Mobius Arch is one of the most famous natural arches in the Alabama Hills. A prime photo spot by day or by night, Mobius Arch can be accessed via a loop trail.
Famous because it perfectly frames Mount Whitney (or Lone Pine Peak, depending on your angle of sight), Mobius Arch is about 6 feet high and about 17 feet across.
Located just west of Lone Pine in eastern California, the Alabama Hills feature stunning rock formations against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. And the Mobius Arch Loop Trail enables you to get up close to some of these formations. You can even do some rock scrambling if you choose!
In season, Mobius Arch is a popular spot to visit, and you will likely share the trail with lots of other visitors to the National Scenic Area. Whether as part of a Lone Pine vacation or a stop on a Highway 395 road trip, this family-friendly trail is sure to delight.
Planning to visit Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills of California? Read on to learn what to expect on the trail, plus our tips for an enjoyable experience.
What can you expect on the Mobius Arch Loop Trail?
Stunning desert scenery at every step! Majestic rock formations are everywhere along the trail, plus you get views of the beautiful mountain peaks to the west.
While Mobius Arch is definitely the prime attraction, you see a couple of other famous Alabama Hills arches on this trail as well: Heart Arch, and Lathe Arch. You can also look for unnamed arches: there are lots of them in the Alabama Hills.
We’ve hiked the trail both clockwise and counter-clockwise, and we’ve described it counter-clockwise here, because in our opinion the trail is easier to follow in this direction.
From the parking lot, the trail descends into a wash, from where it ascends and makes its way towards Mobius Arch. As you walk the roughly circular route, you will be treated to iconic Alabama Hills scenery: enormous picturesque rock formations, with a sprinkling of desert vegetation.
Along the trail, you can view some rock formations from up close, and some from afar. Photo opportunities abound, so if you love landscape photography, it’s worthwhile visiting when the light is right. If you enjoy rock scrambling, allow for extra time: there are many rocks you can clamber up. It’s a great trail for young kids!
At the start of the trail, before you make your way into the wash, look for Heart Arch in the distance. The heart shape of this arch is most clearly seen from the parking lot, but you can also see it up close.
Along the trail, keep your eyes open for desert creatures: you will likely see lizards, and perhaps a snake, kit fox, or jackrabbit. You may see birds in the vegetation as well.
Mobius Arch is so named because it looks like a Mobius strip. It is a fabulous photo spot.
The iconic arch comes up toward the end of the loop if you hike it counter-clockwise. To get the view of the mountain peaks framed in the arch, you have to do some rock scrambling. You can climb up to the arch window both from the front and the back of the arch.
You can frame Mount Whitney or Lone Pine Peak in your photos, depending on your angle of sight. Lone Pine Peak is the more photogenic of the two peaks.
The arch itself is impressive, even when just viewed from the trail, so the short hike is worthwhile whether you scramble up to view Mount Whitney and the Sierras through Mobius Arch or not.
Mobius Arch looks great from the opposite side as well, so be sure to look back at it and snap some photos. The view from this side, of rock formations, is also beautiful.
Lathe Arch is not as easy to find, because it is located a little bit off the main trail. Continue along the loop past Mobius Arch for a few steps, and keep your eyes peeled for a small trail leading to the left, through the rocks. Usually, there are footsteps in the loose sand or dirt, to show you the way.
Lathe Arch is straight and smaller than you’d think from looking at photos of it online, and you have to maneuver to get into position to frame Mount Whitney within the arch for a photo.
Completing the Loop Trail
The last stretch of the trail back to the parking lot is very scenic, because you get expansive views of the Sierra Nevada peaks and the rock formations in front of the mountain range as you walk.
From Lathe Arch, return to the main trail, and head away from Mobius Arch to continue the loop. At the end of the loop, the trail ascends out of the wash and brings you back to the parking lot.
Exploring Off Trail
The Mobius Arch Loop Trail is a popular place for exploring off trail, especially if you enjoy photographing rock formations or you love the desert. When we hiked the trail we saw several folks with tripods in places off the main trail, trying to get their dream shots of the picturesque area.
If you do choose to go off the main trail, make sure you have maps or a navigational device, and plenty of water. When we hiked this trail clockwise, we did go off trail without meaning to, and it took us a while to get back onto the trail.
