The River Wild  movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was The River Wild filmed?

1994

About The River Wild

Filmed in 1994 in locations in Oregon and Montana, The River Wild is an action-adventure thriller with an all-star cast that includes Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, and John C. Reilly. The plot centers around a family with marital troubles embarking on a whitewater rafting adventure that is intercepted by two criminals on the run from the law.

In the opening The River Wild scene (spoiler alert!), we are introduced to Gail and Tom Hartman (Meryl Streep and David Strathairn), a married couple that hails from Boston. Gail, an experienced river guide, plans a rafting trip in Idaho, taking along their son Roarke and their dog Maggie. At the last minute, Tom decides to surprise Gail, Roarke, and Maggie by showing up in Idaho prepared to join them on their rafting trip. As the family begins their journey, they are joined by three other rafters named Wade (Kevin Bacon), Terry (John C. Reilly), and Frank (William Lucking.)

During a break, the Hartmans meet the other rafters again and take note that Frank is not with Wade and Terry any longer. The other rafters share that an argument took place, and Frank decided to leave. Since Frank was the tour guide for the trio, Gail tells them she will assist them with finding their way to the end of the river.

Following a full day on the river, the group stops to prepare a camp for the evening. Wade is acting unusually, and Gail and Tom become suspicious of him. The couple decides that they should separate from Wade and Terry and continue on their own. Their plans are changed when Wade and Terry ask Roarke to join them and head off ahead of the others with Roarke on board. Wade shows Roarke that he has a gun with him. When the group stops for a rest, Gail and Tom try to get Roarke onto their own raft and to head out ahead of Wade and Terry. Wade notices their efforts and points the gun at Tom. Tom and Wade struggle and Wade attempts to shoot Maggie.

Wade and Terry insist the Hartmans take them down the river by keeping them at gunpoint. That night, Tom attempts to get the gun from Terry. He takes off into the river, and Wade runs after him to try to catch him. Tom gets away. Upon returning to camp, Wade informs Gail and Roarke that Tom died.

Tom locates Maggie and runs along the canyon’s edge to try to get in front of the course of the raft. After a rough ride through the rapids, Gail, Roarke, Wade, and Terry pass safely through the Gauntlet. Tom surprises the group and upends the raft. Tom begins to wrestle with Terry as Gail successfully gains access to the gun. Gail shoots Wade, killing him.

City Locations

Grants Pass, Josephine County, Oregon; Glacier National Park, Flathead County, Montana, Libby, Lincoln County, Montana; Charles River, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Location Types

American, NatureScapes, Beach/Oceanview

Location Styles

Americana/Anywhere America, Beachfront, Boat Style

The River Wild Locations

There are several main filming locations for The River Wild that are seen throughout this beloved action-adventure film. The beginning of the movie shows Gail training for her rafting adventure on the Charles River that is found in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Another spot where a lot of the filming for this movie took place is Montana’s Kootenai River. Permission to film in this region was granted for the very first time by the Kootenai Indians who hold this ground to be sacred. There was one caveat to the film crew receiving permission to film here: the actual location where shooting took place was never to be disclosed to the public. Those wishing to visit the site of some of their favorite scenes that occurred here are best to scour Libby and the surrounding region.

Another The River Wild filming location a section of property near the Flathead River known as Middle Fork. Other Montana regions used during the filming of this movie include an area along Route 2 that is situated between the cities of West Glacier and Essex and the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park.

A small number of The River Wild action scenes were captured on the Rogue River that is located just outside the town of Medford in Oregon.

If thrillers that are jam-packed with action are some of your favorite films, why not make your next vacation a trip to visit The River Wild locations?

Fun Fact:

A fact that has largely remained hidden, the talented writer, comedian, actress, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher was hired to help provide edits to the script for The River Wild.

Gail training for her rafting trip with Roarke scene in The River Wild

Charles River, Boston, Massachusetts

In one of the best scenes in The River Wild, the movie opens with Gail peacefully rowing along the waters of Boston’s Charles River at daybreak in preparation for her subsequent rafting excursion with Roarke. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the soaring orchestration of “The Water is Wide,” Gail continues her morning row with the stunning scenery of Boston surrounding her. As she nears the city’s center, the music becomes more frenetic, her rowing more intense, and the sounds of rush hour traffic intensifies. She finishes her rowing, ready to begin her day. Though this scene contains no dialogue, the music that flows in tandem with Gail’s every paddle stroke communicates two things to the audience: the peace and serenity of the before and the coming troubles of the after.

This scene segues to a new The River Wild location, the family’s home in Boston where Gail is frustrated with Rourke’s lackadaisical approach to getting ready for school. The scene opens with Gail talking to Rourke:

Gail: Roarke! Roarke!

I'm tellin' you for the 157th time,

turn that d**ned music off!

It's singeing my hair!

Boston’s Charles River is a picturesque waterway with an accompanying esplanade that measures 17 miles in length. There are several ways you can reach this scenic spot. By passenger car, you will need to travel I-93 to the exit for Storrow Drive. Continue towards the Arthur Fiedler footbridge taking the exit for Copley Square. The Hatch Shell for the river is located to the right of the river. Alternatively, you can reach the river by bus, taking either the Red Line to the Charles River exit or the Green line to the Arlington stop with a short walk leading you to the Hatch Shell.

