Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed in the film adaptation of "Wild," seen here at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. // © 2014 Fox Searchlight Pictures
Feature image (above): Strayed has said Crater Lake in Oregon was her favorite spot on the PCT. // © 2014 Creative Commons user mcbridejc
When author Cheryl Strayed set out to conquer the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), she lugged a massive backpack dubbed “Monster” and an even heavier emotional burden. But with each challenging day and night, extraordinary vistas of untouched terrain and endless fresh air lifted both her emotional load and her physical one.
Strayed shares this solo expedition in her memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” which has been adapted for the big screen in the 2014 film “Wild” (starring Reese Witherspoon as Strayed). Though the corridor of Strayed's actual journey navigated California and Washington as well, most scenes were filmed in Oregon due to environmental and logistical concerns.
Following are some of Strayed’s stops in Oregon depicted in the “Wild” book and/or film, from the stunning Crater Lake to the ice cream shop where Strayed indulged in an enormous helping of soft serve to celebrate her three-month journey’s conclusion.
Strayed took a hiatus from her trek in Ashland, Ore., located about 15 miles from the California border. There, she first stopped outside the Ashland Food Co-op and ended up spending the weekend in this Jackson County town.
If you also plan to stick around in Ashland for a bit, Lithia Park is considered the crown jewel of the town. In the large park surrounding Ashland Creek are easy hiking trails, duck ponds, picnic areas, a sand-pit volleyball court, tennis courts, playground equipment and a Japanese Garden.
Although Strayed didn’t stop in Bend, Ore., during her PCT trek in 1995, the city in Deschutes County substituted as the backdrop for scenes showing California trails. Bend is the largest city of Central Oregon, located on the Cascade Range’s eastern edge and along the Deschutes River. It’s also been called the “recreational capital” of Oregon, primarily charming outdoor enthusiasts and wellness seekers.
During the summer, bicycling, fly-fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, rock climbing, rafting and hiking are popular activities. When winter rolls around, people enjoy fresh powder on skis, snowboards, snowshoes, snowmobiles and sleds pulled by dogs.
About 25 minutes north from Bend is Smith Rock State Park, where additional “Wild” scenes were filmed. Identified as a mecca for rock climbers with several thousand climbs, the 651-acre park boasts deep river canyons and magnificent cliffs. Hiring a guide is recommended for novice climbers, though there are trails of varying levels of length and difficulty.
Cascade Locks, Oregon
The quaint town of Cascade Locks, Ore., houses the Bridge of the Gods that spans the Colombia River. Though PCT hikers usually take the Bridge of the Gods to cross the river and continue into Washington State, Strayed finally ended her grueling journey of approximately 1,100 miles here.
From the Bridge of the Gods, visitors can enter the PCT (which parallels Interstate 84) and hike roughly 4.2 miles roundtrip through a verdant forest that leads up to Dry Creek Falls and its 75-foot waterfall.
Afterward, reward yourself the way Strayed did — with a chocolate-vanilla twist cone from East Wind Drive-In, less than a mile away. The large helpings of soft serve ice cream at this walk-up eatery are offered in traditional flavors and the more unusual, such as black cherry, butterscotch and blue goo, which tastes like cotton candy. If you’re in the mood for something savory, the menu also features hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and the like.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Thirty-three miles of the PCT cross through Crater Lake National Park. Strayed has said in an interview with The New York Times that Crater Lake was her favorite spot on the trail, and it’s easy to understand why. The vibrant blue namesake lake is 1,943 feet deep — the deepest lake in the U.S. and the ninth deepest in the world. It was formed in a caldera (in the book, Strayed calls it “a sort of mountain in reverse”) about 8,000 years ago, when a volcano named Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed.
One highlight of the national park is Wizard Island, a cinder cone (a steep hill of volcanic debris) island accessible only by tour boat. If you would prefer to admire from a distance, take the Watchman Peak Trail to the historic Watchman Peak fire lookout for a sweeping panorama of Wizard Island.
Mount Hood, Oregon
The highest point in Oregon, towering Mount Hood marked the halfway point of Strayed’s final stretch on the PCT. She and her four hiking companions stopped at the historic Timberline Lodge, located on the south slope of Mount Hood at an elevation of 6,000 feet. At the historic ski lodge and mountain retreat, they relaxed by sipping on coffees spiked with Baileys and playing card games.
Moviegoers will also spot Mount Hood playing body double for the Sierra Nevada Range, the cause of much discomfort for Strayed when she braced a snowy winter on the trail.
Timberline Lodge will offer a “Wild at Timberline” package, starting in January, which includes a paperback copy of the book, a deck of cards, a complimentary drink at the on-site Ram’s Head Bar, two complimentary breakfast buffets, a photo op with the real PCT mileage sign and a diary to document the experience. The package is available for stays Sunday through Thursday only.
Mount Hood is also well known for its six ski areas that stay open all year, even in the summer. The area’s multitude of alpine lakes, including Lost Lake, Frog Lake, Trillium Lake and Little Crater Lake, offer trails and other activities.
Oregon Badlands Wilderness
Located east of Bend, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness in Central Oregon makes an appearance in the film. With the aid of imported Joshua trees, a portion of this high desert terrain (consisting of 29,301 acres total) was transformed to resemble the Mojave Desert — where Strayed actually traversed.
With or without Joshua trees, however, the Badlands’ protected landscape is a sight to behold. There are two volcanic areas: the Badlands volcano and the Horse Ridge shield volcanoes. Desert wildflowers and juniper trees, which have thrived in the area’s volcanic soil for more than 1,000 years, are abundant. Save for the occasional elk, antelope, mule deer, yellow-bellied marmot or bobcat, little will interrupt your appreciation of the solitude.
Hikers can start at the Flatiron Rock trailhead and take its trail through about 2.5 miles of lava outcrop and junipers to the Flatiron Rock. Once you clamor to the sandy rock’s top, a marvelous view of Cascade Mountains and the Badlands makes it all worthwhile.