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Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Saguaro National Park Elopement

sunset landscape of saguaro national park

Post Summary: Saguaro National Park is one of the crown jewels of Tucson, Arizona, showcasing all of the desert scenery you picture when you think of Arizona. Below is a full guide on how to elope in Saguaro National Park, including how to get there, when to elope, the best Saguaro National Park elopement locations, what permits you’ll need, and SO much more. Use the table of contents above to navigate to where you need to go, or read through the whole dang thing to take in all the info! Ready to fall in freaking love with one of the most beautiful deserts in the country?

couple holding hands at saguaro national park

If you’ve been searching for the right place to hold the desert elopement you’ve always DREAMED of, boy do I have the place for you. Saguaro National Park in Tucson, AZ offers some of the most gorgeous desert landscapes you’ll ever come across, filled to the brim with massive cacti, phenomenal sunsets, and sooo many opportunities for outdoor adventure. Let’s dive right in to everything you need to know about how to elope in Saguaro National Park!

couple standing together at saguaro national park during the evening

Where is Saguaro National Park?

Saguaro National Park lies on either side of Tucson, AZ (pronounced Too-sahn – not Tuck-son), one of the major cities in the southern part of the state. The park is separated into the west Tucson Mountain District and the east Rincon Mountain District, both of which offer their own unique advantages to visitors. The whole Saguaro Wilderness Area encompasses 91,000 acres in its two districts, making it a really great national park to spend a good chunk of time exploring, but not SO huge of a park that you need an entire week to experience it!

bride holding flowers at saguaro national park

Why Elope at Saguaro National Park?

If you’re still deciding where exactly you want to elope – maybe you’ve narrowed your search down to Arizona, or you’re considering multiple deserts across different states – here are a few ways to know if Saguaro National Park is the right choice for ya:

  • You love the sight of massive cacti covering the desert
  • You want a variety of hiking, camping, & backpacking opportunities to choose from
  • You’re okay with dry heat if you elope in the summer
  • You want to go stargazing under the open desert sky
  • You want the chance to experience a phenomenal desert sunset
  • You want to stay in an Airbnb in the middle of the desert, away from the busyness of life
  • You want to be able to explore the park you elope at in just a day or two
elopement arch and chairs at saguaro national park

How to Get to Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is a great national park to visit because of how easily accessible it is! It’s fairly easy to drive to from a close-by international airport, and doesn’t require you to book a connecting flight into a smaller airport.

Closest airport to Saguaro National Park: Tucson International Airport (TUS)

The Tucson International Airport is only about a 15-mile drive from either side of the park, so it’s very easy to get to if you have a rental car (or want to take an Uber/Lyft)!

How to drive to Saguaro National Park:

To get to Saguaro National Park from the airport, you’ll take I-10, and from there take different exits depending on which district of the park you’re going to. 

To get to the west Tucson Mountain District, take exit #242, drive 5 miles west on Avra Valley Road, take a left and drive 9 miles south on Sandario Road, and then take a left and drive 2 miles on Kinney Road to reach the visitor center.

To get to the east Rincon Mountain District, take exit #275 for Houghton Road and drive 9.5 miles north before turning right on Old Spanish Trail. Drive along that road for 3 miles and you’ll get to the park entrance!

couple holding each other at saguaro national park

FAQ’s About Eloping at Saguaro National Park

What are Saguaro National Park’s operating hours?

The west Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset, and the east Rincon Mountain District is open to vehicles from 5:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. in the summer, and 5:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. in the winter. If you don’t have a vehicle, you can walk or bike into the park at any time!

The visitor centers of each district are open daily from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., and are open on all holidays except Christmas.

How much does it cost to elope at Saguaro National Park?

A Saguaro National Park Special Use Permit costs $100 to apply for, and an additional monitoring fee of $35/hour may apply depending on the specifics of your elopement. Skip down to this section to learn more about how to get the appropriate permits for your Saguaro National Park elopement! 

