Learn why these parks were the perfect backdrop for the books and movies you love.
Few places in the United States inspire wonder and an appreciation for the natural world quite like the National Parks. From towering peaks of the High Sierras to the awe-inspiring stretch of the Grand Canyon, national park landscapes have inspired writers to advocate for their protection and filmmakers have discovered what would serve as the backdrops for some of the medium’s most iconic moments. These 10 books and films demonstrate how the parks allow us to travel back in time or to another, faraway galaxy. Or simply to appreciate the natural wonders in our own backyard.
Our National Parks by John Muir
As a naturalist, environmentalist, and early advocate for the protection of America’s Western forests, John Muir has become synonymous with America’s national parks. This collection of essays by the venerable “Father of the National Parks” celebrates the beauty of America’s untamed wilderness and will no doubt inspire readers to strike out on their own.
Yosemite and the Range of Light by Ansel Adams
This collection features more than 150 black-and-white photographs that capture the jaw-dropping majesty of the High Sierras as only a master photographer can. Ansel Adams’s camera is able to capture both the grandeur of Yosemite’s mountains and valleys and the intimate nature of the relationship between people and the natural world.
Yellowstone Has Teeth by Marjane Ambler
It’s one thing to visit Yellowstone; it’s another thing to call it home. In this memoir, Marjane Ambler recounts the time she and her husband spent living in a remote section of the park, among a small community of the rangers and workers that keep the park up and running.
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Arches National Park serves as the stunning backdrop of Edward Abbey’s account as a park ranger. Abbey’s prose describes both the hostility and the beauty of the American southwest with funny, poetic, and often elegiac prose. Although first published in 1968, Abbey’s advocacy on behalf the country’s natural wonders is as prescient today as it was 50 years ago.
Gloryland by Shelton Johnson
When Yellowstone was first established, there were no rangers to protect the park from loggers, poachers, and the like. Instead, the park was patrolled by a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers. This historical novel by Shelton Johnson (a Yosemite park ranger himself) tells the story of one such soldier who finds a home among the mountains and rivers of Yosemite National Park when his regiment is assigned to guard the newly formed park.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
George Roy Hill’s 1969 Western tells the (mostly) real-life story of outlaws Robert Leroy Parker (a.k.a. Butch Cassidy) and Harry Alonzo Longabuagh (a.k.a. the Sundance Kid). Over the course of the film, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are chased by lawmen, rob trains, and banter against the stunning backdrop of Zion National Park. The film was also shot in the ghost town of Grafton, a few miles south of Zion.
The River Wild
Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon star in this 1994 thriller about a family’s whitewater rafting vacation going awry when they cross paths with a pair of on-the-lam criminals. The film was shot on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, which forms part of the southern boundary of Glacier National Park.
Thelma and Louise
Perhaps one of the most quintessential road trip movies, Thelma and Louise follows the titular friends as they make their way from Arkansas to the Grand Canyon. Parts of the film were shot in Arches and Canyonlands National Park. But that iconic final scene? It’s wasn’t shot in Grand Canyon National Park but Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah.
Star Wars: A New Hope
You could be forgiven for thinking that the arid Death Valley National Park looks like something from a galaxy far, far away. It did, after all, serve as the location for the desert planet of Tatooine in Star Wars: A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. And while it’s still possible to film in Death Valley, you can no longer film to the same extent as George Lucas and Co. once did.
The Hunger Games
In The Hunger Games, it’s clear that the coal mining oriented District 12 is located somewhere in Appalachia. So it makes perfect sense that filmmakers chose the beautifully verdant Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina for the beginning of the first movie when Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) go hunting in the woods surrounding District 12.
John Carpenter’s horror classic may have been set in Antarctica, but some of its shooting was closer to the North Pole as opposed to its southern cousin. Tongass National Forest is resplendent in its majestic beauty, though it is perhaps the primeval nature of that beauty that makes it the perfect mask for a terror lying just beneath its surface.