Alabama Hills, California
- Closest town: Lone Pine, California
- Dog Friendly? Yes!
From the small town of Lone Pine, head west on Whitney Portal Road and then take a right on Movie Flat Road to enter Alabama Hills. It’s only about 10 minutes from the small town to the hills, which we found convenient for grabbing food, water, and cell service (there’s little to none in the hills) before setting up camp for the night.
Alabama Hills National Scenic Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is an incredible spot for those looking to enjoy a slower pace. This area is well known for it’s beautiful contrast of orange metamorphic rock with the snowy Mt. Whitney and surrounding peaks. The 14,505 ft Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous U.S. and makes a beautiful backdrop for photos, especially at sunrise or sunset.
As you head into the hills, the first landmark you’ll come upon is “Nightmare Rock” pictured below. This interesting painted rock will give you odd but warm welcome! Alabama Hills is also famous for the 400+ movies that have been filmed here, including Man of Steel, Gladiator, Iron Man, and Django Unchained. You can download this Movie Road Tour Brochure if you’re interested in seeing some of the movie filming sites (you can also pick up a copy at the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine).
Natural Arches: In addition to its gorgeous landscape and Hollywood movie fame, Alabama Hills has some beautiful natural arches! If you’re new around here, I LOVE me a good arch even if it’s tiny haha. For sunset, we hiked the short Arch Loop Trail that takes you to Heart Arch, Mobius Arch, and Lathe Arch. Mobius and Lathe are right next to each other and nicely frame Mt. Whitney in the background.
Camping: After the arch hike, we found a secluded spot to park our van for the night. When we visited, dispersed camping options were plentiful. HOWEVER, as I was researching for this post, I learned that the Bureau of Land Management recently released an Alabama Hills Management Plan that is currently “in progress” (as of April 2021). The plan will implement multiple changes to help manage the area’s increasing visitation, including a limited permit system for semi-primitive dispersed camping. I highly recommend that you visit the BLM’s website for the most up to date regulations before your visit. In their most up-to-date brochure, the BLM is encouraging people to stay in campgrounds like Tuttle Creek Campground to minimize impact on the land. It sounds like the use of campgrounds will soon be required unless you obtain a permit for dispersed camping. Please do your research and follow the most up-to-date regulations so we can continue to enjoy this beautiful place!
In the morning, I went for a run to the Eye of the Alabama Hills Arch. It was a fun short scramble up to the arch from the road. Make sure you have a GPS coordinate so you can find it! I think I may have liked this arch even better than Mobius Arch. Once I got back to the van, I made Kodiak Cakes waffles for breakfast and they were divine. One of my favorite mornings of our trip, hands down!
Drones: Drones are currently allowed to be flown in Alabama Hills. Again, I encourage you to do our own research on any up-to-date regulations (the easiest way to find out is to email the BLM directly). In 2020 the BLM said, “You must fly your drone below 500 feet AGL (above ground level) due to the active airport nearby. You are responsible for knowing FAA regulations and can be charged with criminal violations. More information can be found at https://www.faa.gov/uas. FAA regulations state that you cannot fly over people, within structures, or over vehicles. You must maintain visual contact at all times.” Please use common sense!
We spent less than 24 hours in this magical place but found ourselves wishing we could stay another night. We loved just exploring the landscape and climbing around on the rocks like little kids. A 10/10 place to spend a night or two and “go off grid” but still have close by access to cell service, food, and bathrooms. We will definitely be back, even if it means obtaining a camping permit or staying in a campground!
As aways, please practice Leave No Trace and leave this beautiful place better than you found it!