Joshua Tree is not your average neighborhood park. Once a national monument, this expansive California reserve includes two deserts, countless hiking trails, and every natural splendor of the Southwest. It’s the ultimate wedding backdrop for outdoorsy couples.
If you’ve always dreamed of a desert-chic wedding, then we have good news—it’s possible at Joshua Tree National Park. Read our guide to learn all the rules, permits, and tips for a Joshua Tree wedding.
Where the Mojave Desert meets the Colorado Desert, there’s Joshua Tree National Park. This massive reserve covers almost 800,000 acres of Southern California land, an area larger than the state of Delaware. And every year, millions come to enjoy its one-of-a-kind desert beauty—including marrying couples. Let’s explore the ins and outs of this Southwest attraction.
Yes, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert environment. But with the dry air, the heat is much more bearable than humid climates of equal warmth. And like most deserts, the average temperatures vary wildly over the months, even from day to night.
To strike optimal weather for your wedding, consider the seasonal changes in Joshua Tree Park:
Winter – During the winter, Joshua Tree straddles mild and chilly weather. Temperatures range from the mid-30’s to the 60’s, with minor precipitation. Excluding the top of the tallest peaks, you won’t find snow in this park.
Spring and Fall – For weddings, you can’t beat spring and fall in Joshua Tree. The daytime stays sunny with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s, while nighttime brings cooler weather. If you’re willing to bear the crowds, you also get the best wildflowers during spring.
Summer – Unless you love to sweat, Joshua Tree summers are usually too hot for any celebration. During the day, you can easily expect temperatures reaching the 90’s or 100’s. Come prepared with plenty of water or evening-only plans.
In short, Joshua Tree is a nature lover’s paradise. The park includes hundreds of trails, multiple campsites, plenty of desert fauna, and some of the most gorgeous rock formations across Southern California. Before or after the big celebration, partake in the outdoorsy fun.
With Zola’s custom enclosure cards, you can easily invite guests to a pre-wedding adventure across Joshua Tree Park:
Hiking and backpacking – Joshua Tree has nearly 300 trails, ranging from easy walks to some pretty strenuous hikes. Beginners will love the scenic Barker Dam loop, while pros can take their energy to Ryan Mountain.
Camping – Take your pick of Joshua Tree’s 520 gorgeous campsites. Depending on the location, certain campsites are reservation-only, first-come-first-serve, or a mix of both policies. First-come-first-serve campsites cost $15 per night, while reservation-only campsites cost more.
Birding – You might be in the desert, but Joshua Tree is no wasteland. The park is home to countless desert bird species, from roadrunners to cedar waxwings. You can even catch rare flocks of vultures and other migratory birds during the transitional seasons.
Biking – Hook up the mountain tires on your bike to explore Joshua Tree’s backroads. While bikes can only go on vehicle-safe roads, these paths still provide some excellent views of the mountains and desert.
Rock climbing – With its impressive rock formations, Joshua Tree is a renowned climbing spot. Pick from 8,000-plus climbing routes that span a range of skill levels—just make sure to respect the leave-no-trace policy.
Horseback riding – Explore Joshua Tree authentically on horseback! Riders can cruise the park’s 250-plus miles of equestrian trails, with horse trailers and resting stations spread across the reserve.
For weddings, Joshua Tree has limited site options. But as visitors, you and your partner should take advantage of the park’s top attractions! Whether by foot, wheels, or horse, take your time to explore these Joshua Tree sights:
Covington Flats – To catch some majorly impressive trees, drive up to the northwest corner of the park. The Covington Flats area has massive juniper and pinyon pine trees alongside some amazing views of the surrounding mountains.
Indian Cove – One of the most popular campgrounds, Indian Cove is known for holding the park’s best rock formations. Don’t miss the fantastical Wonderland of Rocks, where five miles of climbable boulders turn into an adult playground.
Keys View – This is perhaps the best 360-degrees view and sunset spot in Joshua Tree. As the park’s tallest peak, Keys View gives a sweeping look over the Coachella Valley, San Andreas Fault, and nearby Palm Springs.
Skull Rock – Graby your Instagram-worthy pic at this fun rock formation. Water erosion naturally wore two “eye sockets” into this rock, creating a spooktacular photo buddy.
Arch Rock – For another majestic photo, head over to the space-like Arch Rock. This 30-foot-tall rock formation sits under the Milky Way, giving your photographer some spectacular nighttime shots.
Cholla Cactus Garden – Get your fill of the desert fauna at the Cholla Garden, filled with hundreds of these fuzzy-looking cacti (but don’t touch). You can also check out other beautiful dry-weather plants such as desert lavender and trixis flowers.
