Post Summary: Below is a comprehensive desert elopement guide, where I’ve compiled all of my expertise and first hand experience photographing desert elopements to help you plan your own! The desert is an absolutely stunning place to have an adventure elopement, whether you want to elope in the western United States, in the Middle East, or in South America; there’s nothing like stepping foot in a wide-open, barren landscape with nothing but sand & sky for miles. By the time you finish this guide, you’ll know literally everything there is to know about eloping in the desert, I promise!
Don’t get me wrong—I adore the mountains and the lush rainforests of the PNW, but there’s something about being in a massive desert that just makes you feel really reflective, at peace, and simply in awe of the world you’re witnessing. Picture you and your love standing in the middle of a vast desert, feeling the sand beneath your feet, exchanging your vows under the bright blue sky as you listen to the gentle breeze blowing around you. There’s nothing but nature around you, nothing to interrupt this peaceful, special moment as you promise your lives to each other, except for maybe a couple of your loved ones off to the side. After you wrap up your ceremony, you spend the night cozying up around a campfire, gazing up at the stars that are so clear without any light pollution, taking in the beauty of the day.
Sounds magical, right?!
That’s what it could look like for you and your partner to elope in the desert, away from the hustle & bustle of civilization and instead in the midst of one of the most incredible, tranquil landscapes nature has to offer. There’s seriously nothing like exploring an expansive desert with the person you love the most, and escaping your daily lives for a bit to do it! Enjoy this complete desert elopement guide, where I’ll be taking you through every tip, trick, and piece of advice I’ve got to make sure you have the dreamiest day possible.
Why Elope in the Desert?
Not convinced to elope in the desert quite yet? Don’t worry, it won’t take long 😉
One of the main reasons that I’ve fallen in love with desert elopements is the pure, wondrous, natural beauty you get to experience on your special day. Your elopement will be incredible no matter what, but saying your vows amidst a mind-bogglingly-beautiful landscape elevates it to a whole new level! Depending on the desert you choose for your elopement, you might be surrounded by iconic red rock formations (like the ones you see on those epic desktop screensavers), you might be walking up and down sweeping sand dunes, or you might get to admire unique desert flora along the trails. The desert truly provides one of the most stunning and dramatic backdrops you could dream of for your elopement!
Deserts also offer a lot more privacy than you might find among other landscapes, as the expansive open spaces allow for a lot more privacy and seclusion. It’s much easier to get away from crowds than it is, say, at popular spots in the mountains or at a small alpine lake! And because of this wide-open space, you essentially have a blank canvas to use for your elopement. The simplicity of the landscape allows you to focus only on the essentials, and there’s really no right or wrong aesthetic for a desert elopement: you could go full-on boho, pastels, black & white, or bold & colorful—whatever you choose, the desert will make it easy to create an elegant & minimalist aesthetic for your big day.
The flexibility that deserts provide is another huge reason why I personally love it when couples elope in the desert. Because of the super versatile landscape, you can really choose to have your ceremony whenever you want: at sunrise, during the day, at sunset, or at night, under the stars. Every time of day will give you a unique backdrop depending on what the lighting is like, so you really can’t go wrong!
Finally, desert elopements allow for a really personal and a bit more of an unconventional celebration that reflects your individuality as a couple. Getting married in an epic desert will automatically create a super unique, memorable day, compared to if you were getting married at a traditional venue and simply replicating weddings you’ve seen on Pinterest. Take advantage of the clean slate & blank canvas that deserts offer, and focus on creating your own, one-of-a-kind aesthetic and experience!
Best Time of Year to Elope in the Desert
Now that you know why you should elope in the desert, let’s talk about when you should elope in the desert—because the time of year & weather will play a huge role in how your day goes!
What’s the best time of year to elope in the desert?