Do I need witnesses to elope at Saguaro National Park?

Yes, the state of Arizona requires you to have 2 witnesses over the age of 18 present at your elopement ceremony!

Can I bring chairs, tables, arches, or other pieces of equipment to my elopement ceremony?

Nope, Saguaro National Park does not allow equipment to be used during elopement ceremonies, including (but not limited to) chairs, tables, archces, flowers, generators, signs, decorations, etc. This is to make sure that no damage is caused to the land – and really, you won’t need any fancy decor once you see all the natural beauty this park has to offer!!

Where can I park at Saguaro National Park?

There are multiple parking lots throughout both districts of Saguaro National Park where you can park your car, including at the visitor centers. 

Can I bring my pet to Saguaro National Park?

Pets unfortunately aren’t allowed on most trails inside of Saguaro National Park, mainly for their own safety as there are lots of cactus spines, thorny brush, rattlesnakes, and even scorpions! Pets ARE allowed on roadways, picnic areas, and paved trails, and must be kept on leash at all times + cleaned up after.

plants at saguaro national park

How to Get Married at Saguaro National Park

Let’s move on to the legal stuff!

Arizona marriage license laws

In order to get married in Saguaro National Park, you’ll of course need to follow Arizona’s marriage license laws. 

Here are the basics of Arizona’s marriage license laws:

  • Arizona marriage license cost: Varies by county; average $70-100
  • Witnesses needed: 2 over the age of 18
  • AZ residency required? No
  • Where it’s valid: Anywhere in AZ
  • Valid for: 12 months
  • Waiting period: None
  • Minimum age requirement: 18
  • Self-solemnization allowed? No
  • Blood test required? No
cactus at saguaro national park

To get your Arizona marriage license, follow these steps:

  1. Visit an Arizona County Clerk’s Office together with valid photo ID’s
  2. Apply in-person, or online if the county allows it
  3. Pay your marriage license filing fee
  4. Get married within 12 months – rembmere, there’s no waiting period, so you can get married right away once you have your license!
  5. Have your officiant file your license after your ceremony
desert plant at saguaro national park

Saguaro National Park wedding permit

To get married in Saguaro National Park, you’ll need to get a Saguaro National Park Special Use Permit! This permit allows for small, simple weddings, and limits weddings or elopements held on trails to 18 people. You can schedule your wedding in the park up to 1 year in advance, and can apply no later than 4 weeks before your desired date!

Here’s the process you’ll need to follow to obtain the Special Use Permit:

  1. Complete this application form within 1 year and no later than 4 weeks in advance of your desired date
  2. Email your completed application to nps_sagu_sup@nps.gov , or mail it to the address below, along with your nonrefundable processing fee of $100 (via check or through the link they’ll send to you):

Saguaro National Park

ATTN: Special Use Permits

3693 South Old Spanish Trail

Tucson, AZ 85730

  1. Wait for your permit to be approved
  2. Pay any additional required costs (such as a potentially required monitoring fee of $35/hour)
  3. Sign & return your permit along with your payment for final approval

Below is a list of things that are NOT allowed for weddings or elopements in Saguaro National Park, even with a permit:

  • Any sort of reception
  • Chairs
  • Tables
  • Arches
  • Flowers
  • Amplified sound
  • Generators
  • Balloons
  • Signs
  • Decorations

Saguaro National Park entry fee

To park a car at Saguaro National Park, you’ll need to pay for either a Saguaro National Park Weekly Pass ($25/vehicle) or an Annual Pass ($80). If you’ll be entering the park on foot or by bike, you’ll need to purchase a Saguaro National Park Individual Weekly Pass instead ($15).

couple standing together holding flowers at saguaro national park

Where to Elope in Saguaro National Park

Like I’ve mentioned already, there are two parts of the park to choose from: the east Rincon Mountain District & the west Tucson Mountain District.

