Joshua Tree National Park Elopement Guide 2020
The wedding industry will always try and sell couples on the big, traditional (and expensive) wedding, but the reality is planning a wedding has driven many loving couples into the depths of madness. This is the reason why many adventurous brides and grooms are packing their bags and heading out to the west coast (the best coast) to elope in Joshua Tree! There truly are few destinations as magical as Joshua Tree, and that is the reason why there really is no better place to get married than right inside the National Park! But before you begin creating those Pinterest boards and checking out hashtags on Instagram for your destination wedding let’s go over some important things you should know about planning a Joshua Tree elopement!
Joshua Tree Elopement Packages
How much is a Joshua Tree Elopement Photographer?
There is nothing more enjoyable than a wedding day with zero stress. No timelines or a sense of being rushed from one photo-opt to the next. This is why many adventurous couples are choosing the non-traditional route and opting to elope in Joshua Tree. If this sounds like you all I can say is FANTASTIC! Excellent decision! I know the wedding blogs might sell you on some giant production with a harpist and flying doves, but the reality is this is your wedding day. The very last thing your wedding day should be is a stressful event or financial flying jump kick to the balls. If your heart beats for the desert then the first step is booking a Joshua Tree elopement photographer to capture you and your partner in all your destination wedding glory. Here is how much couples seeking Joshua Tree elopement packages can expect to invest in photography:
- One hour of Joshua Tree elopement photography $700
- Two hours of Joshua Tree elopement photography $1,300
- Three hours of Joshua Tree elopement photography $1,850
An award-winning wedding photographer based in Southern California, Ryan Horban has documented hundreds of weddings throughout the country. He has been providing Joshua Tree elopement photography packages to wildly romantic couples seeking the less traditional wedding day. His current hobbies include pretending to be a dinosaur while chasing his kids around the house, making sweet romantic love to his wife after watching the Notebook, and photographing adventurous kick ass couples eloping in Joshua Tree!
What Makes Joshua Tree Unique?
Even among the 59 national parks, Joshua Tree National Park is special—making it the perfect place for a destination wedding. Not only is Joshua Tree National Park a treasured part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, offering critical habitat for a wide range of birds, mammals, insects, and lizards, but it also tells a hugely crucial story of survival, resilience, and perseverance-borne beauty. For instance, the slow-growing Joshua trees themselves are some of the most impressive trees in the world. Given their name by Mormon settlers who crossed the arid Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century, the trees’ unique shapes reminded them of the biblical story of Joshua’s arms outstretched to the heavens in prayer. A member of the Agave family, Joshua trees in the park are estimated at an average age of 150 years, with many trees suspected to be much older. And unlike other trees, Joshua trees don’t have growth rings, making them much more difficult to age accurately; in some dry years, they may not actually grow at all. They also provide the perfect backdrop for kick ass wedding photos!
Joshua Tree’s arid desert air also makes it a great place to see the stars, camp, even get married. If you want a destination wedding, there may not be anywhere in the world where a bride and groom can have the perfect elopement—or the perfect setting for your Joshua Tree elopement photographer. Let’s look more closely at how to have the perfect Joshua Tree elopement.
What Is There To Do In Joshua Tree?
As a destination wedding, a Joshua Tree elopement doesn’t have to be special just for the bride and groom. One of the beautiful parts of Joshua Tree National Park is how there are things to keep everyone happy. In addition to stargazing, camping, bird watching, and much more consider the other activities that can help recommend a desert elopement package for your Joshua Tree elopement. Some Joshua Tree elopement photographer recommendations for activities and locations for photographs include
- Hikes and climbs! There may not be cell service in the park, but there are some fantastic views. These are some of our favorite hikes:
- 49 Palms Oasis. A 3-mile moderately strenuous hike, it may not offer exactly what you think of an oasis, but it is relatively secluded and known for its desert beauty.
- Arch Rock. Though only a half-mile in length, the Arch Rock Nature Trail offers lots of great rock formations for climbing.
- Barker Dam Trail. Perhaps the best in the park for petroglyphs.
- Cholla Cactus Garden. A quarter-mile loop trail near the Ocotillo Patch offers two of the best concentrations of cacti in the park.
- Cottonwood Spring Nature Trail. A short 10-minute or so out-and-back, it’s a great birding spot.
- Hall of Horrors. Another popular climbing spot, it’s also one of the best spots in the park for sunset photos.
- Hidden Valley Loop. A mile loop, the true spectacle here is the climbing; Hidden Valley offers some of the best climbing in SoCal.
- Keys View. This is more of a lookout than a hike, as you can drive here—but it offers a fantastic view of the Coachella Valley and the Little San Bernardino Mountains.