Remember not to trample on vegetation if you go off trail. You will see signs saying “Don’t crush the brush” at different spots in the Alabama Hills — desert plants provide interest to the landscape and habitat for birds and wildlife and need to be protected!
Essential facts about Mobius Arch Loop Trail
Mobius Arch is a 0.6-mile loop trail, with a small elevation change of about 65 feet. It is classed as easy. The elevation change occurs mainly at the start and end of the trail, to get into and out of the wash.
You can hike the loop in either direction. In our opinion, doing it counter-clockwise offers a more dramatic view of Mobius Arch: you see it as you come around a bend.
There are two series of steps at the start of the trail to get into and out of the wash if you hike it counter-clockwise, and a slope and an uphill ramp at the end of the trail, again to get in and out of the wash, before you are back at the parking lot.
The trail is packed or loose dirt and sand for much of its length, with a few rocky patches. In some areas, the trail is clearly demarcated with stones, and in others, there are small signs that indicate the Arch Trail.
But there are parts of the Arch Trail that are not clearly delineated, and it’s possible to stray off the trail into the desert, especially if you are hiking the loop clockwise. Once off the trail, it is easy to lose your bearings if you are a novice desert hiker.
Bikes and horses are permitted on the Mobius Arch Loop Trail. Dogs on leash are permitted.
There is no fee to enter Alabama Hills National scenic Area or to hike the Mobius Arch Loop Trail. The Alabama Hills National Scenic Area is always open.
The Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, which includes the Mobius Arch Loop, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. We’ve hiked the loop a number of times and always found the area pristine wilderness. Let’s keep it that way!
How to get to the trailhead for Mobius Arch Loop Trail
The Mobius Arch Loop Trail is located in the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, just west of Lone Pine, California.
From town, head west along Mount Whitney Road until you hit the turnoff for Movie Road, which is the main dirt road that runs through the Alabama Hills. Follow Movie Road to the parking lot for Mobius Arch Loop Trail. (See map.)
The parking area is a good size, so you should generally not have problems finding a spot. Once you get out of your car, you will see the left and right ends of the loop if you face north, with the mountains to your left.
There are trail signs at both the left entrance and the right entrance to the loop. If you are planning to hike the loop counter-clockwise, walk over to the right along the parking area, you should see the trail sign and steps leading down into the wash.
How long does it take to hike Mobius Arch Trail in the Alabama Hills?
The Mobius Arch Loop Trail is short but very scenic. While you could do the loop in about 30 minutes, you will want to allow more time if you enjoy landscape photography, or wish to stop to observe wildlife, explore off trail, or enjoy some rock scrambling.
This is a trail young kids will enjoy, so if you are traveling with kids, allow plenty of time so they can clamber over rocks and experience the beauty of the desert at leisure. They will love watching lizards catching some sun on the rocks, or darting across the trail.
Note that at busy times, there may be a queue at Mobius Arch for snapping photos. At our most recent visit on a summer morning, there was one group at the arch, so our wait was brief.
If you are short on time and just wish to see Mobius Arch, you can opt to do the trail clockwise and start the trail at the left entrance, which will bring you to the famous arch in just a few minutes. After you snap photos, you can retrace your steps to the parking lot instead of doing the entire loop.
What to bring on the Mobius Arch Hike
There is no drinking water along the Mobius Arch Trail (or, indeed in the Alabama Hills), and it can be dry on the trail regardless of time of year. Carry adequate drinking water to stay hydrated on your hike, and bring some extra in case you stray off the trail inadvertently or you tarry for another reason.
Refillable water bottles can be filled in Lone Pine, before you head out to the Alabama Hills. If you plan to spend a few hours exploring the area, carry reserves of potable water in your vehicle. A cooler, with water bottles nestled in ice, is a great idea.
Food and Snacks
Mobius Arch Loop Trail is a short hike, so you don’t need to carry food unless you plan to spend additional time exploring the area or you want to enjoy a meal while perched on a rock, enjoying the view of the Sierras as you eat.
There are no picnic tables, so if you hike around lunch, bring something no-fuss that you can munch while sitting on a rock. Snacks are a great option: we always bring protein bars and easy to eat fruit on short hikes to enjoy outdoors whilst we admire the scenery.
There are no services in the Alabama Hills, so buy your food or groceries in the town of Lone Pine.
