Exploring Arch Loop Trail and Alabama Hills, CA

Just to the west of the sleepy little town of Lone Pine, California lies an incredible area to explore on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, Alabama Hills. This sparse area studded with cool rock formations and high desert flora is also the gateway to the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, sitting at 14,505′. This is also happens to be where Brian and I got engaged after a long and magical (and sometimes painful) week on the High Sierra Trail.

To get to Alabama Hills and some amazing views of Mt. Whitney, head west on Whitney Portal Road from the main street (HWY 395) in Lone Pine. After about 2 miles on Whitley Portal Road, you will pass the notable Nightmare Rock, which has taken on a few different forms over the years. It used to have a couple of eyes and some scary teeth painted on it, until late last year (2020), when someone thought it would be a good idea to paint over the teeth with an awfully cheesy-looking pair of lips. Although it’s still pretty cool, this is not the main destination and I recommend carrying on to much better rock formations.

In less than another mile you will reach Movie Flat Road. Take a right here and you will soon be deep into the famous Alabama Hills. It is called Movie Flat Road because it is said that over 400 movies have been filmed here. You have probably seen your fair share in Django Unchained, Tremors, Iron Man, Gladiator, How the West Was Won, and a bunch more (mostly westerns).

After you turn on Movie Flat Road, travel for a few minutes until there is a very prominent fork in the road and go right. Shortly after that you will see a pretty distinct parking area on the left for Arch Trail Loop. Travel either west or east on this loop and you will pass some amazing sights. If your goal is to reach the picturesque Mobius Arch at sunrise, which it should be for good reason, make sure you get to the trailhead 20 minutes before sunrise to allow for ample time to reach the arch. It is only a 5-10 minute hike to the arch, but when the sky lights up, you don’t want to miss it.

Mobius Arch with Mt. Whitney in the background just before sunrise.

After you get your Instagram worthy picture at Mobius Arch, continue on the trail, headed east, and you will eventually pass Heart Arch and some other great rock formations. Although I highly recommend coming here for sunrise, I don’t think that you will be disappointed no matter what time you come. It is a beautiful little loop trail off the main road and super accessible for all.

Heart Arch from Arch Loop Trail, Alabama Hills, CA
Hearts = Smooches

After your hike on the Arch Loop Trail, you can continue on Movie Road for miles and miles. There are numerous photography points along the way and dozens of hiking trails. Although we’ve been here a few times, we have never camped here and found a few places that we can’t wait to come back to.

Alabama Hills is so special and unique. If you are lucky enough to camp here, make sure to keep it as you left it. We are so fortunate to be able to explore public lands like we do. Happy trails!

Miles and miles of dirt to explore in Alabama Hills.

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