The best time of year to elope in the desert is spring or fall, AKA the shoulder seasons. This is because in the summertime, deserts will often see temperatures in the 90s-100s, and trust me, you want to avoid that kind of heat as much as you can—especially since it’s a super dry heat. You’ll run out of energy (and hydration) prettyyyy quickly if you’re not careful, and it’ll probably be uncomfortable to wear any sort of outfit that covers your whole body, or has multiple layers. That’s why I recommend choosing spring or fall for your desert elopement, when the temperatures are lower, it’s not quite as dry, and it’ll be way more feasible to spend time exploring & doing outdoor activities.
If you’re especially worried about the weather on your elopement day, I’d encourage you to shift your mindset a bit and be ready to embrace whatever comes your way! It rains even in the desert, so you can never really know what to expect. I’d also check out my guide to How to Handle Bad Weather On Your Wedding Day for tips on how to stay safe & keep your spirits high no matter what Mother Nature hits ya with!
Top 20 USA Desert Elopement Locations
Before we dive deeper into how to plan your desert elopement, I wanted to give you a big ol’ list of all the best desert elopement locations! There are SO many incredible places to choose from, so don’t worry if you just can’t narrow it down—I’ll be more than happy to help you find the perfect one that fits your vision for the day. We’ll start off with the top 20 US desert elopement locations, all the way from Texas to California and even Oregon (yes, Oregon has a desert)!
1. Joshua Tree National Park, California
2. Moab, Utah
Two of my favorite desert areas in Moab are Arches National Park & Canyonlands National Park. Check out more of the best Moab desert locations in my Moab elopement guide!
3. Sedona, Arizona
4. Antelope Canyon, Arizona
5. Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona
6. Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
7. White Sands National Park, New Mexico
I’m so obsessed with this insane park that I created a full White Sands National Park Elopement Guide for you!
8. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
9. Big Bend National Park, Texas
10. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Don’t miss my Saguaro National Park Elopement Guide if you’re considering eloping among these crazy beautiful cacti!
11. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
12. Death Valley National Park, California/Nevada
13. Zion National Park, Utah
Zion is another one of my personal faves, and has got to be one of the most epic deserts in the country—check out my Zion National Park Elopement Guide for all the deets about eloping here!
15. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
16. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
17. Painted Desert, Arizona
18. Big Sur, California
One of the only coastal deserts on this list!
19. White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
20. Alvord Desert, Oregon
Top 20 International Desert Elopement Locations
Feel like venturing out of the country for your elopement instead? There are SO many breathtaking deserts all over the globe, so it was hard to choose just a few—but here’s my list of the top 20 international desert elopement locations!
Some of the best desert elopement locations in Egypt include White Desert National Park, the Sinai Desert, the Siwa Oasis, and the Great Pyramids. Head over to my complete Egypt Elopement Guide for a full list of my favorite places in Egypt, as well as my top tips & advice for eloping in this breathtaking country!
2. Petra, Jordan
You know the drill by now—Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, so of COURSE I have a guide to eloping there. Check out the full Petra Elopement Guide for a list of the best places to elope, along with where to stay, the best time to elope, & more!
3. Wadi Rum, Jordan
The Wadi Rum Desert is one of the most iconic deserts in the world, and has got to have some of the most insane landscapes you’ll ever see. Don’t miss my Jordan Elopement Guide for more info about eloping in Wadi Rum, as well as surrounding areas of Jordan!
4. Atacama Desert, Chile
5. Namib Desert, Namibia
6. Arabian Desert, United Arab Emirates
7. Kalahari Desert, Botswana and South Africa
8. Gobi Desert, Mongolia and China
9. Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
10. Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
11. Patagonian Desert, Argentina and Chile
12. Simpson Desert, Australia
13. Great Victoria Desert, Australia
14. Dasht-e Lut (Lut Desert), Iran
15. Rub' al Khali (Empty Quarter), Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, and Yemen
16. Sonoran Desert, Mexico
17. Chihuahuan Desert, Mexico
18. Negev Desert, Israel
19. Taklamakan Desert, China
20. La Guajira Desert, Venezuela and Columbia
How to Plan Your Desert Elopement
Hopefully that list gave you a better idea of where you might want to elope, or at least inspired you to dream BIG with all of these jaw-dropping places you have available to you! Now, let’s talk about the basic steps to planning your desert elopement and what to do first.
