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Whitney Portal Road Campgrounds

Saturday, May 28

The Alabama Hills is a superb boondocking location. Private, large spots set in a sprawling wonderland of sculpted boulders, majestic mountain vistas to the west and east, a nearby town for supplies and several points of interest worth visiting, and nearly endless hiking and exploring opportunities.

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Inside the hollow rock at my campsite, looking out

In the mornings, I put on my sneakers, pick a direction, and start walking. I’ve yet to be disappointed.

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Today I walk to Mobius Arch, a mere mile from camp. This is the best known arch in the area, but there are countless other little windows and arches in the Hills, many of which can only be found by going off-trail.

There is a parking lot at the trailhead for Mobius Arch, and it’s only a half-mile from this lot round trip so a person does not to be an accomplished hiker to see this pretty feature.

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It’s recommended to come in the morning to photograph it, that way the light is shining on the Sierra Nevada range and if you stand in the right spot, you can catch Mt. Whitney through the opening. It’s quite a sight! I was not sure which of the peaks was Mt. Whitney at first so caught a few from different angles, and later discovered which was the correct one. I’ve heard if one arrives at sunrise that’s best, but not being a sunrise kind of gal I take these photos around 10 am ant they look fine to me.

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Mt. Whitney is that one in the sunlight behind the shadowed peaks

The weather in Owens Valley is quite fickle, and apparently challenging to predict. Yesterday, there was a 50% chance for rain, and hardly a cloud in the sky all day. Today that chance is 20% and towering masses threaten rain all day, and finally deliver around sunset. Two days ago, there was a high chance of rain the whole weekend, now tomorrow is 0%.

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I must conclude that the only thing to do while here is stick your head out of your RV and get a 360 degree view on occasion, as weather also seems capable of coming from any direction.

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White Mountains at sunset

Monday, May 30

Besides free dispersed camping here along Movie Road, there are also three pay campgrounds along Witney Portal Road, heading west from Lone Pine, CA. Today I’ve a mind to see what they’re like.

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Site 34

The first is just a mile or so west of the turnoff for Movie Road is the turnoff for Tuttle Creek Campground, managed by the BLM.

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Lacking the red rocks of the Alabama Hills, sites here are very open, and have an unimpeded view of the Sierra. This campground also has a usable Verizon signal, and at $5 a night (no hookups; pit toilets, dumpsters, water spigots and dump station present) is very reasonably priced.

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It’s likely that when I need to dump in the near future, I’ll bring Cas out here to do it and then stay a few nights with the luxury of internet right from my campsite.

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The road in is packed sand as are the sites, and there are numerous sites big enough for big rigs. Tuttle Creek runs between the long camping loops and isn’t of any great size,but the shrubs and short trees growing along the banks do break up the monotony of desert sage.

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Site 8, Tuttle Creek behind

Whitney Portal Road continues its gradual climb. Far ahead, switchbacks climb up into the mountains and I wonder if that’s the trail that leads to Mt. Whitney itself.

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The switchback is not a trail…

Beyond Tuttle Creek is Lone Pine Campground, located in Inyo National Forest. While still among the sage, bears do occasionally venture this far down and all the sites here have bear boxes. The campground itself is not visible from the road though, because it’s down in a small canyon following… yes, Lone Pine Creek.

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It’s greener down in the canyon, some of the sites have partial shade and the temperature is a bit cooler with the higher elevation. There are 40 sites here, some are tent only and some would fit up to a medium sized RV.

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Pads are paved, but the pavement is crumbling and in places gone entirely. Amenities are the same as at Tuttle Creek.

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It’s $20 a night here though, ouch. I wonder at the price, until I find a short path down to the creek from one of the tent sites and am wowed by pools of crystal clear water interspersed by narrow rapids between gray granite rocks, all sheltered by the boughs of trees growing along the shore. It’s very peaceful.

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Still farther ahead, Whitney Portal Road reaches a line of scrubby juniper and pinyon pine trees and continues to climb. It takes me a bit to realize that I’m now ascending the switchbacks that I’d seen far below. It’s a long way down…

Yikes!

Yikes!

