Looking for the most comprehensive list of national parks in the movies?
From Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid to Dances With Wolves to Monty Python & the Holy Grail to National Treasure to Star Trek and much, much more, we’ve got it all covered for you.
This article explores the important connection between our natural wonders and our cinematic treasures.
In the process, we attempt to answer the question: How have America’s national treasures helped to bring America’s cinematic wonders to life?
And, in the process of answering that question, you may discover some of your favorite film scenes did not actually happen in the places where you thought they did.
National Parks in the Movies | Table Of Contents
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- The Man With The Golden Gun
- License To Kill
- Dances With Wolves
- The Hunger Games
- The Lone Ranger
- A River Runs Through It
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- North By Northwest
- National Treasure
- Milagro Benfield War
- How the West Was Won
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Rocky IV
- Star Wars IV & VI
- The Thing
- Thelma & Louise
- Lost World
- Star Trek V:
- The Shining
- Planet of the Apes
We Are The Knights Who Say “Ni” | Monty Python & National Parks in the Movies
So, who was the greatest King Arthur on the big screen? Richard Harris in Camelot? Sean Connery in First Knight? Well, if you were a World History teacher, like me, trying to interest a group of teenagers in the Middle Ages then it’s Graham Chapman from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
With knights who say “Ni,” a “Shrubber” named Roger, a killer rabbit and so much more, what’s not to love? As David Sims in the Atlantic Magazine wrote, “forty years (plus) after its release, the film remains the gold standard in subversive comedy.”
Monty Python was definitely able to shed some light on the Dark Ages.
One Of The Greatest Comedies Of All Time
It was originally released in 1975 as the second film by the British comedy group known as Monty Python. Monty Python and the Holy Grail grossed more than any British film shown in the U.S. that year.
To give you some idea of its enduring legacy, it was selected in 2011 as the second-best comedy of all time in ABC’s Best In Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time.
Which film finished in first place? Surely you can’t be serious. Why it was Airplane, of course!
Now Here’s A Fun Fact
Now here’s a fun fact. The group didn’t have enough money to arrange for horses and this is where one of the funniest bits in the film comes into play.
Given their meager budget, they came up with the coconut idea from an old BBC radio practice of using coconut halves as sound effects for horses.
Now if you’re familiar with the film you know that most of it was filmed in the United Kingdom. So which part of it was filmed in America and where?
The Tale Of Sir Robin
Do you remember the dark forest of Ewing where Sir Robin rides accompanied by his favorite minstrels? That scene was actually filmed at Yosemite National Park in California.
No one has described Yosemite better than the great conservationist John Muir. In 1912, he published The Yosemite and wrote: “But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life.”
Yosemite is best known for its waterfalls, but you can also find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.
Here’s A Little History
As a retired history teacher, I thought I’d give a quick lesson. Here’s a little history: In 1849, Yosemite Valley, located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, began to receive many tourists to the region.
They came because of the California Gold Rush. As a consequence, conservationists appealed to President Abraham Lincoln to make Yosemite Valley a public trust of California. It became America’s third oldest national park after Yellowstone and Sequoia.
What About National Parks In Television Shows?
License To Thrill | James Bond & National Parks in the Movies
No Time To Die is the 26th movie in the iconic James Bond Franchise. It’s the final film of the Daniel Craig Era. What better time to take a look back at the connection between national parks and Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s best agent.
Just how did national parks and James Bond come together? And, just how might they have come together if we use a little imagination?
Did James Bond Appear In A National Park
Did James Bond appear in a national park? Yes, he did. It wasn’t in America however. In James Bond’s ninth movie, The Man with the Golden Gun, filming mostly took place in Thailand.
It was on Tapu Island, part of the Ao Phang Nga Bay National Park, where Bond, played by Roger Moore, duels with the arch-villain Scaramanga.
The First Englishman To Play 007
For the record, Roger Moore might not have been the best Bond, but he was the first British actor to play James Bond.
His predecessors in this iconic role, Sean Connery and George Lazenby, were Scottish and Australian respectively.
If You’re Budget Doesn’t Include Foreign Travel Then What About Florida?
If your budget doesn’t include foreign travel then allow me to direct you to License To Kill. Key West, Florida was the location chosen for the 16th James Bond film, with Timothy Dalton as 007.
Some of the iconic scenes in this film include the 7-mile bridge, The Ernest Hemingway House, Mallory Square and aerial shots of the Keys.
This Bond Was Too Busy Chasing Bad Guys | How About You?
