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alabama hills blm camping

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.

BLM alabama hills

free camping california

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.

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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

alabama hills blm camping

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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!?!).

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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.

BLM campground

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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.

Free California camping

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.

Famous for my "how-not-to" videos, and typically the man behind the camera, sometimes I’m forced to be here in the “spotlight”. When you see my face you’re probably reading something more technical than adventurous, but either way I do my best to tell it like it is and infuse my opinions into the commentary…after all this is a blog and not MSN.

Comments (45)

  • Adrian Roberts

    I could not agree more with comments Chuck. So many cringe-worthy bits in this article. Lone Pine is a lovely little town, with some cute restaurants too. I’ve traveled extensively in this entire area, and the word “supposedly” should never be used for an article like this. Since you’re a travel blog, next time, take the time to actually TRAVEL, and spend a couple extra days exploring, so you don’t have to say “supposedly” about things you’ve heard about, but not experienced.

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    • Seriously? It’s not like we slammed the place. Not even close. Also, good to note this article is from 2014 (things may be different four years later) Everyone’s experience and opinions will be different and that is ok. Instead of criticizing us sharing our experience, why not share what you think is worthy of checking out. Now that would be adding to the conversation.

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  • Vincint

    Is the Alabama Hills bear area? Just wanna be prep when I camp. Thanks.

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  • Chuck

    I read your article with interest since we go to Lone Pine and Alabama Hills fairly frequently. It made me cringe, however, when you made the comment about Lone Pine and the Costco bagels. There isn’t a Costco for miles and you should really spend some time in Lone Pine – it is a great little town. The Film History Museum is great and they have a film festival once a year. The Totem Café has signatures on their walls from past and present movie productions. The Seasons restaurant has great steaks! Ansel Adams took his famous image of Mt. Whitney here as well!

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    • Cringe worthy? That’s an awfully strong word to describe an article that is raving about a place, not bashing it.
      So I am confused by your comment. You’ll also notice this article is from 2014, a lot can change if four years.
      Our experience was just that, our experience. Yours may have been completely different and that is ok. P.S. Costco makes great bagels.

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  • Anita O'Connor

    Love the Alabama Hills!! So much History was made their and continued to be made in my time on this planet.
    All I ask is owners of pets, Please pickup after them, I would hate to see this area CLOSED or having to PAY to get in to enjoy. There isn’t many places where we ALL can go and be able to afford of future of our kids, family and friends of all kinds of sports activities we enjoy doing together!!

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  • James

    Came here on your recommendation and totally loved it. It was a detour I’m so glad I made! Wouldn’t have come here without reading your post! Your spot was taken, but I did manage to camp out in the Lone Ranger’s hideout unbeknownst to me. Had a great time. Thanks.

    Did find it was a little bit windy- was it windy when you there.

    (If you ever make it down to Australia, would love to host you for a few days and show you some cool spots around my part of the woods)

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    • We didn’t have high winds during our stay but luckily with all the rocks, there are plenty of places to duck out of the sun and wind. 😉 So stoked you checked it out and loved it as much as we did!

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  • Matt Benko

    Try Box Canyon just outside of Joshua Tree NP! Very cool free BLM spots.

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  • Phil Schneider

    I posted yesterday about the privatization of our beloved ‘Public Lands’. Where is my post?

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    • Curious Minion

      I don’t see anything else from you so it may have been automatically sent to spam, triggered by something in the content?

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  • Marissa

    Love you post! Thank you for sharing. Look up Prewitt Ridge (outside Big Sur). It’s where I like to go. No reservations needs and it’s free. The view is amazing!

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  • Mailoha

    Is tent camping here free or is this an RV only site?

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  • Great Post! I shall be planing a trip there next month! I have one question how do you go about if you have to drop a bear when you are already on location ?

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  • Helpful post! My adventure pup and I area headed to Alabama Hills next week. Loved your adventure cat in the video. Thank you!

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    • Awesome, glad to hear you are getting out there to experience it for yourself! That is exactly why we share, thanks so much for saying hello.

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  • Great information and stunning photos! I’m inspired to go and visit this weekend! I’d never heard of this place before. Would you say that the roads to some campsites are suitable for a regular commuter car to drive through? I plan on just driving up there in my Nissan Altima with 2 friends and setting up a tent. I’m clearly new to camping so any tips would be highly appreciated. Thanks for sharing this!