Barker Dam – For a taste of Southern California history, check out this ancient man-made dam. The Barker Dam was built by ranchers to capture vital water in the desert, leaving behind the beautiful oasis you’ll find today.
As far as national parks go, Joshua Tree is relatively laidback. Visitors can access the park year-round, 24 hours per day. But to throw your wedding inside this gorgeous reserve, you’ll need to follow a few more rules. Let’s lay out all the formal requirements for weddings in Joshua Tree, including:
To throw a wedding in Joshua Tree National Park, you need a golden ticket—a wedding permit.
Permits are required for all marriage celebrations in Joshua Tree, whether you’re throwing a tiny ceremony or rowdy reception. And, for weddings, you must apply for and receive a Special Use Permit from the Joshua Tree National Park office. Before you plan any final dates or details, get your hands on a Special Use Permit via the approved application process:
Joshua Tree Permit Office – You must either visit or contact the Joshua Tree Permit Office in person to apply for a Special Use Permit. The office is open Monday to Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. pacific time.
Application dates – Beyond its weekday hours, the Permit Office also has a few off days throughout the calendar year. You can not apply for a permit on national holidays or the National Park Service’s free-entrance days.
Application materials – For a successful application, you must complete the National Park Service form available on their official website. You should also come prepared with a final guest number that fits your chosen venue’s capacity rules.
While Joshua Tree is open every day, it does restrict the days you can request a Special Use Permit. For weddings, the following calendar dates are off-limits for permits:
Special Park Use Permits for weddings come with a (very reasonable) price tag. A permit application fee costs a non-refundable $120—compared to most wedding venues, that’s a steal! If your wedding party's over 25 people, the park will charge an additional $200.
And don’t forget—any extra photographers, caterers, or vendors must also pay for a separate permit application, including the $120 fee.
As a typical visitor, you can explore every corner of Joshua Tree National Park. But as a wedding party, the NPS restricts your venue choices. To protect the park’s natural formations and wildlife, you can only bring up to 100 guests for your celebration—no blowout receptions here.
For an outdoor wedding, here are the approved sites across Joshua Tree’s Grounds:
Indian Cove Amphitheater – At the park’s northwest corner, you’ll find this perfectly secluded and spacious campsite. The Amphitheater is the largest wedding venue in Joshua Tree, with a 100-person capacity for its futuristic rocky grounds. But the road leading to Indian Cove only fits one vehicle, so you must shuttle guests to and from the location. Toilets, water, and camping space are close by.
Hidden Valley Picnic Area – Head slightly south of Indian Cove to these rustic, tumbleweed-filled, sandy grounds. Hidden Valley can hold a small ceremony or reception with up to 35 guests and eight vehicles. While pit toilets and first-come-first-serve campsites lie nearby, there are no water sources—you’ll have to provide your own refreshments.
Turkey Flats – These peaceful sand dunes sit on the north border of Joshua Tree Park. While the spot can hold up to 35 people, its simple layout is best for a quick elopement or no-frills ceremony. However, feel free to fill the space with your own personal decor if you’re up for the task.
Cap Rock – By far, Cap Rock is the park’s most popular wedding spot. Couples love to say “I do” under the namesake Joshua Tree, while the rainbow sun sets over the majestic rock formation. Come here for a small, but picturesque ceremony (of no more than 25 people).
Rattlesnake Picnic Area – Secluded and sandy, the Rattlesnake Picnic Area almost looks like a hidden beach cove (minus the water). Sheets of stacked rocks surround this picnic space, which boasts enough room for up to 20 people and eight vehicles.
Quail Springs Picnic Area – With old-fashioned picnic benches, desert shrubs, and some Lorax-like trees, this area makes for an adorable ceremony venue. You can fit up to 15 people and eight vehicles inside this small site, so it’s perfect for everyone to transport themselves.
Split Rock – Another popular venue choice, Split Rock lies at the end of a scenic two-mile hike (make sure that all guests can make the trip). Two smooth, dusty beige rock formations frame the elevated area for a picture-perfect ceremony. You can bring up to 15 friends to the site and five vehicles to the trail base.
Porcupine Wash – For a truly micro wedding, bring up to 10 guests to this flat expanse. Porcupine Wash covers eight miles of sand and shrubs, with plenty of wedding sites along the way. With no rock formations nearby, the trail has a horizon that extends to infinity.