After the switchbacks, the road turns into a canyon between the peaks, which now seem close enough to touch. Drifts of snow remain at the highest elevations. I hadn’t realized the road climbed this high and am thrilled to finally be in the mountains.

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Mt. Whitney Family Campground is set among towering Jeffrey pine, the narrowing, curving track linking the sites is unsuitable for RVs save truck campers or vans.

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It’s $22 a night to camp here, and I imagine most of the campers who make use of it are those going to hike to the top of Mt. Whitney, staying here would let them get an early morning start.

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Incongruously, there are also cabins among the tent sites, numbered and most with plaques hanging of the family staying there. I’m not sure if they’re seasonal rentals or owned, but it sure is a beautiful setting for them.

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Beyond this third and final campground is the staging area for the Mt. Whitney trail, at 8,360 feet elevation. 11 miles one-way with an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet, Mt. Whitney is considered an easy summit, relatively speaking of course. No technical climbing gear is needed once the winters snows melt, but a person does have to be fit I’d imagine. There are backpacking campgrounds along the route, but some hardy souls make a day trip out of it.

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I was surprised to find a shop at the trailhead, but have been informed that many of these little canyon roads into the Sierra have something of the kind. I reckon this one caters to hikers.

Watching small groups of hikers prepare for the journey, I mentally add “ascend Mt. Whitney” to my dream list. I can only imagine what the view from up there at the highest point in the lower 48 states is like, but I bet that plus the feeling of accomplishment would make the journey worth it.

The trees are just starting to leaf out at this elevation

The trees are just starting to leaf out at this elevation

One cannot just show up and climb to the top however. A backcountry permit is required and during the peak season (May 1 to November 1) there are restrictions on the number of groups allowed to go up, with lotteries held in advance. These permits are obtained from the visitor center just south of Lone Pine along 395.

Kids were fishing in this little pond

Kids were fishing in this little pond

On the way back down, I stop at a pullover and catch a panorama of Owens Valley below, Whitney Portal Road snaking away into town. A very fine place to camp, indeed!

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

36 Comments

  1. John on July 11, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    I am continuing to enjoy your blog (reading through past posts and resources). This might not be the best place to ask but above you say you weren’t sure of the legality of 3 sites for possible boondocking. I only learned the word boondocking a few days ago so I am still learning about all that aspect. What are good resources to learn more about it? What resources do you use to find spots or plan where to camp (apps?)? Do those resources provide decent guides to road conditions? Have you run into trouble finding bad roads where you planned to boondock?
    John recently posted..Location Independent Living Can Be In Your Comfort Zone and a Good ExperienceMy Profile



  2. Joan on June 5, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Just breath taking Becky, those rocks do call to one. With friends saying, “you seen one rock you have seen them all” they do not understand the catch in the throat to see such beauty and natural grandeur…thanks for sharing. I too, have had that hitch hopping with my Casita, might consider changing to a flat stand instead of having just the cylinder tube. I feel a lot safer now…continued safe journeys!



    • Becky on June 6, 2016 at 9:33 am

      I’ll look into it Joan, thanks.

      Yeah, traveling out west has definitely given me a greater appreciation for rocks!



  3. Tuan on June 3, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Becky,

    Hope you are having a nice day. After reading your latest post and looking at the beautiful pictures, I realize that you embody the following saying:

    “The journey is the reward.”



    • Becky on June 3, 2016 at 6:16 pm

      It sure is Tuan, take care.



  4. john on June 3, 2016 at 5:35 am

    Great review Becky! Question about BLM boondocking in this park (or similar free BLM locations). If I need to stay for say 30 days, isn’t there a 2 week limit? If there is a 2 week limit, would relocating the RV to another site (even if 200 yards away in the same park) allow me to stay 30 days, or do the rangers frown on this?



    • Becky on June 3, 2016 at 6:15 pm

      Most BLM land (including the Alabama Hills) has a 14 day stay limit, and for many you need to go at least 25 miles away for a month or more before you can come back – but it does vary from district to district. You’ll have to research the area you want to stay at and possibly call the rangers and ask.

      Some BLM areas participate in a Long Term Visitor program where you can purchase a pass and stay on BLM land for months at a time, prices are always changing and you’ll want to make sure the pass is valid for the area(s) you want to stay so again you’ll have to do some research.

