Alabama Hills – Free & Awesome Camping in California
Chances are you’ve seen the Alabama Hills of California before, whether you realized it or not. Hollywood’s been coming here for years to produce movies, and if you’re lucky (or “unlucky” depending on your interests) they may even have filming in progress.
Best part of the Alabama Hills BLM Camping experience: the scenery is amazing, the outdoor activities are plenty, and the RV camping is Free!
We were camping in Mono Lake California (by far one of our favorite Free National Forest Campsites) when the temperatures changed on a dime and the snow began to fall. Our friends Wheeling It and Watsons Wander told us to head south a couple hours and meet them in the warm and sunny Alabama Hills. As we entered the public lands we realized we had entered another world….not just the scenery, but the weather! Take off the jacket and throw on some shorts baby! What a difference a few thousand feet in elevation and a couple hundred miles south make.
The Alabama Hills BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is located off highway 395 between Los Angeles and Lake Tahoe (or Reno, NV), in California obviously. These hills received their name from prospectors and minors based on the confederate warship the CSS Alabama. Although they are called “hills” they are actually a part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These hills and arches were likely created from earthquakes, volcanoes and erosion over a couple hundred million years.
No matter how you slice it, or what the real history is: these perfectly round stacked boulders with the contrast of the sharp edged Eastern Sierra’s in the background, makes for one cool sight to park the RV. As with most BLM the camping is free, there are no services or facilities, and the stay limit is 14 days.
If you want to stay in our exact spot here are the coordinates: 36.609973 -118.132254
Some of the most famous movies and TV series that have used this BLM are The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Bonanza, Star Trek Generations, Tremors (yep we’re one degree of separation closer to Kevin Bacon now), Iron Man, Gladiator and most recently Django Unchained. We’ve heard stories about people trying to camp and in comes a film crew, if they want your spot the cool thing is you cannot be forced to leave….but they can surround you and make it very uncomfortable for you to stay. I’d say tell the director to give you $50 to pay for the move, then you can find a more quiet space away from the craziness and yet, still see the movie set!
There’s a ton of hiking trails, plenty of rock piles to scale and several arches to explore. We were pretty lazy so we only hiked to the most famous Mobius Arch (although we did get up at the crack of dawn to capture the morning light, so that probably explains our enthusiastic expressions). I guess we weren’t lazy; we just spent our time socializing with our new friends and preparing for our big BLM Pumpkin Carving Contest (there is a video if you haven’t seen it, apparently our readers have chosen our competition as the winners!?!).
Cell service is limited. With our Wilson Sleek we were able to get some service, but not enough to watch streaming video or anything like that. There is a dump station and fresh water fill in the established BLM campground which is a few miles south of where we stayed. The Watson’s said there’s 4G cell service there, so if you need to work you might be better off paying the small camping fee.
The little town of Lone Pine, CA is closest to the campground, just a few miles east on the main highway. It’s not much to talk about but we did find Lone Star Bistro which is a little coffee and tea shop that serves up decent bagels and has free WiFi that’s pretty fast. The largest attraction is the Lone Pine Film History Museum, it’s supposed to be pretty neat if you are into old western movies, we didn’t get to stop by as their winter hours are pretty random.
The biggest nearby town for exploring is Big Pine, CA near the junction of 395 and 168. There’s supposedly some quality restaurants if you need a date night, a few local coffee shops, plenty of wildlife and hiking trails. Make sure you give yourself a day to explore the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, we had to skip it due to lack of time (and the impending snow on our tails) but it’s on our ‘must do’ list for a future visit.
If you’re coming from the north like us you’ll want to stop in Bishop, CA as it’s by far the largest town en-route from Mono Lake. This is where you’ll want to dump and fill your tanks (the cheapest we found was $5 at the Highlands RV Park), fill up on fuel and stock up groceries. We saw a few people camping overnight in the Von’s grocery store parking lot, so if you want to enjoy town a bit and run your errands this may be a good overnight option (of course you should always ask the manager).
With its crazy rock formations, beautiful views of the eastern Sierra’s, Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous U.S., and sunny warm climate… the Alabama Hills BLM in California has taken a spot in our hearts as one of the best free RV camping escapes.
Do you have a favorite BLM or National Forest Campground?
Don’t keep it to yourself…help an RVer out and share your secrets in the comments below.