Have you visited a place because your favorite movie or TV show was filmed there?
The answer may be yes or it may be no. Either way, the truth is that tourism directly related to film locations has boomed in recent years.
Tours, walks and other activities cater to people who would love to follow the steps of their favorite characters from “Game of the Thrones” or “Star Wars.” Others want to have their picture taken at the “Friends” café in New York City or the house of the TV series “Full House.”
In one way or another, a lot of us cherish those places because they bring us good memories or emotions.
I think that is the reason why here in California we are so proud of having one of the premier film locations in the Hollywood industry.I am referring to the Alabama Hills. Ok, that may not sound familiar (or exciting, to be honest). But, here is the thing, if you are a movie lover, you gotta visit this place. Hundreds of movies, commercials, shows, music videos, and other productions have been filmed in the area. I am telling you, this place is famous!
The Alabama Hills are a range of hills and rock formations near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada (in geological terms, they are considered part of the Sierra).
The name of the area comes from the CSS Alabama, a Confederate ship used during the Civil War. Pro Confederation Californians named mines in the area after the ship. With time, the entire range acquired the name.
Why is this place so important for producers scouting for locations? First, it is located three to four hours from Hollywood. It is an excellent place to film really close to the studios.
Second, the area is beautiful. A lot of people in the industry like to have the amazing Sierra peaks as a background. Plus, the “Hills” are full of spectacular formations and natural arches.
And by the way, Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States, can be seen from all over the area. If you have never seen Mount Whitney, take a look at the next photo. It is the peak right in the middle.
Third, the place can double as a far away locale. In some movies, it has been used to represent the Himalayas or the Arabian Desert.
Movies Filmed at Alabama Hills
Hundreds of cowboy movies used the Alabama Hills as its location. So, this is the Old West seen in the 1920- 1960’s movies. Below is a sample of the big names that have filmed in the area.
- Hopalong Cassidy
- Roy Rogers
- John Wayne
- Clint Eastwood
- Joe Kidd
- Gene Autry
- Classics such as the Lone Ranger
Once the cowboy fever passed, other movies started to be filmed in the area. Now, I can relate better with these (I am not a fan of cowboy movies at all). Here is an example of some blockbusters filmed there:
- Star Trek Generations
- Disney’s Dinosaur
- J.I. Joe
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
- Iron Man
- Django Unchained
- Godzilla (2014)
Additionally, commercials for almost all models of cars have been filmed in the area (you are going to see the car riding in front of a mountainous backdrop, the other day I saw one of these commercials for an SUV). Tons of artists (even international artists) film music videos in the area.
And, if you are not a movie fan, hey, I get it. Remember I said this is a gorgeous area? Then, that would be reason enough to visit. You will feel so small (and I mean really small) while standing in front of that gigantic mountain range.
I recommend starting to explore the area by getting a map with directions to the most famous film locations. You can find a copy in here.
Additional information can be found at the Lone Pine Film History Museum or at the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center (located one mile south of Lone Pine). With the proper information, you can do a self-tour.
The area is full of interesting rock formations and arches (oh, I love arches!). I was able to find the notorious Mobius Arch. This formation is the perfect frame for Mount Whitney.
The Latte Arch is located a short distance from the Mobius Arch.
I was able to find the Heart Arch too.
Other arches to find include:
- Eye of Alabama Hills
- Boot Arch
- Cyclops Arch
The book Arches of the Alabama Hills, by Orlyn Fordham, has information about how to find 72 arches in the area.
Instead of going back through the same way we got in, we decided to continue on Movie Road. The road is unpaved and rough.
At some moments, I questioned my sanity (driving a Camry around there wasn’t a good idea after all). Even with the drawbacks, the scenery was spectacular. You are driving parallel to the Sierra and you can see the peaks rising from a flat valley. Those views are going to be hard to beat!
So, here you have it. I think I have given you enough evidence to help you decide to visit the Alabama Hills. To recap, if you are a movie fan, go. If you are a geology and nature lover, go. If you do not fit any of the two previous categories, go anyway.
Lone Pine Film Museum
If you want to learn more about this area, you can always pay a visit to the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Film History located in the town of Lone Pine. The museum celebrates and preserves the diverse movie history of Lone Pine, Death Valley, and the Eastern Sierra.
Exhibits at the museum reflect the museum’s extensive collections and include early silent films, post-war films, “eastern,” science fiction and the many cowboy heroes who worked locally. Temporal exhibits highlight famous times, characters and actors.
The museum also includes a movie theatre (a 15 minutes movie summarizing the history of the area is presented every half an hour) and a shop with plenty of movie-related gear.
The museum is located at 701 South Main Street in the town of Lone Pine. Donation is $5.
Alabama Hills Camping
The Alabama Hills Recreational Area is administered by The Bureau of Land Management. Since this is public land, visitors are allowed to park their car or RV and spend the night in the area.
Now, this is as primitive as camping can get. There are no services available and you need to clean up your area before leaving. Also, you need to understand the rules of the area. For example, fires are not allowed without a permit.
If your camping preferences are a little bit higher, consider staying in campgrounds such as Tuttle Creek, Portagee Joe or Diaz Lake.
In addition, there are plenty of campsites along US-395.
You can find plenty of hotels and motels in Lone Pine, Big Pine, and Bishop. I personally, prefer to stay in Bishop since there are more options (and a nice selection of places to eat).
I love this area! I would visit every few months if possible. There is so much to do. Therefore, you have plenty of options to stay in the area for several days.
Here are some ideas for trip planning purposes:
Mount Whitney Portal – In here, you can find the trailhead to the climb to the top of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States. Even if you are not intending to climb the mountain, the Portal offers amazing views, trails, fishing opportunities, and campgrounds.
Manzanar National Historic Site – One of the 10 camps were Japanee American were incarcerated during WWII.
Copper Top BBQ – I have to include this place in the list of attraction since the food for sale is delicious. Get something to eat if you pass by.
Bishop Creek – Easy access to beautiful mountain scenery and several lakes.
Erick Schat’s Bakery – This is a must if you are visiting Bishop. The bakery has the most delectable bread, pastries, and cookies. Plus, they have sandwiches, salads and other dishes. You have to check this place out. There is so much you can buy to take home (or give away).
The Alabama Hills are located 210 miles from Los Angeles. As you can see, it is not that far from the big city so it is a nice option for a long weekend away.
The “Hills” are located 6 miles from Lone Pine, 55 miles from Bishop and 100 miles from Mammoth Mountain. The latter counts with an airport which receives direct flights from cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
From US-395, take the Whitney Portal Road and then, turn right at the aptly named Movie Road. You are going to start seeing the rock formations right away.
The main (connecting) roads are paved. However, the vast majority of the roads in the area are unpaved. The roads are in good condition but you have to exercise caution.
Since most roads are unpaved and there are no signs, it is not that simple to find exact locations. Be alert and have somebody helping you with the navigation.
A short visit should take you between two to three hours (including a short hike). However, the entire day can be spent here if you are interested in spotting several film locations and rock formations.
There are no services in the area. Go prepared with food, water, and enough gas on the tank.
The Alabama Hills can be seen from above if you continue driving towards Mount Whitney’s Portal
You can visit the Lone Pine Film History Museum to learn more about the history of the area.
Have you visited the Alabama Hills? What movie location have you visited?
Ready to pin? Let’s do this!