| March 25, 2021

Joshua Tree Wedding Guide

Table of Contents

How to Plan a Joshua Tree Wedding

If you’re looking for the perfect desert location to host your wedding or elopement—you’ve come to the right place! Joshua Tree National Park, and the nearby town of the same name, are stunning examples of the California high desert landscape. There’s truly no other park like it in the world, so if you want an especially unique wedding destination—Joshua Tree’s boulder fields and gardens of native plants might just be your spot.

In this guide we’ve outlined everything you need to know about getting married at Joshua Tree—how to obtain a permit, which ceremony spots you can choose from, and a little about what makes this park one of our favorite places to photograph winter weddings. Keep reading and learn everything you need to know about planning a Joshua Tree wedding, and then contact us so we can help you craft an authentic, true-to-you wedding experience unlike any other. You DESERVE the wedding of your dreams—that starts with finding your special place.

Joshua Tree—The Meeting of Two Deserts

Joshua Tree National Park is where the Colorado Desert and the Mojave meet. The Mojave is the higher desert that encompasses the western side of the park—above 3000 feet in elevation—where the tree that gives this park its name thrives. The Colorado is lower in elevation, warmer, and is where you’ll find the cholla gardens and shorter shrub-like plant life.

There has been some concern in recent years that the Mojave is getting warmer and drier—this could mean that it becomes a less ideal environment for the fragile joshua trees, which live among other picky trees like the pinon. Thankfully, much has been done to protect these spaces, but it is essential that visitors understand the importance of avoiding the introduction of non-native plants.

The meeting of these two distinct deserts means that visitors get to experience unique environments if they venture out to the far reaches of the park. The massive boulder fields and sparse trees of the western corners evoke a different feeling than the vastness of the eastern parklands, which are broken up by a small number of palm oasis. 

If you get stoked on geological history, or you simply think the desert is lovely, Joshua Tree will check all the boxes for you. Whether you live in the PNW, the midwest, or the east coast, Joshua Tree will impress you with its beauty and character—there really isn’t anything quite like it elsewhere in the world!

Why You Should Have a Joshua Tree Wedding

Joshua Tree would be the perfect place for your wedding or elopement if you love unique environments, sunny days, and avoiding the crowds. It is the ultimate location if you want to avoid the height of wedding season, but don’t want to compromise for less-than-ideal weather. We’re big fans of Joshua Tree in the winter months—below, we break down the pros and cons of each season—and there is nothing better than escaping the snow for a few days to explore the desert! 

Joshua Tree is also known for being the perfect place to play outdoors—climbing, cycling, camping, and hiking are all available in abundance for those who want to explore. Summit Ryan mountain for a higher vantage view of the surrounding landscape, or focus closer on one of the 8,000 climbing routes throughout the park. You can easily fill days or weeks here without repeating activities, and we’re certain you’re going to be making plans to return once you’ve gotten a taste of Joshua Tree—one of our favorite national parks!

Getting Married in Joshua Tree National Park

First: Pick a Date –

Choose a date at least a few months out (at the minimum) to give yourself enough time to secure any necessary permits for a wedding at Joshua Tree.

Second: Pick a ceremony location –

You’ll need to list your ceremony spot & date on your permit application.

Third: Secure your permits & reservations –

If it looks like a wedding, sounds like a wedding, or could be mistaken for a wedding—you’ll need a Special Use Permit. Below, we’ve outlined everything you need to know to apply.

Finally: Have your dream wedding!

Now, all you have to do is get yourself to California!

When is the best time of year to have a Joshua Tree wedding?

The best time of year to elope or host a wedding in Joshua Tree National Park depends a lot on your comfort with certain temperatures, and the plant life you’d like to witness. If we had to choose, November would be our favorite month in Joshua Tree!

Summer

Summer in Joshua Tree is HOT—the nights become quite pleasant, but the days are scorching. If you’re not used to days in a lot of direct sunlight, and few places to hide from it, summer would be quite uncomfortable here. If you love high temperatures and lounging like a lizard, then you might love a sunrise or sunset wedding in the summer. We’d recommend avoiding weekends because the park gets quite busy with tourists, but there are ways to avoid them for a weekday ceremony.

Autumn

Autumn in Joshua Tree is mostly an extension of summer. It usually isn’t until late October that you’ll begin to feel a chill in the air coming earlier in the evening. Autumn would be perfect for those who want to experience summer temperatures, without the summer crowds. Late September the park becomes less busy, but it’s still as accessible for activities and warm nights.

Winter

Winter in Joshua Tree feels a lot like shoulder weather elsewhere. December and January are the coldest months, but the lows are still above freezing. However, with the increasing extreme weather related to climate change, Joshua Tree has seen more “winter weather” recently, and you might get lucky to witness a fresh dusting of snow on these iconic trees. If you want to get the benefits of a winter weather date (fewer crowds, available vendors, etc.), but you’d like to escape the harsh cold—Joshua Tree is the place to go!