While Bond was too busy chasing bad guys to visit these incredible places, allow me to recommend no less than 7 (I thought that would be an ideal number given our subject matter) for you to choose from.
Beginning with Everglades National Park, which is a great place for bird watching and taking pictures. It’s also home to many rare and endangered species including the Florida Panther.
007 In Florida | National Parks In The Movies
Or, how about Dry Tortugas National Park which offers an amazing variety of birds, a 100 square mile national park and it’s home to Fort Jefferson.
If you prefer boats to birds than check out Key Biscayne National Park. It has some fabulous boat tours.
If you enjoy camping, hiking and scenic drives then how about Big Cypress National Preserve? You could find yourself spending some quality time there taking in all of the wonderful scenery.
Of course, it you prefer seashores and spaceships then there’s Canaveral National Seashore which is located in Northeastern Florida off of Cape Canaveral. It’s a blast! Or should I say blast off?
From National Monuments To Spanish Forts
Now if history is your thing, and I happen to be a retired history teacher, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is located in Northeastern Florida in St. Augustine. The park is open year-round and offers the opportunity to explore a historic Spanish fort.
Another recommendation for my fellow history buffs is De Soto National Memorial. This site commemorates the landing of Conquistador Hernando de Soto’s army of soldiers, hired mercenaries, craftsmen, and clergy making landfall in May of 1539.
Dances With Wolves | National Parks in the Movies
If you love old westerns and old western stars then have no fear because we haven’t forgotten about you. We’re starting out, however, with a more contemporary western classic which tells the story of How The West Was Won from the perspective of the losing side.
Dances with Wolves is a 1990 American film starring, directed, and produced by Kevin Costner in his feature directorial debut. It’s a film adaptation of a 1988 book of the same name.
The film tells the story of a former Union Army Lieutenant, John J. Dunbar (Costner) who travels to the frontier to a remote military post. Along the way, he learns about the Lakota people. Dunbar is so deeply moved by them that he adopts their culture and their ways.
Badlands National Park
Costner’s movie was filmed on location in South Dakota, mainly on private ranches near Pierre and Rapid City, with a few scenes filmed in Wyoming. Specific locations included the Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, and the Belle Fourche River area.
The park’s 244,000 acres offers its visitors rugged beauty which includes striking geologic deposits. It contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds. It’s an incredible expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.
The Hunger Games | National Parks in the Movies
In 2012, audiences were thrilled when Suzanne Collins best-selling Hunger Games books came to the big screen.
If you remember, the first film features Katniss Everdeen (a young Jennifer Lawrence) who fights for her life against other young adults in a cut-throat survival competition in the forest. What better place to film a cut-throat competition in the forest than in the forest.
Pigsah National Forest
The forest the filmmakers selected was Pisgah National Forest. Pisgah is a wonderful land of mile-high peaks, cascading waterfalls, and heavily forested slopes.
The Capitol of Panem simply doesn’t compare to this wilderness wonderland. Of course, if you do travel there, I recommend hiking with friends which is a far kinder and gentler form of recreation.
Parks Versus Forests | You Make The Call
Pisgah National Forest is where Katniss demonstrates her hunting skills in the early scenes of the film. You may also remember those wonderful scenes by the river where Katniss takes care of Peeta. These scenes were actually filmed in Dupont State Forest at Triple Falls on the Little River.
While national parks may be more popular, national forests are typically less crowded. Something to consider when planning your next vacation getaway.
A Hunger Games Summer Camp?
Now here’s a fun fact. After the release of the film, summer camps began offering “Hunger Games” activities. Hopefully, they’re not quite as intense or dangerous as the ones featured in the film.
Wild Wise, a camp located in the United Kingdom, featured the following advertisement for its prospective campers:
Tributes will arrive to our ‘Capitol’, and spend the first two days camping together at the ‘Training Camp’ learning all the skills Katniss and Peeta used in the Arena.
These include fire making, sneaking and stalking, shelter/den building, camouflage, edible plants, and nature awareness skills such as bird language (which Rue and Katniss knew) which Tributes will use to ambush each other.
You might want to remind your children to do all of their chores or else they may have a special summer camp experience awaiting them.
“I am Spartacus.” Who can forget that iconic line in one of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster films–Spartacus. Kirk Douglas anchored an all-star cast in this cinematic extravaganza which also featured Sir Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin and Tony Curtis.
Spartacus was a Thracian gladiator who led a revolt which almost toppled the Roman Republic. Gathering a slave army of over 100,000, Spartacus and his men won a series of battles in an effort to topple Rome’s slavocracy.
