Released just before the Christmas holidays last year on December 3, Wild is a biographical drama film directed by Jean-Marc Vallee based on the 2012 bestselling memoir of Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The film has received rave reviews from both critics and audiences, including a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition to receiving many award nominations (including the Academy Awards for Best Actress for both Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern), the movie’s location manager Nancy Haecker (The Judge, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and 2, 8 Mile, The Mexican, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Lucky You, Into The Wild) also won the Managers Guild of America Award for best locations in a contemporary film earlier this year in March.
In her memoir adapted for the movie, Ms. Strayed shares with us the story behind her solo 1,100-mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon. It was a journey to self-healing after experiencing the death of her mother. In addition to Witherspoon and Dern, Wild’s gorgeous Pacific Northwest filming locations collectively is the next big star of the movie.
Shot in less than 30 days in October and November of 2013, Wild involved close to 55 film locations. Since 100% of the movie was to be filmed on location and 60% of those locations in wilderness, park or national park areas, Haecker and her team of dedicated location scouts spent two months on wilderness trails. From Mojave Desert to Portland, Oregon, they went in search of the perfect locations for Wild. To complicate matters, just before principal photography about to start, the federal government had its shutdown resulting in the closing of all national parks. But these stumbling blocks didn’t deter the location manager because she also had multiple options in place should Plan A not work out. “I was excited to scout for the movie because I know how well landscapes can evoke human emotion,” shares Nancy Haecker in an article for the Winter 2015 issue of Compass Magazine. “I very much wanted to actually shoot in the Mojave. I wanted to honor the trail, and I also thought the quality of the desert light was important.”
Director Jean-Marc Vallee firmly believes that the movie must be shot entirely on location. "This film is about a woman in the wilderness and that's where it had to be shot," says Vallee. "We shot on the PCT as much as we could and in some other locations nearby, but we were always searching for that kind of beauty Cheryl writes about. We shot as early in the morning as we could to capture that morning light and we shot as late as we could to grab the sunsets." Some of the filming locations were so remote that the production needed the help of donkeys and horses to carry the filming equipment.
Seeing her memoir being filmed in Oregon was an emotional experience. “I love that it was shot in Oregon,” says Cheryl Strayed. “That meant a lot to me because it’s my home state. I live here. It was really cool to have this [movie] made here. And I did walk the whole state in the course of my hike.”
Along with Nancy Haecker, Roger Fairies, assistant location manager for Wild, also scouted for locations used in Wild. “It was an absolute joy to work with [the Wild production],” says Fairies. “I found that they knew the material well—meaning both the book and the screenplay—and that they set about with me in an almost childlike and optimistic search for these very specific locations and location areas that would fit the key elements of the story.”
Having Wild filmed nearly 100% in Oregon (except a one-day shoot in California’s Mojave Desert - on the last day of production) has a huge impact on Oregon and the state’s location team. “[Wild filming in Oregon] gives our film community a sense of great pride in not only their individual skills but the pride when some important film folks come here and completely ‘get’ your home,” says Faires. “No stone was left unturned to get the right location by me and my terrific peers, but also the whole Fox Searchlight team. There was always this attitude that Oregon has it and we will find it and we will film there! Period!”
Now, without further ado (this intro is long enough already), let's visit the beautiful and (for some) very iconic Pacific Northwest locations where Wild was filmed. Warning though, there will be a few spoilers ahead so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, watch it first before continuing on. Plus the locations will mean much more to you after you’ve seen Wild. It’s a great film. And if you haven't read the book yet either, head over to the bookstore. I promise ... it will change your life. (Or at least it will inspire you to hike the PCT next week - if possible.)
1. Pacific Crest Trail, the Mojave Desert, California
The Pacific Crest Trail ("PCT") is a 2,660-mile National Scenic Trail running from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that it takes an average hiker anywhere between six to eight months to plan for the trip, and four to six months to hike through it all.
Strayed herself had never seriously hiked before but she decided that walking through the PCT would help her find her way back to the woman her mother thought she was. Since the publishing of the book and then the release of the movie, thousands of first-time hikers have taken the trail, inspired by the author’s brave, soulful journey.
On the last day of filming, the production filmed at the exact same spot on the PCT where Cheryl began her journey in California’s Mojave Desert. Being there on the set at that exact location was an emotional experience for Strayed. Having the movie actually filmed on the Pacific Crest Trail itself was specifically meaningful for the author (who also had a cameo appearance at the beginning of the movie). “I was absolutely ecstatic that the last day of shooting the movie was on the PCT, on the very spot where I did, indeed, begin my hike,” states the author.
