Alabama Hills : A BLM Camping Wonderland
If you're like us, you spend time on Instagram. Searching for amazing photos, and for inspiration for new places to explore. One of those places that kept popping up in our feed was Alabama Hills. The photos that we see from this place are incredible, so we started researching it online. One of the things that sets this area apart is that it is not a National Park or State Park. It is a designated BLM (Bureau of Land Management) area. While that means there are fewer regulations, that also means it is a little more difficult to find information about it. As we looked around on the internet before we headed out there, the most helpful blog we found was by California Through My Lens. Here is his blog - as always, he has great info and spcifically, a lot of info about Alabama Hills and its famous movie filming locations.
So if you've been perusing Instagram and landed here to find out more about Alabama Hills, we hope this blog can help.
To get to Alabama Hills, it's a simple drive north on Highway 395. This cool highway starts off from the I-15, just outside of Hesperia, and continues north all the way to Carson City, Nevada. It weaves along the eastern side of the Sierras with many attractions including Death Valley National Park, Alabama Hills, Bishop, Mammoth, Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe.
Whether you are coming from the north or south, your first stop should be the Lone Pine Visitor Center (US-395 & CA-136, Lone Pine, CA 93545). They can give you a map (definitely helpful!) and information about Alabama Hills and the current weather, etc. The ranger we spoke to highlighted in pink some of the better areas for finding camp spot and passable roads for our Subaru.
This place is truly amazing, but it is also easily abused. Because of its famous Instagram status and the lack of patrols and rangers, people don't always follow Leave No Trace Principles. We rolled up to a few camp areas that were trashed and covered in broken glass. Some people have chosen to keep locations a secret in order to protect them. We are strong believers in educating and holding each other accountable when out in the wild. With that in mind, we always share where a photo was shot or where we camped because the whole point of these places is that they are public lands. If others didn't share their journey to Alabama Hills, we probably wouldn't have known about it, and wouldn't have experienced this amazing place. The sharing comes with a responsibility though - please be kind to these places and learn and follow the rules while you are there.
We arrived late in the afternoon on the Thursday of Easter weekend, and really didn't know where we were going. We drove off of Movie Road on any and all dirt roads that we came to, looking for a spot to camp for the night. It seemed very crowded and we were concerned about high winds, so we were being a bit picky about the few open sites we were finding. Eventually, we found a nice tucked spot with a wall of rocks surrounding us.
This spot was back in a rock canyon, with three other sites, on the west side of Movie Rd. As it turns out, when there is a high wind advisory here, there isn't really any way to avoid it. Our spot turned into a wind tunnel over night. It really felt like the tent would go airborne a few times, but every thing stayed in place and we woke up disappointed that we didn't have a view of those brilliant snow covered mountains. After an amazing breakfast of Mountain Standard's Protein Pancakes, we threw everything in the car in search of a new campsite. We didn't bother to roll our pads, pack our bags, or the tent! Truly, just stuffed it all in the back of the car and went hunting for a site with a view.
From here, we went back to Movie Road, and headed south (towards the entrance), which is where you get those amazing views of desert rocks and the snow covered Sierras and Mt. Whitney in the distance.
After we set up our second camp, this time on the north side of Movie Flat Rd., we headed out to explore some more dirt roads and do the one designated trail in Alabama Hills. So the first stop was Mobius Arch - this arch is one of those places people aim to visit at specific times of day, or at night, to get that one shot you see of Mt. Whitney glowing or the stars surrounding it. We went right in the middle of the day, basically not when you are "supposed" to go to get those "epic" shots, but it was still worth it.
Mobius Arch Trail
This trail is a 0.6 mile loop. It starts right off the parking area, taking you down a few stairs and then winds around various rock formations and loops you around to Mobius Arch. The big draw of this arch is that is creates a "window" containing Mt. Whitney. It's a pretty cool view from any side, but to get the Whitney Window, you'll need to climb up on a few boulders to get the right angle. A bit beyond this is Lathe Arch, a short flat archway tucked off the trail (shown in the last photo below).
This is one of the only marked trails in the area, and it's an easy one to do. Other than this, wandering around on the dirt roads, and playing on the rocks, is really the best thing to do.
On our final day in Alabama Hills, we packed up our camp and headed out hoping to do some rock scrambling. It is a little difficult to tell exactly where we ended up on a map, but we drove back further off of Movie Rd. and turned right and kept going until we came to some excellent scrambling rock formations.
On our way out, we stopped at the famous face rock. While we definitely don't promote graffiti, this is a mainstay of the Alabama Hills BLM area and was a quick, fun photo stop. To see more of our photos from this amazing place, check out our Alabama Hills Gallery page.