- Lost Horse Mine Loop. A 4-mile, moderate loop, it’s a great way to see some of the historic ruins of the park.
- Lost Palms Oasis. A 7.2-mile hike, the highlight of this route is a bit of canyon scrambling.
- Mastodon Peak Trail. With views of the Salton Sea and Eagle Mountains, the 3-mile strenuous hike is well worth the climb.
- Ryan Mountain. One of the most popular hikes in the park, it also offers dramatic 360-degree views for the 3-mile hike (with 1000’ of gain).
- Skull Rock Nature Trail. Another one of the more popular trails, there’s also a 1.5-mile nature loop in addition to Skull Rock itself.
- If hiking is not something you want to do during your Joshua Tree elopement that is totally cool! Another great way to observe the beauty of the National Park is by simply driving! A fair bit of Joshua Tree can be seen by vehicle, too, especially if you’re in a 4×4.
- Geology Road. An 18-mile off-road adventure through Pleasant Valley offers fantastic geology. Note, though, that you can easily get stuck if it has rained recently.
- The Scenic Drive. The main scenic drive may be busy—but with reason. It’s beautiful and offers the easy version of Joshua Tree, with lots of pullouts and just as many great places for bouldering.
- Stargazing. Because Joshua Tree is an International Dark Sky Park, the stargazing can be phenomenal. Though there can be some light pollution, visiting during a New Moon on a clear night is still fantastic.
- Flowers. Especially during a superbloom, the wildflowers in Joshua Tree can be extraordinary. This is something most people don’t fully appreciate unless they’ve seen it, but when the wildflowers bloom in the desert it can truly offer an explosion of color unrivaled anywhere else—the perfect background for bride and groom, should your Joshua Tree elopement photographer wish to take advantage.
- Join a ranger program or take a class with the Desert Institute. Both are other great ways to learn the park.
- Check out the sound baths. Both private and public sound baths are available, but keep in mind that you’ll need a reservation as they book up months in advance.
- Other attractions worth checking out include live music and barbecue in Pioneertown at Pappy and Harriet’s, any of the museums (including the World Famous Crochet Museum, Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, and Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum), and the Night Sky Festival (every September).
If you are eloping in Joshua Tree, there are also some things you should totally keep in mind. Here are my top 7 Joshua Tree elopement tips that every bride and groom should know before heading out to the desert!
- There’s no cell service in Joshua Tree National Park.
- Because it’s a national park, you’ll need to buy an access pass. If you’re visiting multiple times, an annual pass ($55 for just Joshua Tree or $80 for any national parks and monuments) will likely cost you less.
- October to May is the peak season, and March through May is generally the best weather—which also means that is when it’s busiest. On weekends especially, it can be very busy.
- Late April through late July is usually the best stargazing, which can be a consideration if you want an evening Joshua Tree wedding.
- Summer temperatures are usually well above a hundred. If you choose to visit in the summer, be sure to wrap up early so you don’t risk serious heat exhaustion or worse.
- One way to avoid traffic jams is the free RoadRunner Shuttle Bus. Not only does it offer free entrance to the park, but with departures every thirty minutes, they run regularly. This can be helpful for your destination wedding guests, too, as parking can be limited at some of the best Joshua Tree wedding venues.
- Bring lots of water, and pack layers as temperatures can swing wildly in the desert from day-to-night.
Joshua Tree Entrance Fee
Currently, Joshua Tree has an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle or $25 per motorcycle. Given that an annual America the Beautiful National Parks Pass is currently $80, if you’re going to visit more than a few times, the annual pass is a better deal. If you’re only going to visit Joshua Tree (and won’t visit any other national parks), then you can get an annual pass for just Joshua Tree for $55.
Can You Get Married In Joshua Tree?
You can! You do, however, need to make sure you get the appropriate permits. For instance, any wedding in Joshua Tree requires a special use permit, which costs $120. (You can file for a special use permit online at the link above.) If you have a professional photographer, caterer, or any other vendors, they will also need separate special use permits filed with the park.
Failure to obtain the appropriate permits can result in fines of $500 for each violation, so don’t skimp on filing your paperwork if considering a Joshua Tree elopement; even a relatively cheap destination wedding can add up quickly, so don’t make it more expensive than it needs to be with unnecessary fines. The park rangers are super cool, but they do enforce permits so unless you are rocking the elopement at a private rental property/Airbnb then make sure you take the time to get all the proper paperwork. Nobody wants to get a ticket on their wedding day!
Joshua Tree Wedding Locations
There are a number of rad locations in Joshua Tree National Park that can be used for your Joshua Tree elopement or destination wedding, depending on the size of your wedding.
