A Guide to Pioneertown

Near Joshua Tree is a town that is one of the most filmed locations of the Old West. The only thing is, this town wasn’t created until the 1940s. Pioneertown, California, was created as a living, breathing movie set, and a visit there is like stepping into a 1950s TV western (which makes sense as the Gene Autry Show was filmed there).

History of Pioneertown

Pioneertown was created in 1946 by actor Dick Curtis to be a living, breathing movie set. Seventeen investors (including Curtis, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Bud Abbott, and others) each invested $500 and purchased the 32,000 acres of land that would become Pioneertown.

They broke ground on Pioneertown’s construction on September 1, 1946, and soon a town that looked like it was out of the 1880s Old West was born. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, over 50 films and serials were made in Pioneertown, including almost every television show made by Gene Autry’s production company.

As the golden age of western’s ended, so did the days of Pioneertown’s regular use as a film set. There are still occasional productions filmed there, mainly commercials nowadays, but nowhere near the scale of the 1950s.

What was filmed in Pioneertown?

Here is a partial list of movies and television shows that were filmed at Pioneertown:

  • The Valiant Hombre (1948)
  • The Gay Amigo (1949)
  • The Daring Caballero (1949)
  • The Cowboy and the Indians (1949)
  • Satan’s Cradle (1949)
  • Riders in the Sky (1949)
  • Beyond the Purple Hills (1950)
  • The Girl from San Lorenzo (1950)
  • The Cisco Kid (1950–1956) (156 episodes were filmed in Pioneertown)
  • Cody of the Pony Express (1950)
  • The Capture (1950)
  • The Gene Autry Show (1950–1955) (91 episodes were filmed in Pioneertown)
  • Indian Territory (1950)
  • Whirlwind (1951)
  • Silver Canyon (1951)
  • The Range Rider (1951-1953) (79 episodes were filmed in Pioneertown)
  • Barbed Wire (1952)
  • Winning of the West (1953)
  • On Top of Old Smokey (1953)
  • Jeopardy (1953)
  • Last of the Pony Riders (1953)
  • Annie Oakley (1954–1957) (81 episodes filmed in Pioneertown)
  • Buffalo Bill, Jr. (1955–1956) (42 episodes filmed in Pioneertown)
  • Judge Roy Bean (1955-1956) (39 episodes filmed in Pioneertown)
  • The Rainmaker (1956)
  • The 19th Hole (1964)
  • Cain’s Cutthroats (1971)
  • The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
  • The China Lake Murders (1990)
  • Shelter from the Storm (1994)
  • Desert Cross (1994)
  • The Howling: New Moon Rising (1995)
  • Last Chance (1999)
  • Seven Psychopaths (2012)
  • Bulletproof (2012)
  • Becoming Bulletproof (2014)
  • The Gambler (2014)
  • Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Getting to Pioneertown

The Pioneertown sign.

Pioneertown is located right outside of the city of Yucca Valley. To get there from Los Angeles, Palm Springs, or Joshua Tree (pretty much any place south of Pioneertown), you take State Route 62 into Yucca Valley and make a turn on Pioneertown Road. 

If you are heading to Pioneertown from locations in the north, such as Barstow, you will take Highway 247 south until you get to Pipes Canyon Road (just past Flamingo Heights). Turn on Pipes Canyon Road for about 7 Miles. Turn left on Pioneertown Road and continue for about 3 miles to reach the parking area.

Things to see in Pioneertown

Pioneertown’s Mane Street, the living movie set that looks like an 1880s Old West town, is where pretty much everything to see in the town is located. The street is small enough where everything is really easy to find. The Mane Street area was recognized as a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places in 2020. 

Pappy & Harriets is one of two restaurants in Pioneertown and has become a pretty popular music venue over the years. It started out as the Cantina in 1946, and in recent years the venue has had concerts from such big name artists as Paul McCartney. Billboard Magazine once called it one of the top ten hidden gems in the country. 

In addition to great music, Pappy & Harriets also has some really good food. They specialize in BBQ, and I highly recommend the steak sandwich. Be warned, though, there is usually a bit of a wait to get in.

If you’d rather get Mexican food than BBQ or just don’t want to wait to get into Pappy & Harriets, The Red Dog Saloon is the place to go. The Red Dog Saloon is located right in the center of town on Mane Street, and they even have breakfast options if you are in the area early on Saturdays and Sundays.

Mane Street Stampede Wild West Show

On every second and fourth Saturday of the month at 1:00 pm, you can check out the Mane Street Stampede Wild West Show. The show is free of charge and features a shootout between cowboys and outlaws.

The Pioneer Bowl is a vintage bowling alley right in the middle of town. The bowling alley dates back to the opening of the town, and Roy Rogers even rolled the first ball there. The bowling alley also has a kitchen if you want to grab a bite to eat.

Places to shop in Pioneertown

There are a few places to shop in Pioneertown. Here are a few of our favorites. 

The Pioneertown General Store is located inside the Likker Barn and features handmade art and jewelry along with antiques. The General Mercantile Shop also has art pieces from local artists, but also Pioneertown merchandise.

We thought that The Soap Goats Shop was the funnest shop to visit in Pioneertown. The shop sells freshly handmade soap but also features a number of actual goats at the store. On our most recent visit, one of the goats was wearing a cowboy hat. 

There is a large sound stage on Mane Street that is used for private events. The sound stage also houses a vintage book store that seems only to be open occasionally. The bookstore has a decent selection of vintage books, records, and movies and is great to check out if you happen to be there when it is open.

Places to Stay in Pioneertown

There are a few places to stay in Pioneertown itself. The Pioneertown Motel was built in 1946 and is located right off Mane Street. There are 19 rooms at the hotel, and room number nine is where Gene Autry used to stay and play cards till sunrise. There are no TVs in the rooms here, but they do have wifi, so you won’t be completely disconnected from the real world.

The Desert Willow Ranch, which is a popular wedding venue, is available to rent to stay the night, and you can even bring your horses. 

Rimrock Ranch actually predates Pioneertown and features four rustic cabins, retro-fitted Airstream trailers, a lodge, and the Hatch House. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry used to stay in the cabins here.

If you have an RV, a tent, or just want to sleep in your car, then the Pioneertown Corrals are the place for you. There are no RV hookups or showers here, though, and they accept cash only. 

If you venture out of Pioneertown to nearby Yucca Valley, there are a number of hotels and motels, including major chains like Marriott and Holiday Inn.

What’s Nearby Pioneertown?

Pioneertown is close to Joshua Tree National Park, which is by far the biggest attraction in the area. The nearby towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms have a ton of great places to eat, art to check out, and cool places to shop. All three towns are a lot of fun to explore.

If you are looking for a place to hike (or ride a horse) that isn’t in the National Park, the 25,500-acre Pioneertown Mountains Preserve is right outside of Pioneertown. In fact, you can begin the preserve’s Sawtooth Loop Trail at Pioneertown. 

If you are looking to see something that may or may not have been built with the help of people from Venus, The Integratron is an interesting place to check out near Pioneertown. It is a 38-foot mystical energy machine built by ufologist George Van Tassel. Howard Hughes even helped fund its construction. The purpose of the building was rejuvenation, and still today, you can get a sound-bath that supposedly leads to sonic healing.

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