Have you ever needed to get out of your zip code and just enjoy nature for the weekend? That is exactly what Adam and I needed after I finished all of my schooling to become a Physical Therapist. We hadn’t been on an adventure in months and needed some fresh air and time away from our busy lives. Since we only had two days to spend exploring, we decided to head to Alabama Hills. We had been there two times before, but never for an extended period of time.
Alabama Hills is the perfect weekend getaway if you live near San Diego or Los Angeles. From San Diego, it is an approximately 4-4.5 hour drive (without traffic) and from Los Angeles about 3.5-4 hours. Alabama Hills is an ideal stopping point for the night if you are traveling further North to Mammoth Lakes or Lake Tahoe.
To get there: Take the 395 to Lone Pine and turn west towards the mountains onto Whitney Portal Road, then turn right onto Movie Road. The road starts out paved, then becomes dirt after about a mile. Any vehicle will make it on the main road, but a 2WD or 4WD vehicle is required for off-roading. (*Reception is bad, so make sure you remember your route wherever you go)
The best part about camping at Alabama Hills, you might ask? IT’S FREE! Alabama Hills is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is, therefore, considered to be public land. The mission of the BLM is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” This means that anyone can use this land without a fee and camp there for up to 14 days. *Note that this is primitive camping, so there are no bathrooms, showers, etc to use.
That being said, Alabama Hills has become a very popular place to pitch a tent for the night, rock climb or dirt bike around. An increase in visitors means more impact on the environment, so it is extremely important that you minimize your impact by leaving no trace when you depart, finding a campsite that has already been established, and avoiding disrupting the surrounding vegetation.
You will know if you find a spot that is already an established campsite because there will likely be a makeshift fire-pit built out of rocks. There are endless places to camp, so be respectful and give people space if they already have a spot set up.
To find our campsite, we drove a few miles on Movie Road, then turned right and off-roaded on the dirt roads until we found a spot way up high above everyone else in the valley. There were huge rock formations behind us, so we knew no one would be camping anywhere close. We set up our tent, explored and enjoyed the amazing view.
What can you do besides camp? Alabama Hills offers the chance for many different activities including hiking (AKA arch hunting), rock climbing, biking, off-roading and more. Hiking in Alabama Hills is called “arch hunting” because the granite rock formations that surround the area often make natural arches. Here is a link to a site with many of the arches listed.
During our first trip there one year ago, we did some “arch hunting” and found the famous Mobius Arch. This is a short 0.6 mile loop trail that takes you to the arch pictured above, which frames the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains and Mt. Whitney from the correct angle.
Even if you do not find any arches, hiking up onto the rocks for a better view is always fun, too! If you want to venture out of the high desert, there are also mountain hikes close by including Kearsarge Pass, Little Lakes Valley and Big Pine Lakes.
Average temperatures in Alabama Hills vary throughout the year from highs in the 50s in January to well over 100° in July and August. When we visited in May, the weather was in the low 80s during the day and high 50s at night. The wind picked up in the late afternoon, which made it bearable to sit in the shade and relax. Beware of the dry air there, it will make you feel like a raisin by the time you leave! Bring chapstick, plenty of sunscreen and body lotion. If you do not enjoy direct sunlight, bring an umbrella or other form of shade.
At night, we were able to sit by the fire without any jackets and we each only needed one blanket when we went to sleep. The wind kept up into the evening and helped keep our fire going (which we started using Doritos as kindling I might add), but died down in the evening and throughout the night. That meant we were able to take the rain fly off to get more airflow and enjoy the view of the night sky.
The morning brought quiet, still air and slightly cloudy skies. Perfect weather for enjoying a morning cup of joe in our camping chairs while taking in the view. We soaked in the view for a while until the clouds started to burn off and it started to get hot. Then it was time to pack up our gear and head out the way we came!
So that’s Alabama Hills in a nutshell! All the important details you should know before you go 🙂 Cosmo wants to know what you are all waiting for?! Plan your trip! Enjoy every moment while you are there and soak up those beautifully contrasting views. Leave any questions or comments below!