For weddings of 25 or fewer (including bride, groom, wedding party, and guests), the following venues are suitable:
- Hidden Valley Picnic Area
- Quail Springs Picnic Area
- Cap Rock
- Live Oak
- Split Rock
- Rattlesnake Picnic Area
Keep in mind, however, that your Joshua Tree wedding will not be permitted at Hidden Valley Picnic Area or Quail Springs Picnic Area between March and May. Please note that weddings are no longer allowed at Arch Rock or Jumbo Rocks.
For weddings of 26 or more (including the bride, groom, wedding party, and guests), there’s only one venue in Joshua Tree National Park: Indian Cove Amphitheater. A few things to keep in mind if considering a Joshua Tree destination wedding at Indian Cove Amphitheater, however: While the amphitheater offers a breathtaking setting for both bride and groom and comes with seating, there is a location fee of $200 and there is no parking, meaning you will need to arrange a shuttle for your guests. From the shuttle drop-off point, your guests will then need to make a short walk on a dirt path to the amphitheater itself. Additionally, the small structure at the amphitheater is not for public use and there are a few restrictions on how you can hide it from view. That said, if you want more than just a few guests to witness your Joshua Tree elopement, the Indian Cove Amphitheater is a tremendous location.
Also, make sure your guests don’t drive themselves because if you put Indian Cove Amphitheater in Google Maps it will take you to the wrong location! So make sure they get their buns on the shuttle.
Can You Have A Wedding At An Airbnb In Joshua Tree?
Of course! And if you want to avoid some of the permitting hassles that can come with trying to plan a desert elopement package for your Joshua Tree elopement, this can be a great workaround. Just keep in mind that you’ll still need the appropriate permits if you want to take photos in Joshua Tree National Park; each vendor (such as a photographer) that you use in the park will need to be covered by a $120 separate use permit, lest you earn yourself a $500 fine. (And yes you—not the photographer—are responsible for permits and fines. This applies for any engagement photos you might plan, too—if you’re using a professional in a national park, you need a special use permit. In Joshua Tree, each professional hired requires a separate special use permit.)
One of the nice parts about going this route, too, is the sheer variety of Airbnb and other lodging options in the Joshua Tree area—many of which are highly instagrammable, ensuring you get great photographs for both bride and groom on your elopement. Some Joshua Tree elopement photographer options may even have recommendations about which Airbnb locations photograph best—so don’t be afraid of asking your vendors for recommendations, either!
One word of caution: Some Airbnb options may have restrictions on the number of guests you can have, even if those guests aren’t staying the night. Be sure to read the fine print before booking a location to ensure you’ll be able to accommodate any and all guests without running afoul of your rental agreement.
That said, consider these five reasons to consider for staging your Joshua Tree elopement at an Airbnb or other venues just outside Joshua Tree National Park:
- You can still take wedding photos in the park provided you have a special use permit for your photographer, but you won’t need a special use permit for your wedding itself if your Joshua Tree elopement doesn’t take place inside the park.
- Weddings in Joshua Tree aren’t allowed to use microphones, arches, dried flowers, or drones (among other things). If your wedding is just outside the park, however, you may still be able to utilize those pieces in your desert elopement package if you so desire.
- Joshua Tree weddings have very specific restrictions depending on the number of people attending your wedding ceremony. An Airbnb or other venues may not have those restrictions.
- When you plan your Joshua Tree elopement, you’ll need to find a place to stay. Finding an Airbnb or other venues where you can both stay and stage your ceremony allows you to kill two birds with one stone.
- You also may have fewer restrictions on dates; because there are so few places in the park where Joshua Tree weddings are allowed, they can book up, especially in that March-May window (when neither Hidden Valley Picnic Area or Quail Springs Picnic Area is available for weddings).
Top 5 Places To Get Married In Joshua Tree National Park
If you do decide that your Joshua Tree elopement (or your bride/groom) needs a Joshua Tree wedding in the park, the following are our top 5 places to get married in Joshua Tree National Park:
- Indian Cove Amphitheater. Yes, there are some restrictions, like the requirement that you shuttle guests. And yes, it is more expensive (with a $200 booking fee), but in our opinion, it’s also the most scenic location for your bride or groom on your special day. If you’re going to have a destination wedding—a Joshua Tree wedding—don’t you want to have it in the most beautiful place possible? Indian Cove Amphitheater has the added advantage of allowing for larger weddings, too; all of the other Joshua Tree wedding sites have a strict 25-person cap.
- Cap Rock. Both Cap Rock and Split Rock are fantastic venues for your Joshua Tree elopement photographer and photos, and both are available year-round. We just happen to think Cap Rock is slightly more photogenic.