Spring

Spring in Joshua Tree can be one of the most incredible sights you’ll ever see—the desert comes alive with flowers and blooms that only happen for a very short period of time each year. However, with all that greenery comes more rain. Spring is the main time to look out for flash floods, be sure you’re hiking and camping on durable surfaces, and check with the park for any warnings about upcoming weather. 

Accessibility at Joshua Tree

Visitor Centers

Each visitor center is equipped with water and bathrooms, which are wheelchair accessible. 

Parking

Visitors from out of state who use parking placards are encouraged to apply for the “Temporary Parking Placard” through the state of California. Their non-resident or out-of-state placards are not valid for California’s Accessible Parking spaces. Visit California’s DMV website to apply.

Facilities

These restrooms are accessible, unassisted by those in a wheelchair:

  • Joshua Tree Visitor Center
  • Oasis Visitor Center
  • Cottonwood Visitor Center
  • West Entrance Station
  • Quail Springs Picnic Area
  • Hidden Valley Day Use
  • Hall of Horror
  • Geology Tour Road – at the beginning of the road
  • Hidden Valley Campground
  • Intersection Rock Parking

Trails & Campgrounds

There are certain trails that may be preferred for visitors with mobility requirements or accessibility concerns and are recommended by the park staff as “accessible.” Below, we’ve listed those trails with recent statements from the park regarding their accessibility. If you have these requirements or would like to ask on behalf of someone else, please call the park for most up-to-date information.

  1. Bajada Nature Trail near the South Entrance: There are areas of deep sand, though improvements have been scheduled (when, we don’t know). The terrain of this trail is currently not suitable for most motorized wheelchairs.
  2. Cap Rock Nature Trail at the junction of Park Boulevard and Keys View Road: This trail is unpaved. Made of flat, packed dirt the terrain may not be suitable for most motorized wheelchairs.
  3. Oasis of Mara Trail near Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms: This trail is paved and suitable for all wheelchairs.
  4. Lower Keys View Overlook: This trail is near accessible parking spots, and is paved and suitable for all wheelchairs. Views may be limited by signage and naturally growing vegetation.

Do you need a permit to elope in Joshua Tree?

Yes—no matter the size of your wedding, the legality of your wedding, or the scope of photography, you need a Special Use Permit. Commitment ceremonies, legally binding marriages, and all other events within the park require a permit. Not obtaining a permit makes you liable to a $500 fine & citation.

You need to acquire a Special Use Permit for yourselves AND one for a professional photographer to join you. 

The cost of the permit is $120—you can download THIS FORM and send the completed application to Jeannie_Wilson@nps.gov. Once the application is reviewed, then you’ll be sent instructions for making a payment online.

Please call (760) 367-5518 to ask about current group size limitations—the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the maximum size of groups, and the park requests you call and ask before assuming their current limits.

What does it cost to have a Joshua Tree Wedding?

It could cost as much or as little as you want to get married in Joshua Tree. If you’d like to see a more detailed breakdown of the cost of elopements, we did that math and determined the average elopement costs a couple between $5,000-$15,000.

At Joshua Tree, your potential costs could be:

  • Special Use Permit: $120
  • Special Use Permit (per vendor): $120
  • Entrance Fee (good for 7 days): $30 per car
  • Campground: $varies
  • Plus, a photographer, officiant, and any other vendors you want to include.

Rules & Restrictions

There are some restrictions for getting married in Joshua Tree—all of these restrictions have environmental reasonings, which means we think they’re super important to follow! It would be absolutely devastating to start a fire, pollute a fragile ecosystem, or damage the habitat of wildlife while celebrating your marriage. The rules are relatively simple, but it’s important to give the list a lookover to ensure you aren’t accidentally including something on the restricted list. If you have any questions about an item not on either of the lists below, ask us!

Items Joshua Tree listed as “permitted” for your wedding:

  • Arch, must be free-standing
  • Small table for guest book
  • Cooler with water
  • Live flowers
  • Battery-powered candles
  • Runner
  • Rug
  • Cake
  • Champagne

Items Joshua Tree has listed as “NOT permitted” for a wedding:

  • Drones
  • Dried flowers
  • Non-battery powered candles
  • Bubbles
  • Any live animals, including doves, butterflies, etc
  • Confetti
  • Rice
  • Birdseed
  • Balloons
  • Smoke Bombs

Engagement Photos at Joshua Tree

A Special Use Permit is also required for engagement photos taken at Joshua Tree—some locations only require permits for ceremonies, so it’s important to note that Joshua Tree requires permits for both.

Permits for engagement photography can be submitted for these areas in the park: Hidden Valley Picnic Area, Quail Springs, Cap Rock, Rattlesnake Picnic Area, Live Oak, or Split Rock.

Joshua Tree Wedding Venues

There are a handful of locations within Joshua Tree that are permitted for weddings. However, not all of these locations are permitted for professional photography, so it’s important to make sure these two lists overlap for your chosen spot.

