnake Picnic Area
Max capacity: 20 people, 8 cars
The Rattlesnake Picnic Area offers various areas to be explored, and many different backdrops for your exchange of vows. Get here early enough, and you’ll have this magical spot to yourself!
Hidden Valley Picnic Area
Max capacity: 35 people, 8 cars
The Hidden Valley Picnic Area has plenty of wide-open areas, Joshua Trees, and unusual rock formations. It is one of the most popular elopement locations in Joshua Tree; however, it is only open from June through to January — so always make sure to plan ahead before settling on this location.
Quail Springs Picnic Area
Max capacity: 15 people, 8 cars
The Quail Spring Picnic Area is the first one you are allowed to stop at while driving through the park. There are usually rock climbers here as well as other tourists. Unless you are on a really tight timeline, I recommend driving further into the park for your ceremony so you can have the place more to yourself.
Indian Cove Amphitheater
Max capacity: 100 people, 1 car
If you are wanting a larger group, the Indian Cove Amphiteather is the largest wedding venue inside the park. You will have to shuttle in your guests because the permit only allows one car to be parked. The amphitheater is a blank canvas, and skies-the-limit to creativity! Some floral arrangements and some oriental rugs will do the stage area wonders. Seating is provided by the fixed benches.
When to Elope in Joshua Tree National Park
If you’re considering what time of year to have your Joshua Tree Elopement, it’s important to consider the elements that will certainly impact it. Such as the weather and other visitors to the park.
Joshua Tree is a desert, and therefore it can get very hot during summer. To avoid you or your guests passing out from the searing sun, book your elopement in Spring (March to May), or Fall (September to November). Obviously, it’s not just wedding ceremonies taking place in the park, there are frequent visitors too. All of whom are also avoiding the worst of the summer sun, making the area rather crowded at times. Ensure that you have privacy during your ceremony, and elopement, by booking your trip to Joshua Tree for midweek or a Sunday. Fridays and Saturdays are always very crowded with weekend visitors and campers, making it difficult to find an intimate spot for your ceremony or even parking.
Keep in mind also that some of the approved ceremony locations are not available all year round, with many not available during peak tourist season.
What Time of the Day is Best to Elope to Joshua Tree
As with any outdoor elopement on public land, it’s best to get up early, or start late, if you want to avoid unwanted attention. Starting your ceremony before sunrise, or after sunset not only gifts you more privacy but also means the weather will be milder.
Any elopement photographer in Joshua Tree will tell you that a sunset session will give you the prettiest shots, as you’ll be hitting that magical golden hour when everything looks all dreamy!
How to Legally Elope to Joshua Tree National Park
To have a legal elopement ceremony in Joshua Tree, you will need to acquire a Special Park Use Permit for $120. In addition, you will also need a special use permit for your Joshua Tree photographer to be able to capture your elopement. The cost of this is also $120.00.
There is also an entry fee for the park, which is $30 per vehicle, but it’s valid for 7 days. If you have an annual national park pass, you can enter for free. You can purchase one at the entrance, or buy one online. This pass will let you enter any national park for the whole year for free. If you would like to buy one online check out this website here.
To have an elopement ceremony in Joshua Park, you will need a marriage license issued by the state of California. You can obtain your license from any county within the state, even if it’s not the same one you’re getting married in, however, the prices vary from county to county. The average for this license is around $90.
You can find more info about marriage licenses, locations of clerk offices, and their opening times here.
Do You Need to Have an Officiant?
To have an official, legal elopement ceremony in Joshua Park, you will need an officiant. A person who can perform your ceremony, complete your paperwork, and file it for you.
In my opinion, an elopement photographer who is ordained, like myself, is the best way to elope! This is because if you want to have an elopement without loved ones around and one that’s free from distractions, you’ll get that with an ordained photographer. It will just be you and me. I can capture the whole day from whatever distance you choose, and I can conduct your ceremony from afar — giving you the privacy you crave. Following the ceremony, we can then stay together, or separate, without any pressure or worry about any other individuals. It’s a win-win!
If, however, you’d rather hire an officiant, or have a family or friend be your officiant make sure to do the proper research and check out how to get ordained here. When hiring someone, always make sure to search for someone local to Joshua Tree, as you’ll need to ensure that they’re comfortable with the terrain!
If you’re looking for ultimate simplicity on your wedding day, then you could consider having a legal ceremony in your local courthouse before traveling to Joshua Tree. That way you don’t have to worry about any paperwork, and you’re free to chill on your big day.
Joshua Tree Elopement Photographer Packages
If you’re looking for an elopement photographer for your Joshua Tree trip, I would love you to check out some of my packages. It would be an honor to join you on your elopement and be the Southern California photographer who captures your big day in Joshua Tree. If you would like to take a look at some of my past couples, please use my blog, and if you would like to get in touch, just visit my contact page!