7 Incredible Things to Do in the Alabama Hills, California
The Alabama Hills are a must-see destination if you’re heading to California or planning a road trip around the United States.
Not only have the hills become a popular Hollywood filming location, but they also have picturesque landscapes with incredible rock formations and a snowcapped mountain backdrop. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you won’t want to miss these sights.
To help you plan your trip, we’ve put together this list of 7 amazing things to do and see in Alabama Hills. Most of them are completely free!
So grab your hiking boots, stock up on liquids, and make your way out to the Alabama Hills.
Overview of the Alabama Hills
Although the red dirt Alabama Hills share no resemblance to the nearby snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains, they both formed around the same time – around 85 million years ago.
The Alabama Hills, in fact, got their smooth and somewhat artistic shape from erosion.
Southern sympathizers named the hills after the confederate warship, the CSS Alabama. The warship sank a Union gunboat, the USS Hatteras, off the coast of Texas in 1863. Karma came back around because just a year later, the CSS Alabama succumbed to the same fate!
The Bureau of Land Management has been managing the Alabama Hills ever since Congress designated the landmark a National Scenic Area.
7 Things to Do in the Alabama Hills
If you’re planning to visit the Alabama Hills, the 7 activities below should definitely make it onto your bucket list.
1. Drive Down the Movie Road
Movie Road has become a popular Instagram spot in the Alabama Hills, and for good reason.
The road, which is actually just a graded dirt road, has amazing and expansive views of the eastern Sierras, Mt. Whitney, and the surrounding Alabama Hills.
Of course, as with any Instagram-worthy location, Movie Flat Road can get extremely crowded. If you’re heading out to the hills on a day with good weather, we highly recommend arriving at the location as early as possible. This way, you’ll get the best photo opportunity without a bunch of cars and other vehicles ruining the shot.
How to Access Movie Road
You can access Movie Flats Road fairly easily from Lone Pine. From US 395, turn west on Whitney Portal Road, and once you reach the sign for the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, make a right onto Movie Road.
The road actually starts off as “Movie Flat Road,” but becomes “Movie Road” once you pass the Eye of Alabama Hills arch.
2. Explore the Dirt Roads
Although Movie Road is the most popular road in the Alabama Hills, there are plenty of other dirt strips worthy of a visit.
The roads throughout the hills are generally unmarked, but you can access them without too much trouble. It helps to have a four-wheel drive, but it isn’t entirely necessary.
Many of these roads will showcase some of the beautiful rock formations that the Alabama Hills are known for. Among them, you’ll also find cacti and wildflowers, so be sure to pack your camera!
The Lone Pine Visitor Center is a great place to head to and ask for dirt road suggestions. As some roads can be slightly more challenging than others, the staff will be able to point you in the right and safest direction.
3. Tour Movie Locations
We mentioned previously that the Alabama Hills are a popular Hollywood filming location. Some of the most recent and well-known movies to be shot on film sites here are Django Unchained, Gladiator, and Iron Man, amongst many others, notably Western movies.
Thanks to its rugged hills and red dirt canyons, the Alabama Hills have provided fantastic filming conditions, which are free to go and visit. Some of the most popular stops on the movie location tour are the Gunga Din Canyon, Lone Ranger Canyon, and the Roy Rogers Movie Flats.
On the corner of Whitney Portal and Movie Road, you’ll also find a commemorative Movie Plaque that is dedicated to the hundreds of movies filmed in the Alabama Hills.
Before you reach the hills, stop at the Museum of Western Film History (which we’ll go into more detail about later). The museum has a brochure that highlights and gives directions to the most popular movie destinations throughout the hills.
4. Immerse Yourself in a Range of Outdoor Activities
The Alabama Hills are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. You can do everything from hiking and mountain biking to rock climbing and horseback riding.
Hiking in the Alabama Hills
Hiking is one of the most popular activities to do in the hills as you can head off and explore in any direction that you see fit. With the ample amounts of natural arches, rock formations, and wildlife, you can be entertained and occupied for hours.
Alabama Hills Mountain Biking
When it comes to mountain biking, you’re only allowed to bike on the hill’s existing roads or trails. This is to prevent any damage to the vegetation and wildlife down below. The same goes for driving, so keep that in mind while visiting.
The Lone Pine Visitor Center has all the information you could need on which activities are the best to do and where. As the Alabama Hills have shafts and mine tunnels that could give way, it’s probably a good idea to get an expert’s opinion before heading out on your adventure.
5. Arch Hunting
If you’ve chosen to go for a hike, you should definitely spend time exploring natural arches. The Alabama Hills arches were once large pieces of magma that eroded over time. The erosion process has created spectacular cutouts throughout the rocks’ centers and left us with unique and photo-worthy formations.
The Mobius Arch is Alabama Hills’ most famous arch. It even has its own trail, the Mobius Arch Loop Trail, which will take you on a tour of three breathtaking arches. The trail is just over half-a-mile long and has a parking area at the starting point.
Mobius Arch is roughly eight feet high and frames Mount Whitney through its center cut out. As I’m sure you could imagine, many photographers flock to Mobius to get a shot of the famous mountain peak.
