Today, Big Sky Ranch is known as the iconic backdrop of beloved Hollywood shows such as “Little House on the Prairie,” “Twin Peaks,” and “Gunsmoke.” However, when the Little House producers originally went scouting locations for the show, they started in Arizona, then worked their way to Northern California, before finally discovering Big Sky Ranch in Southern California’s Simi Valley. Not only was it conveniently located, but it had the natural backdrops they were seeking, including large trees, sparkling ponds, lush meadows, and rocky hideouts. (1)
All exterior scenes of the Little House show from 1974 through 1983 were shot at the Big Sky Ranch, including the iconic opening credits. Can’t you just picture Laura, Mary, and Carrie running down that grassy hillside now? Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder in the series, recounted that fans would often try to sneak onto the 7,000-acre property to catch a glimpse of the sets that made up the town of Walnut Grove. (2)
Despite certain limitations of the California location, the Little House producers made an honest effort to have the show resemble the Midwest plains and to re-create snowy winter scenes. As for the cozy interiors, those were all filmed at Paramount Studios, which was about an hour car ride away.
At the beginning of the series, it was agreed that the location would be returned to its original state after the show ended. So, when the show was canceled in 1983, Michael Landon made the decision to build the destruction of the set into an epic ending for the series. In the made-for-TV movie “The Last Farewell,” the Ingalls family and their community must take drastic measures to prevent a land developer from taking over their homes. The dramatic conclusion saw the entire set dynamited as the community looked on. In an interview with The New York Times, Landon explained that he felt the destruction was a fitting end to the pioneer epic, and it provided a sense of emotional release for the cast and crew. (3)
Now, in 2024, these iconic life-sized set façades have been recreated and placed in their original locations, including the famous Ingalls house and Oleson’s Mercantile to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the TV show. The three-day 50th Anniversary Cast Reunion & Festival will take place March 22, 23, and 24 in Simi Valley, California. Little House fans will have the chance to tour the Big Sky Ranch and see re-creations of the Ingalls’ farmhouse and barn, the Wilder house, the school for the blind, Hanson’s Mill, the post office, Nellie’s Restaurant, the church, Oleson’s Mercantile, and Walnut Grove Feed and Seed. There will also be multiple opportunities to meet the cast members and learn about their on-set memories.
The return to the Big Sky Ranch has been many years in the making and now in 2024, fans can finally relive the magic and adventure like never before!