      Best of luck!



  5. BoxinTheCompass on June 1, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    Simply lovely Becky… is it hot there? How is the water temps in those pools in that creek?



    • Becky on June 2, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      There’s a heat wave going on right now so yes, it was hot – much hotter than usual for this time of year (I’ve moved north because of it). The snowmelt coming out of the mountains is cold, rinsing off feels great but you wouldn’t want to lay around in the water.



  6. Wayne Wirs on June 1, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    In case you didn’t see them, there are three free dispersed campsites just on the left side of the road before you get to Turtle Creek campground. They’re on BLM land and right on the creek. Here’s one: https://goo.gl/maps/PSMh7MsFKGz

    Whenever I’m in Lone Pine, I’ll use one of these (though I’m usually there off-season, so I don’t know how available they are this time of year). Good luck!
    Wayne Wirs recently posted..If You Do Everything For Love…My Profile



    • Becky on June 2, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      Yep I saw them (maybe three or so sites?) but wasn’t sure about the legality. Thanks for clearing things up.



  7. joelazzaro on June 1, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    Looks fun. I havnt been out in these places rv’ing since I was 12. I took Amtrak across the country recently and loved the views. Want to see all these areas again.



    • Becky on June 2, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      It’s a beautiful part of the country Joe, I hope you get the chance to come back out here soon. I’ve friends who’ve taken an Amtrak trip and said they had a blast, I hope you did too.



  8. Ernesto Quintero on June 1, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Mt. Whitney hike: 11 mile one way with over 6,000 vertical feet gain! And that’s on top of the starting altitude of, what 8,000 feet? Only fit hikers need apply or the unprepared will have major league muscle aches and possibly suffer extreme stiffness and pain. A backpacking buddy back in the mid 80’s had those conditions at the end of a three day hike on the Appellation Trail in New Hampshire near Mt. Washington, I was a very fit, he wasn’t. Yosemite N.P. Yosemite Valley has some awesome trails up to the waterfalls, but beware sanding soil on sections of the trails, it’s makes it much harder going up, bring lots of drinking water or use small filter to get some at the top. Beautiful views of the valley from on top, but high altitude, strong sun and severe pitch make for some serious hiking conditions. I <3 the Golden State, I can't wait to travel it in my future Class C, but now I'm stuck in flat Florida!



    • Becky on June 2, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Starting at 8,360 feet Ernesto. 🙂 Yes a person would definitely want to prepare for this hike, most people do it in 3 days which would be less of a strain but still…

      I’ve hiked the loop to Nevada and Vernal Falls in Yosemite which was a trek but not 6,000 feet. https://interstellarorchard.com/2014/10/25/yosemite-national-park-ca/

      You’ll be on the road before you know it, best of luck!



  9. Dawn in MI on June 1, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Wow. LOVE that third image..close up of the arch…AND double love the weather photo two more down. The “50% chance of rain” is right there in the image. Absolutely beautiful. Liked all the images, actually. Amazing what a phone camera can do in the hands of a talented photographer!



    • Becky on June 2, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      Thanks Dawn, although really it’s hard to take a bad photo in the Alabama Hills, a person could almost close their eyes and spin in a circle and *click* and get a decent photo. 🙂



  10. Jose on June 1, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Hello Becky, thank you for posting this place. i have not been there, but i will definitely check it out. It would be fun to meet you somewhere for a weekend. i live in Los Angeles and i try to go camping on the weekends. I will be going to Quaking aspen campground if you are around for the 4th of July weekend. we are going to be at group camp site. stop by and say hello



    • Becky on June 2, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Hello Jose. Already moving north to escape the heat and I’ll be long gone from the area by July 4, but have a great time at Quaking Aspen. I do recommend this place, but you’ll probably want to stick to spring and fall for camping here. 🙂



  11. Jeff on June 1, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Great review of the campgrounds around Lone Pine, with your stunning pictures sure would like to be there right now!

    You also point out the difference between the BLM (Department of Interior) sites and the FS (Department of Agriculture) sites – just the cost!

    For your readers: Just south of Lone Pine on 395 is BLM’s Fossil Falls ($4/$2) off Cinder Road. Pit toilet, hand pump water, limited (but interesting) hiking, miles of off-road, good cell signal. This is the one we use most often – only once have we had to share it, and the sky is dark – very dark, great for stargazing.

