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Follow 16 of America’s great movies into nature

These captivating locations inspired some of cinema’s most adventurous characters—follow in their footsteps with our guide to visiting some of the most beautiful places committed to screen

Photograph: Bleecker Street/Erik Simkins

Ever find yourself in a movie theater marveling at a thrashing waterfall or undulating desert and thinking, “Where is that place?” Do you then ask yourself: “How do I get there?” You’re likely to be doing that more than once when you sit down to watch Captain Fantastic, which follows the journey of a family living off-the-grid, forced to leave their idyllic life and enter the real world. Shot in the soaring forests and along the wildly inspiring coasts of the Pacific Northwest, the film is the latest to put America’s most inspiring patches of nature in sharp, beautiful focus. Here we celebrate some of the most arresting nature captured in American movies and tell you exactly how you can climb through the screen—or hop on a flight or take a drive—to get to them.

Follow these great movies into nature

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

As featured in Wild

During her epic, soul-finding journey hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) stops to set up camp by this majestic blue lake. Though her stay was brief, the pale dusk light behind the snow-capped mountains made a lasting impression.

Be part of the scene: As the deepest lake in the country—it was formed by a volcano some 7,000 years ago—and the purest—it is fed only by rain and snow (no rivers or streams)—Crater Lake is a vibrant blue unlike any other in the world. Experience just how exceptional it is with a cruise to Wizard Island, the tree-covered volcanic cinder cone jutting out of the 20-mile lake. The cruise drops you off on the island where you hike to the 755-high summit and see the glory of the lake with panoramic vision. 

Blackfoot River, Montana

Blackfoot River, Montana

As featured in A River Runs Through It

Robert Redford’s 1992 film centers around two brothers in Missoula, Montana—Norman (Craig Sheffer) and the wild, free-spirited Paul (Brad Pitt)—who connect with each other, and their father, while fly-fishing in the Blackfoot River. They visit the river as children and as adults while facing life-changing decisions.

Be part of the scene: This fast and chilly snow-fed river is a favorite in the area for summer fun—canoeing, rafting and inner tubing. But to really get the experience you saw on screen, try your hand at fly-fishing. It’s a notoriously difficult fishing method that requires patience and artistry, so best to splurge on a class or a guided tour where experts will show you when, where and how to hold your rod to fetch those beautiful Montana trout.

Kipu Ranch, Hawaii

Kipu Ranch, Hawaii

As featured in The Descendants 

Throughout The Descendants, Matt King (George Clooney) is plagued by family trouble. With his wife in the hospital, he is faced with making an important decision about the future of the 25,000 acres of pristine, untouched Hawaiian land that his family has owned for generations. While many are encouraging him to sell the land to a resort for the big payday, he is torn about its legacy. When the movie finally shows us this land, we—like Matt—are in awe of this (very large) slice of tropical paradise.

Be part of the scene: There isa beautiful, large privately owned pocket of Hawaii called Kip Ranch—also owned by a family that descends from early missionaries. The ranch, which was used by the filmmakers, includes lush green valleys, wooded forests and flowing rivers. The sanctuary is open to the public through ATV rental tours and with any luck you’ll be able to spot some of the wildlife that calls the land home, including pheasants, peacocks, wild boar and cattle.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Juli Corsie

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Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

As featured in Into the Wild

Into the Wild’s Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) is an adventurer who isn’t afraid of a little danger: After his car engine dies following a flash flood, he gets around by hitchhiking, traveling the Colorado River by kayak and illegally riding on freight trains. But when he decides to take up residency in an abandoned bus in a secluded portion of Alaska’s 6-million acre Denali National Park, he bites off more than he can chew.

Be part of the scene: While the park might seem pretty daunting if you’re watching the film—it’s bigger in area than some of America’s smaller states—there are plenty of ways to safely see this national treasure. To explore the scope of its offerings, hop on a bus tour that allows you to get off, hike and camp, and then bus to another portion of the park. Nearly all visitors see bears, sheep and caribou (in the case of the bears, hopefully at a distance!), but keep sharp eyes for wolves, moose and small mammals.