The production worked closely with the Pacific Crest Trail Association and affiliated consultants during the making of the movie. "What really surprised us on Wild is how hard everyone on the production was working to really make this experience feel very authentic and real," shares Liz Bergeron, Executive Director and CEO of the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
If you’d like to enjoy the gorgeous Mojave landscapes of the PCT personally, come to the Mojave National Preserve (roughly 230 miles northwest of Los Angeles and 143 miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada). But don’t forget to wear your best hiking boots, a lot of sunscreen, and bring plenty of water.
2. Mount Hood, Oregon, and the Famous Boot Drop Location
Both the movie and the book start with the scene when Cheryl’s boot accidentally fell off a cliff during her epic hike. That sequence was shot at the Mount Hood Ski Bowl region in Oregon. Jean-Marc Vallee, producer Bruna Papandrea, Nancy Haecker and Reese Witherspoon all agree that this was one of the most precarious locations to get to during the making of the movie. The cast and crew (and their equipment) had to go on a few ski lifts and then hike at least a half hour to get to the cliff where the boot drop scene was to be filmed. “The boot drop location is our hardest location to get to because she’s on a ledge with a very steep drop,” shares Haecker. Vallee also admitted the same. “That was the toughest one,” says the director. “We had to hike for half an hour. It was cold, very early.”
Located 50 miles east-southeast of Portland, between Clackamah and Hood River Counties, Mount Hood is the highest point in Oregon and one of the highest mountains in the U.S., measuring around 11,250 feet (depending on snow fall). Home of twelve named glaciers, including the popular Palmer Glacier, Mount Hood attracts an average of 10,000 climbers each year even though there are no trails to the summit.
Since the release of the movie, many hikers have tried to find the cliff where the famous boot drop scene was shot. Last month, Chris Kesting (one such hiker) claimed that he had found Witherspoon’s boot. “As soon as I saw that [scene], I said, I know that place. I’ve been there before,” says Kesting.
Along with a friend, Kesting hiked to Tom Dick and Harry Peak near Mount Hood Ski Bowl in Government Camp. Even though it would be almost impossible to find the boot, Kesting still tried to look for it. The search indeed paid off. Just when he was about to give up, Kesting found the red laces of the famous boot. He even recorded a video documenting his Wild boot adventure. The boot is now proudly displayed in Kesting’s home in Camas.
Cheryl's boots are so iconic (as featured on the cover of her book) that the Wild production asked Danner (a Portland shoe factory) to make exact duplicates of the famous boots (originally made by REI) for the movie. Witherspoon thinks Danner made at least 30 pairs of boots since she had to rehearse throwing them off the cliff quite a few times. The boots (called "Mountain Light Cascade") are still available on Danner's website, in case you want your own a pair of the Wild boots.
The Danner Wild boots have full-grain leather upper and are 100% waterproof with breathable Gore-Tex lining. They also sport the iconic flat red laces. My favorite part about these boots is that they come in a vintage-style Danner box, an exact replica Danner used in 1995, the year Cheryl Strayed went on her PCT adventure. Also included in the package is a sew-on patch featuring an image of Mount Hood and the Pacific Crest Trail mile marker 2,096 - the gateway to Mount Hood National Forest.
3. Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake was one of the real-life locations that Cheryl visited during her PCT hike. Located in south-central Oregon in Klamath County, Crater Lake is a caldera lake and the main attraction of Crater Lake National Park. Famous for its stunning deep blue color and clear water, Crater Lake fills a 2100-foot deep caldera formed over 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama volcano collapsed. Contained in and by itself, there are no waterways flowing into or out of Crater Lake. At 1,943 feet, the lake is the deepest lake in the country. Originally named “Deep Blue Lake,” the lake has been renamed at least three times - Blue Lake, Lake Majesty and now Crater Lake. Native Americans have long considered Crater Lake a sacred, spiritual site.
For the movie, Crater Lake makes a brief yet memorable appearance as the PCT brings Cheryl (Witherspoon) straight to Crater Lake National Park. In real life, however, to enjoy the epic views of the water, hikers need to take a slight detour from the trail. From there they can get on a smaller path leading to the edge of the crater where they can finally see the breathtaking view featured in Wild.
Witherspoon was overwhelmed when she saw the lake. “I was so excited to go to Crater Lake because in the book that was the one place I really want to go there,” shares Reese Witherspoon. “It was extraordinary. It was the bluest water I’ve ever seen and there’s a tiny mountain in the middle of it. I think we were all just awe-struck.” It’s no wonder Native Americans has held the lake as a spiritual place. “[The lake] fills you up. It makes you feel more whole to be experiencing this incredible beauty in the world,” says the actor. “It makes you feel like things are going to be ok.”
