Updated November 2023
Why should we elope in Death Valley National Park?
If you want gorgeous Southwestern scenery, seclusion, amazing night skies, and a sense of adventure all just two hours away from a major airport then this is the elopement destination for you! Don't let the ominous name and reputation for extreme conditions keep you away from this gem.
The sheer variety of landscapes in Death Valley is staggering. It's nearly the size of Connecticut, and the largest park in the lower 48! Many years of violent weather here shaped the land into a thing of rugged beauty. From salt flats to sand dunes to mountains to canyons... Death Valley National Park definitely has your ideal elopement backdrop.
With all this space it doesn't take much effort to get away from the crowds. Even at its busiest time of year this park doesn't come close to the chaos of parks like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. If you're willing to get out into the backcountry (hello dirt roads) you can experience true solitude in federally designated wilderness.
Keep reading to get to the nitty gritty of how to elope in this stunning national park.
How do we get to Death Valley?
There is no public transportation to or within the park, you have to drive. The main east-west road through the park is CA Highway 190. Don't rely solely on your GPS for navigation! Plan your route ahead of time and screenshot the directions because you'll likely lose all cell phone service on your way into the park and for the duration of your stay.
Las Vegas, Nevada is just a two hour drive from Furnace Creek (the population hub of Death Valley National Park and the location of its Visitor Center). If you're not local to the area I recommend flying into Harry Reid International Airport and driving a rental car out to the park.
Other common starting points:
- Lost Angeles: 4 hour drive
- San Diego: 5 hour drive
- Reno: 6 hour drive
- Phoenix: 7 hour drive
- Yosemite National Park: 7.5 hour drive in the winter, 5 hours in summer (when Tioga Pass is open)
A warning about rental cars: do not take them off pavement in the backcountry! The dirt roads in Death Valley are notorious for popping regular street tires, and rental cars usually don't have spares. This results in an extremely expensive tow (we're talking thousands of dollars) at best, and a rescue situation at worst. But don't worry! Most of the park highlights are accessible by rental car. Plus, you can still get out into the backcountry by renting a Jeep from Farabee's, located right in Furnace Creek.
Check out the official NPS website for more details about how to get to the park and for up-to-date road closures/conditions.
What time of year has the best weather?
Ideally, you want to elope in Death Valley between October and April. The shoulder seasons tend to have highs in the 70s-80s, lows in the 50s. It will get chilly in the winter here with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s-40s. Keep in mind these temperatures are on the valley floor where it's warmest, and this is where most attractions are. If you plan to go up into the mountains the elevation will drastically affect these numbers and you should plan accordingly.
Everyone knows June-August is HOT (it hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit in 2021) but the uncomfortable and dangerous heat really starts in May and lasts through September. Monsoon season poses an additional risk in the summer/fall. Flash floods are relatively common in this timeframe. Of course, these are just general ranges and Mother Nature is going to do as she pleases no matter what this blog says.
Heat gets all the attention, but no one talks about the wind. There is a high chance it will be windy while you're here! It can range from a light breeze to dangerous 65 mph gusts. As we do for any adventure elopements, we keep a close eye on the forecast and adjust our plans as needed. And the wind actually creates GORGEOUS photographs! Getting married outdoors inherently comes with some risk. The key is a willingness to adjust and go with the flow.
Where should we elope in the park?
There are truly infinite spots to elope in Death Valley National Park! Since I live here year-round I am familiar with all of the most sought-after spots, and the lesser-known gems too. I help my couples narrow down the options based on their preferences. Here are some of the most popular, accessible, and stunning options:
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
How do we make it legal?
According to state guidelines, both parties must appear in person and bring valid picture identification to the County Clerk’s Office to apply for a marriage license in California. Marriage licenses are valid for 90 days from the date of issuance. The person solemnizing the marriage must return the original marriage license to the County Clerk or County Recorder as applicable within 10 days of the date of the ceremony. You will also need one witness signature in addition to your officiant.
