Post Summary: The Best Places To Go Camping at Alabama Hills, California
Looking for free camping along your Southern California road trip? We’re on the same page!
Famously known for being a popular location for old school western movies, Alabama Hills is actually much more than that! It’s full of beautiful geological features, opportunities to hike, and most importantly, free camping.
Lodging on a road trip can get expensive, so that’s why we’re sharing about free camping in Alabama Hills.
In this post, we’re sharing how to camp for free in Alabama Hills, and what to expect in this unique place in Southern California.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s start packing the car and hitting the road!
The Complete Alabama Hills Camping Guide
Where is Alabama Hills?
Alabama Hills is located east of the Sierra Mountains in Southern California. It’s on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, labeled as a recreation area. It’s surrounded by many well-known national parks, including Death Valley, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite.
This means Alabama Hills is available to the public for free camping, hiking, climbing, and more! If you’re hoping to find an adventurous location to camp in California, look no further!
- Distance from Los Angeles to Alabama Hills: 3.5-hour drive, 211 miles
- Distance from Las Vegas to Alabama Hills: 4-hour drive, 231 miles
- Distance from San Diego to Alabama Hills: 5-hour drive, 300 miles
“It’s BLM Land, So I Can Camp Anywhere I Want, Right?”
Not exactly. Yes, Alabama Hills recreation area is open to the public for FREE for activities such as camping. But this is definitely not, however, space where you can make up your own rules.
In order to keep this place available for camping and recreation for years to come, people camping in Alabama Hills MUST adhere to the Leave No Trace principles and the guidelines in place for preserving Alabama Hills.
Keep reading below for successful (and sustainable!) camping in Alabama Hills, California.
Alabama Hills Camping Tips For A Successful Trip
We can’t state enough the importance of sustainable camping, especially in such a fragile place as Alabama Hills.
Why are we sharing about it then? Why even tell people about camping in Alabama Hills?
Well, because it’s a public space, one that we don’t have ownership over, and that our actions can have lasting consequences. Therefore, we decided to carve out this little corner of the internet to chat about responsible camping, what it looks like, and how you can do it, too. This post is for educational purposes and to get more positive information out there for all the outdoor lovers just like us!
1. Brush Up On Leave No Trace Principles
Because this land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and there are no reservations for camping, it can feel a little bit like a free-for-all to do whatever you want.
This is certainly not the case – because this land is for ALL our enjoyment, we ALL are responsible for keeping it clean and safe for future users. Make sure to brush up on Leave No Trace Principles and try to leave your campsite better than you found it!
Here’s a small overview of the 7 Leave No Trace Practices:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel/Sleep on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Don’t Bring Anything (rocks, plants, animals) home with you. Leave things as they are.
- Minimize Campfire Impact
- Don’t Disturb Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
2. Find A Previously Used Site To Set Up Camp
Expanding on the Leave No Trace Principles “Minimize Your Impact”, it’s important to search for an Alabama Hills campsite that has been used for camping previously. This way, you aren’t adding new tracks or disturbing any growing vegetation.
If there is an open site with a used fire pit and cleared area, definitely choose that instead of blazing your own trail!
3. Call Ahead To Check For Fire Bans
Hoping to cook dinner around an open fire? Call ahead and make sure there are no fire bans in place. Being located in Southern California, certain times of the year are more restrictive with fire rules than others. Often, you will see fire restrictions in place during the summer months, June through September.
It will save you a lot of scrambling and last-minute planning if you call ahead and double-check before you make any plans to build a fire!
The number to call for fire bans in Alabama Hills is: (760) 876-6200
4. Set Up Camp Between or Near Large Boulders For Protection
Because Alabama Hills is located in the Southern California desert, the wind can be a fickle friend during the colder winter months. To keep your shelter safe from the elements, look for a previously-used site surrounded by large boulders to help block the wind on your campsite.
Alternatively, you could find out how to rent an RV to camp in Alabama Hills, which will protect you from the outside wind chill and freezing temperatures. This way you can camp year-round without worrying about the cold!
5. Pack Lots Of Water
Alabama Hills host a dry, desert-like environment, so come prepared with plenty of water. Remember that you’ll be using it for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, so carry more than you think you will need!