Hollywood Versus History
After defeating Gaius Claudius Glaber in a surprise attack, the combined armies of Crassus and Pompey managed to defeat the uprising. In the film, Spartacus is taken captive. In reality, he perished on the battlefield.
As a retired history teacher, I remember having to disabuse more than one student of the notion that the most famous scene in the film (“I am Spartacus”) never really happened.
As for the national park, the film opens with Batiatus (portrayed by Peter Ustinov) traveling to the Sicilian Mines to purchase the Thracian Spartacus for his gladiator school. That scene was actually filmed at Death Valley National Park.
Situated on California’s southeastern border with Nevada, the park spans over 5,000 miles of otherworldly vistas. Death Valley is definitely a park for superlatives: hottest place on earth, lowest place in the U.S. and driest place in America.
The Lone Ranger
Hi ho Silver! Before Bruce Wayne donned his famous cowl, another masked man lit up the big screen. He was the Lone Ranger. For those of us who are a bit older, we remember those Saturday mornings when we could watch our beloved hero on the little screen.
Fast forward to the twenty first century. Hollywood provides us with a modern take on a classic story. In this 2013 remake of the television series classic, Armie Hammer portrayed our masked hero and Johnny Depp (yes, I did say Johnny Depp) portrayed his sidekick Tonto.
This remake was filmed in and around the iconic sites of Monument Valley and Canyonlands National Park.
If you’re looking for a quick Lone Ranger history lesson then I’m only too glad to give it to you. From 1949 to 1957, the Lone Ranger saddled up on the small screen. It was the highest-rated television program on ABC in the early 1950s.
The Legend Of The Lone Ranger
According to the original storyline, a group of six Texas Rangers were ambushed. All were apparently killed.
Actually, only five of those Texas Rangers perished. In the hot sun, one of those rangers managed to survive. He crawled to a pool of cool water which saved his life.
This “lone ranger” was found by a native Indian named Tonto. Tonto buried the five other rangers, one of whom was the survivor’s brother.
Truth, Justice and the American Way
Of course, the surviving ranger would don a mask and set off in search of truth, justice and the American way. And what better place to do this than in scenic Zion National Park.
Situated in the southwestern corner of Utah near the Nevada and Arizona borders the spectacular features of this breathtaking park includes natural rock arches.
And, if you’re not too busy chasing desperadoes, there’s also hiking, camping, backpacking, climbing and much much more.
On television, the Lone Ranger was played by Clayton Moore. Moore is the only person to have both his name and his character’s name on his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Tonto Was A Canadian
Speaking of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Jay Silverheels, who played the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto, in both television and films, was born to a Mohawk chief on the Six Nations Reservation in Brantford, Ontario.
He was a star lacrosse player before moving to Hollywood to work as a stuntman. Silverheels, too, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979.
John Wayne Country
If you’ve never been to Monument Valley then it’s definitely worth the trip. Go there and you will find sandstone masterpieces towering at heights up to 1,000 feet. There are scenic clouds casting shadows which roam the desert floor. The scenery is simply breathtaking.
Many movies, especially westerns, have been made in Monument Valley. For film buffs, this valley is home to only one Hollywood actor–John Wayne.
The “Duke” made five movies there in his lifetime. They include, “Stagecoach” (1939), “Fort Apache” (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), “Rio Grande” (1950), and “The Searchers” (1956).
A River Runs Through It
Who doesn’t love a good fishing story. A River Runs Through It, Robert Redford’s epic bromance, is set against the beautiful backdrop of Missoula, Montana. It’s a deeply moving story which takes place during World War One and the Great Depression.
Whether you’re someone who enjoys fishing or not, you will be treated to some wonderful fly fishing scenes. Two ministers sons (portrayed by Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer) share their love of fishing along the Blackfoot River.
Which River Ran Through It | They Used The Gallatin Instead Of The Blackfoot
What you may not know, however, is that the Blackfoot had deteriorated since the time period depicted in the film. The filmmakers solution was to shoot most of these scenes along the beautiful Gallatin River instead.
In making this film, Director Robert Redford said it was his hope more people would be captivated by the beauty of these western lands and want to ensure their protection.
Any list of national parks in the movies would be incomplete without as least one World War Two film. Valkyrie is a historical film examining the 1944 plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.
Those beautiful forest scenes were not part of Hitler’s hideaway however. They were actually filmed in the San Bernardino National Forest.