Remember, these approved wedding locations are for ceremonies. It’s absolutely possible you might want to choose one of these spots for your ceremony and then go to another one of the approved photography locations for more portraits—if you’re ever unsure about what a typical day schedule might look like in Joshua Tree, we would be happy to help you plan your elopement and answer any questions you have about this beautiful park.

Indian Cove Amphitheater

This is the largest wedding site in Joshua Tree and the only place suited for a group of people to all have seating. The amphitheater is made up of the same sandy color as the rocks around it, and there are very few joshua trees at this location. 

Max. Number of People: 100 people & 1 vehicle (you must shuttle people to this location)

*Hidden Valley Picnic Area

This location is not available from February to May due to seasonal restrictions. There are tables in the open and tucked away into the rocks, so you can choose between sun and shade at some hours. Bathrooms and trash receptacles are available. 

Max. Number of People: 35 people & 8 vehicles

Turkey Flats

These flats are quite flat—mountains in the distance break up the horizon, but the location itself is sandy with a lot of low plant life. The sunsets at this location are spectacular, as the mountains glow red and the expansive landscape shows off every warm color bouncing off the dried grasses.

Max. Number of People: 35 people & 8 vehicles

*Cap Rock

There are two joshua trees at this location that stand as an altar for those who get married between them. The massive boulders backing this location add to the beauty and provide a bit of shade during parts of the day that you won’t get in a lot of Joshua Tree locations.

Max. Number of People: 25 people & 8 vehicles

*Rattlesnake Picnic Area

This location has massive boulders, a lot of low shrubbery, and trails branching off from the picnic area to explore. This site can take you into a canyon that is uniquely different from a lot of other landscapes within the park—towering boulder walls and a sandy floor make this the perfect spot for dramatic desert portraits.

Max. Number of People: 20 people & 8 vehicles

*Quail Springs Picnic Area

This location is not available from February to May due to seasonal restrictions. There are 8 tables, pit toilets, and garbage receptacles. This is one of the most popular picnic sites, because it is the first turn off when you enter the park from the town of Joshua Tree.

Max. Number of People: 15 people & 8 vehicles

*Split Rock

The split rock loop trail is less than 2 miles and relatively flat. The site where weddings can take place here has both boulders and joshua trees, with one of the more interesting landscapes. The trail is incredibly well-marked, and though this site is popular it is still possible to find quiet on a weekday or off season.

Max. Number of People: 15 people & 5 vehicles

Porcupine Wash

This is a backcountry site, and the low landscape is flat and unpaved. If you hike out a ways, you might discover some of the petroglyphs that adorn boulders in this area, and you’re almost certain to see fewer crowds because of the remote location.

Max. Number of People: 12 people & 4 vehicles

Queen Valley Mine Intersection

This location is near the out and back 8-mile trail that takes you along an old mining road. The road takes you through stands of Joshua Trees and other plants, though it is mostly an exposed hike. The landscape is mostly flat with some piles of rocks, and an expansive view.

Max. Number of People: 10 people & 5 vehicles

Lost Horse Parking Lot

This lot is off an unpaved road and is the starting point for a gorgeous loop hike. There is a pit toilet at the trailhead, and this area is mostly low shrubbery and exposed.

Max. Number of People: 10 people & 5 vehicles

*Live Oak Picnic Area

Nine tables are situated in four separate private nooks, there is a pit toilet and trash receptacle at the entrance of the picnic area. This location is near some of the most popular hiking spots, like Skull Rock, but it’s considered not too busy.

Max. Number of People: 5 people & 3 vehicles

*Denotes locations that allow filming & photography.

Wedding Receptions

Formal receptions are not allowed within Joshua Tree National Park, except those that align with all the above stipulations at the permitted locations. Basically, if you want your reception to be anything larger than a picnic, incorporate music, or decor, it would be worth looking for reception locations outside the park itself. In fact, there are quite a few amazing locations within the town of Joshua Tree (which is different from the park) that would be ideal for couples who want a little bit more—more decor, more guests, or more privacy. Our personal favorite spots are:

The Ruin—This venue is perfect for an evening reception, as the location is decked out in gorgeous lighting, has space for groups of any size, and feels very close-to-nature. It’s located just a few miles outside the national park.

Wonder Valley Hot Springs—This gorgeous compound is only 15 minutes from the national park, and is available for those who want to rent out the entire space for events. Natural stone tubs are carved out and filled with water pumped from a local hot spring, and there are beds for 30 people plus space to camp on the property.

Ready to plan your Joshua Tree wedding or elopement?

We can’t wait to explore this incredible corner of the world with you! 

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Maddie Mae

Elopement Photographer

& Planning Consultant

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Your Elopement Photographers & Planning Consultants. We are Maddie Mae, Amber, and Tori. We're your photographers, your elopement consultants, your cheerleaders, and your go-to adventure buddy on the day you say your vows.

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