So, if crowds aren’t your scene, try heading to one of these lesser-visited arches:
- Boot Arch: The Boot Arch, you guessed it, looks like a boot! Many people flock to the Boot Arch at night: once the Sun sets, the Milky Way rewards lucky viewers with an indescribable light show.
- Heart Arch: You can actually see this arch from the Mobius Arch Trail parking area. Instead of turning left on the Mobius Arch Trail to visit Mobius, turn right. Along the route, you’ll see a few other unnamed arches that are Instagram-worthy in their own way.
- Lathe Arch: The Lathe Arch is relatively small and close to the ground. But if you bend down, it has the prettiest encompassed view of the Sierra Nevada.
- Eye of Alabama Hills Arch: You can access The Eye of Alabama Hills Arch via a hike from Movie Flat Road. The arch is visible from the road, so once you’ve spotted it, park up and head on over. It offers amazing views of the eastern Sierra and the rest of the Alabama Hills.
- Miss Alabama: Miss Alabama Rock is unique in her own way, as over the years, artists have painted different faces on her to welcome visitors to the hills. Although she doesn’t fit in with the natural beauty of the hills, she sure is a popular landmark.
- Whitney Portal Arch: The final arch worth mentioning is the Whitney Portal Arch. You can access it off Whitney Portal Road and take in a great view of the Sierra Nevada. The view is especially pleasant at sunset, when the skies are painted red.
Although the above are some of the most popular arches, there are hundreds of other unnamed arches and formations for you to see. That’s part of the beauty of the Alabama Hills; with every step and turn, there is always something beautiful to look at.
In our opinion, one of the best things to do in the Alabama Hills is to observe the night sky.
The hills are away from light pollution, and come nightfall, the skies light up with millions of stars from the Milky Way.
If you’re heading to the hills during a full moon, you’re in for a special treat. The moon takes center stage, and you can get some spectacular photos through the arches that capture the natural beauty of our world and the phenomenons of outer space.
The best time to observe the Milky Way in the late summer. We recommend bringing along some binoculars, or a telescope if you have one. If you don’t, there is no need to worry; you can still see the constellations without any equipment–although with so many stars, you may find even the Big Dipper gets lost amongst the cosmos.
7. Visit the Western Film History Museum
The Museum of Western Film History is set just outside the hills in the town of Lone Pine. It’s a great first stop for all the movie buffs out there.
We mentioned before that the museum offers a map of the most famous movie locations. However, they also have interesting displays and props you can take a look at.
The museum is the only landmark on our list that requires a fee: a donation of $5 for visiting adults. Kids under 12 and members of the military can enter for free.
Getting to the Alabama Hills
The easiest way to get out to the Alabama Hills, which are in the Owens Valley, is through the nearest local town, Lone Pine.
From the South
If you’re coming from Palm Springs or LA, drive north on US 395. Once you reach Lone Pine, take Whitney Portal Road and drive roughly 2.5 miles until you see the sign for the Alabama Hills Recreation Area.
From the North
If you’re heading down to the Alabama Hills from the north, head south on the US 395 until you reach Lone Pine. From here, you’ll drive down Whitney Portal Road and end up at the Alabama Hills Recreation Area.
Where to Stay When You Visit the Alabama Hills
Whether you prefer wilderness camping or developed campgrounds, Alabama Hills offer ample opportunities to camp out under the starry sky.
You can pitch your tent or park your RV anywhere throughout the hills.
The hills label themselves as a dispersed camping area with no fees. However, note that facilities may be hard to come by.
You will need to take your own water with you, recharge all your batteries before heading to the hills, and bring all garbage back out with you.
To control human waste, a six porta potties have been installed in Alabama Hills. These are located near Shark Fin parking and the Mobius Arch trailhead; you can use these restrooms if you camp nearby. Otherwise, you’ll have to pack and carry solid human waste out when you leave.
Campgrounds With Facilities
If roughing it isn’t your thing, there are nearby campgrounds with facilities. These include:
You can also find hotels and Airbnbs in the nearby town of Lone Pine.
When Is the Best Time to Visit the Alabama Hills?
Although all seasons in the Alabama Hills are amazing in their own way, fall and spring are the best times to visit.
Temperatures throughout these two seasons are moderate, making excellent conditions for hiking and other outdoor activities.
Spring, especially, sees the blossoming of colorful wildflowers, which really bring the desert to life. While all of these flowers are making their appearance, the Sierra Nevada mountains are still snowcapped, providing a beautiful photo backdrop.
During fall, on the other hand, the few trees in the hills go through their routine leaf changes. One lone tree, in particular, has become famous as its leaves turn bright yellow.
If you can, try to avoid summer and winter. Summer brings extremely high temperatures that we don’t recommend for hiking. Meanwhile, in winter, the nights can get really cold, so camping may not be your top-choice activity.
Things to Do in the Alabama Hills: Our Final Thoughts
The Alabama Hills are an incredible place to visit for movie fans and nature lovers alike.
As we finish up on our guide to the Alabama Hills, we’re interested to know if you’ve visited them?
If so, what was your favorite part, and would you go back? Let us know in the comment section down below!