Something Extra For My Fellow History Buffs
Valkyrie follows the exploits of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (portrayed by Tom Cruise). He believes the war is lost. It’s time for a change Germans can believe in.
Stauffenberg joins a group of like-minded, high-ranking men for this mission impossible (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one) to overthrow the Nazi regime.
As a lifelong history buff (and retired history teacher), I did some digging. There were other plots to kill Hitler. One of these took place in 1943.
German Maj. General Henning von Treskow loaded an explosive parcel onto Hitler’s plane. Unfortunately, the skies were friendly that day. The fuses were defective and the bomb failed to go off.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind | National Parks in the Movies
Who can forget Richard Dreyfuss and his obsession with UFOs. It began with a clay model of an all-too-familiar landmark and ended with a trip to Devils Tower National Monument and Black Hills National Forest in Wyoming.
When Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can never go home again,” I sincerely doubt he had this film in mind.
Watch The Skies
Of course, the film I’m referring to is Steven Spielberg’s classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that Spielberg originally planned a very different film?
Originally titled, “Watch the Skies,” it was supposed to be the story of an officer working on Project Blue Book.
Blue Book was the official government study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s. Our hero was supposed to be a government whistle blower who was going to finally reveal the truth to us. Of course, that’s not the story Spielberg ultimately decided to tell.
Dr. J. Allen Hynek Makes A Surprise Appearance
Here’s another fun fact: If you’re a Ufologist then you may know that Dr. J. Allen Hynek was a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book. Hynek was also a scientific advisor to Spielberg’s film. He actually makes a cameo appearance in Close Encounters.
He’s the goateed guy smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit. You know, the one who’s pushing through that crowd of scientists on Devils Tower to get a better look at the aliens. Now do you remember?
The Truth Is Out There
Fast forward to 2021. How timely is a trip to Devils Tower this summer given the recent release of the U.S. Government’s long-awaited report on whether extraterrestrials are actually out there.
Spoiler Alert: The government’s not prepared to answer that question. So, we still don’t know. What we do know is that Devils Tower is out there. And, it’s well worth a visit whether you believe or not.
North by Northwest | National Parks in Movies
Speaking of close encounters, let’s not forget about those four presidents who sit atop Mount Rushmore in neighboring South Dakota. I’ll bet you know their names.
Cary Grant got to know them quite well, too, in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic North By Northwest. This iconic film features a memorable chase scene across the faces of Mount Rushmore’s presidents.
Here’s A Fun Fact
Now here’s a fun fact: There’s a different scene in the film where Cary Grant walks into the United Nations building.
It was filmed secretly by a truck across the street because the UN did not want Alfred Hitchcock filming in its building. So, the master of suspense was also a master of deception too.
That’s Why They Call It “Movie Magic”
Now, back to Mount Rushmore. Remember when Grant (that’s Cary not Ulysses) is sliding down Abraham Lincoln’s nose in a desperate attempt to escape his pursuers? Did you know that this scene was actually filmed in a Hollywood Studio. That’s why it’s called “movie magic.”
National Treasure | National Parks in the Movies
While we’re on the subject of Mt. Rushmore, there’s another wonderful movie which had one of its most famous scenes take place at Mount Rushmore too.
National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets, the sequel to the popular National Treasure, finds Ben, Abby and Riley (played by Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha) on the trail of history (and treasure) once again.
In this film, Ben Gates tries to clear his family’s name after an unscrupulous black market antiquities dealer, Mitch Wilkinson (played by Ed Harris), produces one of the missing pages of John Wilkes Booth’s diary.
A Secret Cave With Hidden Treasures
This missing page suggests that Ben’s great-great-grandfather was the mastermind behind the Lincoln Assassination. Could it be?
Ben, Riley, Abigail, and Patrick, Ben’s father (played by Jon Voight), travel to Mount Rushmore where they confront Mitch Wilkinson after entering a secret cave filled with hidden treasures.
The filmmakers lead us to believe they are hidden somewhere inside of one of America’s most famous landmarks.
Mount Rushmore Actually Does Contain A Hidden Chamber
Believe it or not, Mount Rushmore actually does contain a hidden chamber that houses a time capsule of sorts.
It’s a collection of sixteen porcelain panels, residing in a teakwood box inside a titanium vault. It tells the story of this famous landmark. What it doesn’t hold, however, is any buried treasure. Sorry.
