Why You Need to Experience Alabama Hills just off Highway 395
California is well known for it’s expansive deserts and scenic, forested mountains. Unlike other states, it’s fairly easy to start your day with a hiking trip in the high mountains and ending it camping in the rocky desert flats. Just one of the many perks to California’s diverse landscape!
One place in particular combines both these 2 varying terrains into one beautiful destination.
Situated near central California at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains is a wonderful landscape sprawling with quirky boulders, numerous arches, tons of desert flora, and a jaw dropping view of both Lone Pine Peak and Mount Whitney.
You can find all this and more at Alabama Hills just off Highway 395.🌻 Our content may contain affiliate links. If clicked through to make a purchase, the price remains the same for you and we will earn a small commission. This helps us to continue creating useful and valuable content for you and other visitors. 💜
Alabama Hills Location Info/Details
Alabama Hills is a unique location that is surprisingly known by few traveling across California.
Definitely not in Alabama, these hills were named after the magnificent ship given to us by the British Government – The CSS Alabama. The hills were dubbed Alabama Hills from former crew members who lived in Lone Pine California after the ship went down waters off France.
This stunning desert region is located just 5 minutes outside of Lone Pine.
If you don’t plan on camping, the town of Lone Pine would be your best option for nightly accommodation, food, and other amenities.
Considered by many as the gateway to Mt. Whitney, Alabama Hills is also a popular stop for those traveling up north to Mammoth Lakes. A quick(ish) 1.5 hours north of Lone Pine. These hills are also a great base camp for those looking to camp outside of the nearby mountain ranges.
Although, if time is sensitive, the hills still make for a quick and fun pit stop for anyone traveling down Highway 395.
However you choose to spend your time, Alabama Hills is an enjoyable destination for all kinds of activities.
A Quick Geology Lesson on Alabama Hills
So what’s up with these strange geological boulders at the base of these towering mountain peaks?
The rounded appearance of the boulders and arches make for a very sharp contrast to the jagged ridges of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west.
What’s surprising is that these “hills” are actually the same age of the neighboring Sierras! They are also composed of the same granitic and metamorphic rocks in the Sierra Nevada. Despite this, the extreme difference of appearance is mainly due to the amount of weathering the land receives.
Alabama Hills encounters much stronger winds and more intense rain fall. Which over time created the strange and drastically different appearance we see today.
Much of the granite among the hills are cut by a number of joints. These joints allow accelerated decomposition of the rocks from consistent weathering. Visitors today can expect to see a sprawling valley of boulders, a variety of arches, and even colossal mountains composed of these distinctive rounded rocks.
To say the least, Alabama Hills is a one of a kind destination you just have to see for yourself. It easily makes it onto our list of our 8 best desert spots in California.
5 THINGS TO DO AT ALABAMA HILLS, CALIFORNIA
Besides just gawking at the incredible landscape, what are the best things to do during your time at Alabama Hills? Good question!
The grounds are full of awesome geological features but are all unmarked. (With the exception of the Mobius Arch trail) The open terrain feels almost like you’re exploring a completely unknown territory. The un-commercialized environment allows you to create your own personal adventure no matter how many times you visit.
To reach Alabama Hills, head west down Whitney Portal Rd off Highway 395. Drive for about 3 miles then make a right on Movie Road to be taken into the heart of the hills.
You know you’re going the right way once you pass Miss Alabama on the right side of the road.
(Yes we know it’s graffiti which we aren’t fans of in nature, but it’s now considered an iconic & silly entry point to the hills)
So grab your daypack, bring ample water, and let’s hit the rocks! Here’s the 5 top things to experience during your visit to the hills!
One of the most popular activities that many come to experience at Alabama Hills is camping.
Why is Alabama Hills a great place to camp? Well to start, the entire area of Alabama Hills is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, aka BLM land, meaning the grounds are completely free of charge!
Not only are you camping for free, there are also no “designated” camp spots. I use quotations, because there are plenty of visible spots previously used by other people left behind. Tire tracks and fire rings beings the most obvious signs of previous use.
With that said, you can still most certainly pull up anywhere and pitch your tent. If you plan to make a fire, we do recommend using previous fire rings if they’re available and promote Leave No Trace principles.
Pack out everything you pack in. Having zero tolerance for trash will keep these places looking beautiful for everyone.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- The desert gets dark real quick – fully light up your campsite with these 4 super bright camping lanterns
- Bring one of these 4 best coolers for the ultimate food & drink storage in the harsh heat of the desert sun
- If camping in winter, expect freezing temperatures at night – bring any of these 12 articles of cold weather clothing and layer up to stay warm
- For a successful camping trip, be aware of these top 18 camping mistakes and how to avoid them
Each time we’ve camped at Alabama Hills it’s been a completely new experience. Camping among or in between the boulders is our favorite spot for a more immersive encounter within the landscape and cover from the sun and wind.
However, camping outside the rocks and atop one of the hills is preferred for those looking to stargaze and get sweeping views of the land below.
No matter where you set up, you’ll feel like you basically have the whole place to yourself.
2. Hiking / Rock Scrambling / Arch Hunting
Besides camping, hiking and rock scrambling are other common activities done within Alabama Hills. While the rocky terrain technically only offers a few legitimate hiking trails, there are still tons of places to explore on foot. As well as numerous arches you can find hidden among the boulders.
