Set against the south-eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, off Highway 395 near Lone Pine, California, the Alabama Hills are a mish-mash of rounded boulders and wind-etched land. This beautiful jumble of rocks is part of a 30,000-acre section of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Think of it like Joshua Tree National Park without the Joshua trees … and with much more freedom for your dog!
The Hills are a destination for day hikers, rock climbers, campers, mountain bikers, and more — essentially anyone who wants to explore a wonderfully unique landscape with outstanding mountain views. Cool Whip, Hercules, and I fell into the several of those categories as we explored Alabama Hills with our rental adventure van. We camped out, hiked along trails, searched for natural arches, and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
You’ll roll into the area on Movie Road, a wash-boarded and sometimes sandy road. It is doable for most vehicles, as long as you take it slow and use extra caution if it rains. The road got it name for the numerous movies filmed in the area. Some of the more well-known movies include Rawhide, How the West was Won, Tremors, Gladiator, and Iron Man. You can pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour of some of the filming locations from the The Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine.
And don’t overlook this lovely little town! Just 10 minutes from Alabama Hills, this is your closest access to gas stations, dining, and hotels. Several of the restaurants have dog-friendly patios when you’re ready to kick back and relax. Also, some of the hotels have pet-friendly rooms if you’re not up for camping.
Camping options are plentiful throughout the Alabama Hills area. Turtle Creek Campground (BLM), Lone Pine Campground (Forest Service), and Portagee Joe Campground (Inyo County) all offer designated campsites for RVs and tents. Dispersed camping is allowed in any of the previously disturbed locations tucked among the boulders. Just keep an eye out for sensitive environmental areas — the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group and the BLM monitor the health of the land and occasionally fence off areas to preserve and promote the growth of native plants.
Natural arches are a big draw in Alabama Hills. Mobius Arch and Lathe Arch are two of the most popular arches as they provide perfectly framed views of Mount Whitney. The trail to these arches is short and well maintained, which makes it a great option for any dog. Cyclops Arch and Boot Arch can be found if you venture north of the main area in Alabama Hills. There is no signage for these two arches, so get directions online before you go. They are worth scouting out if you and your dog enjoy exploring less-defined trails and a bit of solitude. And there are a multitude of other unnamed arches, holes, and lookouts through the Hills that you’ll come across while wandering among the boulders.
The rocks in the Hills are part of fun. Their unique texture makes the boulders very “grippy” and fairly easy to scramble across. Cool Whip and Hercules climbed up and over every rock they encountered without any abnormal wear and tear on their paws, but pack protective boots for your pup if he has sensitive paws or is not used to rough textures.
Alabama Hills is very popular in the spring and late fall when the weather is ideal for exploring outdoors (highs around 65-70 degrees). Use caution when visiting this area in the summer as the temperatures climb into the high 90s. There is no potable water in the Hills, so be sure to fill up before you leave Lone Pine, because once you arrive at Alabama Hills, you and your dog are not going to want to leave!