Pacific Crest Trail Expects Tourism Boost from Reese Witherspoon's "Wild"

Brittany Jones Cooper

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in Wild (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Cheryl Strayed set out on a 1,100 mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to find herself. It was 1995, she was 26, and completely alone.

During her three-month journey through the wilderness with no cellphone and no money, Strayed analyzed her divorce, the recent death of her mother, and her reckless behavior. This journey of self-discovery was chronicled in her emotional memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The book hit No. 1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List and was even featured in Oprah’s Book Club. Now, it’s been made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, and with its big screen debut, the PCT is getting a lot of attention.

“We hear from our volunteers that there are more people out there hiking,” said Jack Haskel, trail information specialist for the Pacific Crest Trail Association. “Before the book, the PCT was a bit of a secret. Now it’s getting the attention it deserves.”

Related: The Amazing People I Met While Hiking the Appalachian Trail Changed My Life

A part of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon (Pacific Crest Trail Association)

While the movie follows Strayed’s journey on the PCT from the Mojave Desert through California to Washington, it turns out that very little of the movie was actually filmed on the trail. “The PCT is a fragile wilderness experience, so it makes sense that the movie was not filmed on the trail,” said Haskel. “Production uses a lot of trucks and props, so we helped them re-create locations to look like the trail.”

Haskel said that the movie’s producers and director were dedicated to making the trail look authentic, and that they consulted him on everything from trail width and vegetation to the authenticity of the park signs. “I was very involved in making sure the signs were the right color, pointed the right way, and had the right distances.”

Related: Get Your Grub On — Visit the Top Tasting Trails in the U.S. (and Canada!)

A sign on the Pacific Crest Trail (Pacific Crest Trail Association)

The movie Wild will be released on Friday, Dec. 5., and already Haskel is seeing an uptick in interest. “A movie like Wild will introduce our wilderness area to millions of new people. Since the trail opened in 1968, it’s been getting busier and busier, but this is our largest media event ever!” he said.

If you’re interested in taking a hike, the Pacific Crest Trail Association currently has a Wild campaign designed to help people learn more about the area. You can read other wild stories from brave adventurers, scout out potential hikes, get tips from the pros, and connect with other hikers.

In the meantime, as you plan your trip, here are three highlights on the Pacific Crest Trail from Jack Haskel. 

1. Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Sierra Nevada mountains at dusk (Thinkstock)

California is dominated by this long, rugged mountain range. From Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney, it’s one of the wildest places in the United States.

2. Stratovolcanoes

A trail leading to Mount Whitney (Thinkstock)

The stratovolcanoes that extend from Northern California to Washington can’t be missed. Two of Haskel’s favorites are Mount Jefferson and Mount Adams, but there are more than 10 others.

3. Northern Washington

Lake Blanca in the Cascade Mountains (Thinkstock)

The part of the trail that goes through the northern half of Washington is so rugged and mountainous. It rivals any other location on the trail and is truly beautiful.

WATCH: The “Wild” Trailer

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