Blog Post Nicolas Brulliard Jan 18, 2019

10 National Park Cameos in Movies

Check out — or revisit — these 10 films where parks played a starring role.

Many national parks are currently closed because of the longest federal government shutdown in the nation’s history, and the parks that remain open are not adequately staffed, which puts both visitors and park resources at risk. NPCA is working to convince the administration and Congress to fund the federal government and reopen the parks, but in the meantime we’ve put together a selection of 10 movies with national park credits that you can enjoy from the comfort of your home.

“North by Northwest” (1959)

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

This classic film features a memorable chase across the faces of Mount Rushmore’s presidents, but the famous scene was actually filmed in a California studio. Alfred Hitchcock had fantasized about Cary Grant sliding down Lincoln’s nose in an attempt to escape his pursuers. Park officials, concerned over damage to the memorial and its image, allowed filming on the condition that no violent scene be filmed near the sculptures or even on a mockup of the sculptures. Hitchcock did film some outdoor shots on location from the memorial parking lot but refrained from shooting his final scene on the monument itself. Instead, he filmed it on a studio copy that was so realistic that many viewers and critics were sure they were looking at the real thing. The Department of the Interior was not amused by what it saw as a clear breach of contract. The movie was too far along to remove or change the scene, but producers agreed to remove credits thanking park staff for their cooperation.


“Maine” (2018)

Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Maine (and 13 other states)

The setting is so central to the plot of this brand-new movie that for the first 10 minutes of the film, not a word is spoken as the camera follows the main characters on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The movie, which was shot primarily in the highlands of southwestern Virginia, is a very personal endeavor for Matthew Brown, the director. He discovered the AT during a Boy Scout trip to Roan Mountain in eastern Tennessee when he was 11, and he quickly decided that he’d thru-hike the trail in his twenties. Unfortunately, a cliff jumping accident when he was 16 left him with some neurological damage and dashed his hopes of completing the hike himself. “So, I guess in a way I used ‘Maine’ to live vicariously through the characters,” he told us.


“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977)

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

If aliens are going to make a landing and invite humans to attend, they might as well pick a spectacular backdrop for the event. The moment the character played by Richard Dreyfuss figures out that a series of numbers broadcast by UFOs indicates the coordinates of Devils Tower, all of the movie’s main characters converge to the national monument for a momentous meeting with extraterrestrials. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was a huge hit at the box office, and the movie’s success raised the park’s profile. Visitation to Devils Tower nearly doubled the year after the film’s release.


“Into the Wild” (2007)

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

“Into the Wild,” Sean Penn’s movie based on Jon Krakauer’s book about the travels and untimely death of Christopher McCandless, was shot in a vast array of locations across the country, but the Denali wilderness provides the backdrop for the movie’s tragic denouement. Penn shot scenes in Denali National Park and Preserve, though McCandless died just outside the northern border of the park, in an abandoned bus that has since become a pilgrimage destination for people moved by his story. The hike there is a challenging one that should not be undertaken lightly. In 2010, a Swiss woman drowned while crossing a river in her attempt to reach what McCandless called the “magic bus,” and over the years Park Service rangers have had to rescue several hikers trying to visit the site. A safer alternative for fans is to head for a nearby brewery, which owns a replica of the bus used in the movie.


“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)

Zion National Park, Utah

Robert Redford not only starred as the Sundance Kid, he also helped choose the location for the 1969 Western. Redford was already a longtime resident of Provo Canyon near Salt Lake City at that time (the Sundance Mountain Resort and the Sundance Film Festival were later named after Redford’s role in the movie), and he touted Southern Utah’s appeal to the film’s producers. Producer John Foreman was convinced: “This area of Utah has a remarkable variety of scenic settings for our picture,” he said before filming took place at Zion and nearby locations in 1968. “Within 20 or 30 miles are deserts, high plateaus, heavily wooded timber country, alpine lakes and fantastic mountains.” Spoiler alert: In the movie, Cassidy and the Sundance Kid die during a gunfight in a southern Bolivia town, but some have said the two actually survived the ordeal and later made their way back to the U.S. According to some accounts, Cassidy visited a longtime friend in what is now Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado several years later.


“Forrest Gump” (1994)

National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Robert Zemeckis’ movie includes many pivotal moments, but what Forrest Gump himself describes as the happiest moment of his life takes place on the National Mall. Gump, an involuntary participant in an anti-war rally, just finishes his impromptu (and inaudible) speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when his friend Jenny recognizes him and yells his name. He reciprocates, and the two run toward each other in the Reflecting Pool and reunite in a moving embrace. During his subsequent three-year run across America, Gump passes through or near at least two additional park sites: Glacier National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.


“Rocky IV” (1985)

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The Rocky Mountains were not named after a fictional Philadelphia boxer, but they do feature prominently in the fourth installment of the “Rocky” franchise. Grand Teton National Park and its peaks stand in for Siberia in Rocky’s extended training scene as he prepares for his fight against Drago, a Soviet boxer who killed Rocky’s friend in a previous bout. While Drago’s preparation makes full use of high-tech equipment, Rocky prefers to cross icy streams, move rocks around, lift a horse carriage stuck in the snow and chop down a tree. Many of those outdoor scenes were shot at Grand Teton, although presumably the tree was cut down outside park boundaries.


“Planet of the Apes” (1968)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Created after the damming of the Colorado River in 1963, Lake Powell was just a few years old when the “Planet of the Apes” producers chose the location as the landing site for the astronaut crew. The area around the lake, which would later form the core of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, made a good substitute for the inhospitable planet that Taylor and his fellow astronauts thought they had discovered. It is only when Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, sees another national park site (the Statue of Liberty) buried in the sand that he realizes what planet he really landed on.


“The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997)

Redwood National and State Parks, California

In this sequel to the original “Jurassic Park” movie, dinosaurs are roaming a fictional island off the coast of Costa Rica, but fans can find the very real location of one of the film’s memorable scenes in the Fern Canyon of Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California. The canyon’s walls are covered with several species of ferns, an ancient group of plants that traces its history to the time of the dinosaurs. Dieter Stark, one of the minor characters in “Lost World,” gets, well, lost during a dinosaur hunt. When he comes face to face with a diminutive Compsognathus dinosaur, he shrugs it off, but soon dozens of the small carnivorous dinosaurs appear, and the hunter becomes the hunted. The grisly scene takes place behind a fallen log, but the red tinge of the creek leaves little doubt about what became of the poor Stark.


“The Shining” (1980)

Glacier National Park, Montana

In this classic thriller, Jack Torrance and his family have agreed to be the winter caretakers of the Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado. Astute viewers will notice, though, that the road the Torrances drive to what will be their fateful residence for the next few months is none other than the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park’s iconic — and often very crowded — highway. The actual setting of “The Shining” is Timberline Lodge, near the summit of Oregon’s Mount Hood, but being snowed in all winter long in Glacier’s Many Glacier Hotel can be spooky, too. While we hope no Many Glacier winter custodian has chased his or her spouse with an ax as Torrance does in “The Shining,” the isolation drove a caretaker to flee mid-winter and a woman to leave her boyfriend to care for the hotel by himself.

About the author

  • Nicolas Brulliard Senior Editor

    Nicolas is a journalist and former geologist who joined NPCA in November 2015. He writes and edits online content for NPCA and serves as senior editor of National Parks magazine.