Situated at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Alabama Hills is one of the most underrated places in California.
It’s quite the hidden little gem and it took us years to figure out where Alabama Hills is actually located after it first came up on our travel radar (spoiler: it’s not in the state of Alabama as the name may trick you to think).
If you are planning a trip to Alabama Hills, we share all the best things to do in this area, plus tips for camping and what you need to know before you go!
Guide to visiting Alabama Hills in California:
- About Alabama Hills
- Best Time To Visit
- Alabama Hills Directions
- Camping In Alabama Hills
- What To Bring
- Visiting Arches
- Photographing Movie Road
- Other Things To Do
About Alabama Hills
There are so many incredible perks about visiting Alabama Hills recreational area.
It’s close to the mountains, offers tons of hiking and mountain biking trails to choose from (that are usually empty), and easy access to geological wonders like Mobius Arch and Boot Arch.
Mix that in with free camping sites, stargazing, off-roading, and picture-perfect setting with Mount Whitney as the backdrop and you’ve got yourself one of the best weekend getaway spots just a couple hour drive from Los Angeles.
Alabama Hills is also quite a popular site for shooting Hollywood movies.
Fun fact: over 400 movies have been taped in these foothills.
Alabama Hills’ unique rock formations and snowy mountain peaks have inspired scenes from recent movies such as the Jericho Missile Test in Ironman, Django Unchained, Godzilla, Gladiator, and many more.
Best Time To Visit
Alabama Hills is located in a dry, desert area where the summer temperatures spike up to almost 100 degrees. The landscape here is very bare with almost no trees or shelter to escape the sun when you start getting hot making it a difficult location to visit during California summer heatwaves.
A great time to visit Alabama Hills is from fall to spring when temperatures are much more tolerable.
In the winter weather at Alabama Hills can get cold and windy (but it’s much more enjoyable than feeling like you will pass out from the summer heat). Just make sure to bring cold-weather clothes, lots of layers, warm sleeping bags, and tons of blankets to stay cozy while camping.
Alabama Hills Directions
Alabama Hills is located just 15 minutes outside of Lone Pine town in Central California. We’ve stopped at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine plenty of times on our way to Mammoth without knowing that Alabama Hills was just around the corner. If we had, we wouldn’t have waited this long to visit it!
You kind of need to know that it’s there otherwise it’s so easy to miss the turn. In a way, it works as a benefit because of its hidden location Alabama Hills doesn’t get as crowded as some of the other outdoorsy destinations in California.
Psst! Check out these two awesome hikes in Inyo National Forest nearby:
Alabama Hills is located just over 3 hours from Los Angeles making it a great getaway spot for those who want to escape the city for a few days.
If you know where to go, getting to Alabama Hills is quite easy!
Directions: Take Highway 395 and turn on Whitney Portal Road in Lone Pine City (turn left if you’re coming from LA or turn right if you’re coming from Mammoth).
From there go straight for a few minutes and make a right onto Movie Flat Road. This is the main road that leads through Alabama Hills and will take you to most of the main attractions, camping spots, and trailheads.
- Tip: There is no reception once you reach Alabama Hills so look up what you plan to see and do ahead of time. I used my go-to offline hiking app Maps.Me and marked where the trailheads and attractions are located before we drove out there. Some of the arches were difficult to find but having marked the locations helped us a lot.
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Camping In Alabama Hills
The best part about visiting Alabama Hills is that you’re allowed to camp there for FREE without needing campsite reservations!
As someone who has lived in California most of my life, I’m used to booking campsites and planning my trips months in advance. It’s so incredible having access to a place like Alabama Hills that we can just visit on a whim because that’s what being outdoors is all about – escaping the city and going off the grid (stress-free) for a couple of days.
There are some amazing campsites at Alabama Hills along the Movie Flat Road.
We found the perfect campsite tucked away between rocks and spent the evening in solitude hanging out around a campfire and watching the stars once the sun went down.
Here are some things to keep in mind about camping at Alabama Hills:
- Alabama Hills is managed and operated by of Bureau Of Land Management (BLM).
