Few landscapes have continued to capture our imagination for so long as the Alabama Hills, near the town of Lone Pine California on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Chances are, you’ve never heard of them but here are a few images you might recognize.
There isn’t a great repository of screen stills from movies, TV shows and commercials shot at the Alabama Hills, but if you look at a google image search or a Flickr image search, you’ll see plenty of landscape images and snapshots. Once you get a familiarity with the landscape you’ll notice all the scenes shot there. One of my favorites is Star Trek Generations. A space movie shot on hallowed Cowboy movie soil.
The list of movies shot in and around the Alabama Hills is long and includes, the old westerns like Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy, to newer movi like Gladiator and Iron Man. See the full list over at IMDB and download a guided film history tour from the Lone Pine Film History Museum.
One iconic image of Alabama Hills is of the Mobius Arch, one of many such natural arches in the area. The image below is by my friend, photographer Barrett Donovan of the arch.
The Alabama Hills is a great place to camp and play with great views and great stargazing.
View Alabama Hills Area in a larger map
Camping in the Alabama Hills
Camping is open and allowed in the Alabama Hills. The land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and they have a special site dedicated to recreation in that area, that doesn’t really have that much information. You can camp anywhere you like where it isn’t specifically prohibited. We prefer to camp up close to the big rocks where there is more seclusion and shelter.
There are no developed camp sites or services of any kind in the Alabama Hills. No toilets, no water, no tables and the roads are not really maintained. So you are on your own. Bring water, and be careful with fire. Generally, you need to have a water container for putting out a fire and a shovel for managing the fire or you will get cited by rangers.
Don’t litter, and don’t hassle the wildlife or destroy the plants. Last time i was there at the beginning of June, there were a number of habitat restoration areas that were fenced off. Please respect these areas and walk around.
The town of Lone Pine is nearby if you run out of water, ice, food or other supplies, you can get them there.
For developed camping, you can stay at:
- Lone Pine Campground up Lone Pine Creek
- Whitney Portal Campground
- Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead Campground (Walk In)
- Horseshoe Meadows Campground
About the Alabama Hills
According the the BLM site, the Alabama hills got their name from the various minig claims staked by the earliest white settlers int he area.
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. [BLM]
The rocks of the Alabama Hills are more or less the same as the rock of Mt. Whitney and Mt. Langley high above, but look different because of the different weather, precipitation and exposure there on the valley floor. The rock is granite and in places it is solid and secure, other places it is crumbly and unsafe.
Getting to the Alabama Hills
The area is just outside Lone Pine California and is approached from the Whitney Portal road. Take US HWY 395 from the north or south to Lone Pine and turn West on Whitney Portal Road. The Alabama Hills are North of the road on Movie Road. Here’s a Google Map.
Things to do at The Alabama Hills
The roads and trails around the rocks are great for cycling, hiking and running. There is a great developed trail out to the Mobius Arch that is signed and maintained by the BLM.
To get to Mobius arch drive 1.5 miles from the intersection of Whitney Portal Road until you come to a “Y” in the road. Go right and pull into the dirt parking area immediately on your left. You will see the trail sign on the left side of this parking area; this is where you begin your arch walk. The walk takes approximately 15 min. round trip and the terrain is hilly.
There are many rock climbs in the area and range from easy bolted climb to extremely hard sport climbed. The area is great for kids and novice climbers as there are many easy and very approachable routes. However, if you’re a hardpan, you can find enough to keep you tired and petrified all weekend.
All the low boulders around camp make for great little adventures for kids of all ages. We had a pair of 2 year olds on our last trip and they loved scrambling around on the rocks. We even took them up on some big ones and got them in little harnesses for roped climbs. Though their favorite thing was scrambling on the rocks right in camp.
For day trips you can head out to Whitney Portal Road and drive up to one of the two high sierra passes for a day or overnight hike. Whitney Portal is the start of the hike to Mt. Whitney and The John Muir Trail.Head south on Horseshoe Meadows Road and up the insanely steep paved road to Horseshoe Meadow and Cottonewood Lakes Trailhead. This is where you can approach Mt. Langley which is very nearly as high as Mt. Whitney and almost as cool a hike and WAY WAY less crowded. You need permits to even think about hiking the Whitney Trail, but nothing is required for hiking any of the trails at Horeseshoe Meadow. There are several hikes of varying difficulty here but the Old Army Pass hike is the shortest way to gain a lot of altitude and views. Cottonwood lake is a beautiful mountain lake right below Mt. Langley that is also easy to get to.
See High Sierra Peaks Trails and Passes and the resources below for more info on this area.
Alabama Hills Resources:
- High Sierra Peaks Trails and Passes
- Bishop Area Rock Climbs
- Tom Harrison Mt. Whitney Zone Trail Map
- Inyo National Forest, Mt. Whitney Ranger District
- John Muir Trail: The essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail
- Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce
- Alabama Hills Recreation Management Area: Recreation.gov
- Alabama Hills: Bureau of Land Management
- Lone Pine Film History Musuem