    Looking forward to your next stop.
    Jeff recently posted..Mission Bay’s De Anza Cove–RedevelopmentMy Profile



    • Becky on June 1, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Maybe once the heat wave is over Jeff, no hiking the past couple days because of the heat. Thanks for sharing your spot.



  12. Jay on June 1, 2016 at 8:52 am

    HI Becky,
    great wright up and photos especially the arch ones, I look forward to your postings and photos.
    Haven’t been up to MT. Whitney in years and back then they didn’t have the store at the trail head and back in the 1950s in to the 1960s we had the place to our self’s , no permit needed to hike the Mt. Whitney trail ( times have changed ) .

    Did you see the photo in Ralph’s blog of your camp from a 1/2 mile away?

    Have fun and will check back soon. Jay



    • Becky on June 1, 2016 at 11:44 am

      It’s the most hiked mountain in the Sierra, possibly in the US according to statistics. I suppose word got out that it doesn’t take fancy gear to climb and imagine the bragging rights of saying you stood atop the highest point in the lower 48 is worth a lot to some people, it’s certainly part of what drew me. 🙂

      Nope I haven’t looked at Ralph’s site yet, I don’t get internet at camp and it’s been so warm I haven’t been staying down in town to get online any longer than I have to, but I will when I can.



  13. Jodee Gravel on June 1, 2016 at 8:28 am

    So glad you made the drive up to the Portal – I’m surprised there are still patches of snow although it was very cold up there in October while very warm below. Nice review of the campgrounds – they are so pretty. We especially like Turtle Creek although we stayed in town last time. The Old Fish Hatchery just north of you in Independence is a lovely spot as well as having an interesting and lovingly maintained interpretive center. Take you lunch and sit by the pond.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..The Adult Children of Full-Timers Are So Lucky!My Profile



    • Becky on June 1, 2016 at 11:41 am

      The snow stays up in mountain tops until mid-July I’ve heard. Elevation makes a huge difference.

      I’ll see about visiting Independence, you’re not the first to mention it. Take care!



  14. Don on June 1, 2016 at 7:07 am

    What is the daytime temp? We have a generator, but it won’t run the a/c.We are planning on being in the west next month. I have been up Hwy.395 several times but not camping Thanks.



    • Becky on June 1, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Daytime highs at my camp have been anywhere from 68 to 86 while I’ve been here, but it is going to get up to 90 the next day or two the weathermen are saying. It’s warmer down in Lone Pine, cooler closer to the mountains.



  15. RGupnorth on June 1, 2016 at 4:57 am

    Very nice area to camp. Thanks for sharing.

    Bob



    • Becky on June 1, 2016 at 11:34 am

      You’re welcome!



  16. Jim W. on June 1, 2016 at 2:29 am

    Those views were nothing but impressive. Can’t wait to see where you stop next.



    • Becky on June 1, 2016 at 11:30 am

      This is such a beautiful area Jim.



  17. Pamelab on May 31, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    Gorgeous views, even if your knees are shaking. Well, mine might be if I saw what you saw while driving up into the mountains. So excited for you. Have a nice visit. Thanks for all those beautiful photos. Are you getting those nice photos with your phone? Amazing. Thank you for sharing all the info and the photos. What a beautiful place. Happy trails.
    Pamelab in Houston



    • Becky on May 31, 2016 at 10:55 pm

      Yes Pamela, my phone is my only camera. You’re welcome and glad you enjoyed them. Hopefully you get the chance to come out here yourself before long and see these sights firsthand. 🙂



  18. stephanie a brown on May 31, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    great account of your adventures.
    lots of clear pics mixed with artistry.
    you do know how to get into the details.
    Glad to find out about these special areas.
    my rig is too big for some .. gonna have to get a smaller unit like yours one day.

    thanks again for taking us along.



    • Becky on May 31, 2016 at 10:54 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Stephanie. Smaller rigs do help for the older/more out of the way campgrounds, but then you lose living space. Everything’s a trade off, individuals need to weigh the pros and cons of each type of RV and decide for themselves what is best. Take care!



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