Pale Rider  movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was Pale Rider filmed?

1985

About Pale Rider

If you love watching Clint Eastwood at his gun-toting, a**-kicking best, there’s a good chance Pale Rider is one of your favorite movies of all time. This 1985 classic, which would go on to become the decade’s highest-grossing western, is a tale of the little guy fighting back against corporate greed — and it’s set against a backdrop of truly spectacular natural scenery.

The film tells the story of the small mining town of Lahood, found in the pristine terrain of northern California. Lahood may be a pretty mountain town, but its scenic beauty hides a very ugly underbelly.

When a group of prospectors and their families set up camp on a promising patch of land just outside town, it enrages greedy mining boss Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart). LaHood’s men ransack and destroy the camp, even going so far as to kill the dog of 14-year-old Megan (Sydney Penny). Megan prays for a miracle to help them survive against LaHood and his men, and the miracle arrives in the form of a stranger on horseback (Eastwood).

After stopping the bad guys from beating up another prospector, Hull (Michael Moriarty), and of course dishing out a beating of his own, the stranger dons a clerical collar and soon comes to be known as Preacher.

His arrival is bad news for Coy LaHood, who knows the prospectors now have a powerful ally. He tries to bribe Preacher to leave town, and threatens him with violence, but Preacher is one man you simply don’t tell what to do. The stage is set for a showdown, and the gunfight that follows is one of the most memorable in cinema history.

While Eastwood steals the scene every time he appears on screen, there’s another star in Pale Rider that attracts plenty of attention: the stunning terrain. The good news is that it’s possible to visit the filming location of Pale Rider yourself. We’ve gathered together the setting details of some of the best scenes in Pale Rider below (spoiler alert!), so keep reading to find out how to check them out in person.

City Locations

Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho

Location Types

NatureScapes, Rustic, Banks

Location Styles

Cabin, Ranch Style

Pale Rider Locations

The town of Lahood is entirely fictional, and Pale Rider wasn’t actually filmed in northern California either. Instead, if you want to visit the filming location of Pale Rider, you’ll need to head to central Idaho. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the Boulder Mountains, found a little way to the north of the resort town of Sun Valley, were chosen as the iconic setting for Pale Rider.

However, there were some sections of Pale Rider that were filmed in California. The gold rush town where Preacher travels to collect his guns, for example, is actually the town of Columbia in central California. Interestingly, it was actually a gold rush town in real life, and is today the site of a State Historic Park.

Pale Rider scenes featuring the railway were also shot in central California, this time at the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. You might even recognize it from a host of other productions, including TV shows like Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prairie as well as silver-screen titles like Unforgiven and Back to the Future III.

Fun Fact:

During the filming of Pale Rider, Clint Eastwood fell off a horse and dislocated his shoulder, later describing the injury as the worst of his career.

Opening scene in Pale Rider

Sawtooth Mountains

Pale Rider doesn’t take long to plunge viewers straight into the action. As the credits roll, we’re treated to views of jagged mountain scenery and get a real sense of how remote and largely untouched this terrain actually is.

We soon see the mining camp set up by the prospectors along a pretty mountain stream. It’s a peaceful and almost idyllic scene, but that peace is about to be shattered. As the prospectors go about their work, we see LaHood’s armed henchmen approach on horseback, ready to attack. “If you don't help us we're all going to die. Please, just one miracle?” we hear Megan praying.

The gorgeous mountains featured in the opening credits of Pale Rider are the Sawtooth Mountains. They’re found just to the south of Stanley in the heart of Idaho, with Stanley found roughly 60 miles northwest of Sun Valley.

LaHood returns from Sacramento scene in Pale Ride

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

As he returns to town from Sacramento, Coy LaHood is in for one nasty surprise. Riding the train into town, LaHood is surprised and more than a little worried to learn that Preacher has arrived in town. And when he hears that the stranger has pulled the prospectors together and strengthened their resolve, his concern deepens.

“When I left for Sacramento, those tin pans had all but given up. Their spirit was nearly broken. And a man without spirit is whipped. But a preacher, he could give them faith,” LaHood says. “We’ll have to find a way to deal with him.”

The railway Pale Rider action scenes were filmed in Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in central California. Located on South 5th Avenue in Jamestown, this railway has featured in so many productions over the years that it’s earned the nickname “the Movie Railroad.” No matter whether you’re a film fanatic or a transporter, it’s an attraction well worth checking out.

Preacher gets his gun scene in Pale Rider

Columbia State Historic Park

After LaHood has offered to pay the prospectors to buy out their claims, the men are seriously considering the proposal. Some are resigned to taking the money and leaving town, but others are determined to stay and fight.

Preacher lets the miners sort it out amongst themselves, but he also offers some wise advice. If LaHood calls in corrupt marshal Stockburn (John Russell), the prospectors will have a very tough fight on their hands. “This is no ordinary kind of marshal,” Preacher explains. “His name is Stockburn. He travels with six deputies. And they uphold whatever law pays them the most.”

Despite the threat, the men decide to stay and fight, only to discover the next morning that Preacher has packed up and left town before sun-up. But he hasn’t abandoned them. Far from it, in fact, as we see Preacher head into a bank in a gold rush town to retrieve his revolver, leaving his clerical collar in its place.

The Wells Fargo office where Preacher collects his gun is found in Columbia State Historic Park in central California, a little over five miles north of Jamestown. This wonderfully preserved gold rush town was once the second largest city in California, so it’s well worth a visit for any history buff.

Conclusion

No matter how many times you’ve watched Pale Rider, the sheer beauty of the mountainous scenery still stops you in your tracks. It’s a wonderfully unspoiled part of the country, and it provides the perfect backdrop for a tale about underdogs fighting back against the man.

Unfortunately, central Idaho remains a little out of the way for most travelers, so many people will never get to experience its beauty for themselves. But maybe that’s a good thing — the fewer people that check out the filming location of Pale Rider for themselves, the more pristine it will remain for years to come.