The Milagro Beanfield War | National Parks in the Movies
One of my favorite films is one you’ve likely never heard of. Don’t let that discourage you. This film is definitely worth seeing as is the amazing place where some of its best scenes took place. The film is another one directed by Robert Redford. It’s called the Milagro Beanfield War.
It’s the classic story of David versus Goliath. In the tiny town of Milagro, New Mexico, where local water is a premium resource, Goliath is portrayed by a shady developer named Ladd Devine (Richard Bradford).
He wants to build a glamorous resort that will steal water from the neighboring crop fields.
Art Imitating Life
Our modern-day David, handyman and farmer Joe Mondragon (portrayed by Chick Vennera), breaks a water valve reserved for major companies and sets off a small-scale water-rights war between the farmers and the developers.
The film was originally a novel by author John Nichols. While this film is not specifically based on a single historical event, the story line of this film does follow trends often seen in the American Southwest during this time period.
Author Nichols draws from his own experiences working with Hispanic farmers battling to protect their water rights in the 1970s.
The Story Was Filmed In The Santa Fe National Forest
This wonderful story was filmed in New Mexico where the Santa Fe National Forest is prominently featured.
Rising from deserts, meadows and grasslands, the mesas, canyons and peaks of the Santa Fe National Forest are a truly wonderful place to spend time exploring. Don’t forget to bring along something to eat. Beans perhaps?
How The West Was Won | National Parks in the Movies
Before there were Cowboys and Aliens, there were Cowboys and Native Americans (a.k.a. Indians). It turns out that the national parks are not the only places which provide a sensational backdrop for some of Hollywood’s iconic westerns.
The national forests do too.
California’s Inyo Forest
California’s Inyo National Forest has provided the backdrop for many of these memorable movies which so many of us grew up watching.
They include: The Return of Frank James, 1940; My Pal Trigger, 1946; Silver River, 1948; How the West Was Won, 1962; Nevada Smith, 1966; True Grit, 1969; High Plains Drifter, 1972.
And, there are others as well. If you love the old westerns and enjoy the great outdoors then why not saddle up and visit this amazing place.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid | National Parks in the Movies
What if you prefer national parks to national forests? And, what if you prefer more modern western films to the older ones? You know what I’m talking about. Movies made in color. Movies that feature film stars most of us actually remember.
Well, if that’s your definition of a great western then you happen to be in luck. One of my favorites happens to fall into that category. It stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Now, don’t go saying, “Who are those guys?” Save that line for the movie.
Butch Cassidy Was Filmed In Zion National Park
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in a national park.
While you won’t find any scenes of Butch and Sundance in California’s Inyo National Forest or anywhere else in California (unless, of course, it’s in a movie studio), if you look carefully at that 1969 classic then you will discover that two of Hollywood’s most famous outlaws are actually holed up in Zion National Park in Utah.
RELATED: Summer In Zion National Park
Here’s A Fun Fact
Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that, while Paul Newman was originally cast as Butch Cassidy, finding his co-star and fellow outlaw would take quite some time? Originally, Newman approached Steve McQueen about playing the role of the Sundance Kid.
McQueen’s other missed roles included the male lead in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Oceans 11, Apocalypse Now, A Bridge Too Far, Dirty Harry, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The French Connection. Ouch!
McQueen was unhappy with the billing, however, so he wouldn’t agree to do it. Fortunately, there was a young and relatively unknown actor by the name of Robert Redford who didn’t care who got the top billing. And the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.
Sundance Comes From Sundance
For those of you who are not film buffs, did you also know that the Sundance Mountain Resort and the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City were both named after Robert Redford’s role in that iconic film?
Whether you’re interested in California or Utah, John Wayne or Butch Cassidy, forests or parks, my advice to you is to saddle up for some adventure and visit one of these incredible places.
And, if you listen carefully, you just might hear the sound of hoof beats somewhere off in the distance.
Indiana Jones | National Parks in the Movies
Long before he became a globe-trotting legend and America’s best known archeologist, Indiana Jones first learned his craft at Arches National Park in Utah. Do you remember when Young Indiana and his hapless friend stumbled on a band of thieves?
Those brigands forgot the number one rule of archeology. Priceless artifacts belong in a museum.
Utah Boasts Five Amazing National Parks
While Indiana would go on to greater heights and more dangerous adventures, you have the opportunity to experience one of America’s premier national parks without risking life and limb.
The great state of Utah boasts five amazing national parks which is why they figure so prominently in so many films over the years.
Just remember, however, that any priceless artifacts you find there belong in a museum.