- Split Rock. Of course, not everyone feels the way we do; some people prefer Split Rock to Cap Rock for their desert elopement.
- Quail Springs Picnic Area. Hidden Valley is also great, but given that both picnic areas are unavailable for weddings between March and May, our nod of the two goes to Quail Springs.
- Rattlesnake Picnic Area. Don’t let the name fool you; Rattlesnake Picnic Area is a gorgeous location for your Joshua Tree elopement.
Best Time To Get Married In Joshua Tree
The best time for a Joshua Tree elopement depends a bit on what you want to prioritize with your desert elopement package and destination wedding.
If flowers or the superbloom is a priority: Look for a February-May date, depending on the elevation of your chosen location. Keep in mind that not all venues are available at this time, so you may need to be creative or look outside the park for your venue.
If stargazing is a priority: Late April through early July usually offers the best skies. Shoot for a new moon and (obviously) a clear night.
If hiking is a priority: Avoid the summer unless you’re going to be out only first thing in the morning, as temperatures will be well above a hundred degrees most days.
If moderate weather is a priority: Shoot for March to May or October/November when average highs and lows are most moderate. Keep in mind that the weather may still change quickly in the desert, and you should be prepared with layers as well as for the possibility of wind regardless of the season.
If snow is a priority: Your best bet is to get lucky. Snow is relatively rare in the park, despite the fact that it does get cold in the winter (with average lows around 35 degrees in December and January).
Regardless of when you plan your Joshua Tree elopement, be prepared for the beauty, whether with the spring flowers, summer heat, soft autumn light, or even winter snow.
Secret Spots In Joshua Tree
There aren’t really any secret spots for a Joshua Tree wedding; the park has a very particular list of places where weddings are allowed in the park. Outside the park, however, you can definitely find some hidden gems, such as some of these beautiful Airbnb venues all of which are close to the park—making them perfect for your Joshua Tree elopement:
- The Moon Cabin. Sleeps 4 from $135/night and it’s perfectly charming for your destination wedding.
- The Joshua Tree Hideaway. Sleeps 6 from $150/night, this Yucca Valley getaway also offers a hot tub for when the bride and groom want to get cozy under the stars.
- Saddleback Escape. Just outside Joshua Tree Village, this Airbnb comes with lots of extras, including ping pong table, grill, hot tub, and more. Sleeps 6 from $269/night.
- Morongo Star Ranch. One of the quietest getaways, this little 5-acre ranch in Morongo Valley abuts Bighorn Mountain and is just 5 minutes from Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. Sleeps 2 from $135/night.
And even if there aren’t secret spots for your ceremony in the park, that doesn’t mean you can’t get some incredibly special Joshua Tree wedding photographs courtesy a Joshua Tree elopement photographer at some of these secret spots:
- Arch Rock. Both day or night, the short half-mile trail is great for photos (or stargazing at night).
- Barker Dam. With a mix of Joshua trees and rock formations, the Barker Dam trail is great for wedding photos—especially if you’re short on time.
- Cholla Cactus Garden. Just don’t get too close to the cacti—chollas are known as jumping cactus for a reason!
- Desert Queen Mine. One of the easier to access mines to access, it can be a great stop for photos if you don’t have time for one of the other mines (like Lost Horse).
- Key’s Desert Queen Ranch. You’ll need tickets for the tour (available Friday-Sunday, generally) but the old homestead is smack in the center of the park and offers great photography opportunities.
- Key’s Viewpoint. For sunset photos, looking out over the Coachella Valley and down into Palm Springs from Keys Viewpoint is one of your best options.
- Lost Horse Mine. In particular, the stamp mill at the mine makes for a great photo setting.
- Ryan Mountain. While not the tallest peak in Joshua Tree, it is in the center of the park, making it perfect for vistas with both the bride and groom.
- Wall Street Mill. In particular, the rusted old cars and mill itself are great for photos.
- Samuelson Rocks. Hard to find (it’s not on any park maps, nor is there an official trail) don’t consider going to Samuelson Rocks unless you have route-finding skills. If you do go, though, the seven rocks and their accompanying quotes can make for a great photo stop.
- Eagle Cliff Mine. One of the harder-to-find mines in the park, it’s also one of the better preserved, making it great for photos.
Honestly, anyone planning a Joshua Tree elopement will truly enjoy the magic of the park. The organic elements of the natural surroundings provide the best backdrop for wildly romantic couples seeking simplicity and authenticity when it comes to their destination wedding. Enjoy your trip to Joshua Tree, and remember to enjoy every moment of your elopement!