Alabama Hills Movie Road: How to Get to (and Photograph!) the Most Stunning Road in the United States

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Heading out on a road trip through Southern California? If so, put the Alabama Hills on your bucketlist, known for its large rounded rock formations jutting out of the earth with epic mountains towering in the distance. The stunning Alabama Hills is home to the ever-popular Movie Road, a long dirt path with stellar views of Mount Whitney and the other Sierra Nevadas soaring above.

So if you want to see- and capture- the beauty of Alabama Hills Movie Road for yourself, here’s everything you need to know to get the most stunning photos of this incredible gem, from how to get there to the best time of day to visit. 

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What is the Alabama Hills Movie Road? 

First off, let’s talk about the Alabama Hills. This little slice of heaven is a protected National Scenic Area, reserved for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities for the public enjoyment, located just east of Yosemite National Park.

It’s become quite famous with Instagrammers and the like due to its unique landscape- the area is covered with enormous rounded boulders made of metamorphic volcanic rock and monzogranite, some of which date back to over 100 million years old! And if that weren’t enough, the eastern Sierra Nevadas serve as its dramatic backdrop, towering up to 14,500 feet above the desert floor. 

Sierra Nevada Mountains from the Alabama Hills

And so why is it called Movie Road?

Because of its jaw-dropping scenery (and its reasonable proximity to Los Angeles), the Alabama Hills were the go-to shooting destination for old Westerns in the 1930s through 1950s- think the Lone Ranger and pretty much any movie with John Wayne in it.

It’s still used as a shooting location for movies and television today, from Gladiator to Iron Man and Godzilla. In fact, there’s a Johnny Walker ad that’s being aired at the time I’m writing this that I’m 99% sure was literally filmed at the campsite my husband and I stayed at while we were visiting! 

Sun rising over camper on Alabama Hills Movie Road

How to get to Alabama Hills Movie Road

The Alabama Hills are located right outside of the tiny town of Lone Pine, California, just over 3 hours from Los Angeles, 4 hours from Las Vegas, and 7 hours from San Francisco. To get to the Insta-famous spot along Movie Road, you can plug this into your GPS app. Given that cell coverage can be pretty spotty in this area, I’d also recommend downloading offline maps on your Google Maps app to make sure you don’t get lost along the way. 

No matter which way you’re coming from, you’ll eventually reach Lone Pine via U.S. Route 395. This entire area is one of the best places to visit in California.

The scenery along Highway 395 is simply stunning, taking you from the barren landscape of Death Valley (home to the lowest point in North America), to the Alabama Hills (with Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, rising above) and on to the incredible skiing and hot springs in Mammoth Lakes and Bridgeport, like Buckeye Hot Springs or Travertine Hot Springs. This area is absolutely made for road trips, so I hope the Alabama Hills are but a stop along the way!

If you use the coordinates I provided above, your GPS should take you to the right spot, but here are the directions to make sure you’re headed the right way. From Lone Pine’s Main Street, you should go west on Whitney Portal Road for about 2.8 miles.

Along the way, you’ll pass a somewhat terrifying giant rock painted with a face (fittingly called “Nightmare Rock”) and a sign that says “Alabama Hills Recreation Area”, both on your right hand side. Take a right on the next road you see and continue straight for about 2.8 miles (the road will turn from gravel to dirt). When you start noticing that you’re driving a bit uphill, you’ve done it- you’re at the Insta-famous spot.

Nightmare Rock along Alabama Hills Movie Road

 You can’t park along the side of the road here (please don’t block the road or park where you’re not supposed to- the environment here is incredible fragile!), so you’ll need to continue up the road a bit to where the road curves to the left to find a parking lot to both the left and the right (about 0.25 miles up the road) 

While you’re walking up the road to take photos, please watch out for traffic coming either direction, especially if you’re wandering around before sunrise. People tend to drive a little recklessly in wilderness lands and no matter how epic the photos are here, they’re not worth dying over!

When to visit the Alabama Hills

For the best photos, come to the Alabama Hills in either winter or spring, when the Sierra Nevadas are covered in snow and the daytime temperatures are usually pretty pleasant. Word of warning, though- the weather can get quite frigid at night, so if you’re planning on camping in the Alabama Hills, come prepared with the appropriate gear and lots of warm layers!

