Hill Valley Town Filming Location from Back to the Future part III
See the end of this article for location and visiting information!
WARNING: WE DO NOT SUGGEST YOU DO THIS LIGHTLY. PLEASE READ: It’s unclear where private and public land stop and begin. Everything you do here may or may not be trespassing – the highway here moves very quick and there is usually a steady flow of traffic, making it somewhat unsafe to backtrack and look around. There are rusty old railroad tracks with nails, spikes, stakes, barbed wire, ruts, etc.. and let’s not forget, PEOPLE WITH GUNS. So I really honestly suggest, and reccomend – THAT NO ONE DO THIS. But since I know you’re going to do it anyway I’ll tell you how we did. But this is strictly for – uh – educational purposes only. Don’t break the law, and be über-cautious out there. Rattlesnakes abound!
In all the years of Back to the Future location hunting, no single trip was as exciting as this. Stuck in Stockton, CA for the weekend, I learned that our hosts had relatives in Jamestown, and that it was not too far away, and of course I was all ears. Five people packed into a tiny Ford 4-door and off we went. Our first stop was at a shooting range. It was the Marine Corps’ birthday, and our hosts’ Grandfather wanted to celebrate it with us… by firing guns! (This, by the way, was a veteran of Chosin Reservoir, if you don’t know about that, look it up!).
Our driver, R, seemed skeptical as we headed south from Jamestown back towards Yosemite Junction, but as vague as my description of this location seemed to be, (If you go, you’ll see for yourself, it’s pretty difficult to give directions to a patch of nowhere…) I had a map in my head and a mission to accomplish.
Now, Yosemite Junction isn’t really a town, and for that matter neither is Keystone. In fact, Keystone isn’t even on most maps. But Yosemite Junction is where the CA-120 splits off of CA-108 and heads east towards Chinese Camp and Yosemite Nat’l Park. If you blink, or sneeze, you will miss both of these towns.
Luckily for the intrepid BTTF tour fan, the very real Railroad tracks which the train ran on in the film run right alongside the road for a stretch of about 1.5 miles as you travel Northbound towards Yosemite Junction. The spot you’ll need to find is where these tracks take a sudden turn eastwards into the hills and away from the road. It’s going to take some serious concentration to find that spot, but there is one landmark that can help! Almost directly across from the point along the tracks you want is the “Keystone Cattle Ranch” – Now, there is a way to get to the location of Hill Valley 1885 on dirt roads, but we DO NOT reccomend you even TRY that way for several reasons, chief among them is that this is PRIVATE PROPERTY, people actually LIVE in those hills (even though you can’t easily see the houses from the highway) and they CAN AND WILL SHOOT YOU.
We realized this from the first, so we had our very patient driver RM pull over inside the Keystone Cattle Ranch driveway, and wait with the car so that we wouldn’t enrage the local cowboys. Of course, this meant that three male punk rockers and a female companion had to run across the highway, which we did – San Diego style. (We suggest you park on the side of the small road across the highway. Remember: This isn’t someone’s lawn in Pasadena, this is the country, and you could get hurt.) Crossing over the weed-choked ditch through tall, dead grass, I couldn’t help but regret the fact that I was wearing shorts. I was a little nervous about ticks, but hey, not every tick has lyme disease, right? So what the hell, I’ll go forward. It wasn’t until we reached the tracks that someone wisely pointed out that we should be on the lookout for Rattlesnakes as well. With that in the back of my mind, we began our northward trek along the rusty and appearently abandoned stretch of track. All of a sudden the sound of automatic gunfire filled the air from the south side of the hills we were traveling alongside. I kid you not, it sounded like a small army. Take warning..
Once we realized that the gunfire wasn’t pointed at or towards us, we continued our journey. You’re gonna have to watch out once you get to the first sign of humanity along the tracks. It’s dozens of rusted, sharp, metal spikes across the tracks, and barbed wire fencing along the side. It’s a tetanus trap nightmare, so be really cautious in getting around it. It looks like it was once meant to keep cattle IN, but then again, it could just as easily have been meant to keep people like us OUT.
The location of Hill Valley 1885 is actually known as Red Hills Ranch. The town itself (minus the clock-tower, of course) had been there long before BTTF III and was created specifically for filming movies. Bonanza, Little House on the Prarie, Pale Rider, and even Unforgiven are just a few of the movies and TV series shot at this location. Since by rail it was only a short trip into this beautiful scenery aboard Railtown 1887’s historic trains, BTTF III was filmed here too.
I have studied the film and the documentaries and behind-the-scenes shots very carefully and memorized the shape and angle of the hills behind the site of HV 1885, so as soon as we rounded the bend, I knew for certain that we had hit the jackpot. Unfortunately, the other people along for the uh.. long hike (make sure you wear sturdy shoes!) weren’t as familiar with the movies and had no idea what we were looking at… because we were looking at nothing!
In 1996 a grass fire burned through the area just west of Chinese Camp, burning it’s way through hundreds of acres of nothing.. unfortunately, the town set used in all these movies happened to be in the middle of those acres of nothing. Along the tracks near the town set the fire becomes evident. Rail ties are nothing but cinders, and a few looked like they had literally exploded from the heat. The only thing even remotely connected to the filming days is a lonely prop windmill, slumped over on the ground. Somehow spared from the fires. On further reflection you notice the stumps of burned trees dotting the hillside.
Not a bad trip at all, not much to see, but for the Back to the Future fan, a MUST see! Numerous other small locations were located on the ranch property as well, including Clara’s home, the location of the switch track, and all the miles of track featured in that horse-chasing, train-racing action footage, but you’re going to need permission to use the back roads and much better shoes than mine, and it’s next to impossible to find those sites unless a local happens to know exactly where they were. They might know, but the only local we encountered was a vagrant family living out of a camper. Man with no shirt, woman with no shoes, and their companions, baby, large dog, and even larger shotgun. So be careful out there… and if you make it to Hill Valley 1885, send us some pictures!
ADDRESS: PRIVATE/PROTECTED RANCH
COORDINATES: 37.86342, -120.500622