Between our visit to Yosemite Park and the crossing of Death Valley, we spent a night in Lone Pine. Close to this town are the Alabama Hills, famous rocks that you have surely seen… on TV!
What are the Alabama Hills?
The Alabama Hills are rocks located on a slope of the Sierra Nevada. As a reminder, the Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in eastern California.
Its rocks are spread over an area of just under 50 square kilometers. The highest point is 3,38 ft above sea level.
Why are the Alabama Hills so famous?
In Europe, unless you are an expert in American geography or have traveled to California, you don’t know the name. But, in the United States, Alabama Hills is a famous place. The main reason is that it is often chosen by film crews.
The setting lends itself perfectly to westerns, scenes supposedly set in Mexico, or any action taking place in a rocky desert.
Scenes from movies like Gladiator, Iron Man, The Lone Ranger and Star Trek: Generation have been shot in the Alabama Hills.
Where are the Alabama Hills?
Their location is ideal for anyone taking a road trip in the western United States.
These rocky hills are adjacent to the town of Lone Pine, which itself is located along US-395. This is the road taken to get from Yosemite to Death Valley.
By car, the travel time to reach the Alabama Hills is:
- 1 hour from Death Valley National Park
- 4 hours from Yosemite Valley
- 3 hours from Los Angeles
- 5 hours from Las Vegas.
Does it cost anything to visit the Alabama Hills?
No. Unlike the national parks, there are no fees to pay at the entrance. There is no checkpoint, you just drive through the rocks without any information or signs.
Can we sleep in the Alabama Hills?
During our visit to the hills, we met many travelers with RVs. They are often people who rent these vehicles to tour the national parks from Utah to Death Valley.
With Amelie, we chose to sleep in a hotel in Lone Pine located less than 3 miles from the main road of the Alabama Hills. In this small town, you also have restaurants and a small supermarket.
There are several hotels and campgrounds in this town.
Is it easy to get around in the Alabama Hills?
Yes and no. It all depends on your car. Most of the roads in the area are not paved. However, they are in good condition.
With a motor home or SUV, you’ll have no trouble driving. With our rented Ford sedan, I was reluctant to drive on these roads, for fear of damaging the bodywork with stones or getting it completely dirty because of the dust.
What to see in the Alabama Hills?
In Lone Pine, or just before the rocks, you have two things to see:
- A monument was erected at the entrance of the town in honor of the 27 people who died in an earthquake in 1872
- The Museum of Western Film History: This museum is highly rated on Google. It has many objects from western movies (vehicles, costumes, posters, props…). Most of these objects were seen in old westerns, but there are also some more recent ones like the stagecoach from Django (the Tarantino’s film).
Then, the main thing to see is the rocks and other natural wonders. For that, you take the Movie Flat Road. As the name suggests, the road takes you through the places used in some famous movies.
You will see many arches:
- One Mile Arche Heart Arch
- Behind the Heart Arch
- Mobius Arch (probably the most famous arch in the Alabama Hills)
- Lathe Arch
- Boot Arch
- Cyclop Arch…
I put a special mention to the Nightmare Rock, a natural rock that has been painted to form a somewhat terrifying face. It is also called Miss Alabama.
These natural attractions can be discovered via small hikes like:
- The Arch Loop Trail: a loop of about a mile
- Shark Fin Trailhead: a small walking trail with little relief and an exceptional view of Mount Whitney, a 4417 m Californian peak!
- The Eye Alabama Arch Trail
- The Boot Arch Trail
- The Cyclop Arch Trail
- The Whitney Portal Arch Trail…
In the southern part of the Alabama Hills, a loop of about ten miles is possible on a paved road. It is called the Picture Rocks Circle.
If you don’t have a specific program or much time, my recommendation is to take the Movie Flat Road and go at least as far as the Mobius Arch. This is where you see the most beautiful scenery.
It is possible that you will come across one or more ongoing shoots. This was the case for us from the beginning of the hills. We were not able to get close because a security service was blocking access. So, we don’t know which film was going on.
For a long visit, don’t hesitate to bring a guide book to recognize more easily the arches you see.
Did we like Alabama Hills?
It was clearly not the best visit of our vacation. Yosemite was a much better time and in a desert style, Death Valley offers more variety of landscapes.
Nevertheless, the Alabama Hills are worth a visit. Moreover, our opinion is logically mixed because we only saw a tiny part of the hills. We had some time to spare but were embarrassed by the idea of driving for a long time on the trail with the rental car.
Worse, the first time we got out of the car, we hadn’t even gone a mile when I twisted my ankle on a big rock… Bottom line, we saw more of the arches in the car, turned around to go back to the hotel and put ice on the joint.
So if you are visiting the Alabama Hills, I suggest you list things to see before you enter the area, then with your GPS or a map, get there. This way you will really enjoy the amazing views and scenery offered by this place.