In a state packed with stunning scenery, and photogenic spots, there was one place that we knew we couldn’t miss - Alabama Hills. It’s one of those places that looks so good in pictures you wonder if it can really live up to the hype. Luckily it was every bit as beautiful as we imagined, in fact photos don’t do it justice! Photography lovers should prepare to be completely spoilt.
Here’s why you should head to Alabama Hills on your next California road trip!
The famous spot: Sunrise at Movie Road, Alabama Hills
Instagrammers weren’t the first to cotton on to the incredible natural beauty of this town. The Alabama Hills are already the backdrop for multiple movies including box office favourites such as Iron Man and Gladiator, so it makes sense that the road that cuts through this beautiful area is named“Movie Road”. There’s plenty of amazing spots along the way you can stop and take in the view (we saw several photographers at each and every lay by) but there’s one place that stands out above the rest. The place in the photo below is the showstopper and our favourite spot in all of Alabama Hills!
This incredibly Instagrammable spot in Alabama Hills is about five minutes along the dirt track which is in great condition and suitable for all vehicles. You’ll go down a pretty steep section before the road curves to the left. Follow this until the road bends right and then heads up a smallish hill. This hill is your spot and there is a large lay by on the right. We’ve dropped a pin on the exact spot on the map below.
You won’t see the view until you turn around (if you’re coming from Lone Pine’s town centre via Whitney Portal Road like we did). But what a view it is.
There’s a parking area to the right at the top of the hill and you should see photographers dotted around the hills in this area - even at sunrise which during our winter visit meant it was -7C!
The great part about this spot is that there are multiple views. The most popular is from the road looking directly back onto the hills like the shot below. Just remember if you’re posing on the road that cars coming from behind will not be able to see you at first as the hill is so steep - make sure the photographer is playing lookout! It wasn’t a busy road during our visit but we still had at least six cars pass by as we were shooting.
However, this isn’t the only view. You can go a little right of the road and get a view like this.
Or you can go to the left of the road on to one of the small mounds and get this kind of view looking directly down on the road at a side angle. This is also a great spot for a drone shot.
After all that work you can simply wrap up with a blanket and take in the view like Cat did! 😂
Best time to photograph Alabama Hills
The best time to photograph the Sierra Mountains from Movie Road, Alabama Hills is just before sunrise (about 10-15 minutes prior). At this time you will get a beautiful soft and even light across the mountains and won’t have to worry about harsh contrasts.
Even when the sun does rise, it will shine on the mountains from behind you, so you won’t have to worry about taking photos directly into the sun. Our favourite was the few minutes before the sun got above the horizon as the top of the Sierra Mountains turned red - truly magical.
If you choose to go at any other time of day, you will face the harsh light from the sun and some strong shadows. You may be able to get away with the morning, but afternoon and sunset will be tricky to shoot because you will be looking directly into the sun.
Other photography spots in Alabama Hills
Mobius Arch is a short loop along Movie Road and takes you through some pretty desert landscape to a naturally formed arch. The arch perfectly frames Mount Whitney and the Sierra Mountains.
People like to go here for an hour or two before sunset to get the sun setting behind the mountains and creating a really unique shot. It’s quite difficult to perfect, but with some patience and fiddling about with settings, you can get it.
I got lucky to get this shot just as the sun went behind a cloud 😂.
The walk is also pleasant enough, meandering through rock formations and dried up river beds. It won’t make our favourite walks in the USA, but it’s a pleasant way to spend half an hour whilst in the area. The track is pretty flat, but has a couple of ups and downs, suitable for anyone without mobility issues. If you don’t dawdle and gape at the scenery the walk to the arch will probably only take around ten minutes.
Off the side of the road
If you just want a really simple shot, then you only need to wander a few yards from the road! It is such a beautiful area that simply strolling into the desert for a minute can look great, especially if you get beautiful conditions.
Sunset at Alabama Hills
Sunset can be tricky at Alabama Hills, but if you wait until the sun goes behind the mountains, you can still get some interesting photos.
We simply parked by the Mobius Arch trailhead and took photos of the mountains from here. You can stop in multiple places along Movie Road, but we liked the angle from lower down for sunset. Especially if you get lucky with a sky like this.
Getting to Alabama Hills
The best way to get to Alabama Hills is by basing yourself in Lone Pine - the nearest town. From here it is a 10 minute drive along Whitney Portal Road and then Movie Road. Once on Movie Road you are set as all the best locations are here.
Lone Pine is a small town (on the map below), but has enough to be able to get by on a budget. There’s a decent size grocery store selling fresh food and there are a few restaurants in town as well. It’s unlikely that you’ll spend more than a couple of nights here, but Lone Pine has enough to make the stay comfortable enough!
Lone Pine is just over three hours from Los Angeles. We’d recommend hiring a car to get there as you won’t be able to get to Movie Road without one.
Where to stay in Alabama Hills
Budget - Lone Pine Budget Inn
This was the cheapest motel available when we came to book and if you want somewhere simple, cheap but clean and comfortable, then the Lone Pine Budget Inn does the job. The rooms are big, with useful things like a microwave and coffee pot for budget travellers, and is in the middle of town with everything within a minute or two’s drive.
There’s a heater for winter and air con for summer, and despite it being -7C outside, we were warm here (something that isn’t a given in other parts of America as we’ve discovered!).
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Are you planning a trip to Alabama Hills? Where are your favourite photography spots in California? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!