The east Rincon District is the more “wild” side –  it’s much more remote and typically less crowded, but has way more hiking options – while the west Tucson District is more “tame,” and more popular for visitors. I prefer exploring the Tucson District simply because there are more open cacti that are amazing to witness in the vast desert landscape!

chair and flower arrangement at saguaro national park

When to Visit Saguaro National Park

Best time of year to elope at Saguaro National Park

The best time of year to elope at (and visit) Saguaro National Park is definitely from late fall to early spring, typically October through April. This is when temperatures are mildest and you won’t experience the crazy dry, desert heat of the summer, which is especially important if you want to hike or do any outdoor activities! However, be aware that Saguaro National Park may be more crowded in the winter than other national parks, as many people like to visit the park during their winter vacations to get some sunshine (especially us PNW folks!). 

black and white photo of bride at saguaro national park

Best time of day to elope at Saguaro National Park

Weekdays vs. weekends

Weekends are much busier at Saguaro National Park because that’s when most people have time off of work, so I’d recommend eloping on a weekday if you’re able to, to best avoid tons of other visitors! 

Sunrise vs. sunset

Both sunrise and sunset are stunning in Saguaro National Park, thanks to the typically-clear desert skies and wide-open barren landscapes! I highly recommend eloping at sunrise to avoid crowds if you’re visiting a more popular area, but eloping at sunset is totally doable, too, if you find a more secluded spot for your ceremony. Sunrise is also a great time to elope if you visit during the summer, because that’s when temperatures will be coolest!

couple sitting in arrangement with candle light in evening at saguaro national park

What to Pack for a Saguaro National Park Elopement

It’s important to make sure you pack everything you need for your Saguaro National Park elopement in advance so that you’re fully prepared when you visit, especially because of how hot it can get – safety is key! Here’s a basic packing list of what to make sure to bring to your Saguaro National Park elopement, along with all of your elopement items such as your attire, rings, jewelry, vow books, marriage license, etc.

  • Water
  • Sunscreen (and plenty of it!)
  • Cooling towel to relieve heat 
  • Hat
  • Snacks
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Hiking backpack
  • Light jacket
  • Blanket to sit on
flower arrangements at saguaro national park

3 Saguaro National Park Elopement Attire Tips

Choosing the right elopement attire can be difficult, so here are three important tips to keep in mind when picking your desert elopement outfits:

1. Avoid materials that will snag on rocks & cacti

The last thing you want is to rip that beautiful, expensive outfit that you bought on a cactus needle or a large rock you have to step over!

2. Avoid heels or open-toed shoes for safety

Definitely do not wear heels in the Arizona desert, simply for the sake of being safe and making sure you have steady footing as you walk over rocks, cacti, and through thorny brush.

3. Wear tans, maroons, dark greens, & browns

Shades of tan, maroon, dark green, and brown look AMAZING in the desert, since they can really pop against the cacti around you!

couple holding flowers at saguaro national park

8 Fun Activity Ideas for Your Saguaro National Park Elopement

1. Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a world-renowned zoo filled with sooo much cool natural history, fascinating exhibits, and even a botanical garden! It’s a must-visit during your time in Tucson. 

2. Hike the Desert Discovery Nature Trail

Take this easy, wheelchair-accessible 0.4-mile loop through the cacti for some awesome desert views!

3. See the Signal Hill Petroglyphs

The Signal Hill Petroglyphs, located in the Tucson Mountain District of the park, are one of the COOLEST sights to see in the area. These petroglyphs were created between 550-1550 years ago and are incredibly fascinating to learn about + see in-person!

4. Have a picnic in the desert

What’s more romantic than having a picnic in the desert as the sun goes down over the cacti, with your brand new spouse?

5. Visit the Mission San Xavier del Bac

San Xavier del Bac is an absolutely stunning historic Spanish Catholic mission about 10 miles south of Tucson that you have to stop at during your time in the area!