"Crater Lake is something you can't double," says executive producer Nathan Ross. "There were a number of iconic locations where it was critical that we be able to shoot and that you couldn't possibly green-screen."
Strayed experienced the same mystical feelings when she arrived at the lake. “When you go to Crater Lake, what you’re actually seeing is healing,” shares the author. “I got to that lake, I hiked all that way, I get there and I see what it is. And it was to be the physical embodiment of what I needed to do which was to make the transformation from wasteland to lake. From the site of destruction to a place of beauty.” After watching the movie, I truly believe it was at Crater Lake that the healing process began for Cheryl.
The PCT joins Crater Lake National Park for about 33 miles, including six miles along the edge of the caldera presenting hikers spectacular views of Crater Lake. If you’re ever in the area, a good hike begins at the Crater Lake Lodge heading north. Along the way you can climb The Watchman and its lookout tower which has possibly the best view in the park.
4. Ashland, Oregon
In October 2013, the Wild production came to Ashland, Oregon, to film for a day at the downtown Plaza. Over 200 local actors came to be extras in the movie. Main Street downtown was closed to traffic from Granite Street to Pioneer Street for filming. The movie was shot at the local boutique Papaya, the post office, and The Breadboard Restaurant. Located in Oregon’s Jackson County, Ashland is a quaint small town situated at the foot of several mountain ridges. It has a population of approximately 20,700, and is well-known as the home for Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
In 1995, Cheryl made a stop in Ashland toward the end of her journey. For the movie, it was not even considered that the Ashland scenes could be filmed elsewhere. “This is the real Ashland. And we were very determined to go to the real Ashland,” says producer Bruna Papandrea.
The boutique Papaya became the Moon Rising shop in the movie where Witherspoon (as Cheryl) tried on a lipstick after her long hike. (See screenshots below filmed on location in front of and inside Papaya.)
The Breadboard Restaurant was where she had dinner by herself before her date night in Ashland. The brief dinner scene was filmed at the Breadboard’s outdoor dining area where Cheryl gets to enjoy her first real meal (a burger) in weeks and the breathtaking view of Grizzly Peak and the hills surrounding the Rogue Valley.
Coincidentally - or not - Moviemaker magazine earlier this year named Ashland as the "No. 1 best place to live and work for filmmakers."
In addition to many other film-related attributes, Ashland attracts filmmakers because of its diverse locations. “If you can’t go to New Zealand, come to Southern Oregon!” says filmmaker Courtney Williams who declares the area’s “woods and forests, wildflower meadows, otherworldly dunes, the coast with its dramatic cliffs, rivers and rapids, and mountainsides” some of Oregon’s most picturesque landscapes. With 785 acres of parks, Ashland is a mecca for nature lovers and filmmakers. “You can create multiple worlds in multiple time periods here,” says Williams. “And the Oregon Shakespeare Festival repertory company can outfit those eras—their collection rivals Western Costume!”
Local Ashland video production companies such as Way West Media continue to support the fast-growing local film industry. They do so by providing equipment rentals and knowledgeable crews to productions both local and out-of-state.
5. Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
One of the scenes in Wild was filmed at the cathedral-like Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. Even though it’s not located directly on the PCT, Smith Rock’s stunning landscapes drew the filmmakers to the area. Most people watching the movie probably wouldn’t know that the location doesn’t really belong on the PCT, but for sure Oregonians would spot their iconic Smith Rock a mile away. Ms. Strayed explains the decision behind filming Wild at Smith Rock as necessary for logistical reasons. “The intention was always to capture the stunning and diverse natural beauty of the PCT, even if we weren’t always on it,” says Strayed. “Though Smith Rock is iconic to Oregonians, most who see the film won’t know the difference.”
Considered as an Oregon wonder, Smith Rock rises majestically from the desert landscape inspiring adventurers from all over the world to climb it. One such climber was Ms. Witherspoon - as she reenacts Cheryl’s solo adventure along the PCT. (See screenshots below - filmed on location at Smith Rock State Park.)
6. Portland, Oregon
Dear readers, if you get this far in this article, did you know that of all the Oregon locations used for the movie, Portland is featured most in the film? This bohemian city (one of my favorite U.S. cities and Cheryl Strayed's current hometown) portrays multiple roles in Wild: California, Nevada, Minnesota and … of course also … itself.
In a scene where Cheryl and her husband were arguing as he was driving a car, Portland's Interstate 5 Bridge breezes by outside the car’s window. The Mexican restaurant where Cheryl tells her friend she’s pregnant is - in real life - the Casba Mediterranean Cafe located on Northwest Davis Street. (See below screenshot - filmed on location at the Casba Mediterranean Cafe.)
