How to Plan a Desert Elopement

As more and more couples realize that maybe the big, white, traditional wedding isn’t for them, eloping is becoming more and more popular. The word “elope” used to mean a rushed, secret, last minute ceremony in a rhinestone Vegas chapel, but no more! Now, elopements are about getting married in a way that feels true to you. It’s about letting go of the pressure and expectations that come with the big wedding industry, and deciding to do your wedding, your way.

One of the best things about eloping is that you get to trade in indoor ballrooms, reception halls, and expensive venues for a beautiful outdoor location! You have plenty of national parks, state parks, and public lands to choose from, but for many couples, the unique landscape, plus the warm weather, makes the desert an ideal elopement destination! Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about planning a desert elopement.

Choose an Elopement Date

Your first order of business when you plan a desert elopement will be to decide on a date for your ceremony! This will depend on a few factors, such as weather and crowds.

Weather in the Desert 

When you elope in the desert, keep in mind that the weather in the summer can get unbearably hot. Of course, it depends on your location, but many deserts can get upwards of 100 degrees during the day in the summer – definitely not ideal for an elopement! 

Winter can give you comfortable temperatures in the 60s, but mornings and evenings see temperatures drop to 30 degrees. The best time to elope in the desert is fall and spring, when the weather is moderate and won’t have you sweating through your dress!

Avoiding Crowds

Because spring and fall bring the best weather to the desert, these are also the most popular times for visitors to flock to desert locations. If you want to avoid crowds on your elopement day and you don’t mind a little chill, consider eloping in the winter.

Another great way to avoid crowds is to elope on a weekday! Because most people are off work on the weekends, parks and public lands see a lot more visitors. By planning your desert elopement on a weekday, especially Monday through Thursday, you’ll guarantee at least a little more privacy when you say your vows.

I also recommend that couples plan their elopement ceremony for sunrise – I know getting up at the crack of dawn might not be for everyone, but hear me out! You’re almost guaranteed to have the whole place to yourself, and the lighting will be incredible.

Pick a Desert Location

There are so many gorgeous deserts to choose from, this might just be the hardest part of planning your elopement day! Here are a few of my favorites to help you start brainstorming.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree, location in sunny southern California, is a national park with one of the most unique landscapes in the United States. It’s known for and named after the twisted, bristly Joshua trees that call the desert home. The rugged rock formations and giant boulders all around the park are perfect for climbing, and the flat hiking trails in the park make it the perfect, easy elopement location.

Painted Hills, Oregon

If you elope at the painted hills in eastern Oregon, you’ll feel like you just stepped onto Mars. The fossil beds amidst hills made up of yellow, gold, black, and red stripes of soil are perfect for exploring, and you’ll say your vows in a place like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Alabama Hills, California

The Alabama Hills are a landscape of rocky hills and stacked boulders that’s nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The jagged peaks make an incredible backdrop for a desert elopement, and this secluded, rural area offers some of the best stargazing!

Moab, Utah

Moab, a desert town in eastern Utah, lies right in between two national parks – Arches and Canyonlands National Park. You can spend your elopement day exploring the red rock formations and desert landscapes around Moab, then come back to enjoy the local restaurants and artisan shops in town.

Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area

Just a few minutes away from the Southern Oregon Coast lies roughly 40,000 acres of golden sand meant for exploring and playing. Many use this area for dune buggies and other recreational play, but you can find many hiking trails through sand, forest, and then the Coast. This area is definitely a triple-header in vast environments.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

With miles of rolling dunes with mountains in the background, Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most beautiful elopement locations. Colorado may be best known for its towering mountain peaks and 14ers, but the desert is just as gorgeous! You can say your vows at the base of the sand dunes, then climb up the sandy hills for a stunning view of the park.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Another National Park with an amazing desert landscape, is White Sands. Located near the Southern border or New Mexico and Mexico itself, is possible some of the most magnificent white sand your eyes could gaze upon. With only just about 600,000 people visit this National Park per year – so finding an intimate spot for your elopement ceremony isn’t hard to accomplish.

Other Hidden Desert Gems

If these locations don’t suit you, I encourage you to explore around – you might be surprised to learn that a desert landscape may be closer than you think. This photo here features a couple I worked with to find a desert in Idaho and look what we found!

Hire an Elopement Photographer

Just because you aren’t throwing a huge wedding doesn’t mean your day is any less special. If anything, an elopement is even more intentional and meaningful! You deserve to have the full story of your elopement day captured, but an elopement photographer is so much more than just the person who takes photos of your day.

As a photographer who specializes in elopements, I help my couples with the whole planning process, from location recommendations, to vendors, to permits, to the timeline, I’m there for it all! Planning even a small ceremony can seem overwhelming, but luckily I’ve done this a few times and I’m ready to guide you to the perfect day! 

Hiring an elopement photographer early on in your planning process can take a huge weight off your shoulders, and is guaranteed to make planning your desert elopement easier.

Research Elopement Permits

Many parks and public lands require a permit whenever you’re having any kind of wedding ceremony. After you choose your elopement location, make sure to research what kind of permits you need. Sometimes you can find this information online, but occasionally you may have to call the park rangers office to ask. Permits range from $25 – $400, and will require you to fill out an application.

What to Wear

When you’re planning your desert elopement and shopping for your elopement attire, keep the weather in mind. It’ll likely be pretty warm, so if you’re shopping for dresses, opt for lighter fabrics like tulle and chiffon. As an added perk, these will look great blowing in the wind! Mermaid style and other tight fitting dress styles may make walking and moving around difficult, which is the last thing you want for an elopement! Make sure that your attire is comfy, breathable, and lets you move!

Enjoy Your Desert Elopement!

This is it! After all the planning is done, you’ll get to enjoy your elopement day and tie the knot with the love of your life in a gorgeous location. If you’re ready to start planning your dream day, reach out, and let’s get started. 

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