1. Choose your date
Start out by choosing what season you want to elope, then narrow it down to a month, and finally down to a date range. Having a few dates in mind or at least 1-2 days of flexibility will make it MUCH more likely that your dream vendors are available, and that you can get your top choice of location! Certain locations (such as national parks) sometimes only give out a limited amount of permits, or close down for certain times of year, and some vendors (such as photographers) book up wayyy far in advance. That’s why it can be beneficial to have a little bit of flexibility with your date at first, if you’re able to! It’ll allow you to have a more open schedule when you inquire with your favorite vendors, and you can accommodate their availability if you really want them but they’re maybe only available on one of your chosen dates.
2. Choose your desert elopement location
Next, choose your location! This is the most fun part, honestly. The sky is the freakin’ limit here, and your location will play a big role in the vibe of your day—so think it through carefully, and have fun envisioning your dream day! If you’re having trouble narrowing it down (or even knowing where the heck to start), I recommend reading my guide to How to Choose the Right Elopement Location.
3. Apply for permits + your marriage license
This step isn’t quite as fun as picking from the endless incredible locations, but it’s necessary. Figure out what permits you’ll need to elope at your desired location, including parking permits, commercial permits for your photographer/videographer, and Special Use Permits to hold your ceremony. Do your research ahead of time and get familiar with the rules + regulations so that you know what to expect, and apply as far in advance as you can!
You also need to get your marriage license, which isn’t too difficult if you’re a US citizen getting married in-country. Simply look up the marriage laws of whatever state you’re eloping in, and find out where you need to go (either in person or online) to apply for the license + get it finalized. If you’re eloping outside of the US, you can get your license in the country you’re eloping in, but I’d recommend going through the legal stuff in the US before you leave so that you don’t have to worry about the logistics! Then, have a symbolic ceremony overseas at your desert elopement location—you’ll already be officially married, so no need to fret about signing your marriage license or having an officiant. Your ceremony can be fully private this way 🙂
4. Invite your guests
I recommend keeping your guest list to 15 people or less, as many locations only permit small group sizes, and it’ll just make your day easier as a whole. Be realistic about your budget, the locations you’ll be visiting, and who you truly want by your side the entire day!
5. Book your vendors
Next, it’s time to book your vendors! I always suggest reaching out to photographers, videographers, and planners first, as they tend to book out the furthest—then inquire with the rest of the vendors you want such as florists, officiants, caterers, hair & makeup artists, rentals, etc.
6. Choose your activities
Finally, choose what activities you want to do! Book activities + adventures that will allow you to take full advantage of the stunning location you’re at, and to really experience the desert to the fullest. Whether you feel like getting up early to do sunrise yoga by your tent or you want to go offroading in a 4x4 with a couple of your best friends, find things that’ll light you up, that’ll help you stay totally present, and that’ll be absolutely unforgettable!
Here are some of my favorite desert elopement activities + ideas to start with:
- Hot air balloon
- Off-roading in a 4x4
- Ride camels
- Desert hiking
Want even more fun elopement ideas that’ll make your day incredible? Check out my guide to 100 Unique Elopement Ideas + Activities for an Epic Celebration!
What to Wear for Your Desert Elopement
Because you’ll be eloping out in the middle of nature, and in an environment that can get pretty extreme at certain times of the year, it’s super important to wear the right clothing that’ll keep you comfortable! Stick with lightweight fabrics that won’t have you sweating right through your outfit, such as chiffon, linen, or chambray, and avoid heavy gowns or restrictive fabrics that’ll prevent you from moving freely. A good rule of thumb for desert elopement attire is the more lightweight & flowy, the better, whether you’re wearing a suit, a dress, or anything in between!
Speaking of flowy outfits—let’s touch on veils real quick. I LOVE long veils in the desert, they look freaking magical blowing in the wind and trailing behind you as you walk through the sand. However, if you’re eloping in a desert with lots of cacti around, it’s better to wear a shorter veil that won’t constantly be getting caught in the cacti needles.