Portland’s Courtesy Inn Motel located off Northeast Sandy Boulevard also stands in as a motel in both Ashland and the Mojave Desert (where Cheryl (Witherspoon) stays at the beginning of the movie as she puts together for the first time her backpack "Monster").
In the movie, after her dinner (filmed at The Breadboard Restaurant), Cheryl went to meet her date at a musical event in Ashland. This portion of the film was actually shot at the Mississippi Studios’ Bar Bar Patio in Portland, Oregon. (See below screenshot.)
Located in the heart of Portland’s Historic Mississippi District, the venue is a big attraction for musicians and music-lovers in Portland. Bar Bar Patio is the restaurant side of the venue offering the best burgers in town. In case you’re interested in filming your next music video or production at a cool venue, Mississippi Studios is available for private events and filming.
7. Paulina Lake Lodge & Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Ms. Strayed in real life made a stop at the Kennedy Meadows. For the movie, it’s actually Paulina Lake Lodge that stood in as the film location for Kennedy Meadows. Gorgeously situated on the shore of majestic Paulina Lake inside Newberry Crater and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Paulina Lake Lodge offers overnight lodging, rental boats, a restaurant, and even a general store complete with tackles and baits. Paulina Lake, like Crater Lake, was formed by volcanic activity in the caldera eons ago.
Why substituting Paulina Lake Lodge for Kennedy Meadows? “The actual Kennedy Meadows has a store and some camp spots but it would have been quite difficult to bring a decent-sized film production there,” explains Faires. “This state is mind-blowing and it has these features that most people outside of Oregon don’t even know exist. After all, two-thirds of the state is not only arid but is actually true desert, and in fact much dryer in some areas than its California counterparts.”
As to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, it was created in November 1990 within the boundaries of Deschutes National Forest. The Monument, which includes 56,400 acres of lakes, lava flows and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, allows visitors to view the Lava Lands of central Oregon.
8. The Oregon Badlands
Standing in for both California’s Modoc Plateau and the Mojave Desert is the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. The Badlands is a 29,300-acre topographically flat wilderness area east of Bend, Oregon. It's well-known for its igneous castle-like rock formations, harsh terrain, ancient Juniper trees, sagebrush, and desert landscapes. For hikers, finding their way around the Badlands can be quite challenging since there are no trail signs or markers (except for user-created trails which are not on the official maps).
With a few smartly-placed Joshua trees, the production designer John Paino deftly transformed the Badlands (located 12 miles east of Bend, Oregon, along State Highway 20) into the Mojave Desert, where Cheryl spent her first overnight camping on the PCT. (See below screenshot.)
The Badlands also stands in for the Modoc Plateau in the movie where Cheryl ran out of water. She was devastated to find out that the only water tank around was also empty. (See below screenshots.)
9. The Bridge Of The Gods, Oregon
The movie ends when Cheryl reaches the beautiful, iconic Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, Oregon. Operating as a toll bridge that spans the Columbia River (largest in the Pacific Northwest and the fourth largest river in the U.S.) connecting Washington and Oregon, the bridge was also where Cheryl realizes that she no longer needs to continue her hiking adventure. (See below three screenshots.)
The Bridge of the Gods is a very special location to Cheryl in the book and in the movie. “The Bridge of the Gods, I think, is significant to so many people who live in this region in the Pacific Northwest, but it has such personal meaning to me because of course it’s the place where I ended my 1100-mile hike on the PCT,” shares Strayed.
The ending of Wild couldn’t have been filmed anywhere else. The Bridge of the Gods was a crucial film location for both the movie and for the author. No other location could take its place. "We had to be at the Bridge of the Gods because that is such an emotional high point in Cheryl's story and it had to be authentic," says producer Nathan Ross.
Four years after her long hike to the Bridge of the Gods, Cheryl came back to the bridge to marry for a second time and start the next exciting chapter of her life. The Bridge of the Gods represents the perfect ending for her self-healing journey.
Filming in Oregon
If you're interested in filming your next production in Oregon, visit the Oregon Film Office (a LocationsHub client). The state's film incentive programs offer 20% rebate of Oregon-based goods and services. They also include cash payment (not credits) of up to 16.2% of wages paid to production personnel. Last but not least, you can search for Oregon film locations online.
Filming in California
If you're interested in filming in California, visit the California Film Commission (another LocationsHub client). California's Film and TV Tax Credit Program is extensive, and the California film locations are also available online for searching.
PHOTO CREDIT: Banner photo via Google.