Do you love camping in unique landscapes with epic views for FREE? Then an Alabama Hills camping trip is the perfect adventure for you!
Wandering through the Alabama Hills feels like playing on nature’s playground, with hidden arches to hunt for, piles of boulders to climb on, and some of the most beautiful views Southern California has to offer! Before living in Southern California for a month, we had never heard of the Alabama Hills. Much to our delight, we discovered this incredible place where the desert meets the foothills of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. We were immediately blown away and made it our mission to spend as much time here as possible, taking in the surreal beauty found at the intersection of the desert and the mountains.
Best Alabama Hills Arches
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
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About the Alabama Hills
The Alabama Hills were officially designated as a National Scenic Area in 2019 and have been growing in popularity in recent years. The snow-capped peaks of the Eastern Sierras provide a sharp contrast against the orange piles of boulders of the Alabama Hills, making for one of the most spectacular natural landscapes we’ve ever seen. Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, is unmistakable towering over the desert landscape.
Although this hidden gem is off the radar of many, you’ve likely seen shots of this beautiful place without even knowing it. Over 400 film scenes and television commercials were filmed in the area, most notably “Django Unchained” and “How the West Was Won”. You may recognize glimpses of the famous “Movie Road” which winds through the Alabama Hills.
Located in Inyo County just minutes from the quaint town of Lone Pine and 1.5 hours from Ridgecrest, the Alabama Hills make for a great detour from a visit to Death Valley or Mammoth Lakes to the north.
Remember to Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in, stay on trail, be well-prepared, leave nothing behind, take only photos and memories with you, treat the area with respect and help preserve this beautiful spot for generations to come.
Alabama Hills Arches Map
The map below displays the location of each of the Alabama Hills arches and other landmarks covered in this article. Be sure to download the map before you embark on your adventure, as there is no service once you are in the Alabama Hills!
- To email this map for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
- To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map
Alabama Hills Arches
We’ll start by sharing our 6 favorite arches in the Alabama Hills, along with tips on how to find them, to get you started on your arch treasure hunt!
1. Cyclops Skull Arch
Our favorite arch, and perhaps the most difficult to find, is the Cyclops Skull Arch, aptly named for its distinctive skull-like shape. Of all the arches on this list, the Cyclops Skull Arch is the farthest from the entrance of the Alabama Hills, about 3 miles past the Mobius Arch Loop Trailhead.
The arch is best accessed from a spur road off Movie Road, and since it is hidden behind large piles of rocks, it will not be visible from the car. There is no designated trail, so you’ll really have to get your sleuthing hat on to find this beauty – and that’s part of what makes it so magnificent! We visited Cyclops Skull multiple times, and not once encountered another human in the vicinity.
2. Mobius Arch
Distance | 0.6 miles
Elevation gain | 42 feet
Time | 1 hour
Epic-ness rating | 8
Difficulty | easy
- Find this hike on AllTrails: Mobius Arch Loop Trail
While Cyclops Skull Arch tends to be a lesser known gem of the Alabama Hills, you are almost certain to share the view from under Mobius Arch with a few other eager photographers. The rock formation is best known for perfectly framing the stunning Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States.
To access Mobius Arch, take the quick, easy 0.6 mile hike on the Mobius Arch Loop Trail. The sunset from Mobius Arch is spectacular, and this spot makes for amazing astrophotography. Visit on a weeknight for the best shot of having the view to yourself!
3. Lathe Arch
If you hike to Mobius Arch, make sure you don’t miss it’s sneaky hidden neighbor, the Lathe Arch! Lathe Arch is wedged in behind a huge rock opposite from Mobius (think towards the mountains). While it’s a bit difficult to find, this narrow little arch perfectly frames the stunning Eastern Sierras in the distance, making it worth the additional hunting required to find it.
4. Heart Arch
Located along the trail to Mobius Arch, Heart Arch is known for, as the name implies, its heart-like shape. This arch is a bit less magnificent than some of the others, as it doesn’t match the size of Mobius, Lathe, or Cyclops Skull, but the unique shape and easy access make it a popular attraction. This one can be a bit difficult to see so make sure you keep your eyes peeled while on the trail!