Mobius Arch Loop Trail is exposed for its full length, and it is a desert hike. So remember to slather on sunscreen, and bring your sunglasses. We love this sunscreen! Also remember lip balm with SPF (we love this 3-pack!).
Digital Camera with Zoom Lens
If you hike the trail on a good weather day, when the light is good, you will likely get great shots along the trail with your smartphone.
But the area is scenic enough that we saw several folks with tripods and DSLRs when we hiked the trail most recently, in the summer. And of course, if you want to get that dream shot of Mount Whitney or Lone Pine Peak through the Mobius Arch, you will want to bring your best camera.
If you like photographing birds and wildlife, but don’t want to lug heavy gear on a hike, consider the Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70. It is a tiny camera, small enough to fit in a jacket pocket, but it has a high-quality Leica lens and a powerful 30X zoom. It also takes good landscape photos.
Tips for the Mobius Arch Hike in the Alabama Hills
Follow park safety guidelines
The Alabama Hills National Scenic Area is desert wilderness. For a safe and enjoyable hike, find out and follow park safety guidelines.
Hike in the spring or fall for the best weather
Spring and fall offer the most pleasant weather for the Mobius Arch hike, but even in those seasons, we recommend hiking the trail in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the worst of the sun. There is zero shade on the trail.
The Mobius Arch Loop Trail can get really hot in the summer, when daytime highs in the area can get up into the high 90s or triple digits. If you must hike the trail in the summer, plan on doing it very early in the morning, or very late in the evening.
Daytime temperatures in winter are generally in the 50s, so bring a windcheater or light jacket if you plan to hike the Mobius Arch Loop Trail during the day. It can be very cold early and late in the day, so you’ll need to bundle up if you hike at those times in the winter.
Hike early or late in high season for solitude
Mobius Arch is one of the most popular spots in the Alabama Hills, and the loop trail to the arch is very popular. If you like solitude on your hikes, and do not want to have to wait for photos at the arch, plan on hiking early or late in the day.
Explore across the way from the arch trail
On the side of the parking lot opposite to the Mobius Arch Loop Trail, you will find some cool rock formations, and a short walk to a viewpoint.
If time allows, plan to explore this area before or after you hike the Arch Trail.
Enjoy the drive along Movie Road
Even if the Mobius Arch Loop Trail is your focus, allow for time to appreciate the drive along beautiful Movie Road. Although it’s a short distance from the park entrance to the trailhead, you will likely want to stop for photos en route.
After your hike, if time permits, you can drive further on Movie Road before heading back. Along the road you will find the locations where scenes from many famous Westerns were filmed.
Wear sturdy walking or hiking shoes
Ideally, you will want to wear sturdy walking or hiking shoes with good grip for this trail, especially if you plan to explore off trail or do rock scrambling.
Remember that some scrambling is required to climb up to the arch window, and sturdy footwear with excellent grip is a must.
Dress for the weather
Weather in the Alabama Hills can vary widely, so you will want to dress based on the weather forecast. Layers are recommended between late fall and early spring.
Between late spring and early fall, light, loose, long-sleeved tops and light long pants are ideal, to stay cool and comfortable.
Allow more time than you think you’ll need
If you love the desert, the Mobius Arch Loop Trail will make you want to linger, to appreciate the spectacular beauty of the proximal landscape and the majesty of the mountains to the west.
We’ve spent as much as three hours along this short trail, but we generally allow about 90 minutes, to savor the silence and the scenery as we walk the loop at a leisurely pace and snap lots of photos.
Don’t count on cell reception
Cell reception in the Alabama Hills can be spotty to non-existent. Make sure you download maps and brochures before you head out, and carry printed copies as back-up.
Good to know: It’s possible to get lost on this short trail, especially if you hike it when there aren’t other people around to give you a sense of where the trail is. Markers are inconspicuous (look down to spot some of them). Carry a navigational device or a hard-copy trail map!
Use restrooms in Lone Pine
There are no services in the Alabama Hills, including at the Mobius Arch Loop Trail. Use restrooms in Lone Pine before you set out on the short drive to the trailhead.
Other California hiking trails you may enjoy
Rainbow Falls Hike in Mammoth Lakes
Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes
Hiking Hidden Valley Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park
Hike the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail
Bird Island Trail in Point Lobos State Reserve
Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in Cambria, California
Hike Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley National Park!
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