Summer is a popular season to visit as well- however, temperatures in this dry, desert environment regularly exceed 100 degrees and there’s little to no vegetation around to provide shade. Fall has nicer weather, with moderate temperatures and clear skies, but the Sierra Nevadas will look not quite as epic (but, like, still pretty damn epic), without a dusting of snow. 

Sunrise over Alabama Hills Movie Road

Tips for getting Awesome photos Along Alabama Hills Movie Road

Okay, so what’s the secret sauce to getting some incredible shots at the Alabama Hills Movie Road?

1. Visit at sunrise.

While this place is stunning no matter what time of day you visit, the best time for photos of Movie Road is at sunrise. If you’re facing the Sierra Nevadas, the sun will rise behind you, first illuminating the peaks with soft pink and golden light and gently casting glowy light on the rest of the mountains.

I’d also recommend getting there a bit earlier than you’d think you need to- between finding a parking spot and running up and down the road to find a spot we liked (all in the dark!), we allllmost missed the sun first hitting the mountain peaks. Reminder that a ton of people camp right along Movie Road, so please be quiet and respectful when you’re getting in and out of your car and running around getting photos.

To avoid having to wake up at an ungodly hour, I’d suggest camping in the Alabama Hills– not only will you not have to wake up quite so early, but it’s also my favorite place I’ve been camping- literally ever!

Daylight over Alabama Hills Movie Road

2. Dress appropriately.

No matter the season, the Alabama Hills’ desert climate is usually pretty frosty in the morning. My husband and I visited in mid-May and still were quite cold watching sunrise, despite wearing puffy winter coats and knit hats- so be sure to bring some warm layers, regardless of what time of year you visit!

After we were done taking photos, we wrapped ourselves up in a blanket, shared a warm and yummy thermos of coffee, and watched the sunlight spill across the mountains- I highly recommend you do the same!

3. Bring a wide-angle lens.

The Alabama Hills Movie Road is so picturesque, photos will look incredible no matter what you’re shooting with- whether you have a fancy DSLR camera or just a simply iPhone.

That being said, of course, photos taken with a good camera- and more importantly, a nice wide-angle lens to capture all of the layers, texture, and color of the incredible landscape- will look even more stunning. The photos in this post were captured with a Sony a7III, coupled with a Sony 16-35mm Vario-Tessar lens, which did an awesome job of capturing all of the beauty of the Alabama Hills Movie Road in just one frame. 

Sunrise at Alabama Hills Movie Road

4. Get creative.

Most people snap photos along the long, flat section of the road, but walk around and see if there are any other spots that strike your fancy. We found this spot along the road that’s bookmarked on either side with two huge rock formations, which I think highlights the uniqueness of the foreground (rather than just focusing on the epicness of the background). So don’t be afraid to try something different than what you’ve seen on social media!

Things to Do Near Alabama Hills Movie Road

Okay, so you drove to the Alabama Hills Movie Road and got your epic shots… no what? Well, there’s tons of awesome things to do around the Alabama Hills:

Hiking:

This area is directly at the foot of the gorgeous Sierra Nevadas, so it should come as no surprise that there’s some killer hiking options around. If you want to explore the Alabama Hills themselves a bit more deeply, the Mobius Arch is an easy and popular trail, leading to a photogenic natural arch framing the snow-capped mountains.

If you’re up for something a bit more strenuous, the most epic hike in the area, of course, is climbing Mount Whitney, which requires snagging a highly coveted permit year round. Not a lucky permit winner? A great alternative is the Mount Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Lake trail, where you can climb a portion of the way up Whitney to a beautiful alpine lake.

Mobius Arch near Alabama Hills Movie Road

Mountain biking:

The Alabama Hills Loop is a popular, 14.7-mile single track descent (after a grueling initial climb, of course) through the area’s massive boulder fields and in the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas.

Museum of Western Film History

For something a bit different, check out the Museum of Western Film History, which chronicles Western films throughout American history, as well as movies of all types that have used the Alabama Hills as a shooting location. While I know next to nothing about western films, the museum’s stunning array of Western memorabilia and movie artifacts was a glimpse into a side of Americana I rarely think about and well worth the $5 admission fee. 


There you have it- everything you need to know to get the most epic shots of Alabama Hills Movie Road. Let me know if you have any tips or tricks about getting photos here that I missed in the comments below!

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