Looking for the best Alabama Hills Hiking? Wait- have you heard of the Alabama Hills? Hint: They are nowhere near Alabama!
I accidentally fell in love with the Alabama Hills while road tripping through California. And I also had never heard of them before! It began as a pit stop on the way to Joshua Tree National Park, but quickly turned into so much more.
The Alabama Hills refers to 30,000 acres of protected land formed by eroded rocks and hills beneath the towering Sierra Mountains in Southern California.
Its dramatic landscape is unlike anything I have experienced in my life. And film-makers would agree! HUNDREDS of films dating back 100 years ago began here.
The Alabama Hills are home to indigenous people who have lived here for thousands of years. Please respect their home.
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Alabama Hills Planning Details
The Alabama Hills are located just outside of the small town, Lone Pine, California. It is a short 60 minute drive from Bishop, California along Highway 395.
There is no public transportation within Lone Pine so it is essential you rent a car. It is also several hours from the nearest airport, so I highly recommend combining your visit with a longer California Road Trip.
The driving distance from popular starting points in California are here:
Los Angeles International Airport– 3.5 hours
McCarran International Airport– 4.5 hours
San Francisco International Airport– 6.5 hours
Joshua Tree National Park– 4 hours
Alabama Hills Weather
Alabama Hills sees hot, dry summers and cool winters. Average summer temperatures see an average of 90°F. It is not common for it to be hotter. Winter has day time temperatures around 40-50°F. Winter temperatures commonly drop below freezing at night.
There is little to no cell service in Alabama Hills. I highly recommend downloading offline maps before your trip! The closest town with cell service is Lone Pine. I stayed at Tuttle Campground and there was cell service here.
There is no cost to enter Alabama Hills. The public land is protected by the Bureau of Labor Management. There is also no ranger station or visitor’s center, so be sure to download offline maps before your trip.
There are 6 portable toilet bathrooms within Alabama Hills. They are in two locations: Across from Shark Fin Parking Lot, and at Mobius Arch Trailhead.
How many days in Alabama Hills?
Alabama Hills is easily doable as a one day trip. I recommend two days in Alabama Hills to spend time relaxing and enjoying the scenery at a leisurely pace.
Alabama Hills Arches
One of the most famous things to do in Alabama Hills, California is hike around its incredible naturally formed arches. Watch out Arches National Park! (but not really, because I’ve never been there and can’t compare…yet!)
The most famous arches in Alabama Hills are:
- Boot Arch
- Cyclops Skull Arch
- Eye of the Alabama Hills Arch
- Heart Arch
- Lathe Arch
- Mobius Arch
I recommend checking many arches off your list while hiking Arch Loop Trail. If you only have time to visit one, I recommend choosing Mobius Arch.
Alabama Hills Hiking
Its dramatic landscape and whimsical arches make Alabama Hills hiking a popular activity. Some of the top rated hiking at Alabama Hills on All Trails include Mobius Arch and Shark Fin.
Mobius Arch Loop Trail
Length: .6 miles
Mobius Arch is the largest arch within Alabama Hills. Park at the Arch Loop Trail parking lot and turn left. Walk 5 minutes up a short hill and you will be at Mobius Arch!
Tip: Do NOT walk downhill to begin the trail. This will bring you towards the Heart Arch. You cannot see Mobius Arch from your car, so it requires a bit of navigating.
Length: .6 miles
Lathe Arch is also located on Arch Loop Trail. It is a stellar, narrow arch formation. It’s easy to miss if you are not looking for it!
Arch Loop Trail
Length: 1 hour
After snapping photos at Mobius Arch, I recommend continuing along Arch Loop Trail. The trail features beautiful views of the Heart Ach and smaller, unnamed arches throughout the trail. There is a large parking lot here. (Arch Loop Trail is currently not listed on All Trails).
Shark Fin Loop Trail
Length: 1.7 miles
Shark Fin is a unique rock formation against Mount Whitney, especially at sunset! I didn’t complete the full trail but loved the views. It was worth every second!
Other things to do in Alabama Hills
Alabama Hills is enjoyable beyond the hiking trails. Consider famous activities like driving Alabama Hills Movie Road or exploring Lone Pine. If you’re interested in a water adventure, Diaz Lake is a hidden gem!
