Lone Pine is the gateway to the eastern sierras with just a 3-hour drive from Los Angeles and a 4-hour drive from Las Vegas this underrated outdoor playground holds some of the most interesting and tallest features in the entire united states. Along with its gold mining and cinematic history this small town is more than worth a drive-through on the way up the 395. I’ve spent countless weekends exploring everything Lone Pine Californa has to offer.
1 – Alabama Hills
The Alabama Hills are some of the most underrated rock formations in the west. The fact that this land is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and not a state or national park means that this area gets far fewer visitors than those labeled with that distinction. Use the lower crowds to your advantage and explore the rock formations and historic film sites. Free camping is also allowed in already established campgrounds however there are no facilities at all so be sure to pack in and pack out everything so generations can enjoy this land.
The next few sites are all in the Alabama Hills and I’ll group them together before moving on to the rest of things to do in Lone Pine CA.
2 – Mobius Arch
If you only have time for a short hike as you drive through Lone Pine the one mile Mobius Arch Loop Trail would be it. With wonderful views of the Sierra Mountains in the background and a playground of boulders and arches in the foreground, this trail has everything to get a good feel for the area. Take the counterclockwise loop to see first heart arch and then to arrive at Alabama Hills’ most famous arch Mobius Arch. There are some fantastic opportunities to see Mt Whitney and the rest of the Sierra Mtns through the arch and if you’re an early riser the warm sunrise light makes for the best time to take photographs of the arch and snow-peaked background.
3 – Lathe Arch
Just a little further along the Mobius Arch Loop Trail is the much much smaller lathe arch. It’s relatively hidden, very easy to miss but be sure you scramble around just beyond Mobius Arch and find this unique arch. This flat arch connects two larger boulders and is fun to tightrope over. If you take time to explore this whole area you’ll find lots of little arches and holes in the rock. It’s fun just to scrabble around and explore.
4 – Cyclops Rock
Cyclops Rock is one of the more obscure and much harder to find arches in the park. You basically can’t see this arch unless you’re right next to it. This extremely unique formation makes you wonder what happened millions of years ago to make this formation deteriorate in this way. This slumbering giant is worth the scavenger hunt to find it.
5 – Eye of the Alabama Hills Arch
This perfectly positioned arch sits high on a hill patiently keeping an eye on the Alabama Hills and the Sierras beyond. You can climb up to the right of the arch and pinpoint Mt Whitney and some the rest of the Sierras. The Eye of the Alabama Hills Arch is a quick hike or drive from the popular Mobius Arch just off Movie Flat Road and fairly easy to spot.
6 – Nightmare Rock
Only 1 or 2 miles up on Mt Whitney Portal Road to your right is Nightmare Rock. Only a quick stop is needed but it’s fun to imagine the faces and creatures in the formations of the rocks in the Alabama Hills. This artist surely made this one clearly stand out for all visitors to see.
7 – Stargazing and AstroPhotography
If you’re into Stargazing or AstroPhotography you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place to do both. With amazing arches in your foreground and seemingly infinite stars, it’s a great place to gain perspective on just how big our universe is. If you’re looking for the best time to capture the milky way you’ll want to wait till there is a new moon so there’s less light pollution. Otherwise using the moon to help light up the foreground is fun too!
8 – Mt Whitney
Mt Whitney (14,505 feet) is the highest point in the lower 48 states and the crown jewel of the Sierras. Mount Whitney Trail is a 22.5 mile extremely strenuous, heavily trafficked out and back trail that is best hiked from April to October. When I did this hike we took a few days and backpacked the trail helping us to acclimatize from my home base at sea level up to 14,505 ft. Be sure you take the altitude seriously not everyone on our team summited even when taking it slow. You can also choose to day hike this however is sure you carry emergency equipment. After our summit day, we noticed a completely delirious day hiker without water, food, or proper clothing. He ended up sleeping in our tent and we gave him our sleeping bag, food, and water. In the morning he thanked us and headed down the mt.
9 – Lone Pine Lake
Don’t have time for Mount Whitney but want to get some Sierra hiking in? This 5.1-mile round trip hike takes you up the same trail as Mt Whitney and you don’t even need a permit! It’s a difficult hike with 1,784 ft of elevation gain but it gives you a clear taste of what it takes to hike Mt Whitney with a fantastic payoff at Lone Pine Lake.
10 – Manzanar
In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Internment Camp was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated during World War II. This horrific part of our history is a haunting reminder of our troubled past and one that hopefully we can learn from. This monument is easily passed up during the drive up 395 but easily the most emotional and powerful stop along the whole of the Eastern Sierras.
11 – Whitney Fish Hatchery
Just north of Manzanar and in the town of Independence is the Whitney Fish Hatchery. Perhaps the most beautiful fish hatchery in the US if not the world. Construction began in March 1916, with a final budget of approximately $60,000.00. The two to three foot thick walls of the building are constructed using 3,200 tons of native granite. Although no longer working as an active fish hatchery in its hay day this facility produced 2,000,000 fish fry per year and played an important role in the preservation of the golden trout CA state fish.
12 – Museum of Western Film History
Enjoy films? Most likely you’ve seen many films that have been shot using the Alabama Hills as a backdrop. Films like Gladiator, Iron Man, Tremors, Django Unchained, Star Trek, A Star is Born, Maverick, The Lone Ranger, etc… This Museum is like a time capsule for all the film history in the area and with its extremely affordable entry fee, it’s worth a stop if you have an hour and want to get out of the heat. They have a great movie road map so that you can find all the great film locations in the Alabama Hills.
13 – Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns
The Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns in Inyo County stand as a reminder of the tremendous impact of the Gold Rush on forests and landscapes. The Cottonwood kilns were built to provide charcoal to the rich Cerro Gordo mine, 10 miles to the east, and across Owens Lake in Inyo County. The Cerro Gordo mine produced nearly $20 million in silver and lead. It’s a worthy quick stop down a 1-mile dirt road.
14 – Alabama Hills Cafe
Alabama Hills Cafe is my favorite place to eat in the area. They make their own bread and pastries have a good driving map of some rock formations on their wall and website. I highly recommend the cinnamon swirl french toast!
I hope you enjoyed some of my favorite stops in Lone Pine! Please comment below if you have something on your list that I missed!