How To Reach The Insta-Famous Alabama Hills Movie Road For Your Next Desert Photo-Op

Post Summary: How To Find Alamaba Hills Movie Road In California

Calling all wanderlusters!

Berty and Emily here, back for another in-depth post on one of our amazing stops on our Southwest USA road trip.

If you’re looking to get away from the crowds of Yosemite in the summer and the heat of Los Angeles, we’re sharing with you a secluded California gem east of the Sierra Mountains.

The Alabama Hills area is commonly known for its free camping locations, but maybe more socially popular is the Instagram-famous Movie Road in the park.

This road is considerably popular for its view. The many layers and colors of the landscape and an unobstructed view of Mount Whitney bring many people into this California wilderness.

In this post, we’re showing you exactly how to get to the Alabama Hills Movie Road, the best times to arrive, and things to consider to capture those amazing photos you’ve been dying to take.

Let’s get started!

Exactly How To Find Alabama Hills Movie Road In California

Where is Alabama Hills?

Alabama Hills Recreation Area is located in Southern California. This is a protected area by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the specific purpose of public enjoyment! (That’s pretty cool if you ask us.)

It’s located on the Eastern Slope of the Sierra Mountains. The rounded rocks and smooth forms that make up most of the landscape are metamorphic volcanic rock and biotite monzogranite, eroded for tens to hundreds of millions of years.

Many natural arches can also be found here, ones similar to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, but not as big. Some of the most famous arches in Alabama Hills are Mobius Arch, The Eye of Alabama Hills, Lathe Arch, and Whitney Portal Arch.

Man standing at Alabama Hills during sunrise

Why Is It Called Movie Road?

Because of its dry, rugged landscape, Alabama Hills has been a popular location for movie sets, especially American Western films.

Some of the most popular films that took place in Alabama Hills were The Round-Up (1920), The Lone Ranger (1938), and The Man From Utah (1934). More recently, Django Unchained, Iron Man, and Gladiator all had sets here, along Movie Road.

Take a look at the Alabama Hills movie locations brochure from the Lone Pine Chamber Of Commerce to learn about specific movie sites and how you can visit them for yourself! Additionally, you can give the Museum of Western Film History a visit next time you visit Alabama Hills.

 

Driving Directions To Movie Road

Are you wondering how to reach Movie Road?

The closest town with good resources is Lone Pine, California, where you can find anything from gas to restaurants to motels. Cell service around Alabama Hills is pretty spotty, so set your GPS navigator to Lone Pine and you should be good to go.

You could also download offline maps on Google Maps (if you have an iPhone), and have access to directions even without cellular service.

Here are some driving distances from major cities around the area:

  • From San Diego, California: 5 hours 30 minutes – 300 miles
  • From Los Angeles, California: 4 hours – 218 miles
  • From Las Vegas, Nevada: 4 hours 8 minutes – 230 miles

VW bus driving on Alabama Hills Movie Road

 

Easiest Route To Alabama Hills Movie Road:

The easiest and most direct route to Movie Road is to start from Lone Pine and go East on Whitney Portal Road for 2.7 miles.

After driving this far, you’ll see a sign for “Alabama Hills Recreation Area” – take a right. The road was previously gravel, but will now turn to dirt for the remainder of the trip.

Continue down this dirt road (called Movie Flat Road) for 2.3 miles. You’ll pass Shark Fin Trail on the left, camping spots on the right, and eventually pass Mobius Arch.

After a few winding left and right turns, you’ll start to see yourself driving uphill. This is the road! Continue all the way uphill and find a small parking lot on the right.

 

Here are the exact GPS coordinates to the parking lot where people take these famous photos: 36°37’16.1″N 118°06’59.4″W

 

Essential Tips For Visiting Alabama Hills Movie Road

Getting there is just the first part! Now, you’ve got to consider things like places to sleep, best times to visit Movie Road, and weather conditions. Don’t worry, we’re taking care of all of your burning questions below.

Here are some of our favorite tips for people who want to visit Movie Road in Alabama Hills:

1. RESPECT THIS SPACE!

We’ve heard countless stories of people ruining the experience of others by leaving waste behind, camping where you’re not supposed to, and being rude to other visitors.

We certainly can’t control other’s behavior, but we can encourage all our readers to treat this land with respect.

Here are some small things you can do in Alabama Hills to make a big difference:

2. Come Early (Or Late)

One of the biggest reasons this particular part of Movie Road is iconic is because of its incredible sunrise views.

