One of the questions we often get is “how can I visit the movie ranch where the Little House on the Prairie NBC series was filmed?” We’ve gotten it enough that I pursued it to get the full scoop. As a proviso, this is second hand information. I haven’t been there and frankly if I was taking a Laura trip to California it would be to Pomona and then San Francisco before I even thought about going to see Simi Valley, but since there seems to be interest from other people, I checked things out and this is what I found.
What’s There To See?
There used to be many movie ranches around Hollywood where rural scenes were filmed. Now Big Sky (located in Simi Valley, California where the regular exteriors of the TV show were filmed) is about the last one left. It rents out land to movie and TV production companies to use in filming. Sometimes it’s to recreate the Old West, sometimes it’s just a modern ranch, and sometimes it’s just a good place to have a car chase away from people and sometimes it’s something else entirely. When a TV show rents ground for this it’s usually with the agreement they can build semi-permanent sets for the duration that they rent the land. These are NOT finished houses. They aren’t built to last, just to look good so they are mainly exterior walls, unfinished on the inside, and dressed to look like somebody really uses them with props. So it isn’t like these were finished houses that you saw during the LHoP episodes. Interior and some exterior sequences were shot in studios. Some specialty bits were shot elsewhere (for example much of the episode where Albert dreams they are in a classic western was shot at Old Tuscon and the Ernest Borgnine is an angel episode was shot at Donnell’s Vista), but the main farm and town exterior sequences and some of the extra exterior stuff was shot here. The production company built these shells of houses. Landon didn’t want anyone else using his creation and intended to destroy them before he left anyway so he wrote blowing up the town into the finale. So most of the sets were destroyed then. Since then wildfires have swept through the area and destroyed much of what was left. So now really it’s mostly just the bare land. Also other productions have probably used part of the land in the meantime further disrupting things. Little House in Simi Valley Part 1 includes a video that gives a good notion of what there is to see.
NOT a Tourist Attraction
Now remember that the ranch is a business, but one that makes its money renting out to film companies, NOT one that makes money through tourists. That means there is NO access at all if it’s rented out for filming on any particular day. HOWEVER, they will sometimes let you visit if you contact them ahead of time and ask and they have a day where they don’t have it rented. That set up also means that there are literally NO amenities. If they provided stuff on the land that would just mean things that the film crews would be inconvenienced to shoot around it and extra expense for the owners. That means no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no food stands, no level walkways, and no nearby medical help.
Can I Go?
It’s really up to the owners who they let in. They are under no obligation to let you in and you are under an obligation to respect private property. They really are doing you a favor if they do let you in and they reasonably expect to be paid to help cover extra staff time to be there and let you in. Since this really isn’t a regular thing they do, there don’t seem to be any set rates, you’ll have to negotiate with them. I would recommend getting all that settled before you make a trip and remember they are doing you a FAVOR and act according.
If you do get permission to go in, be prepared to be self-sufficient. Take along water, wear heavy, long pants (work pants or jeans) and hiking boots are a good idea. Be careful where you step the ground is uneven and I’ve been told by multiple people that there are rattlesnakes there.
Then contact the Big Sky Movie Ranch.
UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comment sections for some further advice and tips from people who have been there.