How the West Was Won movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was How the West Was Won filmed?

1962

About How the West Was Won

Westerns don’t get any more epic, or any more memorable, than How the West Was Won. With an all-star cast and an ambitious plot, this 1962 film is widely considered to be an all-time classic.

Gregory Peck. John Wayne. Carroll Baker. Henry Fonda. Debbie Reynolds. Lee J. Cobb. These are just a few of the big names to appear in this much-loved production, which tells the story of how the western United States was settled.

It all starts with Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden), who along with his family sets out to find a new home on the frontier by heading along the Erie Canal. They soon meet a trapper named Linus Rawlings (James Stewart), who strikes up an instant rapport with Zebulon's daughter Eve (Carroll Baker).

And while Rawlings and the Prescotts soon head their separate ways, their stories are intertwined in more ways than one. Life keeps conspiring to bring them together, and we follow across the generations as these pioneers travel across the plains in wagons, fend off attacks from Native American tribes, and endure the brutal and bloody Civil War.

Then comes the arrival of the railroad as the country begins to open up to wave after wave of new settlers. The final chapter sees the battle to establish law and order on the frontier, leading viewers through another important period in the establishment of the United States.

How the West Was Won is an epic adventure that’s visually stunning throughout. It’s a truly memorable and important film, and that’s why it’s preserved in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

If you’re a fan of this classic western, we’ve gathered together the details of where some of the best scenes in How the West Was Won were filmed (spoiler alert!). Keep reading to find out how you can visit these iconic locations for yourself.

City Locations

Various locations in California, Arizona, South Dakota, Kentucky, and Colorado

Location Types

American, NatureScapes, Ranch

Location Styles

Desert, Ranch Style

How the West Was Won Locations

If you want to visit some of the most scenic How the West Was Won locations, the good news is that you most certainly can. The bad news is that those locations are spread across several different areas of the country.

The challenge the filmmakers faced was obviously that the west was won a long time ago, so they needed to look far and wide to find settings that looked unsettled, untamed, and pristine. Couple this with the fact that the plot takes place across a diverse range of environments and the result is that you’ll find scenery from several states used in the film.

For example, the opening scenes showing mountain man Linus Rawlings on a gorgeous lake were shot at Convict Lake in California’s Sierra Nevada, while the Alabama Hills some 100 miles to the south also feature.

But scenes featuring buffalo were filmed in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, Linus is tricked by pirates at Cave-in-Rock State Park in Illinois, and the Gold City train station was filmed in Perkinsville, Arizona. Even the iconic rock formations of Monument Valley make an appearance, so you’ll need to travel far and wide if you want to check out all of these How the West Was Won locations.

Fun fact:

Over 12,000 extras were used in the filming of this historical epic.

Opening scene in How the West Was Won

Convict Lake, Mammoth Lakes, CA

As the opening titles finish and we’re treated to sweeping views of the untamed American wilderness, narrator Spencer Tracy introduces us to the west. Some 125 years ago, he explains, this immense landscape was known to only a handful of white men: lonely trappers who wandered this vast space in search of beaver.

“They were known as mountain men, a new breed,” he says. “They held to no law but their own, drifted free as the clouds, settled nowhere, kept forever on the move.”

We then see Linus Rawlings greeting an Indian tribe beside a spectacular lake. He then takes to the water in a canoe filled with pelts as the Indians bid him a fond farewell. “Like the Indians, with whom they were at peace, they wanted nothing beyond what they found, and little of that,” Tracy narrates.

The lake used as this How the West Was Won filming location is Convict Lake in eastern California, about 170 miles east of Modesto. Boasting gorgeous turquoise water and surrounded by mountains, it’s a popular fishing, hiking, and camping spot.

The Prescotts start their journey scene in How the West Was Won

Riverfront Dr. Ohio River, Smithland, KY

After our quick glimpse into the seemingly idyllic lifestyle of mountain man Linus, we’re transported east to where the Prescott family are preparing to start their journey west. In the bustling town of Albany, New York, the family are getting ready to board a barge that will take them west along the Erie Canal.

As they sit on the riverfront, Zebulon Prescott tells another man about why he and his family are heading west — partly due to his son’s ailing health, but also because he had tired of farming rocky, difficult land. But Zebulon’s wife, Rebecca (Agnes Moorehead) is quick to set her husband straight.

“It was his itching foot that brought us here. Heaven knows where we’ll end up.”

This scene was actually shot in Smithland, Kentucky, about 200 miles southwest of Louisville. This spot on the banks of the Ohio River is found on Riverfront Drive.

The pirates betray Linus scene in How the West Was Won

Cave-In-Rock State Park, 1 New State Park Rd, Cave-In-Rock, IL

After a memorable first meeting with Eve Prescott, Linus once again sets out on his own. He’s on his way to Pittsburgh with a canoe full of beaver pelts, but little does he know that trouble is headed his way.

