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What national parks are in your favorite movies?

By Vincent Stokes

A movie can be as well known for it’s setting as for the acting or music. Some of the most iconic, recognizable features of state and national parks have been preserved on film as natural wonders, plot devices, and new worlds. When your planning your next road trip you may want to keep these iconic destinations in mind.

  • Planet of the Apes — Though much of the film used state parks, the final scene of Charlton Heston on the beach was filmed at Point Dume State Beach.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — The iconic buddy Western film was filmed at Zion National Park in Utah to make the Old West feel authentic, especially during the cliff-diving scene.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind — A single image is conjured when people think of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The bizarre rock formation on which the spaceship lands was not a special effect, unless one considers nature a special effects expert. The Devil’s Tower is, in fact, a natural rock formation and a national monument in Wyoming. Black Hills National Forest served as the background for much of the rest of the film.
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope — George Lucas made economical use of the parks in California when filming his original space saga, but the first movie’s landscape is often the most memorable. Lucas filmed the stark, barren desert of Death Valley National Park as the location for the beginning of Luke’s journey.
  • The Shining — Exterior landscapes for “The Shining” were filmed inside Glacier National Park in Montana, but the interior hotel scenes took place inside the Ahwahnee Hotel located in Yosemite. Hotel visitors often question staff about why the hotel looks familiar.
  • E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial — Redwood National Park acted as the scene for most of the climax of Spielberg’s sweeping tearjerker. The towering forests were the perfect vehicle for a boy and his alien to lose themselves in.
  • The Goonies — Any child raised in the 80s has fond memories of “The Goonies.” Many of the bike riding scenes were filmed inside Oregon’s Ecola State Park, accounting for the abundance of rain seen in the film.
  • Three Amigos — Exterior landscape shots took place in Coronado National Forest in Arizona to lend to the atmosphere of this comedy classic from 1986.
  • NPS Badlands bison
    The Badlands National Park was the setting for many scenes in the movie Dances With Wolves.

    Dances With Wolves — The vast landscapes caught on film for Costner’s epic 1990 movie were courtesy of the Black Hills National Park as well, in addition to filming in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

  • The Last of the Mohicans — Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina was the right choice for “The Last of the Mohicans” in 1992. Some of the most eye-catching natural formations were filmed, including the Forest’s majestic waterfalls.
  • Thelma & Louise — Thelma, and her cohort Louise may have taken a plunge into the Grand Canyon, but that memorable scene was filmed in Deadhorse Point State Park in Utah.
  • Jurassic Park — Red Rock Canyon State Park and other California parks were chosen for filming sites for “Jurassic Park,” mainly due to their prehistoric looking vegetation.
  • A River Runs Through It — A movie about fly-fishing requires a beautiful natural backdrop and pristine water. Robert Redford filmed both in Montana in the Gallatin National Forest. A cinematographer’s dream, the film won an Academy Award for cinematography in 1993.
  • Gone Girl — Giant City State Park in Illinois was the setting for a pivotal plot point in David Fincher’s recent, “Gone Girl”.

Many of these destinations can be difficult to reach in winter. Due to their high elevation the route to many of these parks can face extreme conditions. Make sure that you do not push the limits of what your RV can handle. Stay safe and happy travels.

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service

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