How To Elope in the Alvord Desert, Oregon

A local Oregonian’s guide to a favorite and lesser-known epic desert location

Digging the resources? You ain’t seen nothing yet…

Let’s create a day for you that’s wild, bold, and full of fun in a dramatic landscape! @samstarns

Maybe you came here on purpose, maybe you stumbled on this idea of “Elope in the Alvord Desert”. Regardless, congratulations, you’ve officially made the choice to possibly elope! Hooray! It’s time to throw some eco-friendly biodegradable confetti. 

Let’s chat about one of the coolest locations in Oregon. Maybe beaches or forests aren’t your thing… Perhaps the idea of hiking up a mountain makes your feet cry out in fear of blisters. Or perhaps you just love the idea of a minimal landscape, where the only thing decorating the landscape is you and your loved one standing side by side. That’s where an elopement in the Alvord Desert comes in. 

Alvord Desert Wedding Permits

No permit is needed to elope in the Alvord Desert! Since the Alvord Desert is considered public/federal land that isn’t an organized park-type area, you don’t need any special permit to go there. Obviously this means you’ll save money, but in case two weeks before your big wedding you decide to throw caution to the wind and elope, it will save you time because you won’t need to hunt down any pesky permits. (All you need to do in that case is give me a call to make sure you have someone to photograph your day!) 

How Do I Access the Alvord Desert?

The desert is accessible via the Fields-Denio Highway from Southern Oregon, dipping into Nevada briefly (the shorter way from my house in Roseburg, OR).

You can also drive down the 205 from Burns, OR, or the 78 from Burns, OR then turning onto the Fields-Denio Highway. The 205 is longer, but you’ll be driving less on a dirt road.

From there, you will have access to the playa by using an access point like Frog Spring (federal access) or the Alvord Hot Springs entrance. The hot springs is private property and you must pay for access. Frog Spring is free, but requires high clearance and I would NOT take a trailer down it. Your best bet is to pay the hot springs staff. Not only do those fees help with the upkeep of the spring facilities, you’ll have access to a bathroom at the office, and snacks/basic incidentals (matches, etc.) for purchase. The owner (who helped Brian and I out when our dogs locked us out of our car) is a great guy who really cares about the health of the playa.

Are There Other Rules?

If you want to elope in the Alvord Desert, there aren’t really a ton of other rules, as long as you pick up after yourself and don’t bother anyone else visiting you should be fine. The universal rule of “Don’t be an asshole” applies here and pretty much anywhere I would ever take my couples. 

Where Do I Sleep? Is the Alvord Remote?

In short: yes it’s remote.

The Alvord Desert is roughly 2 hours from Burns, OR. My first suggestion is to embrace the adventurous side and pitch a tent to go camping, but if that’s not quite your thing, there’s lodging that is about 30 minutes away as well as the opportunity to bring more of a glamping set up (think trailer, RV, etc.) or staying in the local hot spring’s “MASH units”.

You’re actually able to camp out on the playa, too! There’s a few other places that are further by roughly another 20ish minutes, all of this and more we can discuss during a consult if you’d like more information!

PRO TIP: If you’re camping on the playa (which I highly recommend for the cool-factor), stay toward the edge of it. Don’t venture out into the center. Water moves on the playa and you could wake up stuck in the morning. It can also be windy, and staying toward the edge of the playa helps mitigate that. When it’s dark and you’re trying to navigate, the playa can be VERY disorienting and staying toward the edge will allow you to find your bearings quicker.

If you want to camp but are flying in and don’t have room for gear, I have a host of quality gear that you can add on to your elopement photography package.

Where can we eat in the Alvord Desert?

Ahh you’re so right, that’s a VERY important question. The closest place to grab a bite to eat is in Fields (called Fields Station) which has a snazzy little restaurant/motel/diner/gas station. It’s a one-stop-shop which is what makes it snazzy in my book. Their milkshakes and burgers are pretty damn good too, if I say so myself.

The Alvord Hot Springs has some raw meats for grilling and other candy-type snacks available, as well as a few drink options, but nothing extensive. I’d recommend bringing most of your food in.

How can I make the day uniquely “us”?

There are tons of ways that you can personalize your day! It doesn’t take long to envision some incredible Alvord Desert elopement inspiration, so here are just a few things that I think would make your elopement pretty damn cool…

I love bringing my Ural motorcycle sidecar to the Alvord Desert
  • You can bring your vehicle along; picture some amazing photographs of you in a Jeep with a wedding dress hanging out the open doors.
  • Bring a portable fire pit (like a Solo Stove) and roast s’mores
  • Set up a stargazing area complete with blankets, a lantern, and snacks!
  • Plan a hike in the Steens Mountains.
  • Find nearby geocaches (a GPS treasure hunt with real items you find)
  • Wanna grab a quick soak? A hot spring is nearby.
  • Want to go for a ride in the desert but don’t want the hassle of bringing a cool rig? Ask me about hopping in my sidecar!

– You can also still include florals! Even though the closest florist is about 2 hours away, if you keep your bouquet in a cooler it will stay fresh and perky (and I’ve totally transported florals longer distances). A bouquet with cacti or other cool succulents included would match the landscape really well. As long as you take anything with you after you leave the sky is pretty much the limit with the Alvord desert!

Ready to Capture your Adventure?
Let’s connect!


Some other important things to note, you can bring your sweet fur babies along since the Alvord Desert allows dogs. As long as you keep an eye on them they’re more than welcome to join in the celebration. In fact I can’t think of anything better than you, your boo, and some four-legged friends standing alongside you as you exchange your I Do’s in the Alvord Desert.

Can you have a fire in the Alvord Desert?

The internet has mixed info on campfires in the Alvord Desert. Most travel bloggers say fires aren’t allowed, while one or two say they’re just not allowed June-September. I’ve spoken to the folks at the hot springs, and their biggest pet peeve is people not cleaning up. PLEASE do not have campfires and leave the firewood or rocks you’ve collected for a fire ring on the playa. It creates hazards, whether they’re on top of the playa, or if they get buried. They can mess with the playa as well as any vehicles driving.

My advice for fires in the Alvord: at the very least, bring your own portable fire pit (like a Solo Stove) and make sure there are no specific fire restrictions during the summer.

Leave it cleaner than you found it!

Your Oregon Elopement Photographer

As a lifelong Oregonian, I couldn’t be more stoked to show you the little-known spots, the quiet vistas that belong on the cover of National Geographic.

From the Oregon Coast to the high desert of the Alvord, Oregon has something for everyone.

There’s a reason they call it the Iceland of the United States 😉.

With your own custom planning portal, you’ll be ready to plan your greatest adventure yet, with custom vendor referrals, location resources, marriage license info and a helluva lot more.

Are you ready to experience all of what the Western US has to offer for a backdrop in just our state?