- This location allows dispersed camping – meaning you can set up camp in the wild. When choosing a campsite stay on flat, established areas away from growing vegetation or restoration projects. You will find plenty of campsites along the smaller side roads here.
- You don’t need a reservation to camp at Alabama Hills. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- You can camp on BLM lands for up to 2 weeks. And did I already mention, it’s FREE?!
- There are no bathrooms, showers, water, electrical hookups, or other amenities for camping at Alabama Hills. If you’re looking for an established campground, check out BLM’s Tuttle Creek Campground nearby. This campsite costs $5 in the winter and $8 in the summer and comes with a fire pit, picnic tables, and restrooms (but no hookups). It’s also based on a first-come-first-serve basis so you don’t need a reservation to camp there.
- There are no trashcans in Alabama Hills and every visitor is responsible for carrying out their trash. Please be sure to follow “Leave No Trace” principles for minimal impact when camping in the wild. You can read more about the LNT principles here.
- Alabama Hills is dog friendly so bring your furry friend along for a fun outdoors adventure!
What To Bring
If you’re wondering what you should bring for camping in Alabama Hills, here is the detailed packing list from our weekend trip. This is the gear that we love and will set you up for a successful camping experience even if you’ve never been before.
Your packing list will vary, whether you plan to visit Alabama Hills in the summer or the winter. We camped out there in December so we packed items that are meant for cold weather camping. If you go prepared you’ll have a lot better time and ensure that you’ll want to return in the future!
Tent. A double-walled four-season tent is best for winter camping, but if you don’t have the budget to invest in one, you can still have an enjoyable experience camping at Alabama Hills in whatever tent you have available. Just be sure to pack along plenty of blankets to keep you warm (we even brought our comforter).
We recently got a pop-up tent by TentBox so on this trip we camped in our car. We have the classic hard shell tent that fits 2, sets up in minutes, and is perfect for off-roading.
Sleeping Bag. The temperatures in Alabama Hills during the winter can drop to freezing overnight. For camping, I love The Magma 15 sleeping bag that is made for cold mountain temps. This sleeping bag can keep you comfortable in temperatures as low as 17 degrees F and it’s mummy-shaped so it traps the heat inside.
Sleeping Pad. Whether you plan to sleep in your car or a tent, a sleeping pad can add extra cushion between you and what’s underneath. A blow-up sleeping pad takes up very little room but will save you from getting numb body parts halfway through the night.
Camping Stove. We have a small stove that’s perfect for road trips. This stove is easy to use and can make quick camping meals in minutes. And it comes with pots that can be used as bowls so you don’t need to bring extra plates.
Other kitchen items:
- Water for the trip. Alabama Hills is a dry area with no water sources. If needed you can always stop by Lone Pine town to get more water.
- Trashbag to carry out all trash.
- Kitchen Utensils.
- A knife and can opener.
- Paper towels.
Headlamp. Winter is the season for short days in the mountains. It gets very dark in Alabama Hills as soon as the sun goes down so a headlamp is a must to help you get bearings, cook dinner or go to the bathroom in the wilderness at night.
Clothing checklist. Packing the right clothing can make the difference between having a great time or freezing in misery while camping outdoors in the winter. Yes, we’re in California but hypothermia and frostbite can be a real threat in the mountains.
As the light in the mountains descends, the cold intensifies and even a campfire won’t be able to keep you warm. The best way to prepare is by bringing the right clothing and tons of layers to keep you warm:
- Hiking Boots. Keeping your toes warm should be a priority when hiking and camping in the cold. I prefer to wear insulated over-the-ankle boots to prevent my ankles from getting injured, especially in places that have rocky terrain like in Alabama Hills.
- Hiking Socks. Merino wool socks are great for hiking outdoors because they are high-performance and will keep your feet warm when temperatures start dropping. Double up on socks in the evening to stay warm through the night!
- Warm Jacket. For outdoor adventures, I have a triclimate jacket by The North Face. My North Face Jacket has faced crazy winds in Patagonia, glacier treks in Argentina, and rainstorms in Central America. It comes with a waterproof outside layer and a thermal under layer that keeps me warm during our winter trips.