And don’t forget about your shoes! Comfort and safety are key when it comes to choosing shoes for your desert elopement, as proper footwear will ensure you can trek through the sand easily and without worrying about slipping. You can totally bring your stylish heels or cuter shoes to wear during your ceremony, or whenever you’re on more even ground, but the rest of the time, opt for a good pair of hiking boots with plenty of breathability & ankle support for walking through the desert. I know it can be tempting to want to wear sandals in sunny weather, but trust me—your feet will NOT be happy if you trek through the sand in your Birkenstocks!
Desert Elopement Safety Tips + Important Things to Consider
Before I wrap up this guide and send you off to plan your dream desert elopement, I wanted to give you a few final things to consider, as well as some tips to ensure your day in the desert is not only incredibly magical, but also as safe as possible. It’s good to plan & prepare ahead of time whenever you’re exploring the unpredictable great outdoors, but it’s especially important in extreme environments like the desert.
- Bring layers: Temperatures can change drastically in the desert, so make sure you’re prepared for cooler evenings.
- Drink plenty of water, even before you feel thirsty. Plan on turning back when your water is halfway gone!
- Bring headlamps, even if you aren’t planning on hiking in the dark.
- Cell service is almost always non-existent, so it’s important to have a plan in place with your guests/vendors. Meet somewhere in town that has service, and then drive out together.
- Have offline maps on hand, such as downloaded Google Map areas, a compass, a GPS device, or a physical map.
- Avoid hiking in the heat: It gets HOT in the desert during the day, so opt for a sunrise or sunset elopement.
- Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
- Bring a First Aid Kit just in case.
- Understand your physical limitations & the signs of heat-related illnesses: Be aware of how you’re feeling throughout the day, and watch for symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. If you or your partner begin to exhibit any signs, seek shade and hydrate immediately.
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and be aware of potential sandstorms of extreme heat so that you can adjust your plans accordingly.
- Vehicles: If you’re traveling by car, make sure your car is in good condition and has a full tank of gas! The last thing you want is to be stranded out in a desert without cell service. Be sure to carry necessary tools and spare parts, as well.
- Stay informed: Check the local regulations and conditions of the area you’re in, especially if you plan to camp or have a fire.
- Listen to park ranges, guides, & local authorities for specific safety advice.
- Plan with the Leave No Trace principles in mind: In order to stay safe and protect the land you’re exploring, it’s important to get familiar with what it means to Leave No Trace beforehand. Learn more about how to have an LNT-friendly elopement here!
Hi friend, I’m Katie—a PNW-based adventure elopement photographer who’s obsessed with everything related to the outdoors, adventure, and most importantly, love. I’ve photographed SO many spectacular desert elopements around the world and will truly never get tired of exploring such breathtaking places with such amazing couples, so I would absolutely love to be the desert elopement photographer you swipe right on 😉
If you’re ready to create something beautiful together, take a look at my desert elopement packages & pricing below, and then reach out to me here—I’d love to hear all about what you’re dreaming up for your epic desert elopement!
Desert Elopement Packages & Pricing
- Full day of elopement photography coverage
- Your own personal elopement guide & consultant
- Unique and personalized location scouting
- Vendor recommendations
- Permit and marriage license assistance
- Hand-crafted elopement timeline
- Created just-for-you activity list
- Unlimited guides and resources
- 100+ page How to Elope Guidebook
- Optional complimentary officiant service
- Digital online gallery with full resolution image and printing rights
- Sneak peek images within 1 week
- Photographer travel fees covered
Starting at $6,500 for U.S. elopements & $10,000 for international elopements
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If you loved this desert elopement guide, I’ve got plenty of similar resources that you can check out next—below are a few of my personal favorites from the blog!
In order to make your dream elopement day happen, it's super important that we connect and that you feel comfortable with me! The best way to do this is to reach out and schedule a call so you can learn more about me and I can learn about you two so i can document what's real + the most important to you.