Authored by Daria Bachmann
Alabama Hills California is not your typical tourist hot-spot. Located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, this recreational gem is well known to photographers and camping lovers who come here to relax and take in scenic views.
To imagine what the region looks like, picture a collection of rock formations and sandstone hills sitting against the backdrop of snow-powdered Sierras. Seeing the mountain and desert landscapes blend into one picture is pretty unbelievable.
When you wander around Alabama Hills, you will find gorgeous arches, quirky boulders, and fairly easy hiking trails. But beyond being a photographer’s dream, this place is also a gateway to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States.
If you want to hike Mount Whitney, you need to obtain a special Mount Whitney permit through an annual lottery. But if you just want to hang out in Alabama Hills, you will still have a lot of fun!
Top Things to do in Alabama Hills California
How to Find Alabama Hills?
Not many people who visit California know about Alabama Hills. The closest town is Lone Pine located along Highway 395.
If you are driving to Lone Pine from LA, it will take you about 3,5 hours depending on traffic. Once you get to Lone Pine, make a left turn on Whitney Portal Road, and then turn right on Movie Flat Road.
In Lone Pine, you can get food, gas and find many accommodations. However, it’s not uncommon for hotels in Lone Pine to be booked out during the high season when many people stop here before summiting Mount Whitney.
Luckily, Alabama Hills is located in Owens Valley, which also includes other small towns such as Independence, Big Pine and Bishop where you can find accommodations and restaurants.
Despite being a relatively low-key place, Alabama Hills sits along a popular travel route. Many travelers traverse Alabama Hills without ever visiting it as they drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park and further on to Yosemite.
Check this guide to the best places to visit along the West Coast USA if you’re also planning an epic road trip.
Why is Alabama Hills Famous?
The scenic beauty of Alabama Hills attracted plenty of Hollywood movie directors who used it as background for more than 400 movies.
In the early 1920s, Alabama Hills became a popular spot for filming movies, especially those about cowboys. Over 100 flicks have been filmed in Alabama Hills, California including Iron Man, Little Eden, Gone in 60 Seconds and Django Unchained.
If you want to learn more about the Hollywood history of Alabama Hills, consider visiting the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine.
When to Visit Alabama Hills?
This is a tricky question.
Alabama Hills is a gorgeous place year-round. However, if you are looking for comfortable hiking and camping temperatures, you should visit either from late summer through mid-fall or from mid-to-late spring.
Because Alabama Hills is technically located in the high desert, it can get a bit hot in summer. And because of its proximity to the mountains, it can be a bit chilly here. So make sure you plan accordingly.
Alabama Hills Camping
Alabama Hills is located on BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) which means camping here is free. The area has plenty of established campsites, so if you need to find one, simply drive along the main road through the area.
You can also set up your tent and cook food in one of the fire pits. Since this is a popular camping spot, remember to respect other campers’ privacy and keep your noise to a minimum.
Don’t forget to pack up and take out all your trash when you leave. It’s important to follow the principle of Leave no Trace and leave the place clean for others to enjoy it.
Hiking in Alabama Hills
Hiking is one of the most fun things to do Alabama Hills California!
The otherworldly landscape of Alabama Hills makes it the ultimate travel destination in California. When hiking Alabama Hills, it’s important to remember that desert ecosystems are super vulnerable and take time to recover. That’s why you should ALWAYS stay on trails!
While some trails through Alabama Hills have signs, others are unmarked, making this place so much fun to explore!
Because of its incredible landscape, Alabama Hills is a really good place to take some drone footage. When flying a drone though be respectful of other campers’ privacy and fly your drone over areas that don’t have tents or camper vans.
Here’s a round-up of the most beautiful places in Alabama Hills California that are worth a hike:
The crown jewel of Alabama Hills, Miss Alabama is a painted rock that greets visitors as they drive up toward the entrance. It’s a pretty cool piece of graffiti, however, virtually nothing is known about its origin.
One of the most famous places in Alabama Hills is the iconic Mobius Arch. Besides being incredibly photogenic, it’s also very easy to find.
To get there, turn to the left off Movie Road and take a few-minute hike along the arch loop trail. It perfectly frames Mount Whitney, so it definitely should be on your list!
Heart Arch is located just off the parking lot for the Mobius Arch, and the best place to view it is actually at the parking lot itself. Depending on your vantage point will depend on whether it looks like a heart.
Eye of the Alabama Hills Arch
Go past the Mobius Arch parking lot, go up and down the hill before the road turns left. You will see the Eye of Alabama Hills along this part of the road hidden in the hills to your right side.
Rock Climbing in Alabama Hills
In case you didn’t know, Alabama Hills Recreational Area (as it’s officially called) has thousands upon thousands of boulders perfect for climbing.
Some of the well-known climbing rock formations are Arizona Dome, Alabama Dome, Western Wall, Hoodgie Wall, and Gabriel Cliff. However, there are plenty of boulders and rock formations that don’t have a name.
Alabama Hills Photography
Photography opportunities abound throughout Alabama Hills, and your main problem here will be finding enough time to take all the incredible photos of this otherworldly place.
One of the most famous places for photography in Alabama Hills is the hilly spot of Alabama Road.
Another thing you should keep in mind is how incredibly dark the skies are over Alabama Hills at night. Due to its remote location and little light pollution, this place is ideal for night photography. So make sure to polish your night photography skills before heading out here!
Whether you choose to stay at Alabama Hills for some camping or just hike and take photos for a few hours, you will have a great time! It’s a one-of-a-kind place and is totally worth your attention no matter how much time you have.