6. Walk around the Tucson Botanical Gardens

Who knew there could be botanical gardens (featuring 17 specialty gardens) out in the desert? 😉

7. Take a horseback ride

Why not take “riding off into the sunset” literally and take a romantic horseback ride through the Saguaro National Park desert on your elopement day as the sun goes down?!

8. Go stargazing under the desert skies

Because of the moderately high elevation in Saguaro National Park, and its distance from light pollution, the park offers some absolutely incredible stargazing. I highly recommend spending some time in the desert to watch the stars above you before heading to bed for the night on your elopement day!!

silhouette of couple holding each other during night with stars

Best Places to Stay in Saguaro National Park

Airbnb’s/VRBO’s

Campgrounds

Lodges & resorts

cactus and house near saguaro national park

How to Leave No Trace With Your Saguaro National Park Elopement

I’ve talked many times before about the importance of “Leaving No Trace,” or in other words: taking care to protect the land we visit during your elopement, and leaving it just as beautiful as we found it. This is a super important part of eloping in the great outdoors in order to minimize the impact we have on the beautiful land we get to witness, especially as outdoor elopements become more and more common.

In the Arizona desert, one of the most important parts of leaving no trace & minimizing your impact is being aware of the cacti around you! Make sure to stay on designated trails to avoid stepping on barrel cacti or cactus spines, for the sake of both the cacti AND your feet 😉

The Arizona desert is also filled with lots of wildlife such as rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyote, javelin, prairie dogs, and more – so make sure that if you see any around you, you leave them alone and do your best to be quiet & cautious. It’s their land that you’re using, so it’s your job to respect them and avoid scaring them or interrupting their outdoor habitat!

To learn more about how to Leave No Trace with your outdoor adventure elopement, check out my blog post all about Leaving No Trace: A Planning Guide for Adventure Couples!

bride holding flowers on steps near saguaro national park

Meet Your Saguaro National Park Elopement Photographer

Well hey there – if you don’t know me already, I’m Katie! I’m a Saguaro National Park elopement photographer based out of Seattle, WA, and I spend the majority of my time photographing the adventure elopements of rad couples around the western U.S. I’m freaking obsessed with all things elopements, hiking, outdoor adventure, and LOVE, and truly can never get over the fact that I get to do this as my job!

If you’re on the hunt for a photographer for your Saguaro National Park elopement who will:

  • Capture your gorgeous Saguaro National Park elopement ceremony through intentional, storytelling photos that you can look back on forever
  • Help you craft your dream Tucson desert elopement experience + itinerary
  • Help you find activities in the Tucson area to make your desert elopement intentional, unique, and fully YOU

I’m your gal!! 

Visit my website to learn more about me, get to know my approach to elopement photography, and then reach out to me if you feel like we’re a good fit. I can’t wait to hear from you and start planning your dream Saguaro National Park elopement!

cactus during sunset at saguaro national park

Saguaro National Park Elopement Packages + Pricing

Elopement Packages and Pricing for Saguaro National Park

  • 4 hours – 2 days of elopement photography coverage anywhere in Arizona
  • 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 peak images within 1 week
  • Photographer travel fees covered anywhere in Arizona

Starting at $6,500

Saguaro National Park Elopement Vendors

Photographer: Yours truly! 😉

Planners/Coordinators:

Florists:

Hair & Makeup:

Videographers: 

25 Best Places to Elope in Arizona in 2022

If you know you want to elope in Arizona but are still considering other locations, be sure to check out my Guide to the 25 Best Places to Elope in Arizona in 2022!


More United States Adventure Elopement Guides

Not sure where you want to elope yet? There are sooo many incredible places in the U.S. that are available to you – lucky for ya, I’ve created a ton of guides to all my favorite elopement destinations! Check out my favorites below!

National Park Elopement Guides

Yosemite National Park

North Cascades National Park

Olympic National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Statewide Guides

Oregon

California

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