5. Boot Arch
As you drive towards the Cyclops Arch, look out for the Boot Arch, which can be seen in the distance from the road. Once again, this arch is aptly named for it’s boot-like appearance. Although the Boot Arch is small, its distinctive shape sticks out like sour thumb among the piles of boulders that speckle the landscape.
As you hunt for the Cyclops Skull Arch, take a quick detour to visit the Boot Arch up close and personal (P.S. it makes for a good clue that you are in the vicinity of the hidden Cyclops Arch).
6. Eye of the Alabama Hills Arch
Located between the Movie Road photo spot and the trailhead to Mobius Arch, you can find the Eye of the Alabama Hills. If you are driving from the Mobius Arch to the photo spot (see #8 on this list), the Eye will be off the road to the right. This is another arch that can be hard to miss, but you can’t visit the Alabama Hills and not see the Eye!
To get up close to the arch, you will need to scramble up a bit of a hill but the view back down the hill, across the road, and towards the Eastern Sierras is remarkable!
Other can’t miss landmarks in the Alabama Hills
To top of your arch-hunting adventure, we just had to include a few additional must see landmarks to complete your visit to the Alabama Hills.
7. Shark Fin
Distance | 1.7 miles
Elevation gain | 250 feet
Time | 1 hour
Epic-ness rating | 5
Difficulty | easy
- Find this hike on AllTrails: Shark Fin Loop
While it may not be an arch, the Shark Fin rock is another absolute must see in the Alabama Hills. You’ve probably picked up by now that the Alabama Hills takes naming its landmarks very literally…
The Shark Fin is visible in the distance from Movie Road, but a short walk gets you up close to this massive, distinctively shaped rock. If you’re into rock climbing, you can also clip in and climb up to the top of the Shark Fin. The Sierra Nevadas in the background make for stunning views as you make your way out to the Shark Fin.
8. Movie Road Photo Spot
Chances are if you have an instagram, you’ve seen countless shots of people strolling or driving down a seemingly endless road through the desert, with a stunning mountain back-drop in the distance. This spot is also the scene for numerous films and commercials, so even if you aren’t a fan of instagram, you may recognize this iconic spot.
Now, we have to admit the views here are just as stunning in real life as they appear in photos. Watching the sun come up and slowly illuminate the mountains before slowly sliding across the vast landscape is truly a magical experience! That being said, expect to share it with a crowd (especially on a weekend morning). If you are a photographer, prepare to battle for a coveted spot on the road at the top of hill.
Tip: if you prefer to avoid crowds, visit anytime during the day and you’re likely to have it to yourself. If watching the sunrise is a must-do, plan to visit on a weekday for less competition on that perfect shot.
Planning your trip to the Alabama Hills
In the following section, we’ll help you plan your visit to the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, including where to stay, what to pack, and the best time to visit.
When is the best time to visit the Alabama Hills?
The Alabama Hills are open year-round, but the best time to visit is during the spring and fall when temperatures are mildest. During the summer, daytime temperatures can get very hot and during the winter snow is not uncommon.
Where to stay in the Alabama Hills
When visiting the Alabama Hills, numerous camping options are available, or you can stay in the nearby town of Lone Pine.
Dispersed camping in the Alabama Hills
One of the coolest parts about the Alabama Hills? Free dispersed camping! That’s right – you can camp anywhere you can find flat ground in this nature-lovers paradise. But, make sure to arrive early to secure a good campsite. It’s a popular spot (for good reason!).
Check out our article on camping in the Alabama Hills for more info!
Note that the rules for dispersed camping in the Alabama Hills have changed starting in 2022. Visit the BLM website for the most up-to-date information.
