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Reese Witherspoon, The Wild

California, Washington, Oregon

As Seen on Film: A Wild Hike Along the Pacific Crest Trail

By: Miriam B. Weiner

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  • States:
    California
    Washington
    Oregon

The movie "Wild" recounts the true story of Cheryl Strayed’s three-month journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail stretches more than 4,200 kilometers from the U.S.-Mexico border to the U.S.-Canada border, winding its way through California, Oregon and Washington states. The trail weaves through 25 U.S. national forests and seven national parks. Along the way, intrepid hikers experience sprawling desert sweeps, rustling redwood forests and towering mountain peaks.

In the film, Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon portrays Strayed, a woman who hiked a large portion of the Pacific Crest Trail on her own in an effort to right herself after her divorce and the death of her mother.

“I want audiences to see a part of the world that they have never seen on film,” Witherspoon said in an interview about the movie. “You can see where it fills you up, it makes you feel more whole to be experiencing this incredible beauty in the world. It makes you feel like things are going to OK.”

Many of these breathtaking landscapes appear in the film; in many ways, the Pacific Crest Trail becomes a character in itself, posing challenges to Strayed but also providing the ingredients she needs to heal spiritually. Below are some of the most iconic backdrops from the film. Even if you’re not up to hiking thousands of kilometers, these places are worth experiencing on shorter treks.

Mojave Desert, California

In the film, Strayed first set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail in California’s Mojave Desert. The desert receives less than 330 millimeters of water each year, creating a stark landscape that’s peppered with prickly cactuses and contorted joshua trees. During the first few days of her hike, Strayed encountered many of the desert’s full-time residents, including a not-so-happy rattlesnake.

Although the Mojave Desert’s climate tested Strayed, it made for some beautiful scenic shots throughout the beginning of the film. If you’d like to experience the landscape for yourself, slather on some sunscreen, grab a water bottle and head to Mojave National Preserve, located roughly 370 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles, California, and around 230 kilometers south of Las Vegas, Nevada. Just be sure to wear sturdy footwear to help you balance as you explore the rocky landscape.

Cheryl Strayed started her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail in California’s Mojave Desert.

Cheryl Strayed started her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail in California’s Mojave Desert.
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N i c o l a/Flickr
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Cascade Range, California

After setting up camp in northern California’s Cascade Range, Strayed opened her tent flap one morning to find herself partially buried by snow. The snowfall forced many other hikers to call it quits for the season, but Strayed carried on, trekking through knee-deep snow among red fir trees and, miraculously, never losing sight of the trail.

A striking transition from the arid Mojave Desert, the mountainous Cascade Range is a lush landscape shaped by volcanic activity. You can follow the Pacific Crest Trail as it crosses Lassen Volcanic National Park (nearly 250 kilometers northwest of Reno, Nevada). You’ll get excellent views of evergreen trees scratching the sky from perches along the sides of jagged peaks and the shores of crystal clear lakes.

The Pacific Crest Trail cuts through Lassen Volcanic National Park, in northeastern California. Spiny fir trees and clear mountain lakes contrast with the desert landscape seen at the start of the movie "Wild."

The Pacific Crest Trail cuts through Lassen Volcanic National Park, in northeastern California. Spiny fir trees and clear mountain lakes contrast with the desert landscape seen at the start of the movie "Wild."
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U.S. National Park Service

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, in southern Oregon — about 430 kilometers south of Portland — makes a brief yet memorable cameo in Wild. The lake fills the crater at the top of Mount Mazama and is a reminder of a massive volcanic eruption that caused the summit to collapse nearly 8,000 years ago.

The Pacific Crest Trail cuts right through Crater Lake National Park, though the main route doesn’t offer the epic views of the water that you see in the film. For those views, you’ll need to take a slight detour from the trail — a smaller path will lead you to the edge of the crater and provide the memorable vistas that appear in Wild.

The Pacific Crest Trail traverses Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, with a side trail leading to spectacular views like this.

The Pacific Crest Trail traverses Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, with a side trail leading to spectacular views like this.
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Bridge of the Gods, Oregon and Washington

Strayed’s months-long journey along the Pacific Crest Trail (and Witherspoon’s portrayal of it in Wild) came to an end at the Bridge of the Gods, which crosses the Columbia River to connect northern Oregon with southern Washington state. Four years after she finished her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed returned here to marry for a second time and start a new life, with views of Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest and Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest in the background.

The Pacific Crest Trail leads hikers across the bridge and into Washington, passing through Mount Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park before reaching Canada. But you don’t have to hike the trail to enjoy the view from the Bridge of the Gods: It’s only a 70-kilometer drive northeast of Portland, Oregon.

See these and other spectacular scenes from the Pacific Coast Trail in Wild, coming to theaters around the world starting January 16.

This Pacific Crest Trail landmark connects northern Oregon to southern Washington state, offering hikers a way across the Columbia River.

This Pacific Crest Trail landmark connects northern Oregon to southern Washington state, offering hikers a way across the Columbia River.
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Peter Murphy/Oregon Department of Transportation
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