D’Lo Water Park, Mississippi

D’Lo Water Park, Mississippi

As featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

During their Odyssean escape from prison (really, the story is inspired by the Odyssey), three brothers are tempted off the road by the sounds of women singing. The “sirens” wade in this Mississippi river and use mesmerizing harmonies that prove quite effective on our heroes.

Be part of the scene: The D’Lo Water Park is not nearly as popular a tourist attraction as many of the other locations on this list, but that only makes the babbling river and heavily wooded forest all the more quiet and peaceful. Grab a canoe rental and see this small snapshot of the American South—you probably won’t hear any singing sirens, but the birds in this area can whistle with the best.

Artist Point, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Artist Point, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

As featured in Captain Fantastic 

In the new film starring Viggo Mortensen, a father raises his six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest until a loss forces him to reevaluate their way of life. When the children are living in the forest, however, they learn survival skills and train to be strong enough for the challenges of nature.

Be part of the scene: The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest offers 140 miles of trees and mountains along the glorious Cascade Range. While beautiful year-round, the four-mile Artist Point hike in the winter is one of the most popular snowshoeing trails around—and it’s even easy enough for a beginner.

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Monument Valley, Utah and Arizona

Monument Valley, Utah and Arizona

As featured in Stagecoach 

There is no director that looms larger in the history of American Westerns than John Ford, and the sandstone buttes of Monument Valley were a staple in his films. In Stagecoach (1939), the Ringo Kid (John Wayne, in his breakthrough performance) is first introduced to the travelers, and the world, in a sequence partially shot in the valley.

Be part of the scene: This naturally cinematic landscape, with miles of uninterrupted red sandstone and desert, spans from Arizona to Utah, and much of the land is owned by the Navajo Nation. To visit Hunt’s Mesa, a peaceful rock formation with a summit high above the valley, and see panoramic views of the valley, you’ll need a Navajo guided tour.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

As featured in Thelma & Louise

In one of the most famous endings in movie history, the titular duo drive their getaway to the very edge of the Grand Canyon. With State Troopers behind them and the knowledge that if they are taken into custody they’ll spend years, if not their entire lives, behind bars, the duo decides to “keep going” toward the canyon.

Be part of the scene: Despite the movie’s claims that the action is happening at the Grand Canyon, the scene was actually shot further north in Utah's Dead Horse State Park. There are plenty of great views accessible from overlooks of the Mesa at the park’s hiking trails, but if you really want to appreciate the full scope of the area—and have some dough to spend—opt for a hot air balloon ride, where you might just get lucky and see some pronghorns or a cougar.

Copper Mountain, Colorado

Copper Mountain, Colorado

As featured in in Dumb and Dumber

Dumb and Dumber—aka Rhode Islanders Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey)—travel all the way to Aspen to return a suitcase to a beautiful woman in this Farrelly Brothers hit. And no trip to Aspen is complete without a skiing adventure. Memorably, Harry cannot get off the ski lift after he gets his tongue stuck to the pole.

Be part of the scene: Keep your tongue where it belongs when you hit the slopes at Copper Mountain, the popular skiing resort in Summit County where the film was shot (in real life a full two hours from Aspen). Here there are over 120 trails to choose from, including plenty of beginner-friendly slopes as well as several black diamonds that only true experts should attempt.

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Hickory Nut Falls, Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina

Hickory Nut Falls, Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina

As featured in The Last of the Mohicans

Though this early ’90s Daniel Day Lewis vehicle was set in Upstate New York, the forest of North Carolina stood in for the Empire State with a little movie magic. Chingachgook and Magua’s memorable confrontation happens atop a waterfall at Hickory Nut Falls.

Be part of the scene: Grab a picnic lunch from the Rock Cafe, a small eatery in the Village of Chimney Rock at the base of Hickory Nut Falls, and bring it with you for your hike up the 404-foot tall falls. You’ll need a ticket to go on the trail, but considering this waterfall is one of the tallest East of the Mississippi, it’s worth it.