From your position looking west down the road and straight at Mount Whiney, the sun will appear from behind you. This will illuminate the mountains to a brilliant pink or orange on a clear morning.

*Note: During our visit, the clouds didn’t exactly work in our favor. There were clouds blocking the sunrise until it was too bright, so we missed the pink and orange colors – but it was still amazing watching the view light up!

See more photos below of our Alabama Hills sunrise.

Van driving on Alabama Hills before sunrise

 

3. Consider Spending The Night To Reach Movie Road Before Sunrise

If you are hoping to catch an iconic sunrise at Alabama Hills Movie Road, we highly suggest camping in Alabama Hills overnight. Being on BLM land, there are endless places to camp – from among the huge round boulders to the wide-open landscape.

Here are some tips on finding the perfect camping spots at Alabama Hills:

  • Come before sunset to give you better visibility for finding a spot (and to avoid waking up your camping neighbors).
  • Try to find an already used space to pull in.
  • Use previously made fire pits instead of making your own. Make sure there’s not a fire ban during your visit.
  • Park near or between large boulders to protect your tent or car from the harsh winds.
  • Download an app called The Dyrt to read the latest reviews and photos from previous campers, to know what to expect. Get the PRO version to mark it as a stop on your road trip planner too! Use the code MANDAGIES for 10% off!

Want more information? Read our complete guide to Alabama Hills camping here.

Alabama Hills Movie Road after sunrise

 

4. Drive a 4-Wheel Drive (Or All-Wheel Drive) Vehicle

Because the roads in Alabama Hills are dirt and not paved, we have to suggest that you drive an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle. These types of vehicles are better for handling in rough situations, and the roads can be unpredictable here.

The main artery road (Movie Flat Road) is in the best shape, and most cars can make the route, in our opinion. However, if you’re looking to venture off on a smaller road deep into the park, you should consider a car with better controlling capabilities.

Ultimately, know what you and your car are capable of, and make conservative decisions. Lastly, always check the weather before your visit! Heavy rainfall can potentially compromise the integrity of the road.

Berty Mandagie driving on Movie Road in Alabama Hills

 

5. Visiting Movie Road In the Winter? Dress Warm!

Many may think that a desert landscape automatically means it will be hot. This is FALSE! In fact, it can also mean that the winter months can be very cold in contrast!

We visited Alabama Hills in March, just before the beginning of the spring season. It was very chilly in the morning and we had to wear down jackets and gloves.


Emily Mandagie standing in front of Alabama Hills

 

6. Bring The Proper Camera Gear (And Know How To Use It)

You’re going to an epic location – why not capture it in the best possible way?

Berty and I are Canon shooters, so we will naturally recommend a DSLR like the 5D Mark IV or the Canon EOS R as your camera body. 

We also will suggest using a wide-angle lens for Movie Road. This is because there are lots of layers and textures in the Alabama Hills landscape – you’ll want to capture it all! Try a Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 lens or the most budget-friendly Canon EF 17-40mm f4 to get everything in the frame!

Read more about our travel photography gear list here, and click here to shop our entire gear lineup!

Berty Mandagie shooting with Pentax film camera, Alabama Hills

Landscape shot of Alabama Hills, California

 

Is It Worth The Drive To See Alabama Hills Movie Road?

In our opinion, YES. There is so much to do around this area, and visiting Movie Road is a great addition to any Southern California road trip.

If you’re looking for other adventures to plan on a longer trip around the Southwest, here are some other places to consider nearby:

Death Valley National Park: The closest location in proximity to Alabama Hills Recreation Area. This place is home to many natural wonders, dark skies for viewing the stars, and lots of camping opportunities! Warning though, it gets HOT HOT HOT here in the summer months!

Las Vegas, Nevada: Try your luck at the slot machines or opt outside at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area or Valley of Fire State Park. Both places are near the city center and have many opportunities for climbing, photography, and hiking.

Palm Springs, California: Take it easy after your big road trip around Southern California and sit by the pool! Palm Springs is a little oasis in the desert for fun bars, pool parties, and relaxing.

Joshua Tree National Park: Explore another nearby US national park at Joshua Tree. Here, there are many opportunities for climbers, hikers, and nature lovers. Joshua Tree is the focal point of the entire park!

Read our Southern California Road trip route to get inspired to plan and see more destinations!

 

Did this post inspire you to visit the Alabama Hills Movie Road? If so, share your photos with us on Instagram! Find us at @themandagies and tag your adventures with #themandagies so we can see them!