- Leggins or pants. My usual go-to legging brand is Nike. They make durable leggings that last me for years and don’t get stretched out in weird places. My favorite pair is the mid-rise Nike One Luxe that has a simple style, is made of 50% recycled materials, and fits the body shape really well.
- A couple of flannels, warm sweaters, and thermal shirts.
- I love wearing hats on road trips! A fun travel hat can add a cute style for photos while hiding the mess that my hair usually turns into when camping outdoors.
- Bring a beanie to keep you warm past sundown.
- Gloves. The key to staying warm is keeping your hands nice and cozy. Tip: get touch screen compatible gloves so you can use your phone for photos and videos without having to take your gloves off.
- Wet Wipes. There are no showers in Alabama Hills so bring wipes to clean off down dust and dirt at the end of the day.
- Trowel. There are also no bathrooms once you head into the wilderness. We recommend bringing a trowel for going outdoors. Just make sure to follow Leave No Trace practices and pack out all toilet paper.
- Toothbrush & natural toothpaste
Along with outdoor recreational activities, Alabama Hills is known for unique rock formations and arches that have formed over the last 100 million years.
Here is a list covering some of the most popular arches to visit in Alabama Hills. Below each arch, we also included a link to Google Maps to help you find them.
Note: Please don’t climb on top of the natural bridges because they may be fragile.
Mobius Arch is by far the most popular and easiest of arches to visit in Alabama Hills. There is a flat designated parking lot where visitors can park their cars and travel into the trail.
Mobius Arch Loop is only 0.6-miles-long and takes about an hour to complete. It’s well marked with signs and about halfway through the hike, you will reach the main attraction – the stunning Mobius Arch. This is a very impressive location and a great photo opportunity.
Location: Mobius Arch Stone
Lathe Arch is a small arch right behind Mobius Arch. Lathe Arch is not as big and when I saw it, I wasn’t even sure if I had found the right location.
It’s quite long but much lower to the ground so it doesn’t have that impressive wow effect as Mobius Arch. But it’s right there so you might as well see it too.
Location: Lathe Arch
Heart Arch is an easy one to spot from the Mobius Arch parking lot. After returning from the Mobius Arch Loop trail we looked out of our car window and noticed the heart shape immediately.
There is a trail that you can take to get closer but I was feeling a bit lazy so I snapped a photo using my zoom lens.
Location: Heart Arch
Eye Of Alabama Hills Arch
The next spot along our arch hunting adventure was the Eye of Alabama Hills Arch. This one was not as easy to find and doesn’t have a clearly marked trail that goes there.
We parked on top of a dirt road and used Maps.Me hiking app to find the exact location of the Eye of Alabama Hills arch. While we had to scramble across some rocks to get there, the distance itself wasn’t very long until we reached it.
With giant boulders surrounding it, Eye of Alabama Hills was one of the most scenic arches in this wilderness.
Location: Eye of Alabama Hills Arch
Boot Arch is one of the lesser-visited arches at Alabama Hills but has a unique shape that’s a bit different than the other round arches in this area.
To get there drive on Movie Road from Eye of Alabama Hills Arch for about 10 minutes and make a left on an unnamed dirt road. Park along this road when you spot a turnout and walk to the Boot Arch from there.
There isn’t a direct trail that leads to Boot Arch and I had to keep checking my phone to make sure I was going the right way. The walk was only 5 minutes long but even with having the location marked on my map, I had a bit of a tough time finding it.
Location: Boot Arch
After visiting Boot Arch keep driving on the same dirt road for about 5 minutes. There will be some camping spots along the road where you can leave your car. It’s a short walk to Cyclop Arch from the road but again – I had to keep checking my hiking app to find it.
Personally, I found this arch to be the most interesting of them all. Cyclop Arch is a double arch that looks like a cyclop or skeleton, depending on which angle you look at. Which one do you see?
Location: Cyclop Arch
Photographing Movie Road
One of the best things that you can do at Alabama Hills is outdoor photography.
There is one spot in Alabama Hills that is especially popular and it’s located on top of a hill overlooking the mountains. Many people drive out to Alabama Hills just to capture that one famous Insta-shot from this location.