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  • Ken C

    Hey Jason, Nikki,

    I just wanted to thank you for introducing us to Alabama Hills.
    We saw your video and made it a point to visit.
    We recently made the three hour trip from our home in So Cal on a perfect weather weekend. We arrived and immediately after leveling our rig and moving the slides out headed for the rocks.
    We spent the next four days exploring the place never getting tired of climbing the rocks. So much to see and explore! We will definitely return.

    We really enjoy what you do, and a bit jealous too, so thank you!

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    • Awe, thanks so much for taking the time to come back and let us know you liked it! Knowing that you made it out there just made the effort of creating that video totally worth it!

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  • Can I / should I assume that camping in places like this means “no cellular / internet signal” of any kind? I would imagine so, but hey, you never know, right!?

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    • We had enough cell/internet to check email but not enough to upload the video…we had to head to the local coffee shop for that. 🙂

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  • Geoff Campbell

    If you can afford an RV you can afford a campsite. Alabama Hills is a highly sensitive ecological area and desert plants take a long time to grow. As climbers we have tried to minimize impact by making trails with rocks, putting up no vehicle signs, etc. but Rvers just run over the signs and camp. The area is being considered for National Monument status which should stop this nonsense. In the meantime please don’t encourage people to camp there especially with animals.

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    • Joey Franklin

      As climbers you should minimize impact by removing all those bolts you’ve driven into the sensitive ecological area.

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    • Valerie

      No need to act rude. MOST rv’ers respect nature. Why? Because we enjoy living in it. Stop generalizing and making yourself out to be rude. *edit

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  • The pictures look amazing! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  • Many thanks! That was fabulous 🙂

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  • Tina

    Vons supermarket is in Bishop not in Big Pine

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  • Kristi

    I love how your cats run along, and explore with you guys, i like seeing them free and active like that… They look truly happy

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  • paul van

    Incredible picture at night of the stars. What are the blue lights along the ground?

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    • that’s just jason running back to the RV with his flashlight…

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  • Gayle Cooper

    You simply must download and view the classic “Gunga Din.” It was filmed right outside your windows.

    “By the living God that made you, You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

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  • Todd

    If your still in Little Pine I recommend Rosi’s for dinner.. We went there for our wedding anniversary by chance and loved it so much we go there every time we pass through.

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  • Jason and Nikki, I’ve just begun following your adventures and had a thought after reading this post – I’m imaging there is some considerable research you do before heading off road with your rig. I know I’m always terrified of getting stuck without a turnaround spot…and that’s even in an established campground (as opposed to an RV park). I love the idea of wilderness camping but we need to equip with at least a small portable generator before we do.

    The pictures are spectacular – makes me want to go! We’re watching the snow coming down hard today though and it will be while before we’re back on the road.

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    • You do want to be prepared before heading out into the wild. We always drive our tow car to scope everything out before driving the RV down unpaved roads. We have lots of info on Wild Camping (boondocking) on our RV page: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/rvin

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  • Russ

    Yes, Mt. Whitney s the highest point in the contiguous 48 states. Another factoid: Badwater in Death Valley National Monument is the lowest point in the contiguous 48 states and is close to Mt. Whitney. You can visit both in the same day. Death Valley, by the way, is larger than the state of Rhode Island 🙂

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    • We were only able to drive through Death Valley and we were in awe. We can’t wait to get back and stick around to explore!

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  • Ron Clanton

    Not to be nit-picky… but Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States. Mt. McKinley is the highest peak in North America. What really bums me out is I’ve never seen either one of them!!!

    Ron

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    • Ha ha, thanks for catching that! Now the real question is, when are you planning on going to see them?

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      • Ron Clanton

        Tracy and I start full-timing next January (after I retire). We’ll be making a beeline to that part of the country shortly thereafter!

        Ron

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  • Patrick

    Enjoyed your post and would definitely like to visit the Alabama Hills in our RV. I did notice an error though. Mt. Whitney is definitely not “the highest peak in North America”. This honour is reserved for Mt. McKinley in Alaska. Mt. Whitney isn’t even close to the tallest (23 others are higher).

    Here’s the list from Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_the_highest_major_summits_of_North_America

    Mt. Whitney is however the highest summit in the contiguous United States.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Whitney

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