Here’s A Fun Fact
Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that Indiana Jones was originally named Indiana Smith? Steven Spielberg objected, however, because Indiana Smith was too close to Nevada Smith, which had been the name of a popular 1966 Steve McQueen western.
George Lucas, who created the character, wanted the name to be as common as possible so Lucas, Spielberg and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan all decided that “Jones” would do instead. What’s in a name? Just ask Harrison Ford.
Rocky IV | National Parks in the Movies
If you don’t normally associate a film about boxing with one of our nation’s premier parks then think again.
Believe it or not, the highest grossing Rocky film, Rocky IV, had Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) taking on Soviet Bad Boy Ivan Drago (Dolph Lungren) and you’ll never guess where Rocky did his training for that epic fight.
The beautiful Russian countryside? That’s what Hollywood wants you to believe. Oh that countryside was beautiful alright, but it wasn’t Russian.
From Russia With Love | Not Exactly
That scene was actually filmed in the United States. Those beautiful snow scenes of Rocky training for the big fight with Drago, that wonderful Bill Conti score playing in the background, actually took place around Wyoming’s Jackson Hole with many of those outdoor scenic shots taken at Grand Teton National Park.
And, the news gets even better than that because you don’t have to go fifteen rounds with a steroid-driven Russian behemoth in order to enjoy the same majestic beauty and wonderful wildlife at one of America’s prettiest parks.
As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to lace up your boxing gloves.
RELATED: Grand Teton National Park
Star Wars | National Parks in the Movies
The force was with them when George Lucas & Co. rewrote the rules of science fiction storytelling. Star Wars was the most successful science fiction film series of all time. It was second most successful film series of all time.
If you’re wondering which series is number one, it’s the Marvel Comics Superheroes franchise. As Jim Croce once reminded us, you don’t tug on superman’s cape, but don’t feel too sorry for George Lucas.
Star Wars Filming Locations – National Parks
Stars Wars actually began with A New Hope, which was the fourth installment in this highly successful film series. Why begin with episode four you might ask? When this film originally released to theaters in 1977, it was simply called Star Wars.
It wasn’t until the film’s theatrical re-release in 1981 that it received the Episode IV marking and the subtitle: A New Hope. As Lucas explained at a Tribeca Film Conference in 2015, he didn’t think the film would be a success. Think again!
Tatooine Was Death Valley National Park
The Stars Wars film which launched the entire series introduces us to Luke Skywalker in Death Valley National Park. Death Valley was selected to replicate the rugged landscape of the desert planet Tatooine, the home of Luke Skywalker.
If you remember, this is where Luke was taken as an infant to live with his aunt and uncle.
Scenes from episode six, Return of the Jedi, were also be filmed in Death Valley too as well as Redwood National Park where the forest moon of Endor was based. With its desert landscape and stunning sand dunes,
Death Valley is one place that truly does appear to be from another planet.
Here’s A Fun Fact
Here’s a fun fact: Long before animatronics, Muppeteer Frank Oz originally planned to dress up a real monkey in a Yoda costume and mask. It turns out that a crew member had worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
He pointed out that the apes they used in that movie’s opening were a huge headache. This was enough to convince George Lucas to get rid of the Yoda monkey. Much to learn they still had.
The Thing | National Parks in the Movies
Remember where horror meets science fiction? Where the trees meet the clouds? You can experience both in the Tongass National Forest. It’s a vast temperate forest in Alaska’s panhandle, sometimes known as “America’s rainforest.”
It’s also where John Carpenter’s The Thing was filmed in 1982. Carpenter’s film depicts a group of American researchers in Antarctica who encounter the “Thing,” which was an extraterrestrial life form that imitates other organisms.
I Actually Encountered The Thing
Believe it or not, I actually encountered The Thing in Arizona of all places. It tried to attack my wallet, but that’s a story for another time.
Just remember, if the thing you love is to experience the beauty of nature then the best news of all is that you won’t need to worry about any parasitic organisms or shape-shifting aliens when you visit. So, why not journey to a place that’s simply out of this world.
Thelma & Louise | National Parks in the Movies
As long as we’re mixing fantasy with reality, let’s not forget about some of America’s most magnificent natural wonders in the great state of Utah.
Yes, we’ve been there before (at least in this article). But, with five incredible national parks, why not go back again and again and again?
For those film aficionados, lets not forget about two of Hollywood’s man-made (or should I say woman-made?) wonders. Utah happens to form the backdrop for what was one of the greatest chick flicks of all time–Thelma & Louise.
