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Los Angeles might be the beating “heart” of the movie industry, but when production companies venture out into the High Sierra, something magical happens. It might be the impossibly deep blue skies or the dramatic scenery as a backdrop. No matter the reason, hundreds perhaps thousands of films have been shot across the region. Here’s just a small taste of real-life locations in the High Sierra made famous in movies. Or is it the other way around?


Hollywood in the High Sierra Historic Downtown Truckee
Image appears courtesy: Truckee Chamber of Commerce

Are you a fan of Charlie Chaplin? Well, in 1924, his beloved character filmed scenes of what many consider the greatest silent film comedy of all time – “Gold Rush”, right in the historic town of Truckee. Most notably is the Chilkoot Pass opening sequence. Shot on a ridge near Donner Summit in today’s Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, film critic Jeffrey Vance calls it “the most spectacular image of silent-film comedy.” This isn’t the only film shot here. In fact, nearly 100 known movies were filmed here. Click here to learn more.

Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills Hollywood In The High Sierra
Photo by: Jim Purdum – Appears courtesy: Bishop Visitor Center

Located in the shadow of the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Alabama Hills has been a staple in many a cowboy movie as well as big blockbuster films like Gladiator and Tremors. As soon as you step into this area, you’ll immediately understand why so many decide to shoot here. Sweeping dessert. Rugged peaks as a backdrop. Mother Nature’s sculptures in the form of unique rock formations. Besides it being in so many films, the scenery is something you will want to experience in person.

Railtown 1897

Hollywood In The High Sierra Railtown 1897 roundhouse
Photo by Kathy Syverson courtesy of Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Of course, we couldn’t have this list without mentioning the “Movie Railroad”. And the fact that we consider it one of the most Instagramable locations in the High Sierra. Located in the heart of Tuolumne County, Railtown 1897 features one of the few remaining working roundhouses in America with an intact and functioning steam locomotive repair shop & maintenance facility. From being the first sound motion picture filmed outside of the studio (The Virginian) to traveling back in time in the movie Back to the Future Part III, there’s a bit of movie magic everywhere. In fact, you can even go on a six-mile 45 minute round-trip through the scenic Sierra Foothills! 

Angels Theatre

Hollywood in the High Sierra
Image appears courtesy: Calaveras County Visitors Bureau

While not a filming location per say, this vintage movie theater offers up a taste of history with a splash of modern amenities. Opened on February 9th, 1924 as the Mother Lode Theatre, it was accompanied with a miniature review & five-piece band. Over the years it has changed its name to Angels 6 Theatre and had a few upgrades but has kept its Art Deco styling. This is your chance to see in action one of the last few historic downtown theaters in the country. It’s a great option after a day adventuring in the High Sierra.  

Whether you are a fan of action movies, wrangling cowboy flicks, or comedies, chances are one of your favorite films was shot in the High Sierra. This is merely the tip of the iceberg of what filming companies have done in what some call the “back lot of Hollywood.”

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at

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