Some of this information was originally published in my posts on the Beyond Little House site, but I thought it was worth republishing here with a few updates. Earlier this year the ranch made the news again when Carrie Ingalls twin Rachel Greenbush was married at the former Little House on the Prairie set in Simi Valley, California. Her husband grew up nearby and used to sneak on to the ranch to watch them shoot. They met under the tree in the “Ingalls” front yard where they were married.
What’s There To See?
Alison Arngrim, who appeared on the show as Nellie Oleson and is very generous Twittering with fans @Arngrim, shared a 2 part home movie of a visit to Simi Valley, California where much of the TV show was filmed. Arngrim, who appeared as Nellie Oleson, has generously been working with the Walnut Grove Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove to provide fans a way to get signed copies of her books through the museum’s mail order system and provides this as another thank you to fans.
While many of the buildings were destroyed in filming the final episode (deliberately so), a few such as the church, were spared and could be seen for years, however a California wild fire took out most of these remaining structures. This video does a good job of helping you understand where the structures used to be so you can compare what you see in the episodes to what is on the ground today.
Eric Carson shared this information as a comment on the original post:
“About the church, you are “partially” right . The church from the show was not destroyed in the last episode, as you know, but it was dismantled, as the little house was. But some time later the owner of the ranch decided to have another small white church built on the land, and it was built at the blind school location, near the pond. That’s the church which was burnt by the 2004 fires, along with the replicas of the Ingalls house and barn.”
One of the questions we often get is “how can I visit the movie ranch where the Little House on the Prairie NBC series was filmed?” We’ve gotten it enough that I pursued it to get the full scoop. As a proviso, this is second hand information. I haven’t been there and frankly if I was taking a Laura trip to California it would be to Pomona and then San Francisco before I even thought about going to see Simi Valley, but since there seems to be interest from other people, I checked things out and this is what I found.
There used to be many movie ranches around Hollywood where rural scenes were filmed. Now Big Sky (located in Simi Valley, California where the regular exteriors of the TV show were filmed) is about the last one left. It rents out land to movie and TV production companies to use in filming. Sometimes it’s to recreate the Old West, sometimes it’s just a modern ranch, and sometimes it’s just a good place to have a car chase away from people and sometimes it’s something else entirely. When a TV show rents ground for this it’s usually with the agreement they can build semi-permanent sets for the duration that they rent the land. These are NOT finished houses. They aren’t built to last, just to look good so they are mainly exterior walls, unfinished on the inside, and dressed to look like somebody really uses them with props. So it isn’t like these were finished houses that you saw during the LHoP episodes. Interior and some exterior sequences were shot in studios. Some specialty bits were shot elsewhere (for example much of the episode where Albert dreams they are in a classic western was shot at Old Tuscon and the Ernest Borgnine is an angel episode was shot at Donnell’s Vista), but the main farm and town exterior sequences and some of the extra exterior stuff was shot here. The production company built these shells of houses. Landon didn’t want anyone else using his creation and intended to destroy them before he left anyway so he wrote blowing up the town into the finale. So most of the sets were destroyed then. Since then wildfires have swept through the area and destroyed much of what was left. So now really it’s mostly just the bare land. Also other productions have probably used part of the land in the meantime further disrupting things. Little House in Simi Valley Part 1 includes a video that gives a good notion of what there is to see.
NOT a Tourist Attraction
Now remember that the ranch is a business, but one that makes its money renting out to film companies, NOT one that makes money through tourists. That means there is NO access at all if it’s rented out for filming on any particular day. HOWEVER, they will sometimes let you visit if you contact them ahead of time and ask and they have a day where they don’t have it rented. That set up also means that there are literally NO amenities. If they provided stuff on the land that would just mean things that the film crews would be inconvenienced to shoot around it and extra expense for the owners. That means no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no food stands, no level walkways, and no nearby medical help.
Can I Go?
It’s really up to the owners who they let in. They are under no obligation to let you in and you are under an obligation to respect private property. They really are doing you a favor if they do let you in and they reasonably expect to be paid to help cover extra staff time to be there and let you in. Since this really isn’t a regular thing they do, there don’t seem to be any set rates, you’ll have to negotiate with them. I would recommend getting all that settled before you make a trip and remember they are doing you a FAVOR and act according.
If you do get permission to go in, be prepared to be self-sufficient. Take along water, wear heavy, long pants (work pants or jeans) and hiking boots are a good idea. Be careful where you step the ground is uneven and I’ve been told by multiple people that there are rattlesnakes there.
Eric Caron added on the original post: “I made the 2 videos you posted earlier and I had the chance to visit Big Sky twice. I would add to your post that, if the owners of the ranch let any visitor in, they will take them along the path and stay with them for the time of their stay. They will take them to the Plum Creek site and Walnut Grove site, but they won’t let them alone and free to wander around. I had the chance to visit with “Nellie” and “baby Carrie”, so the guy for the ranch just said to them ” I believe you know this place better than me” and he left us alone.
The place itself is gorgeous, rolling hills with beautiful trees… It is true that nothing is left, but if like me you studied carefully each shot from each episode to know where was what (yes I am that kind of crazy guy lol!!), it will be as if everything is still in place, because the hills, the hollows and most of the trees are still there.”
Lynne commented on the original post:
” I want to recommend Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, CA. This is where they shot the majority of the train scenes for the show. The depot area has not changed very much and you can actually take a tour and ride the trains. You can also see the caboose from The Runaway Caboose episode. Just 15 min. away is Columbia where some shots for Sleepy Eye were filmed and another 45 min and you will be at Donnell’s Vista.”
Then contact the Big Sky Movie Ranch.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.