The Hartmans, Wade, and Terry begin their journey scene in The River Wild

Near Libby, Kootenai River, Montana

This The River Wild film set is found in… Gail, Tom, Roarke, and Maggie are in one raft and Wade and Terry are in another. Wade speaks with a tense jocularity when Gail assumes the lead position and instructs the duo as to what they need to do. Unaware of the trouble yet to come, Gail sets out in front of Wade and Terry. Instead of heeding Gail’s instructions, Wade insists on steering the raft to the left into dangerous rapids. The raft capsizes, and both men are thrown into the water.

Terry is returned to Gail’s boat, and the group frantically tries to find Wade who Terry says cannot swim. Tom removes his life jacket and plunges into the water in search of him. He finds him, and Wade grabs onto him, and the two begin to struggle. It is intimated that Wade is attempting to cause Tom to drown. In order to bring both of them to the surface, Tom punches Wade, knocking him out. He then is able to get a hold of Wade and swim to the raft, saving Wade’s life. When Wade is pulled onto the raft, he flops to the ground on his back. Roarke says to him, “Wow! You almost drowned!” To which Wade responds with equal parts of sarcasm and menace, “WELLLL! One of these days, I have GOT to learn how to swim.”

The filming location for this The River Wild scene takes place just outside the town of Libby in an undisclosed section of the Kootenai River in Montana. Filming was only permitted here under the condition that the precise location of the film shoot set was never revealed to the public. This movie shoot marks the first-time permission was granted for filming to occur on this sacred ground.

Though you may never know the exact spot where this scene was filmed, you can certainly make the trip here and put your imagination to the test. You will find the Kootenai River from Libby just off Highway 2. Direct access to the river is located beside a house. From here, you will need to continue along this road for a mile to find a place where you can leave your vehicle and explore the river grounds on foot. A trail leads from the parking area to the river itself.

Roarke meets the real Wade scene in The River Wild

Middle Fork, Flathead River, Glacier National Park, Montana

The Hartmans, having discovered that Wade and Terry are criminals, attempt to set out ahead of the duo. Wade and Terry arrive on the scene and a fight ensues between Wade and Tom. Tom informs the men that he is taking his family and leaving as he turns his back to Wade, Roarke yells out to Tom that Wade has a gun. Wade tells Tom that he needs Gail and Roarke, but he doesn’t need him and Maddy, the family dog. He shares with Tom that he might as well kill one of them now and points the gun towards the dog. Roarke tells the dog to run, and Maddy runs into the woods, narrowly escaping a bullet fired by Wade. Wade goes over to a weeping Roarke and tells him he is disappointed that he told his parents about the gun as he considered Roarke a friend. He slaps Roarke across the face, and this dialogue takes place between the two:

Roarke: I thought you were a nice guy.

Wade: I am a nice guy. Just a different kind of nice guy.

This The River Wild production site is found in the Middle Fork region of the Flathead River. A body of water measuring 92 miles in total length, this film set is located in a western section of Montana. To get here, take the West Entrance to Middle Fork found just off Highway 2.

The Gauntlet scene in The River Wild

Near Libby, Kootenai River, Montana

In one of the most harrowing scenes in the entire movie, Gail navigates her way through the treacherous rapids found along the infamous Gauntlet. En route through the dangerous waterways, the group nearly loses control of the raft, almost a capsizing on several occasions. Finally, they successfully pass through the succession of violent rapids, and Gail tiredly states, “That’s it. We’re out.” Roarke responds by cheering, “All right, Mom!”

Once again, a section of the Kootenai River provides the backdrop for this iconic scene.

Tom and Maggie plan to rescue Gail and Roarke scene in The River Wild

Middle Fork, Flathead River, Glacier National Park, Montana

Funny scenes in The River Wild are few and far between, but the comment by Tom in the middle of this footage is sure to bring a smile. After being left for dead by Wade and Terry, Tom finds Maggie and stands atop a cliff where he can spot Gail’s location in the river below. He begins to plan how he can safely rescue his family and as he thinks on his plan, he utters this line, “Oh, go slow, Gail. For once in your life, don’t be first.”

Filmed on the terrain overlooking the Middle Fork region of the Flathead River, you will find this location on Route 2 between West Glacier and Essex in Glacier National Park. You’ll need to be prepared to hike through undeveloped woods to reach the lookoff point here.

Gail shoots Wade scene in The River Wild

Middle Fork, Flathead River, Glacier National Park, Montana

In one of the final scenes of the movie, Gail gains control of the gun and holds Wade at gunpoint. Wade begins to beg, and Gail, feeling pity for him, pulls the trigger with the gun pointed in the air only to discover the gun did not fire. Wade, thinking Gail has nothing to defend her family with, tries to kill the Hartmans. This exchange takes place between the two:

Wade: I'm in charge now. I could bury you and Roarke tonight. I could do anything I want with you.

Gail: Then go ahead. Don't keep telling me how tough you are, Wade, just show me.

Following this speech, Gail notices she did not turn the revolver before firing the first time, turns it, and shoots Wade dead.

As with many of the river scenes in this popular film, the finale of this movie is shot at Middle Fork, Flathead River.

Conclusion

The River Wild takes you on an invigorating ride through some of the roughest rapids in Oregon and Montana. With its incredible scenery and plot twists and turns at every corner, it’s not hard to see why this movie has earned a spot in the hearts of moviegoers from all over the world. If you’re a big fan of The River Wild, why not consider a trip to see the spots where some of the most memorable moments in the film occurred? You’re sure to have a blast!