Mt. Whitney, at 14,505′, is the tallest mountain the lower 48. More than that, it’s a thing to behold, a queen of beauty standing tall amongst a sea of rival sights. The Alabama Hills, situated between Mt. Whitney and the small town of Lone Pine, California, crouches in harsh contrast to the snow capped Sierra Nevada range in the distance, a seemingly endless array of boulders and hills ripe with places to camp, for free.
The proximity to Lone Pine, and the ability to duck behind boulders completely out of site of any of the dirt roads which traverse the Alabama Hills, makes this not just a beautiful place to camp, but an incredibly convenient one. Lone Pine is a sleepy little highway town, with a small grocery store, a handful of bars and restaurants, some rock shops, a place to have your boots repaired, a film museum…and not much else. But it sheds its cell service over most of the Alabama Hills, and the abundance of sunshine here make it the perfect place to boondock away your camping days without disappearing too far into the wilderness.
You’ll still feel like you’re alone though, hundreds of miles away from civilization, in some Wild West gunslinger.
RV Camping in the Alabama Hills
Setting up camp for the night, or several, in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area (GPS: 36.5958, -118.1092) is a must do, a bucket list item for many a traveling vanlifer. The area serves as the foothills to the Sierra Nevadas, and is essentially pile after pile of boulders spread around the desert. Sage brush, bumpy roads and lizards will be your primary neighbors. There are so many nooks and crannies in which to hide, especially in a Class B RV like those we rent here at Trail Mix RV, that you can easily find a place of solitude, even in the busiest of camping seasons.
Just know that there are no services here, not even vault toilets, so everything you pack in, you’ll need to pack back out, including your trash.
Dumpsters, and restrooms, are available at a handful of other public campgrounds in the immediate area, such as Tuttle Creek Campground (GPS: 36.5666, -118.1237) a favorite destination for those traveling US 395. If dry camping behind a boulder isn’t exactly your cup of tea, Tuttle Creek is the next best thing to the Alabama Hills when it comes to impressive views. They’ll charge you $5 per night to camp (and another $5 if you want to use the dump station), and for that you’ll get a designated spot with a fire ring and picnic table, a fancy lantern holder, and access to water and vault toilets–but still no hookups. It’s essentially just across the street from Alabama Hills, so the same big sky cracking open with typical Eastern Sierra dramatic flare can be expected.
Additional campgrounds nearby include the US Forest Service-run Lone Pine Campground (GPS: 36.5973, -118.185), situated on a hill with grand views of the mountains. It’s the priciest of public parks in the area, at $22 per night, but provides substantially more privacy than Tuttle Creek. Vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings and access to water are included, but Mt. Whitney in your westward-facing window is really what you’re paying for here.
Inyo County also runs two campgrounds, Portagee Joe (GPS: 36.5999, -118.0717) and Diaz Lake (GPS: 36.5619, -118.0581). Portagee Joe is walking distance to US 395 as it runs through Lone Pine, but otherwise is a bit lackluster, and town doesn’t necessarily offer enough punch to make it worth packing yourself into the small sites here. Diaz Lake is waterfront camping, on a small lake, about 10 minutes south of town. Both locations run $14 per night, are strictly dry camping and accept reservations.
Finally, Boulder Creek RV Resort (GPS: 36.5431, -118.0467) is the local full hookups affair, where for $45 per night you get to plug in to their water, sewer and electric, and utilize all of their many amenities. They have cable TV hookups, WiFi, a hot tub and swimming pool, laundry, the hottest, high-pressure showers for miles around and a camp store packed with firewood, gas station-type food, beer, souvenirs and more.
RV Camping Near Mt. Whitney
Right at the base of the mountain, amidst gargantuan red firs, some nearly 10′ in diameter, Whitney Portal Family Campground (GPS: 36.5889, -118.2269) is a US Forest Service campground a world away from the wide open spaces found in and around the Alabama Hills. For $24 per night your site will have the fire ring / picnic table combo, and vault toilets are located throughout the campgrounds 40-some sites. There is also a small store and restaurant, which also serves beer, in case you forgot your camping essentials before you drove this far up the mountain.
Whether you’ve come to the Alabama Hills to summit Mt. Whitney, witness the exceptional sunsets or you’re just exploring the 395 in general, this is a must stop along the way to all points south, or Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes to the north.