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, California

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, California

As featured in Little Miss Sunshine

The Hoover family needs to get Olive (Abigail Breslin) to Rodeno Beach for the “Litte Miss Sunshine” competition in this indie favorite, but their yellow VW bus has other ideas. As the vehicle trudges from Albuquerque to California, we are treated to stunning views of Arizona’s desert landscape. Well, mostly Arizona’s—while some scenes were shot on location, in certain portions of the movie this arid California landmark stood in.

Be part of the scene: While the high-desert rock formations are certainly impressive—and have a cool history (the famed bandit Tiburcio Vasquez used to hide here, hence the name)—we actually recommend coming at night for a view of the stars. It may not be far from L.A., but the stars shine plenty bright.

Powder Point Bridge, Massachusetts

Powder Point Bridge, Massachusetts

As featured in The Way, Way Back

This utterly charming coming-of-age story follows a dysfunctional family’s vacation to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. By shooting the film in the region, the filmmakers captured the small, distinctly New England beach-town experience. A shot of one of the world’s longest wooden bridges, Powder Point Bridge in Duxbury, only added more Northeast flavor.

Be part of the scene: Don’t just stand there gawking at the bridge! Walk over it to Duxbury Beach. This fairly quiet stretch of land off Plymouth Bay is a great place to find seashells, catch some sun and go for a swim. Of course, if you stick around until sunset you’ll also be treated to some pretty spectacular views of the sky behind the bridge.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Timothy Valentine

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Point Judith Lighthouse, Rhode Island

Point Judith Lighthouse, Rhode Island

As featured in Moonrise Kingdom

Sure, the setting, an idyllic New England island named New Penzance, is a pure fictional creation from Wes Anderson, but the place where the film was shot, Rhode Island, is very much real. The movie, which ends in an epic nor'easter, features numerous lighthouses that you can see on a visit to the Ocean State.

Be part of the scene: The red-and-white Point Judith Lighthouse, built in 1851 and overlooking Narragansett Bay, is a beautiful historic example of lighthouse architecture. Check out the views of the water from up high, discover how an old lighthouse operated, and then head to the lush green fields surrounding the building for some frolicking or a picnic. 

Firestone Vineyards, Los Olivos, California

Firestone Vineyards, Los Olivos, California

As featured in Sideways

On a bachelor-party weekend through Santa Barbara County’s famed wine country, two middle-aged friends make plenty of mistakes as they explore the region’s vineyards and drink the wine produced there. Their stop at gorgeous Firestone Vineyard turns sour when a boring lecturer begins to pontificate—prompting our protagonists to escape to the barrel room.

Be part of the scene: This hilly winery is open year-round for tastings and tours of the expansive vineyard. As you try one of their pinot noirs (and not merlot), take in the views from the window, which frame a landscape of acres of grapes.

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

As featured in Easy Rider

In the road movie that defined the late ’60s counterculture, two bikers (Dennis Hopper and Paul Fonda) travel along the South and Southwest, taking drugs and meeting hippies, hitchhikers, stoners and all sorts living alternative lifestyles. During their travels, the duo spends a night camping near the Wupatki ruins at the Wupatki National Monument.

Be part of the scene: While the National Monument closes at dusk—no camping here—the ancient pueblo structures are much easier to see in the light of day. Explore the historic remains of a multi-story 100-room Wupatki, which was first inhabited around 1,500 years ago and remained in use by various Pueblo peoples until around 1225.

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Rosario Beach at Deception Pass Park, Washington

Rosario Beach at Deception Pass Park, Washington

As featured in Captain Fantastic

In one of Captain Fantastic’s most touching scenes, the family joyously celebrates their mother on the shore of this beach on Fidalgo Island, overlooking the calm waters of the Deception Pass.

Be part of the Scene: Certainly stop by Rosario Beach to look for marine life—porpoises, orcas and the occasional grey whale, have all been known to come up for air in these parts—but afterwards head over to the West Beach for some concession snacks and views of the Olympic Mountains.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Matthew Hine

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