Lone Pine, California: Sierra Nevada & Alabama Hills


The drive from Death Valley to Lone Pine takes you from the lowest point in the western hemisphere to the foot of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states.  Along the way, you won’t pass much that’s worth stopping for.  Once you leave Father Crowley Point and exit the park, Route 190 passes through mostly flat and empty land.  The road splits to take you around the normally dry lake bed of Owens Lake.  Route 190 takes the southern route, 136 heads to the north, and ends at Lone Pine.

The town of Lone Pine sits in the shadows of the Whitney Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The jagged peaks stretch north and south as far as you can see.

If you want to cross the Sierra Nevada, you’ll need to drive north to Tioga Pass Road (the entrance to Yosemite National Park, 120 miles) or south to Route 58 (113 miles).  Of course, if it’s Fall, Winter, or Spring, there’s a good chance Tioga Pass is closed by deep snow.

The sun sets early in the Owens Valley, but it takes longer on the Inyo Mountains to the east.

From downtown Lone Pine, turn at the only stoplight, headed toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  You’ll be traveling on Whitney Portal Road through BLM-managed land.  In the winter, the road is closed at a parking area at the foot of the mountains.  Once the snow melts in the summer, you can drive farther on the narrow, switchback road, to a trailhead used by climbers headed for the top of Mount Whitney.

Since it was mid-April during my visit, the upper portion of Whitney Portal Road was still closed to traffic.

In between the foot of the Sierra Nevada and the town of Lone Pine is an unusual outcropping of rounded granite boulders known as the Alabama Hills.  You can get closer by taking the dirt roads that branch off from Whitney Portal Road.

By the time I found my way into the Alabama Hills, the sun had already set behind the mountains, and I didn’t have enough light to properly explore.  So, the Alabama Hills will be the first stop on day 4.

Day 4 Begins

Rise and shine, and return to the Alabama Hills for some great sightseeing. Turn on Whitney Portal Road (at the town’s only stoplight) and head for the hills. Watch for Movie Road to turn off to the right. The dirt trail branches off to dozens of parking areas, where you can explore different rock outcroppings.

Before leaving your hotel, ask the front desk for a free guide to movie locations in the Alabama Hills. Many old westerns, including the Lone Ranger shows, were shot amongst the rounded granite boulders, with the breathtaking Whitney Range in the background.

This is one of my favorite photos of the Alabama Hills & Sierra Nevada. I took it from one of the highest outcroppings in the Alabama Hills.

During your visit to the Alabama Hills, look for the highest outcropping, then drive towards it. You can park about halfway up the hill, and climb the rest of the way up the slope. The reward is a great view of the Alabama Hills and Sierra Nevada, along with all the dirt roads in between.

Did you realize, in addition to many westerns, the Flintstones was also filmed here?

Look for a few wildflowers clinging to the hard rock surface.

Travel all the way to the end of Movie Road, and you’ll reach the end of the Alabama Hills land, managed by the BLM. You’ll also reach the intersection with another road. Take a left turn and you’ll wind your way back to the base of Whitney Portal Road.

This is an excellent place to pick a scented souvenir of your trip. Sagebrush thrives at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Break off a few twigs and place them in a plastic bag. Months after you return home, you’ll be able to crush a twig and enjoy the western aroma. If you make the same mistake I did, and don’t pick your souvenir here, it’s unlikely you’ll find it anywhere else on this trip.

Once you’ve made your way back to the base of Whitney Portal Road, you’ll find this trail, and a good view of the Whitney Range.

You can spend more time driving around the Alabama Hills, but tonight’s destination is still hours away, so don’t kill too much time. When you’re ready to hit the road, head south on US Rte. 395.

Note: This trip was first published in 2005.  I spent more time in this area during the Superbloom Trip of 2016.

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