Queen Valley Mine Intersection – Pink, grey, and beige rocks fill this craggy formation in the northwest section of the park. A functioning gold mine until 1961, Queen Valley Mine is now a hot spot for wedding photos and ceremonies with up to 10 people. Pro tip: look for the old bed frame inside the stone ruins.
Lost Horse Parking Lot – This isn’t any old parking lot. Lost Horse Lot sits below another Gold Rush-era mine, with beautiful views of the mountains and fields along the way. You can bring up to 10 people and five vehicles to this small site. And, if you’re up for a hike up to the mine, take the Lost Horse Mountain loop or a shorter direct path on the back mountain.
Live Oak Picnic Area – The most intimate wedding site, the Live Oak Picnic Area fits a cozy party of five. In this secluded area, you’ll find a few picnic tables, massive sand-colored rocks, and one gorgeous oak tree for some necessary shade.
If you’re considering a Joshua Tree elopement or wedding, then you appreciate nature’s beauty. To protect and respect Mother Earth, all wedding parties must obey the National Park Service’s rules about permitted items. After all, you don’t want to ruin this gorgeous park with litter or potential hazards.
For Joshua Tree wedding parties, the list of prohibited items includes:
Additionally, the park sets two behavior rules. Wedding parties cannot attach or hang any items to the park’s trees, bushes, or grounds. Similarly, you can not gather any natural branches, plants, or wildflowers from the park to decorate your wedding.
The good news? You can still customize your romantic desert wedding at Joshua Tree. To make your own rustic-chic touches, you can bring any of these items to your celebration (with Permit Office permission):
While the park encourages small, minimalist, and bohemian celebrations, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a proper fête! Joshua Tree allows wedding parties to bring approved vendors, including:
The most important rule? Outside of music and entertainment, all outside vendors must secure and pay for their own Special Parks Use permits. Those extra $120 charges will likely be included in your service bills.
Compared to a beachside hotel or ballroom, Joshua Tree is not your typical wedding venue. This park comes with some unique rules and restrictions that only work for small and simplified ceremonies. Turn your desert party into a smooth operations with these Joshua Tree wedding tips:
Plan for an analog day – Throughout Joshua Tree Park, cell phone service is little to none. Embrace the freedom of nature by telling guests to leave their electronics at home! Just make sure to clarify all the wedding details and directions beforehand. That way, guests won’t get lost in a text-free zone.
Keep catering off-site – Between the hot air, remote location, and restrictive food rules, Joshua Tree is not the place for a reception buffet. If you want anything beyond cake and champagne, it’s best to book a separate reception venue in Palm Springs, TwentyNine Palms, or another nearby Californian city (Zola’s vendor database can help with that search).
Prepare for the weather – In the desert, open temperatures can change wildly from day to night and season to season. Spring and fall weddings will have pleasant weather, but bonfires at night are welcome when the chill sets in. And for summer celebrations, you must provide cooling measures, whether that’s hand-fans, parasols, cold towels, or ice beverages.
Cut your guest numbers – If you want a riotous celebration, then Joshua Tree is not the place for your wedding. The park’s 100-max capacity is perfect for small weddings and receptions. And, with less guests, you have many more site options at your fingertips.
Go simple – When it comes to weddings in Joshua Tree, the less you bring the better. For starters, all wedding parties must obey the NPS’s rules on banned items. But at the end of the day, the park doesn’t need much decoration. From stunning rock formations to mountain views, Joshua Tree practically comes pre-decorated. And the simpler your decor, the less luggage you have to transport out to the desert.
Provide transportation – Joshua Tree isn’t exactly right off the highway. Even with the park’s hard-to-reach areas and vehicle restrictions, rental vans and buses will easily bring your guests to the right destination.
Stay overnight – For the outdoorsy groom and bride, Joshua Tree can double as a wedding and honeymoon site. Reserve a spot at one of the park’s hundreds of campsites and explore all of its natural splendor. For intimate weddings, invite guests to join you for a camping getaway leading up to the big day.
With its desert expanses and space-like rock formations, Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect place to enjoy the Southwest’s beauty. Nature lovers couldn’t ask for a better outdoor venue (or more gorgeous wedding photos), especially if they’re planning a small celebration. Bring your ceremony to this California treasure with our Joshua Tree guide, and you’ll have the wedding to remember for a lifetime.
Such a beautiful setting deserves an equally lovely wedding. Build your own desert-chic celebration at Zola. Send custom boho wedding invitations with ease through our guest list manager. And, to handle the wedding planning stress, our Expert Advice can guide you through every peak and valley. At Zola, your Joshua Tree wedding will feel like a breezy stroll, not a strenuous hike.