To our surprise, there are actually over 200 arches hidden among the hills! Below are just a few of the main arches you can easily find in Alabama Hills. The rest are unmarked and not easily accessible and may be hard to find.
The most famous of all the arches is Mobius Arch. It’s also one of the easiest ones to reach on foot and located along a designated hiking trail – The Mobius Arch Loop Trail.
In total, the trail is only 0.6 miles. Mobius Arch is a fine arch around 8 feet high and is well known for its fantastic frame of Mt. Whitney directly through the center.
A very popular spot for photographers looking to capture the perfect shot of the rounded arch and jagged mountainous landscape behind.
If you ventured out on the short trail to see Mobius Arch, then you will also see Heart Arch along the loop.
This is what you can guess, a heart shaped arch! It’s a little far off in the distance but the best view of Heart Arch is from the Mobius Arch parking lot.
Eye of Alabama Hills Arch
Sounds intimidating doesn’t it? The Eye of Alabama Hills Arch is located a bit further up in the hills.
Most likely dubbed the “The Eye” due to its tall position and how it appears to be overlooking the hills from above.
You can simply see the arch just off Movie Road up in the hills to the right. For those wanting a closer look, you can park in the small parking lot a bit up the road and go on a small trek taking you right up to the arch.
There is no designated trail to reach The Eye but it’s not hard to free-foot it.
Once at the arch, you can climb up behind it for a lovely view of Alabama Hills through the center of the arch. Overall, it only takes about 5-10 minutes to reach, making it an easy arch adventure!
At first sight, it’s easy to see why Alabama Hills is a prime spot for photographers. While there are several styles of photography you can accomplish here, it is most definitely a Landscape Photographers dream.
Fore, middle, and backgrounds consist of desert flora, strangely shaped boulders, and the monstrous Sierra Nevada Mountains! It’s unlike any other environment we’ve seen in California, with each layer distinctively colored and separated.
While there are a few “insta-famous” locations, like the famous hillside on Movie Road or among the arches, you can literally find endless photo opportunities no matter where you go in Alabama Hills.
Even if you don’t shoot landscape this is an equally great place to take portraits. Just walking a few yards you can have an entirely different backdrop for your subject.
Oh, and astrophotography is very much a thing out here. Make sure to plan a trip when the moon won’t be visible and enjoy a ridiculously clear night sky thanks to the little light pollution found out here.
Looking to break into the world of travel photography? Consider these 16 pieces of gear for travel photography to help get you started.
4. Movie Exploration
Did you know Alabama Hills is also famous for being in a ton of films? Not really a shocker based on it’s surreal and otherworldly landscape.
Over 400 movies have been filmed in these hills, most of them being classic westerns. Some even call these hills “Movie Flats” due to it’s cinematic history.
Before visiting, you can stop by the Lone Pine Film History Museum if you want to learn more about what movies were filmed here and to check out the exhibits.
Below is a map of some of the top movie locations you can find in Alabama Hills. You can pick up a physical copy as well other movie brochures from the visitor center in town.
5. Off Roading and Mountain Biking
Last but not least, it’s common place for people to explore the wide open lands of Alabama Hills on an off road vehicle or mountain bike. We’ve seen dirt bikes, quads, jeeps, RZR’s, and more.
These desert hills aren’t shy to those looking to mob this dirt playground. There are several miles of dirt roads to rip, many of which take you through the boulders and across the horizon.
Roaming this terrain on either a mountain bike or OHV is an exciting way to take in the beautiful scenery and truly feel it. With seemingly endless trails to ride, every visit feels like a completely new experience.
Just remember that this is the desert. It’s essential that you bring ample water and to be self aware of your personal limitations. It’s also a good idea to have a map and compass if you plan on exploring off the “undesignated” designated roads.
When’s the Best Time to Visit?
Since Alabama Hills sits at a low elevation and is technically a desert region, you need to plan for weather. The best time to visit is either in the spring or fall when the temperature isn’t too hot or cold.
In winter, you will see snow capped mountains and possibly even some snow among the rocky boulders of the hills. It’s not that we don’t recommend visiting in the winter, but prepare for cold nights and brisk mornings if you’re camping.
In the summer, temperatures can reach up to 100°F. Camping is still doable but expect approaching, extreme temperatures once the sun comes up. There’s little to no shade in Alabama Hills so once day breaks, you’re exposed to the harsh summer sun.
For the best weather and most comfortable experience, stick to the spring or fall.
Alabama Hills is California’s One of a Kind Desert Destination
So there you have it – 5 fun things to do during your visit to the infamous location known as Alabama Hills! This expansive landscape is a place to enjoy nature and get an exclusive look at an otherwise unworldly environment.
Camping, hiking, climbing, and photography are some of the main reasons why we love Alabama Hills. Whether you’re specifically planning a trip here, or just adding it as a quick stop along Highway 395, you surely won’t be disappointed with what you see and do.
It’s a sight you’ll never forget. We obviously can’t get enough of it and keep coming back for more.
If you’re heading up north to Mammoth past Lone Pine, make sure you check out Devil’s Postpile National Monument & Rainbow Falls. Expect more fascinating geological wonders and beautiful forested scenery.
For others road tripping through the area, browse through this list of other fun things to do off Highway 395 from travel blogger Josh from California Through My Lens.
Have you been to Alabama Hills before? What did you do during your time here? Share with us your experience in the comments below!
Like this? Pin it!