Pulling in at a stop along the river where a sign announces “likker” for sale, Linus scales the high bluffs and heads into a cave. There he meets the proprietor, Jeb Hawkins (Walter Brennan), and orders a jug of whiskey. But the hospitality Linus is offered is too good to be true.

Hawkins’ daughter Dora (Brigid Bazlen) mentions that Linus may be able to help them with a “varmint” they’ve found in their cave. “Sir, we caught us a cave-dwelling critter that no man in these parts has ever seen before,” Jeb says.

A reluctant Linus thinks he’ll be of little help but is nonetheless encouraged to assist. But when Dora leads him further into the cave, she waits until his back is turned then stabs him and pushes him into a deep hole.

This How the West Was Won filming location is Cave-in Rock, a 55-foot-wide cave overlooking the Ohio River. You can find it in southern Illinois in Cave-in-Rock State Park.

Roger proposes to Lilith scene in How the West Was Won

Chimney Rock, Pagosa Springs, CO

Following the tragic deaths of her parents, and with her sister Eve settling down with Linus, Lilith Prescott (Debbie Reynolds) follows her own path in the east. But when she discovers that she’s inherited a gold mine in California, Lilith must make the lengthy journey there from St Louis via wagon train.

She’s accompanied by gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) and wagonmaster Roger Morgan (Robert Preston), both of whom clearly have a soft spot for the beautiful woman. And as the traveling party sets up camp in the shadow of an eye-catching rock formation, Roger makes his intentions known.

“Wet or dry, you’re the handsomest woman I ever did see,” he tells Lilith. “Why, for you, childbearing would come as easy as rolling off a log.” “Well, I think I’d rather roll off a log, Mr Morgan,” she responds drily.

Not to be dissuaded, Roger continues: “I want you for my wife,” he says. Much to his dismay, Lilith turns him down.

This How the West Was Won filming location is Chimney Rock in Colorado. This impressive monolith, which stretches some 315 feet into the sky, is found in southern Colorado around 230 miles southwest of Colorado Springs.

Gold City train station scene in How the West Was Won

Perkinsville, AZ

Much later in the movie than the scenes mentioned above, How the West Was Won follows the tale of Zeb (George Peppard), Linus and Eve’s son. Along with wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) and his children, Zeb is invited by Lilith to manage her Arizona ranch.

Zeb, who is now a marshal, takes his family to meet Lilith at the Gold City train station. When she lays eyes on Zeb, Lilith can’t help but shed a tear. “Oh, goodness. I swore up and down I wasn’t gonna cry,” she says, shaking her head.

But Zeb’s in for a nasty surprise. Also arriving on the same train is outlaw Charlie Gant (Eli Wallach), whose brother Zeb killed in a previous battle. “I envy you, marshal, Charlie says menacingly. “A well-favored, bright-eyed wife just as dazzling as that sun up there.”

It’s clear that if Zeb and Julie think they’re going to enjoy a life of peace and quiet, they’ve got another thing coming.

This scene was filmed in Perkinsville, Arizona, which is located about 125 miles north of Phoenix. While there’s not much in the way of man-made features in the area, there’s plenty of beautiful natural scenery and wide-open spaces to explore.

Train robbery scene in How the West Was Won

Magma Arizona Railroad (now Resolution Copper Plant West), 102 West, E Magma Heights Dr, Superior, AZ

As more and more settlers demand law and order in the west, there are still plenty of bandits and outlaws who relish lawlessness. No one epitomizes this mindset better than Charlie Gant, who Zeb suspects has plans to ambush a train carrying a shipment of gold.

Zeb’s suspicions are right on the money, and despite Julie begging him not to get involved, Zeb sets out to stop the heist. “I’m gonna catch Gant red-handed, breaking the law, and then I’m gonna use the law to put him away once and for all,” Zeb vows.

Traveling aboard the train with fellow marshal Lou (Lee J. Cobb), Zeb is unsurprised to find Gant and his gang on horseback up ahead. They barricade the tracks to slow the train down, then race alongside it and leap aboard from their horses. Zeb and Lou shoot several of Gant’s men as they advance through the train carriages, but as bullets and debris fly everywhere, the train eventually derails in spectacular fashion.

This How the West Was Won film-shoot location is the Magma Arizona Railroad in Superior. Found around 65 miles east of Phoenix, this old railroad operated until 1997.

Conclusion

Directed by Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall, How the West Was Won should be on every movie lover’s bucket list. Its ensemble cast features a who’s who of big Hollywood names in the 1960s, and the story it tells is one that’s crucial to the national identity of the USA.

Thankfully, visiting the west is a whole lot easier (and safer) these days than it was in the 19th century. So, if you want to check out some of these iconic How the West Was Won locations, you can. You’re in for quite an epic journey, however, so be sure to stop and smell the roses along the way.