Psst! Speaking of Insta make sure to follow our page @funlifecrisis for more awesome travel inspiration!
On the map, this spot is marked as Alabama Hills Movie Road. It’s slightly north of the Eye of Alabama Hills Arch, around 15 minutes outside of Lone Pine town.
- Tip: If you position the photographer on top of the hill and the subject slightly down, it will create that “road going into nowhere” look. A zoom lens can also enlarge the mountains making them look mighty while adding depth and perspective. But keep in mind that this is the main road that travels through Alabama Hills so keep a lookout for any cars passing by as you shoot photos at this location.
The best time to capture photos at the Movie Road is during sunrise when the mountains in the backdrop turn to beautiful hues of pinks and purples. But this look only lasts for a few minutes before the sun comes up so be sure to get there early (we missed it. Ooops!). After the sun comes up the mountains will stay golden for about an hour – still a very scenic look.
Winter is a wonderful time for photography in Alabama Hills. After a heavy snowfall, the mountain peaks are often covered in a layer of snow giving this place a magical, dreamy look.
Location: Alabama Hills Movie Road
Other Things To Do
Here are some other interesting stops to check out and things to do in Alabama Hills.
Nightmare Rock, also nicknamed Miss Alabama, is a unique location at the beginning of Alabama Hills.
You can see this rock on the side of the road as you enter Alabama Hills from Lone Pine. It’s a bit hard to explain what exactly it’s meant to look like but in essence, it’s a creepy smiling face.
While we in no way approve of graffiti, especially in wild places like this, it’s an interesting stop and easy to see. The rock itself is much bigger than we expected and occasionally it gets a “facelift” by having a few of its features repainted.
Location: Nightmare Rock
With very little artificial light, Alabama Hills makes a great spot for stargazing and night photography.
Soon after the sun went down it turned completely dark outside and we were able to spot Milky Way, the North Star, and the Big Dipper without any problems.
We have a great night photography lens by Rokinon that works miracles with low light conditions like this but unfortunately, we forgot it at home so we didn’t get the best night shots. Hopefully next time! Oh yes, we most definitely plan to return here!
Here are tips for stargazing at night:
- Bring extra layers that you can throw on to keep you warm. It was around 30 degrees at night during our camping trip.
- Bring a chair and blankets to stay comfy.
- Turn off your phone light and flashlight. If you do need to see, use the red light setting on your headlamp so your eyes can adjust to darkness faster.
- Make tea or hot chocolate to keep you warm. My personal favorite!
Mountain Biking is a great activity to do in Alabama Hills. The most popular biking trail here is the 15 miles long Alabama Hills Loop.
Things to keep in mind:
- Be sure to ride with caution. The trails and roads here are very bumpy with lots of rocks and potholes.
- Carry plenty of water. This is a dry area with no water sources so plan accordingly.
- The sun goes down very early in the mountains. Give yourself plenty of time to get back to your car or campsite.
While you don’t need a 4WD vehicle to visit Alabama Hills and drive on the Movie Road, there are tons of great dirt roads that you can go explore, if you have good vehicle clearance.
When off-roading in Alabama Hills please stick to established roads and don’t drive across growing vegetation for the least impact on this land.
Alabama Hills Cafe
Alabama Hills Café is the staple go-to food spot in Lone Pine town. With raving reviews on Google and Trip Advisor, we just had to stop by here on our way to the mountains.
This is a small café that serves breakfast, lunch, and yummy baked goodies like pies, cinnamon rolls, and homemade bread. The service at Alabama Hills Café was super friendly and fast – perfect if you’re in a rush to eat something tasty and get outdoors.
Location: Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery
We hope this travel guide has helped you plan your trip and add a few scenic locations to visit around Alabama Hills in California. If you have any questions about these attractions, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below!
Looking for more travel inspiration? Here are a few of our other popular blog posts to spark your California travel lust:
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- 5 Amazing Day Hikes At Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- 7 Best Beaches To Visit In Southern California
- Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail: All You Need To Know
Interested in how I capture amazing photos on my trips? Here is the camera gear that I use to create my photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (to eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Sony Camera Charger Set
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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