5 Things To Do In The Alabama Hills – Lone Pine, CA
The Alabama Hills gather their name from a Confederate warship responsible for wreaking havoc to northern shipping during the Civil War. Prospectors sympathetic to the Confederate cause named their mining claims after the Alabama and eventually the name stuck to these unique hills.
This is not our first rodeo in the Alabama Hills. This crazy, outer-worldly landscape gripped us the very first time we drove down Hwy 395 and we’ve been captivated by it ever since. Whenever we come here we kind of lose ourselves, rarely venturing out except for the occasional high-mountain hike. Anyone who’s ever spent any time here will totally understand. The rocks and trails provide endless days/weeks/months of activity and every corner you turn opens up something new….a new view…a new canyon…another hidden treasure. And yeah, all of it is pretty darn spectacular.
And it’s different every season too. In early spring the hills abound with wildflowers, wind and snow-capped mountains. In summer they bake in the high mountain heat and by fall they once again cool to a pleasant chill. Every year the Alabama Hills are celebrated by a The Stewardship Group in April, and once again during the Lone Pine Film Festival in October.
But what really makes the hills attractive is that they are just so different. 82-200 million year old granite rocks, weathered and rounded to bulbous shapes form impossible sculptures of red-orange that stack and balance in even more impossible ways. Backed, as they are by the spectacular 10,000 foot-plus peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains it’s a sight unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
The fickle weather of the high mountains only adds to the allure, creating colors and moods that are different almost every moment. Morning it might be utterly still and peaceful, by afternoon it might whip up with a crazy wind, by evening the clouds scatter the light in a million ways and by night a billion stars fill the sky.
It’s a highly addictive place.
But rather than wax poetic for pages (which I’m rather prone to do) I thought for a change I’d go more on the practical side and just show you what there is to do here. It’s more than you might think, and by the time I’m done I think you’ll understand why we rarely venture out….
Those of you who follow the blog already know that the Alabama Hills is one of our all-time favorite boondocking spots. This is BLM land and they allow you to camp on any pre-used (cleared-out) site for up to 14 days. They do ask that you practice minimal impact and do not crush the surrounding vegetation, so chose your sites carefully when you come and make sure you can both get in and get out without impacting your surroundings.
There are several nicely “beast-friendly” sites all fairly easy to get into, but the absolute best sites take a more nimble vehicle. If you have a 4WD car, van or truck you can find supremely isolated spots that us “beastly” types can only dream about. There are hundreds of these hidden in the hills and you are almost guaranteed to be alone. Most of the sites are surrounded by cool rock formations and have a view of the fabulous Sierra Nevada Mountain range in the background.
P.S. Internet signal is extremely fickle in the hills so for those who need it, next-door Tuttle Creek Campground has excellent signal, is an outstandingly scenic spot and a steal at only $5/night. It can take any-sized rig and we often camp there too.
2/ Movie Gawking
One of the “claims to fame” of the Alabama Hills is that over 400 movies have been filmed here since the 1920’s, most of which were classic Westerns. Remember movie stars like Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger? Can you recall the films Gunga Din, Yellow Sky, Rawhide and How the West was Won? They were all filmed here and the movie history is such a deep part of the hills that this area is often called “Movie Flats”.
Start your trip with a visit to the Lone Pine Film History Museum in town and finish up by downloading the free self-guided Movie Road Touring Brochure (or pick up a printed version at the Visitor’s Center) for a whirl through the Alabama Hills. If you’re a western movie buff you will absolutely love it here!
3/ Arch Hunting
The Mobius Arch, which is accessed via an easy 1/4 mile hike from the Y-end of Movie Road is probably the most famous arch in the entire Alabama Hills.
It’s a fine arch, gracefully rounded and over 8 foot high and it’s particularly famous because of the view through the middle. If you’re eager enough to get here at sunrise you can capture first light on the highest mountain in the contiguous US, Mt.Whitney right smack through the opening. Photographers drive here from all over for just that.
Lesser known however, are over 200 or so other arches that are hidden all over the hills. A few of these are listed HERE, but the vast majority are un-named and un-marked, hidden between rocks and only accessible by “hunting” in the hills. For those of the geocaching persuation, there are a nice selection of geocaches hidden around the area too, several of which are right by arches. I will say no more….
The 30,000 acres that encompass the Alabama Hills Recreation Area contain literally hundreds of thousands of boulders and coarse granite walls. There are established popular routes with ratings of 5.09 to 5.10c, plus a bunch of additional lesser routes. You can see a summary of some of the more well-known routes HERE or, for those of you dedicated to the art, you can check out a more detailed guide here -> A Rockclimber’s Guide to the Alabama Hills.