This is complicated for an elopement in Death Valley because the Inyo County Clerk's Office is in Independence, CA. That's an inconvenient two and half hour drive from Furnace Creek. Inyo County is huge! If you're driving in from Las Vegas, Inyo County is the only part of California you'll be entering.
However, if you're coming from somewhere else in California, you can pick up a marriage license from a County Clerk/Recorder along your route to DVNP and return it to the SAME office on your way back. You will still need one witness signature (I can be the witness!) and an officiant if you opt to do this.
My recommendation: The solution (and what most couples opt for) is to complete the legal paperwork before your trip to Death Valley at your home county courthouse. So as far as California is concerned, you're already legally married. Then when it comes to your ceremony you don't have to worry about finding an officiant and witness and driving back and forth to a County Clerk's office. It's already done.
Couples usually opt to keep the courthouse date to themselves. The ceremony date is their anniversary and it's what they share with friends and family. A piece of paper doesn't mean much. What matters is the moment you say your vows, exchange rings, and commit to each other for life!
Do we need a permit to get married in Death Valley National Park?
Yes, a special use permit is required to elope in Death Valley National Park, to be obtained by the couple. There is a $300 non-refundable application fee. Depending on group size, there is going to be at least one permit monitor at the ceremony which is charged to the permittee at an estimated rate of $50/hour per monitor. Remember that national parks are not wedding venues, this is totally worth it to get married in such an epic, unique way!
I strongly recommend applying for a permit as soon as possible in order to secure your date on their calendar, and to give you time to alter any plans if the park requires it (for example, a group size limit may mean you need to change ceremony locations). The park requires applications at least 30 days in advance of the event.
The park doesn't have a pre-approved list of wedding spots, they consider everything on a case-by-case basis. If you want a private spot that isn't open to the public you can request Breakfast Canyon. It's tucked away in a centrally located spot, and has a vault toilet and picnic area if you want to have a rustic outdoor reception with guests. A private space is a rare option and is unique to Death Valley!
The staff in Death Valley's permit office are incredibly helpful and friendly, and can be reached at email@example.com if you have questions about the process.
Don't forget that you and your guests also need to pay the park entrance fee of $30 per vehicle upon entering. The pass is good for 7 days and you can purchase it ahead of time at recreation.gov. If you travel to a lot of national parks I recommend going for the America the Beautiful annual pass. Best $80 you'll ever spend!
Where can we stay in Death Valley?
Within the park:
- The Inn at Death Valley for the most upscale option, located right in Furnace Creek
- The Ranch for more standard lodging located right in Furnace Creek
- Stovepipe Wells for standard lodging and campground located about 30 minutes from Furnace Creek, close to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
- Panamint Springs Resort for standard lodging and campgrounds located about an hour from Furnace Creek
- Various campgrounds - be sure to check the park website to find out which ones are open and which have RV hookups if needed
- Dispersed camping - make sure to follow these backcountry camping rules
Outside the park:
What activities can we do on our wedding day?
Part of the beauty of an adventure elopement in Death Valley is the flexibility to make it exactly what you want. Some things you can do include:
- Hiking - there is endless hiking in this park! Whatever your ability level, there is a hike for you!
- Jeeping through the remote wilderness of Death Valley's backcountry with or without a tour guide
- Treating yourself to massages and spa treatments
- Horseback riding
- Enjoying a celebratory meal
Do we need to hire other vendors?
Only if you want to. Death Valley is a great place for a more minimalist, DIY approach to elopements since there isn't a significant population center right outside the park. You can absolutely find incredible vendors in Las Vegas, just be prepared to pay them to travel.
The Inn at Death Valley has some fabulous spaces for a reception, and that's really your only option for a seated private dinner. You could also bring in your own food and drink for a rustic reception in Breakfast Canyon or to one of the picnic areas.
Death Valley is a no frills elopement destination, but that's also where the magic lies... you don't NEED the frills. Less stress, less planning, more oohs and ahhs!