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Where Was The Great Outdoors Filmed?

The Great Outdoors is a cult comedy classic from the 1980s about a peaceful weekend of fishing and outdoors family time at a Wisconsin lakeside cabin that gets a bit…chaotic.  In the typical style of the time, a vacation goes all kinds of wrong for the unsuspecting main characters and turns into a comedy spectacle as two opposite families accidentally meet for a vacation. If you’re a curious The Great Outdoors fan or movie buff keep reading to find out where Lake Potowotominimac and the Pines Bar really exist from this summer vacation blunder.



Director/screenwriter John Hughes is famous for his work on classics such as Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Home Alone just to name a few. For The Great Outdoors, he hit gold by pairing John Candy and Dan Aykroyd at their comedic best.

Chester Chet (John Candy) and Connie Ripley (Stephanie Faracy) bring their family to a lakeside cabin for what is meant to be a relaxing vacation in Pechoggin, Wisconsin. But events turn when Chet runs into his brother-in-law, Roman (Dan Aykroyd), and his wife Kate Craig (Annette Bening). The two men couldn’t be more opposite: Chet an outdoorsman looking for a lakeside getaway and obnoxious investment banker Roman looking to stir things up. The two families clash and turn their peaceful vacation into more of a slapstick war.

The hilarious events include a face-off with a bear (1700 lb “Bart the Bear”), water skiing and restaurant worker romances with the kids, and truth and lies revealed about the two families’ financial situations with side-splitting chaotic scenes.

The Great Outdoors filming locations

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Image by Kraig Fletcher/500 px

Despite the film taking place in Wisconsin, no actual filming took place in Wisconsin. The bulk of The Great Outdoors was filmed at Bass Lake in California, with a few scenes in Chicago, Illinois. The film features Lake Potowotominimac, which is a fictional lake in Wisconsin. In spite of its mostly Western locations, the film aims to truly capture lake life in the Midwest.

Bass Lake, called one of “The West’s Best Lakes” by Sunset Magazine is a picturesque wide and blue lake surrounded by towering pine trees, resting just 15 miles from Yosemite National Park. Bass Lake has been a popular shooting location for many films. Its proximity to Los Angeles no doubt provides a perfect location for capturing that waterside cabin vibe. Some scenes from The Great Outdoors also take place at the beautiful Yosemite National Park, but the majority of scenes take place at Bass Lake itself.

The lakeside restaurant serving as Pines Bar of Wally and Juanita’s Perk’s Pine Lodge Resort used to be at Bass Lake but actually burned down because of a gas fire. The restaurant has since been remodeled as Ducey’s Bar and Grill and now features memorabilia from the film as a tribute to the previous restaurant.

The Bass Lake Surf Shop where Cammie works in the film, the romantic interest of Chet’s son Buck on their summer vacation, is still located at Bass Lake and is a real shop.

A few go-kart scenes were shot at Paramount Ranch in Agora Hills, California.

However, despite Bass Lake being featured for much of the film, the log cabin from The Great Outdoors is not real but was unromantically located at a backlot at Universal Studios in University City near Los Angeles.

If you ever see it for yourself, you can imagine why the production team chose Bass Lake as it comes with some of the most gorgeous lakeside views in all of the USA. But if you’re a The Great Outdoors fan looking to copy the experience with perfection, like columnist BJ Hollars, then you might want to get yourself tickets to the quaint town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In a conversation with the director of the Hollywood film, Howard Deutch, Hollars found a non-committal affirmation that Lake Potowotominimac reminded him eerily of Eau Claire, WI, and might have been the inspiration for the set of The Great Outdoors. When compared to the film, Eau Claire, it feels strangely familiar. Perhaps the answer to re-living your favorite films is not found in the exact copycat filming locations, but rather in the locations the writers and directors use for inspiration. 

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Image by Universal Pictures

Famous movies filmed at Bass Lake

Bass Lake has provided an ideal shooting destination for multiple Hollywood films.

  • Carnival Boat (1932)
  • Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
  • Hiawatha (1957)
  • The Great Outdoors (1988)
  • Meatballs 4 (1992)
  • Mouse Hunt (1997), starring Nathan Lane and Lee Evans, directed by Gore Verbinski 
  • The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1991) co-starring Richard Kiel

 

If you re-watch The Great Outdoors and find yourself with a lakeside itch, then remember to head to Bass Lake, or perhaps the town of Eau Claire, but don’t search for too long on Google for Pechoggin in Wisconsin or you’ll find yourself hours later, eyes-straining and no further along in your search. The six weeks of filming left locals at Bass Lake in a glorious mood, as they welcomed the team from Los Angeles and participated in helping production as much as they could. The locals even placed extras at the dance at Ducey’s. Seems like, if you’re looking for your next vacation spot, get yourself some sunscreen and a room at Pines Resort and maybe you might find yourself an extra in a film too.

If you’re looking for more high-quality outdoor films, check out the 11 Best Ski Movies of All Time.

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