Other Campgrounds near the Alabama Hills
If you prefer an established campground to dispersed camping, you have a few options for campgrounds in the area:
- Whitney Portal Campground: the most convenient option, as it’s located just across the street from the trailhead. Of course, that also means it’s the most popular and difficult to get a reservation. Standard sites cost $28/night and may be reserved in advance on recreation.gov.
- Lone Pine Campground: located off Whitney Portal Road, about 15 minutes from the trailhead. Sites cost$26/night and may be reserved in advance during the summer on recreation.gov.
- Tuttle Creek Campground: First-come-first-serve campground located about 25 minutes from the Lone Pine Lake Trailhead. Sites cost $8/night
If camping isn’t your style, you can find a hotel or Airbnb in the quaint nearby town of Lone Pine. With numerous cute restaurant and shopping options, strolling around Lone Pine feels like you’ve stepped back in time to the wild, wild West.
Getting around in the Alabama Hills
The main road through the Alabama Hills, Movie Road, is a bumpy washboard dirt road. That being said, the majority of the area is accessible even without high clearance or 4WD. Use caution if it has recently rained, as the roads may become muddy, and be sure to have a spare tire just in case.
There is no cell service on the majority of Movie Road in the Alabama Hills. We recommend having a GPS device, like the Garmin InReach Mini, with you in case your car breaks down or you get a flat tire.
What to pack for visiting the Alabama Hills
- Backpack with bladder | The Camelback Helena is the perfect size for packing all your essentials for a day of exploring in the Alabama Hills, and comes with a 2-liter bladder.
- Extra Water | Note that there is no water available in the Alabama Hills, so we’d recommend keeping extra water in your car (we use Platypus 2-liter bottles for storing additional water to avoid buying gallons at the store).
- Hiking pants | These Athleta Headlands pants are my absolute favorite! Plus all the pockets make them more stylish, so they can double as normal pants. Matt’s go to hiking pants are his PrAna Stretch Zion Pants.
- Pullovers | I have two Smartwool Merino 1/4 Zips and I absolutely love them! Warm, comfortable and stylish, they are the perfect base layer for colder hikes. Matt also has the men’s version of the Smartwool Merino 1/4 Zip.
- Tanks | A sports bra and tank all in one, the Athleta Conscious Crop is perfect for a hot day in the desert. This tank are so comfortable and convenient I have it in several colors!
- Sunscreen and sunglasses | There is no shade in most of the Alabama Hills and the desert sun can be intense.
- Garmin InReach Mini GPS | There is no cell service in most of the Alabama Hills, so it’s great to have in case of an emergency (or to be able to contact someone in case of a flat tire or broken down vehicle).
If visiting the Alabama Hills in the winter, early spring, or late fall, you’ll also want to pack the following items:
- Down Jacket | My Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody Women’s Down Hoodie is lightweight and incredibly warm with 850 fill down. If you hate being cold (like me) this is the jacket for you! The quality is top notch and totally worth the extra warmth.
- Gloves and hats | If visiting the Alabama Hills in winter or early spring/late fall, it can be be very cold and the wind chill is rough!
Other Useful Resources
Looking for more to do in the area? With just a quick drive from the Alabama Hills, you can reach several awesome hikes into the Sierra Nevadas, including:
- Eastern Sierras: Lone Pine Lake: a 6.5 mile hike to a beautiful alpine lake, that shares the trailhead for Mount Whitney.
- Eastern Sierras: Tuttle Creek Ashram: a moderate 4.3 mile hike to an old spiritual ashram with awesome views of the surrounding mountains and desert valley below.
If you’re headed to Southern California, we think you may also find these resources helpful:
- Joshua Tree: How to Spend One Perfect Day in Joshua Tree National Park
- Death Valley: 9 Things to Do in Death Valley (& How to Escape the Crowds)
- Death Valley: A Complete Guide to Death Valley: Hiking, Camping & Road Trip Logistics
- Death Valley: Backpacking to the Panamint Sand Dunes in Death Valley
- Death Valley: Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, Badlands & Zabriskie Point Hike
For all things California: California Travel Guide
Questions or comments about visiting the Alabama Hills? Comment below!