The Film Also Included Brad Pitt
Believe it or not, the film also included Brad Pitt, but who was paying any attention to him anyway? Here’s something that you may not know. Pitt was only paid $6,000 for his role in this film. Try getting him that cheap these days!
Thelma and Louise was a buddy film where the two pals were actually two gals and, if you’ve seen the film, you know these were no ordinary ladies.
Thelma & Louise Was Filmed In Canyonlands & Arches
Their iconic road-trip was filmed in and around Moab, Utah, including Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Remember the final scene where Thelma and Louise drive their 1966 Ford Thunderbird into the Grand Canyon?
Well, that’s actually a plateau at Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park. Chalk that one up to movie magic! Adventure awaits you if you decide to travel to Utah and visit one of their five amazing national parks, but please be sure to drive carefully.
Then There’s Jurassic Park’s Lost World
If you’re a fan of the Jurassic Park film series then you might remember those dinosaurs roaming around a make believe island off of the coast of Costa Rica in the sequel to the original Jurassic Park.
Actually, those memorable scenes were shot in the Fern Canyon of Redwood National Park.
RELATED: Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park Goes Back To The Time Of The Real Dinosaurs
Due a little research and you might uncover the fact that the ferns which cover the canyon’s walls and give the “Lost World” an otherworldly look can be traced back to the time of the real dinosaurs.
So, whether your goal is a little cloning or a little clowning, why not pack up for an incredible road trip to the land of the tall trees, but no large pets please.
In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Captain Kirk (portrayed by the one and only William Shatner) boldly went where no Starfleet Captain had gone before. He spent his shore leave climbing on El Capitan and Inspiration Point at Yosemite National Park in California.
And, what made this cinematic experience so unique is that the filmmakers made no bones (did you trekkies get that not-so-subtle reference to Doctor McCoy?) about it. They didn’t try to pretend that he was anywhere else.
Why should they given the natural beauty of Yosemite. El Capitan is one of its favorite destinations for visitors.
If you’re thinking of making this trek (oh boy, here I go again!) then consider the fact that it offers you a breathtaking view. Where else can you see the El Capitan / Half Dome bookend view of the majestic Yosemite Valley.
Battle Of The Science Fiction Franchises
While the Star Wars franchise wins the battle of which science fiction enterprise (I’m sorry folks, I just can’t help myself!) made the most money, it was the Star Trek franchise which predicted more future technologies.
These include: tablets, tractor beams, tricorders, flip communicators, wearable badge communicators, cloaking devices and voice interface computers to name a few.
And, let’s not forget that Star Trek is the only science fiction film franchise to have a real astronaut–90 year old William Shatner.
Maine | National Parks in the Movies
Just as some national parks and national forests are hidden treasures, so are some films. If you love the great outdoors and you love a compelling story then how about the 2018 film Maine.
This movie was made in the Virginia Highlands section of the Appalachian Trail. To watch it is to feel like you’re along for the journey.
It’s a story built around a pair of hikers, but the real stars are the incredible scenery and the camera shots which make you believe you’re a part of this epic hiking trip.
Maine is short on dialogue, but long on the natural beauty of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
Imagine the journey as the story of two hikers who simultaneously experience the world around them and the world within them.
Art Imitates Life
As for the film’s director, Matthew Brown, he discovered this magical place, which forms the backdrop of Maine, as a Boy Scout. His dream was to complete the trek as an adult, but a cliff jumping accident at sixteen made that dream an impossibility.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up where he left off. Why not travel a portion of the magnificent Appalachian Trail or, if you’re feeling up to it, hike the entire trail from Georgia to Maine.
With plenty of places to stop along the way, it could be the adventure of a lifetime. And, while you’re doing it, remember that both the Appalachian Trail and the movie Maine give new meaning to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote: “Its the not the destination, it’s the journey.”
You don’t want room service at this hotel. Glacier National Park’s iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road forms the backdrop for the Stephen King thriller The Shining. The actual setting of The Shining is Timberline Lodge, near the summit of Oregon’s Mount Hood.
The interior shots for the film were in The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, which is a town right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Here’s a fun fact: The film’s director, Stanley Kubrick, hated to fly and was unwilling to leave England so he wasn’t there for those incredible shots during the film’s opening credits. It was Stanley’s loss!
It Wasn’t Filmed In The Mountains Of Colorado
In the film, Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, is a writer and recovering alcoholic driven mad by a mysterious hotel’s spooky past.
Scenic wonders abound in this film. So do scary wonders. While it’s supposed to be set in the mountains of Colorado, it actually wasn’t filmed there.
