As full-time RVers we love nothing better than to find scenic, quiet, and free camping and so the first time we visited the Alabama Hills we felt like we had hit the jackpot. This unique area is just outside the small charming town of Lone Pine, near the southern end of the Highway 395 corridor. Highway 395 runs along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is among the most beautiful drives in the country also taking you through Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, Lake Tahoe and many interesting stops in between.
The Alabama Hills are a unique cluster of massive boulders and small arches with a network of dirt roads and trails and a number of dispersed camping opportunities. Larger rigs will be more limited in where they are able to camp, so when possible, it’s always a good idea to scout the area first. Small rigs and tent campers should have no trouble finding something – however cell service can be spotty to non-existent in most places. If you’re in need of connectivity, you can find it at nearby Tuttle Creek Campground which still has amazing views and inexpesive campsites, or for short-term needs you can find WiFi in Lone Pine.
Aside from being a great place to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life, the area has tons of recreating options. There is hiking, mountain biking, photography, stargazing, horseback riding, rock climbing routes, and boulder scrambling – however, it’s so important to be mindful of your impact on this area. Always follow Leave No Trace principles while recreating and camping, and be aware of whether campfires are allowed. In the state of California, you will need to get a campfire permit anytime you want to have an open fire on federal lands. You can find them for free here or in person at the Lone Pine Visitor’s Center.
There are a number of arches scattered throughout the Alabama Hills and we really enjoyed the arch hunt we went on. The most popular is Mobius Arch (pictured below). This one is large enough to climb through but please never do anything that could compromise the integrity of the arch structure. There is a small parking area at the trailhead for Mobius Arch and it’s under a mile roundtrip. If you line yourself up just right, you can frame Mt. Whitney – the highest peak in the lower 48 states – within the arch. The remaining arches can be found as you drive through this scenic playground. We found this blog to be very descriptive and helpful in locating all the arches (and some famous movie locations) within the Hills.
We would be remiss not to mention this area’s connection to film history as hundreds of movies have used the Alabama Hills as part of their movie sets dating back to the early 1900s. In fact, the main road running through the Hills is called Movie Flat Road. While it was mostly Westerns that were filmed here in the early days, there has been a wide variety of genres and more recently there have been scenes from Iron Man, Man of Steel, Django Unchained, and the 80s sci-fi Tremors. If you’re a movie buff a visit to the Lone Pine Film Museum is a must.
The Alabama Hills got their name from miners and prospectors in the area in the 1860s who had heard about the successes of the CSS Alabama – a Confederate warship used during the Civil War. The prospectors who were sympathetic to the Confederate cause named their mining claims after the warship and eventually the whole area became known as the Alabama Hills. Currently, in the summer of 2020, there is a push to rename the area as more and more symbols that celebrate the Conferacy, and what it stood for, are removed or renamed.
The town of Lone Pine is small but charming and we enjoyed many visits into town. There is a grocery store that should provide for most of your needs. We had fantastic Chinese food at the unique Merry Go Round restaurant. We also recommend that you grab a coffee at the Lone Star Bistro or get an amazing breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe. And be sure to grab a nice cold pint at Jake’s Saloon (complete with swinging saloon doors).
This area is becoming more and more popular so if you need a back-up camping location there are a number of options nearby. We’ve dry camped at Portugese Joe (formerly Portagee Joe) which is just off Whitney Portal Road on the way up to the Alabama Hills – most sites are first come/first serve and we appreciated the shade trees, water spigot, and great cell service. There are also vault toilets and bottle/can recycling. We’ve also stayed at Boulder Creek RV Resort which is a bit further from the Hills but offers full hook-up sites and has a hot tub. While we haven’t stayed at Tuttle Creek Campground, we have used the dump station there for a small fee but it’s a good idea to check recent reviews on Campendium to see if everything there has been opened for the season.
Have you visited the Alabama Hills or has it made it onto your travel list? This beautiful and unique area is well worth the stop and there’s plenty more to see up Highway 395!