Remember to dispose of your greywater (excess water from cooking, cleaning, or even brushing teeth) properly. Watch this youtube video from Leave No Trace about how to dispose of greywater properly at Alabama Hills.
During our camping trips, we like to use this folding 5-Gallon portable water storage from GSI. It’s fully collapsible when not in use, and incredibly cheap, too!
6. Be a Responsible Pooper When Camping In Alabama Hills
You read that right. There’s a right way and a wrong way to poop when visiting Alabama Hills!
The ideal situation would be to do your business in the nearby town of Lone Pine before embarking out to find your Alabama Hills campsite.
But emergencies do happen, so it’s your responsibility to follow Leave No Trace Principles, especially when doing your business in the wilderness. Read this blog post from outdoor advocate Meghan Young about how to use the bathroom in the backcountry!
What Do I Pack For Alabama Hills Camping?
Now that you know how to find the ideal Alabama Hills campsite, what should you be packing for your trip? These camping tips should give you a basic idea of the camping gear you may need, and we’re diving deeper into these details right now.
Read our suggestions below, keeping in mind that we aim to leave as little impact as possible on the surrounding landscape!
Our personal preference is to go car camping (aka, sleeping in your car). This way, all of our gear is contained to the vehicle, the walls of the car protect us from the elements, and packing up is quick and painless.
However, if you plan to stay for several days (for climbing or exploring), tents would also work as a great shelter for your Alabama Hills campsite.
- Tents & Freestanding Shelters – like this quick set-up Marmot Tungsten one.
- Sleeping Bags – Choose a really affordable three-season sleeping bag like this on from Fjallraven.
- Sleeping Pads – We own this one by Therm-a-Rest and this one by Big Agnes.
You could also GO BIG and purchase an awesome car rooftop tent! These are extremely easy to pack up during a California road trip from place to place. Not only that but it keeps you off the ground and this Tepui LoPro 2 person one does the job perfectly.
Alabama Hills can get pretty hot during those sunny Southern California days, but the temperatures can drop quickly come nighttime.
When camping in Alabama Hills, it’s important to pack in layers to easily adjust to the outside temperature. In a nutshell, here is what we suggest bringing:
- Base Layer – like this casual sweat-wicking long sleeve from Prana
- Insulating Layer – like this super lightweight pullover from Patagonia.
- Outer Layer – Depending on the weather it could be a cozy puffer coat or a windproof jacket.
Food and Meal Preparation
Regarding what food to pack for a camping trip in Alabama Hills, we extensively cover quick and easy camping meals in this post here.
Besides your food, don’t forget to pack water and lots of it. We love these collapsible 5-gallon containers (We chatted about them earlier too) to store extra water during your camping trip. Since this is a dry location with no water source, we highly recommend bringing at least enough to provide 1 gallon of water per person, per day.
Don’t feel like cooking? The town of Lone Pine is an easy 10-15 minute drive from Alabama Hills, and you can find all sorts of comfort food and mom & pop diners for quick and delicious meals.
Alternative Camping Locations In Alabama Hills
Couldn’t find a spot for camping in Alabama Hills? Want to try something different? There are lots of options to camp in Southern California, especially along Highway 395. Here are some of the closest alternative camping options near Alabama Hills:
Obtaining Wilderness Permits. Backpacking in the Inyo National Forest and around Mt. Whitney are both excellent options if you’re looking to experience some Southern California wilderness. Many of the most popular trails bring you to serene alpine lakes, gorgeous mountain views, and solitude!
Campground Reservations. Portagee Joe Campground and Tuttle Creek Campground are the closest campgrounds with limited facilities near Alabama Hills. Tuttle Creek is $5 per night and is first-come-first-serve, while Portagee Joe takes reservations ahead of time.
Booking a Hotel in Lone Pine. Sometimes you just want a nice shower and a cozy bed. Book a cheap hotel in Lone Pine here.
Finding More Campgrounds Nearby With The Dyrt. The Dyrt is the largest campground finding tool on the market! We like to use it when finding last-minute camping spots, connecting campgrounds along our road trip route, and using the BLM and national park maps to find the perfect spot. To unlock all these goodies, try their pro membership free for 90-days when using our code MANDAGIES90.