Less technical folks, such as ourselves have endless low-tech bouldering opportunities and there’s enough variety for absolutely any level of skill. Even if you’ve never bouldered before, scampering amongst the rocks here is easy since the granite is rough and very “grippy”. Just watch those hands and butts….this is skin-removing stuff!
5/ Biking & Jeeping
For those who prefer wheels, be it two or four the Alabama Hills abound with biking & jeeping opportunities. Miles of dirt roads, many of which (especially within the rocks) are rather technical make for excellent wheeling adventures. We’ve bicycled for years all over these hills and still find manage to find new roads and trails almost every time we go out. Remember to bring lots of water though ‘coz this is dry desert and an easy place to get dehydrated. For jeepers wishing to venture further out, check out the excellent free guide Motor Touring In The Eastern Sierra (you can also pick-up a hard copy at the Visitor Center in town) which covers not only the Alabama Hills, but also trips within ~50 miles of here.
So there you go folks. See why we almost never leave?
Sadly we’ve come to the end of our sojourn this time around. The Spring winds are moving us on (a tad earlier than we expected) so we’ve got one last day before we drive north. We’re going to spend that precious time wisely in a place that we truly love…right here in the hills.
P.S. The Alabama Hills are entirely dog-friendly so feel free to bring pooch along on all of your adventures.
- Rocks, Trails, Movies & History – Wrapping Up Lone Pine, CA
- From The Theatrical To The Spiritual – Lone Pine, CA
- Boondocking Site Review – Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Always gorgeous there, 24/7 365 days a year, sometime during the day or night.
And even on a Leap Year too 🙂
That is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s just other worldly.
Totally! I’m always impressed every time we come here.
the alabama hills are nostalgic…reminders of eras past (through the movies that were filmed there)How often can you be in a place where John Wayne rode about. Yet beyond their movie ties, are their geologic ties … they are also those welcome mats..providing a very soft, ethereal playground in the foreground to what is the majesty of the sierras behind them! Enjoy them and venture further up into that amazing John Muir landscape./ Sorry, we missed you as you were headed out of your campsite. we have picked up our trailer and driven back from eastern oregon to meet up with some friends to boondocks in Kelso dunes. Enjoy your trip north and maybe we’d see you up there sometime …we’ll bring the IPA’s. Planning a trip to the olympic peninsula and beyond in fall!!
What a beautiful description Imkelina! Good travels to you with your new trailer. We have yet to boondock in the Mojave Desert…it’s been on our “list” for ages!
Jane Fraser says
What a gem, will definitely bypass the I5 and try Hwy 395 next time. Thanks also for the related links as I didn’t know about your blog back then….
Oh I MUCH prefer 395 to 5. Not only is it a much more scenic drive, but it’s SOooooo much easier (less stressful) too.
Love the arches and they make for amazing phots. Will save this post in case we ever make it out that way.
I don’t think I’ve seen more arches in one spot since the time we visited Arches National Park in Utah. This is such a unique place!
Jim at Growing Faith says
Awesome photos as always! This is definitely a place I want to see in person. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!
This spot has a special place in my heart ever since we discovered it in 2011. We keep coming back over and over.
An inspiring and well written post that makes my itchy feet need some scratching. I just love all the photos you’ve posted of this area, here and in past posts. It’s what’s made me add the area to my Wanderlist. 🙂
I always go crazy photographing in this area. There are just so many different MOODS to shoot. I think I took over 800 shots in the past 10 days LOL.
Pam Wright says
Nina, this is wonderful post. How can anyone resist this beauty! We’ve never done the whole 395 thing, but we are really anxious to make this drive. This post just adds more pressure to get there! We are thinking of making the journey down this road next fall. Sometimes I feel it is better to visit before the snow comes rather than waiting for it to melt (in snow year). Since you have been to this area several time, what are your thoughts…fall or spring?
There’s pretty Polly striking her classic pose:) Love it!
You most definitely had a wonderful visit this time with Todd and Russ and, of course, little Frances:)
Oh FALL is our absolute favorite time to be here especially if you can catch the changing of the leaves (can you say yellow Aspen everywhere?). All our previous drives have been during Fall and it’s an awesome time to be here.
Here’s another good blog post for your trip:
5 Awesome Outings In The Eastern Sierras, CA
Jim and Gayle says
We’ve only been in the fall and it’s gorgeous with the changing leaves. Like spring, the weather can go from sunny and warm to snow and cold overnight!
