Desert elopements are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. There is something so magical about the desert — the solitude, the array of colors and climates, the seemingly endless open space. It’s wild and beautiful. It’s one of those places that make you feel small, in a good way.
Eloping in the desert takes a bit more planning than other elopement locations. Weather can be variable and intense at times in desert climates and the vastness of some areas will require careful planning of travel and lodging logistics. But don’t let a little extra planning deter you from a desert elopement — it’s totally worth it.
Top Tips for a Desert Elopement
Be mindful about what you wear. You already know it gets hot in the desert, but it can get cold too. Make sure that whatever elopement outfit you choose is practical for the season, the time of day, and what you have planned for your elopement. Likewise, be realistic about footwear. Platforms or flats will be way more comfortable and easy to walk in than pumps. A desert elopement is a great time to consider if you want to add any accessories like a hat, which will keep the sun off your face and hair in place with the wind.
Choose a date carefully. While it’s hot and sunny much of the year, most desert landscapes have one or two seasons that have variable and sometimes extreme weather — random rainstorms, flash floods, snowy mornings. When choosing a date and time for your ceremony, be sure to do your research on the typical weather for that season.
Buffer your time. I highly recommend using time buffers for every part of your desert elopement. Nothing is going to match Google maps exactly and something random like traffic can hold you up without notice. Always your buffer time with 30 extra minutes or so. It’s much better to be early and have a few minutes to spare than be late to your own elopement!
Drink water! Bringing plenty of water to your desert elopement is an absolute must. It’s dry out there, even in the winter, and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget to drink enough water. Staying hydrated will make a world of difference in your ability to fully enjoy your desert elopement.
The Best Desert Elopement Destinations
- Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas, Nevada
- The Paint Mines, Colorado
- Sedona, Arizona
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Joshua Tree, California
- Moab, Utah
How to Plan a Desert Elopement
Step 1: Choose a Type of Desert
When you think of a desert elopement, what do you see? Maybe you are surrounded by big red rocks or in the depths of a sandstone canyon. Maybe you are in the middle of a wide-open sandy desert or beneath a Joshua tree in an arid landscape.
The first step in planning a desert elopement is getting clear on what kind of desert you want to be in. While it’s all considered desert, the landscape and climate of the desert vary widely. The type of desert you choose will also dictate when and where you elope.
Step 2: Set a Budget
I always recommended figuring out your budget as early on as you can. It might not seem important, but it dictates so much about your elopement. With a desert elopement, your budget will dictate where and when you elope and how much you can plan in addition to the ceremony.
To put it into perspective, getting married at the Grand Canyon is not your cheapest option while Valley of Fire outside of Las Vegas is super affordable. Another thing to consider when figuring out your desert elopement budget is that lodging and travel may cost more than an urban elopement. Since you likely won’t be staying in a hotel or booking an Airbnb in the middle of the desert (though that would be amazing), so it’s best to do some research on what towns and cities are nearby and be sure to account for having to travel to and from your lodging for the ceremony.
Step 3: Be Realistic About Guests
I’m going to be blunt: desert elopements are not ideal for having guests. It’s an added layer of planning and logistics to make sure your guests are comfortable at your desert elopement, especially if you have to hike or drive a bit to get there. It’s also just not realistic to have guests in some locations. For example, you can’t have any guests at the Grand Canyon.
On the flip side, there are some places that are totally suitable for a few guests. If you are having guests, just be sure to be in communication about what your guests will need to enjoy themselves.
Step 4: Choose Your Date, Time of Day, and Location
The season, time of day, and location will set the tone for your ceremony and dictate some important things about your elopement.
Seasonal temperatures vary depending on the kind of desert you are in. At Valley of Fire outside of Las Vegas, it’s warm year-round but May-September temperatures can be 100℉ or above. In that case, you would either need to plan a sunrise ceremony to avoid mid-day heat or choose a date in the winter or spring. In Moab and Sedona, daytime temperatures in May-September can be 85℉-100℉, but in November-February it can get down to 50℉. The Grand Canyon can have unpredictable and extreme weather — it can be frosty in the morning and 90℉ by the afternoon.
Besides temperatures, the weather is something you need to consider and research when choosing a date and location. While the desert is dry most of the year, pretty much any desert has a season where random storms are more likely to occur, bringing intense weather and possible flash floods. It’s super important to double-check that your location is mindful of possible weather and temperatures.
Knowing what the conditions are likely to be will also help dictate what time of day you have your ceremony. In most cases, there is no shade in the desert and you absolutely have to plan for that. Besides the fact that no one wants to be sweating profusely at their wedding, a mid-day ceremony will have direct light which does not result in the best photos. If it’s going to be a hot day, consider a sunrise or sunet ceremony. If it’s going to be a bit cooler, the afternoon might be the warmest part of the day. Golden hour in the desert is pretty magical.
The beauty of eloping is that you can work around things weather and temperatures. Have a sunrise ceremony if you need to beat the heat. Wear an awesome jacket if you want to experience winter in the desert. Anything is possible with a little bit of planning!
Step 6: Book Your Vendors
Once you have the details of when and where in place, it’s time to get your vendors together. Simply Eloped will organize a team of the best vendors from your chosen destination on your behalf, which can consist of an officiant, photographer, videographer, florist, and hair and makeup.
The most important thing to talk to your vendors about is getting to the ceremony location. Be sure to discuss travel logistics and costs. For example, not very many people live in Moab so you may have to pay a little extra to get a vendor to Moab and out into the surrounding desert.
Step 7: Plan The Rest of Your Trip
I highly encourage you to plan some other activities before and/or after your elopement. You could do something outdoorsy like go hiking, horseback riding, or climbing. You could watch the sunset over the desert with a bottle of champagne and a picnic dinner. Or maybe you head back to town and go out for a celebratory meal or a relaxing trip to the spa.
Whatever you plan, remember that a desert elopement isn’t the same as an urban elopement where you can quickly travel between your lodging, ceremony, and celebration. That means you will need to make some sort of schedule, coordinate travel with vendors, and secure transportation to and from your lodging, ceremony, and any other activities you have planned.
A desert elopement is such a dreamy way to begin your life as a married couple. It’s a truly magical place that offers so much to couples planning an elopement. May this guide help you find the clarity and confidence to plan the desert elopement of your dreams.