Alabama Hills Movie Road
The beauty of Alabama Hills caught the eye of filmmakers 100 years ago. Since then, over 400 movies have been filmed here! Legendary features include Iron Man and Gladiator. (My inner Marvel mega nerd was geeking out).
Movie Road is also one of the top pictures featured online when people search for Alabama Hills. Snapping the legendary photo is iconic!
Nightmare Rock is one of the first things that will catch your eye when you drive into Lone Pine! Locals repaint the face every so often. It’s quite the tradition! There is a pull-up viewpoint to hop out of your car and snap some photos of the rock.
It’s worthwhile to spend a little bit of time in the closest town to Alabama Hills!
- Museum of Western Film History
- Stroll downtown
- Lone Pine Film Festival (October)
The Museum of Western Film History requests a $5 entrance donation. I didn’t explore the museum but it has high reviews!
Tip: I recommend breakfast or coffee at locally owned Vibras. They have craft coffee, smoothies, juices, Acai bowls, and bagels.
Need a water fix amidst the desert?! 3 miles from Alabama Hills on Highway 395 sits Diaz Lake.
Diaz Lake was formed by an earthquake in 1872. The larger body on the other side of Highway 395, Owens Lake, filled in the sunken marsh to form a lake that is now Diaz lake today!
Diaz Lake is 80 acres and known for swimming, boating, water skiing, picnics, camping. There are no shower facilities at the campground. There is no lifeguard on duty so water activities are at your own risk. Diaz lake does not provide boat rentals so you must bring gear on your own.
Diaz Lake has bathrooms, a sheltered pavilion with benches, and ramp for strollers and wheelchairs to reach a bench next to the lake.
In addition to hiking, there are several adventure activities within Alabama Hills:
- Mountain Biking
- Rock Climbing
I LOVE rock climbing and was lucky to climb at both Shark Fin and Arizona Dome.
Shark Fin had a brittle approach, and the rocks throughout the climb are loose and fine. I do not recommend this route to beginner climbers. I always recommend checking climbing conditions on Mountain Project before beginning any climb, and completing your own check for safety conditions upon arrival.
Tip: It is essential to avoid off-roading when cycling or mountain biking. Stay on existing trails and roads in order to protect the desert environment on indigenous land.
Camping in Alabama Hills
Dispersed camping is permitted in the Alabama Hills. This means you can set up your tent site at a scenic spot of your choice within Alabama Hills for free. However, per the NPS website, a free permit will soon be required in order to ensure visitors are following all regulations to protect the land.
Nearby campgrounds are all within a few miles of Movie Road. They include bathrooms, picnic tables, and sites for RVs.
- BLM Tuttle Campground
- Lone Pine Campground
- Portuguese Joe Campground
I stayed at Tuttle Campground and enjoyed my experience. The views are beautiful, there are spacious tent sites, and a campground host was on site. There was also cell service during my visit!
Other places to stay in Alabama Hills
I recommend camping in Alabama Hills to save money and wake up to other-worldly views! But camping isn’t for everyone. There are a handful of simple, no frills hotel options in Lone Pine.
- Quality Inn Lone Pine
- Whitney Portal Hotel and Hostel
- Dow Villa Motel
Alabama Hills Packing List
Trail Shoes– I cannot stress the importance of comfortable shoes with strong traction on all hiking excursions. Happy feet = happy trip
Water Bottle– Hydration is key during all hiking trips! But especially in the dry, Alabama Hills summer heat. I recommend at least a gallon of water per person for a full hiking day.
Hydration Backpack– Packing my water into a Hydration Backpack like a Camelback or similar has been less strenuous on my back. Hydration packs usually feature side pockets for essentials like a camera or snacks
Packable Backpack– This is my favorite alternative to a Camelback. Packable backpacks are GREAT because you can roll them up and throw them into a suitcase or carry-on bag, and they take up LITERALLY no room at all.
For the chilly weather…
Rain shell– Wear this over your puffer jacket to make sure you stay dry if it snows. The best part is these are lightweight and packable!
Hiking Boots– Comfortable, waterproof hiking boots make all the difference in snowy weather. Keep your feet dry!
Where to go after Alabama Hills
I highly recommend visiting Alabama Hills as part of a longer California Road trip! Consider including the following on a Highway 395 road trip:
- June Lake
- Joshua Tree
Looking for further California hiking adventures? Consider the following:
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