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For folks who love the surreal drama of the desert landscape, few things are as magical as a Joshua Tree elopement. Trying to plan it all can feel like a big task, though. The park itself is huge with over 1,200 square miles of cacti-covered desert and snow-capped mountains. I’ve put together this guide to show you why Joshua Tree is such a special place to visit – and the perfect place to elope.
I’ve been to so many different parts of the world, and Joshua Tree is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. If you’re not used to the desert (born and raised in Buffalo here!), the landscape can feel otherworldly. Rocks of all shapes and sizes form hills that tower and lean in unexpected shapes. There’s a million variations of brown and red in the sand and stone, too. Bright, saturated colors pop beautifully here. It’s a great opportunity to rock colorful wedding attire!
As fun as it is to explore the desert, the mountains are a must-see feature of the park. Your Joshua Tree elopement photos take on some serious Western drama with snow peaks and jagged mountain sides in the background. You might be surprised how much the change in elevation can affect the vibe – and temperature.
The plant life is a big part of what makes a Joshua Tree elopement so captivating. Chollas and ocotillos create cool shapes and textures. The long spindly ocotillo branches tower over the fuzzy-looking chollas. (Don’t be fooled. They are not soft.) Ocotillos and chollas have beautiful blooms in springtime too!
When we went to Joshua Tree in February of 2022, we even saw the Joshua trees blooming. Their bunches of white flowers are beautiful and add surprising softness to the spiky plants. Try getting close enough to smell them if you can. You’ll get a whiff of what we could only describe as a mushroom scent that does not match with how pretty those flowers are.
Now I love hiking. I used to spend lots of time in the Adirondacks camping and exploring. Traveling to a national park with a toddler was a whole different thing, especially since we flew instead of driving with a lot of equipment. We were excited to find that Joshua Tree has a lot of pretty accessible trails. There are several short trails that are relatively flat and well-maintained. Adventure elopements should be accessible to everyone, so I love that these trails are available with trailheads right at the parking lots.
Joshua Tree is huge, but there are a few spots we visited that would be fantastic backdrops for elopement photos. First, Keys View is ideal for dreamy mountain views. On a clear day, you can see across the Little San Bernadino Mountains all the way to Mexico. Imagine the romantic, windswept elopement photos! This spot is wheelchair accessible and doesn’t require a hike. This is a good starting point for your day because you can get breathtaking images before your clothes get dusty.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a little dust! It’s definitely part of the charm of a desert elopement. Hidden Valley Trail brings the Old West desert vibes to your Joshua Tree elopement photos. The relatively flat trail winds through unusual rock formations. There’s also a cool mix of plant life, including Joshua trees and desert shrubs. The loop is short and pretty level, so you can get that desert aesthetic without a long hike.
A Joshua Tree elopement wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Cactus Garden. Over a dozen wildflowers, cacti, and shrubs flower along this loop. Most of them bloom in May. Still this spot is a gem any time of year. We were in the park about a month too early to capture the teddybear chollas in bloom. The sun shone silver through the cactus needles, creating halos around the cacti. It hardly mattered that the flowers weren’t blossoming yet!
Digital images are great, of course, but I highly recommend wedding photography on film for your Joshua Tree elopement. This part of California has an earthy, vintage vibe that film captures perfectly. It portrays the timeless and texture of the landscape in a unique way. Something about the softness of film works so well for the fuzzy chollas and spiky Joshua trees.
The colors of wedding photography on film are incredible too. The true blue sky stands in stark contrast to the golden brown land. The sunlight reflects silvery off cactus needles. You really get a sense of what that vast desert feels like, not just what it looks like. That’s the key to meaningful wedding photography. It has to capture the emotion of the moment so you can be transported back to it whenever you look at an image.
There a few factors to keep in mind when choosing a date for your Joshua Tree elopement. Maybe it goes without saying, but Southern California gets hot in the summer. Spring and fall are ideal for catching comfortable temperatures. Plus the wildflowers and cacti bloom in spring. We even saw Joshua trees blooming in late February.
Because the elevation varies so drastically throughout the park, the temperature changes dramatically from one location to the next. Make sure you have some layers for your wedding attire. February might bring ice and sweaty sunshine on the same day. Certain sections of the park close for snow, too, so stay weather aware.
Weekends are understandably popular. Your best bet to get photos with minimal people around is to head to the park on a midweek morning. We found that even the most popular trails were relatively quiet on a Wednesday morning.
My guess is that you’re considering a Joshua Tree elopement because you love the outdoors. Maybe exploring the wilderness is important to your relationship. Maybe you love the idea of feeling removed from the world on such an intimate day. Whatever the reason you want to head into the desert to tie the knot, I’m sure you care about preserving this unique landscape and the life within it. Fortunately, there are a few ways that you can minimize impact on the environment on your wedding day.
A good guiding principle is to leave things as you found them. For an elopement, this means it’s better to avoid spraying champagne or throwing confetti. Champagne can change soil pH. This can have unintended consequences in an environment as delicate as Joshua Tree. Even biodegradable confetti introduces foreign materials into the ecosystem. If you have a few guests and want something akin to an exit, try ribbons. They’re not single use, and people are unlikely to leave them behind.
Joshua Tree is full of incredible views! You can stop at just about any pull off and get cool portraits. Just be mindful that you don’t trample any plants or remove anything in the process. It’s absolutely possible to get the wedding photos of your dreams while being a good steward of this breathtaking place.
Now that you’re getting a sense of what your Joshua Tree elopement will look like, you’re wondering where you should stay. Camping is always an option , and there are some simple motels in town. An Air BnB is going to be your most comfortable option though. There are quite a few in the area with good views, so you get some of the perks of camping with more amenities to look fresh for your elopement .
One of the best tips I have for choosing a place is to look for an aerial photo on the property listing. This will give you the best picture of how remote a place actually is. When my family went to Joshua Tree, we rented a little house down a dirt road. It was surrounded by several acres of public. At night, the stars went on forever. In the morning, we could lay in bed and watch the sun rise over the mountains. That’s the romantic atmosphere you want for a Joshua Tree elopement!
The town of Joshua Tree is small but full of quirky shops that embrace a free-spirited energy. The World Famous Crochet Museum is a perfect example of the offbeat, super niche art that people embrace. Big enough for only a few adults to cozy into at a time, this little structure is full of crocheted figures, from animals to elaborate foods. Someone obviously put a lot of care into this oddly delightful place.
Of course, Joshua Tree isn’t all that far from Hollywood. You just have to see Pioneer Town to remember that. Pioneer Town is a permanent Old West movie set, and it’s home to ceramicists and saloons. We went a little too early in the day before most places were open. It did have cool ghost town vibes though. A literal tumbleweed rolled across our path. It was kind of perfect.
To elope in a national park, you need a special use permit. You can get one ahead of time by filling out an online form. The permit is only $120, which is a steal for such a one-of-a-kind wedding venue! If you’re tempted to skip the permit, consider this: Aside from preventing a ranger from giving you the boot, the permit system helps sustain the under-funded and invaluable National Park Service. You’re essentially making a donation to preserve this precious land for future generations. That’s a beautiful thing to have attached to your wedding!
A Joshua Tree elopement requires a little planning, but it’s absolutely unforgettable. The unique aesthetic of this vast landscape combined with accessible trails make this park a dreamy place for an intimate celebration of your love.
Would you like me to photograph your Joshua Tree elopement? Let’s make some desert magic together! Reach out, and let’s get the conversation started.