The crazy weather! So totally accurate. Even in the mere 10 days we’ve been here we’ve seen 85 degree days, insane winds and 40 degree lows. Never know what you’re gonna get out here.
Pam Wright says
Cathi in Texas says
Boy, do those Alabama Hills bring back memories. When I was a young teen, my family lived in Independence, about 14 or so miles north of Lone Pine. Since Independence was such a tiny town we often headed to Lone Pine to hang out. Many times it was in the Alabama Hills for bon fires & partying. Woohoo, if those rocks could talk! There was one road we called the whoopie road because of the many hills & dips. It’s a wonder we all survived. LOL
PS. I am now 74 & still kicking.
Oh how I love to hear stories from folks who’ve lived in an area. It brings it alive for me! Thanks so much for sharing your history.
P.S We hiked Onion Valley the day before yesterday, right in your old neck of the woods.
Such a beautiful locale — we’re still debating about traveling 395 or the coast when we can finally leave San Diego. It’s wonderful having you forge ahead to inform us of the conditions (weather, wind, skeeters, etc.) — although as you said, it’s a mercurial place. Polly looks like she’s grinning from ear to ear. 🙂
We’ve moved north a little ways and there are a few skeeters here (not many at all), but we’re getting very low humidity and high winds, so lots of fire warnings around…but it varies day to day. Yesterday we were rocking and rolling all afternoon. Today it’s dead silent.
That said the mountain hikes we’ve been doing have been amazing. Once you get up to 8-9,000 feet it’s cool, there are very few people around and absolutely no skeeters, at least this time of year. Really wonderful hiking right now.
That is a beautiful picture of the “old man and the dog”.
Shhhhh! I won’t tell him you called him that LOL.
Jodee Gravel says
I never tire of seeing what you’re up to on Hwy 395 – and we can’t wait to see a lot of it this Fall! Love the pic of Polly on the rocks – and Paul up on the side of the arch – it looks like a wonderland 🙂
A couple of suggestions…there’s a Reservation next door to Benton Station (North of Bishop, CA) and, although it is mere surmisal, I think the pies are baked by women from there. The one I had on June 23rd 2013 was superb.
Given your (obvious) enjoyment of writing, you might like Summer Fishtrap, a writers’ conference held at the South end of Wallowa Lake. The location is spectacular, there’s a campground with electrical and water hookups (I think) and should you not want to pay to attend the workshops, the evening readings are free.
The town of Joseph revolves around several fine-art foundries and supplying the myriad folks who come to enjoy the beauty of the area. And one of the great attractions of Joseph is Stewart Jones’ Gallery a.k.a. Indigo Gallery. Mr. Jones is one of the few possessors of a Rose Engine lathe with which he creates beautiful works in silver, gold and platinum.
Sweeeet tips! Thanks very much for sharing! I had no idea about any of these.
Roger Olivier says
I love all your adventures. I enjoy it very much !
I found a website that could be interesting for you guys.
The website has been deleted but I found the contents here :
It’s a travel blog and the author shows on maps how to stay in different spots for a long period of time for free on BLM lands. Nice info. 🙂
Cheers from France,
Todd B says
I love that picture of Chris and Cherie! Sad we missed Mobius Arch…next time. The Film Museum was great in Lone Pine. Thanks for the recommendation to visit it!
Can certainly see why you stay there repeatedly and don’t need to venture out. This is going on my CA list. Safe journey to the north.
David Michael says
One of my favorite sites as well after seven years of fulltiming. Missed it this year but already planning for the next. The film museum is a kick. Then…go out and find the locations for the films and selective scenes. Also…great trout fishing in the spring. Unfortunately, this year many of the creeks may run dry by June.
Happy Camping to Paul and Nina and thanks for sharing your adventures along the way!
Unfortunately yes, the creeks may well run dry. Snow pack has been abysmal this year and the water situation is dire. Bodes very badly for this summer.
Thanks for giving us a glimpse of those beautiful hills in the spring. Great post and stunning photos!
Things to do today says
Great article on things to do in Alabama. Also good to see things that people normally not think of!
The pictures in this post are absolutely amazing!
Keep up the good work!
Don and Chery says
Great post. We are about 3 weeks behind you as we work our way to Bandon for our light house assignment. Fell in love with the Hills. Now in Bishop at the BLM campground. Snow capped mts all around
Then in to June lakes and yosmite
See you in Oregon soon we hope
Don and Cheryl.
Oh SWEEET! We loooooove Bandon! Haven’t hosted at that lighthouse since 2013, but have super fond memories of the area and the park. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!