Don’t be afraid to visit Glacier National Park or Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest. If you’re planning to stay at a hotel, however, be sure to check on its history before you book a room.
Planet of the Apes | National Parks in the Movies
Humankind, we have a problem. I’ve saved the best for last. One of my favorite films and one of my favorite places to visit.
No, it’s not the movie Apollo 13 or the great state of Texas. It would have been quite a feat of cinematic magic had they been able to film that one inside a national park. Hollywood may be good, but they’re not that good. At least not yet.
So, if it’s not Apollo 13, how about another hint?
Back To The Future Meets King Kong
That iconic line is from the 1968 classic film Planet of the Apes. Think of it as Back To The Future meets King Kong. It’s a film which turns Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution on its head and makes each of us wonder what it truly means to be civilized.
Here’s a fun fact: Given the intricate makeup required for the actors playing the apes, a small army of makeup artists was hired–approximately one hundred in all.
They used so many makeup artists in Planet of the Apes that other films had to delay their own productions due to a shortage of makeup artists.
Much of this gripping tale actually takes place around Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. Taylor’s (a.k.a. Charlton Heston’s) journey with Cornelius and Zira through “the forbidden zone” was actually filmed along the majestic Colorado River in Glen Canyon.
Of course, if you’re not careful, the incredible beauty of this magical place might just drive you bananas.
The Great Escape
It was John Muir, one of America’s most famous naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts, who famously said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
For Muir, the mountains, like so many of the amazing natural wonders he spent a lifetime chronicling, were a great escape from the cares and concerns of the everyday world.
Movies can also serve as a great escape for those yearning to immerse themselves in a story larger than themselves. Nature and film carry us away to a magical wonderland unlike any we typically experience in our day-to-day lives.
Movies can impact us emotionally as they help us to better understand and appreciate our own lives. Nature can serve a similar purpose.
Look Deep Into Nature
It can help to remind us that there are things more wonderful and more spectacular than we might otherwise imagine if we’re willing to let go of where we are. So, don’t be afraid to go forth and explore.
Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
You don’t have to be an “Albert Einstein” to enjoy nature or the movies. So don’t be afraid to venture forth whether it’s to the nearest park or movie theater.
Whether it’s a good film or a great hike, I would remind you of those immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Its the not the destination, it’s the journey.”
Check Out Our Guide To All 63 National Parks
Whatever Park You’re Planning To Visit, We’ve Got You Covered
If you’re interested in learning more about our national parks than please check out our comprehensive guide to all 63 of them.
National Parks (& Forests) in Movies List:
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Yosemite National Park)
- The Man With The Golden Gun (Ao Phang Nga Bay National Park in Thailand)
- License To Kill (7 Fabulous Florida Destinations Included)
- Dances With Wolves (Badlands National Park)
- The Hunger Games (Pisgah National Forest)
- Spartacus (Death Valley National Park)
- The Lone Ranger (Monument Valley, Canyonlands National Park)
- A River Runs Through It (the upper Yellowstone, Gallatin and Boulder rivers)
- Valkyrie (San Bernardino National Forest)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Devils Tower)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (Arches National Park)
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Zion National Park)
- Lost World (Redwood National Park)
- North by Northwest (Mt Rushmore National Monument)
- Milagro Benfield War (Santa Fe National Forest)
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (Yosemite National Park)
- Star Wars IV & VI (Death Valley National Park, Redwood National Park)
- Rocky IV (Grand Teton National Park)
- The Shining (Glacier National Park, Rock Mountain National Park, Mt Hood National Forest)
- Planet of the Apes (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area)
- Thelma & Louise (Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park)
- The Thing (Tongass National Forest)
- Maine (Appalachian National Scenic Trail)
- National Treasure (Mt Rushmore National Monument)
- How the West Was Won (Inyo National Forest)
Summary | Leave Us a Comment!
I hope you’ve enjoyed our journey through a land filled with natural beauties and celluloid wonders. Along the way, you may have learned about some places you would like to visit or some films you would like to see. Or maybe both. If I didn’t select your favorite park or your favorite film then feel free to let me know.
Better yet, if your favorite film happens to include scenes from your favorite park and I didn’t include either then definitely let me know. I hope you will enjoy your next opportunity to visit one of our national treasures or view one of our cinematic wonders. And, don’t forget to bring the popcorn.
The article’s author at Mount Rainier National Park.
Please note that any likeness to a film character is purely coincidental.
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