The Alabama Hills National Scenic Area is a BLM managed property near Lone Pine in Inyo County, California. The scenic area encompasses a landscape of outstanding rock formations that includes some of the best examples of rock arches in the entire United States. The Alabama Hills NSA nestles between the Kings Canyon National Park to the west, the Death Valley National Park to the east and the Sequoia National Forest to the south. The rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada can be seen from the NSA to the north, adding another scenic element to an already amazing location.
Over the years, the unusual geological aspects of the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area have attracted the attention of many movie producers and directors and the area has been used extensively as a film location. As well as hiking through the area - and there are some amazing trails nearby - it's possible to tour the sections of the hills used in Rawhide and television series such as Bonanza as well as many other big-screen spectaculars. For avid fans of the Wild West genre, there's even a museum of Western film history to visit in Lone Pine. Active adventurers will love testing their skills in the special area of the Alabama Hills designated for rock climbing. Keen photographers won't be short of an endless number of interesting shots appearing before their camera lens. The NSA also has almost next to no light pollution which makes stargazing a fantastic and rewarding night-time occupation.
Another great fact about the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area is that there's a BLM campground and a Corps campground within a ten-minute drive. That means you won't have far to go from your RV to enjoy these stunningly unique BLM lands.
The Alabama Hills National Scenic Area is a relatively easy to access BLM property. The US 395 runs adjacent to the entire eastern border of the NSA. Both the BLM managed Turtle Creek Campground and the Corps managed Lone Pine Campground can be reached via Whitney Portal Road which leads off the US 395 in Lone Pine. The highway and road receive a decent amount of traffic and so are well-maintained. The Alabama Hills NSA is a popular place for RV camping and you'll have no problem negotiating the route to whichever campground you've decided on.
If you're traveling to the Alabama Hills NSA from Los Angeles, once you've bypassed the Angeles National Forest, you'll be able to hit the CA 14 in the direction of Bradys. In Bradys, you can join the US 395 northbound. From Bradys, you'll have a straight run to the NSA. It's one that will take you in total around four and a quarter hours. On the way, you'll pass by the Coso Range Wilderness Area which is another BLM managed property. If you're motoring down from the north after a few days of RV camping in the Inyo National Forest, you can join the US 395 southbound in Mammoth Lakes. It's a scenic drive through desert and forest landscapes that will take you less than two hours to complete.
The Lone Pine Campground is a US Army Corps of Engineers managed campground on the edge of the Inyo National Forest. The campground can be accessed from Lone Pine by driving seven miles west along the Whitney Portal Road. The campground is closed during the months of January, February and March. From the end of April through to the end of October is classed as peak season and reservations should be made prior to arrival via the recreation.gov website. From the beginning of November to the end of December the site operates on a first-come-first-served basis.
At the Lone Pine Campground, there are twenty-eight campsites for RVs up to thirty-five feet in length. The pitches are distributed around a dirt field covered in sagebrush, surrounded by low hills and bordered in part by the Lone Pine Creek. There are no hook-ups or water on the campground and visitors there should be aware of possible bear activity and keep food products locked away. The nearest showers are an eight-mile drive away at a local general store. There are vault toilets only on the campground.
The Turtle Creek Campground is a BLM managed campground about five miles outside of Lone Pine. The campground can be reached via the Whitney Portal Road of the US 395 then by driving one and a half miles along Horseshoe Meadow Road. The entrance to the campground is signposted. The campground is open all year round and operates on a first-come-first-served basis for the entire twelve months. The campground is a favorite with anglers as Turtle Creek runs right through the middle of the site. There are also excellent views of the mountains and of Owen Lake to the south.
The Turtle Creek Campground offers RVers the choice between eighty-three dirt-surfaced pitches distributed around a sand-and-boulder covered stretch of desert. Shade is sparse, though there are a few trees. There are no hook-ups at any of the campsites and water is only available at the campground from March to October. All the pitches have been furnished with picnic tables, grills, and fire rings. There are two corrals for horses and a dump station service. The use of either can be acquired for a small extra fee. There are no showers, but a block of vault toilets has been installed.
A great way to explore the geological diversity of the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area is by hiking the Mobus Arch Trail. The trailhead for the half-mile long loop can be reached by taking the Movie Flat Road which leads off the Whitney Portal Road. The trail is a dirt track that winds through a desert landscape culminating at the Mobus Arch, a very eye-catching rock formation. Keep trekking along the Movie Flat Road and you'll find the Eye of Alabama Hills Arch. To see more try either the Shark Fin Trail or the Arun Falls Trail; the trailheads to both are also on Movie Flat Road.
Hikers who have pitched camp at the Lone Pine Campground may be tempted to head over to the trailhead of the Mount Whitney Trail which is close by. The trail runs through the John Muir Wilderness and all hikers are required to obtain a wilderness permit before setting out.
The Alabama Hills are a fantastic place to go climbing. Although many of the routes are less than a hundred feet, you'll find there are elements that will challenge but are ultimately rewarding. Check out the four established routes on the aptly named Sharks Fin and in under two hours you'll be balancing on top of a narrow rock pinnacle with sensational views.
There are easily more than a dozen different faces to climb in the Alabama Hills and all with enticing names like the Alabama Dome, Peter Gabriel Cliff and Poodle Wall. You'll need to be RV camping at the Alabama Hills NSA for a month to conquer them all.
Anglers heading to the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area will be pleased to know that if they pitch camp in their RV at the Turtle Creek Campground, they'll be in the right spot for some first-class fishing. Turtle Creek is one of the nearest and best spots for hooking trout. It's not the only place to go fishing though and you'll find the Lone Pine Creek just as productive as both waterways are regularly stocked by the California Department of Fish and Game.
Serious trout anglers visiting the Lone Pine area won't want to miss taking a trip into the Golden Trout Wilderness Area which is divided between the Sequoia and Inyo National Forests a twenty-minute drive south of the town. It's a trout fishing paradise covering over three hundred thousand acres.
There is so much to see and do in the national parks and forests around the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area that it's easy to miss an exciting activity. To find out all about the area, what's happening and where, stop off at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center just south of Lone Pine on the US 395. It's also the place where you can pick up your campfire or wilderness permit as well as an armful of maps and brochures. There's a scenic viewpoint at the center too from where you can see Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the south of the United States.
Browse around the Museum of Western Film History on the main street of Lone Pine and you'll get a fascinating insight into the history of the Wild West film genre and the role the Alabama Hills have played in many popular movies. The museum houses more than forty permanent exhibitions of artefacts and memorabilia from the times of silent movies right up to the present day. You can also pick up a map for a self-guided tour of all the film locations in the area from the museum.
Twenty minutes drive north of Lone Pine is the Manzanar National Historic Site. The site was a prisoner of war camp during WW2 and housed more than ten thousand Japanese-Americans. At the site there is a reconstructed barracks, mess hall, zen gardens and a Judo Dojo. You can explore the site alone or take a guided tour led by a ranger from the visitor center. Whichever you decide to do, it's an eye-opener to the past.