Some of the Most Popular Movies Were Filmed at National Parks

Although you probably noticed the natural beauty of the scenery, you may not have realized that many of your favorite movies were filmed in national parks and other protected natural areas across the United States. Some parks and forests seem especially popular sites for filming science fiction flicks.

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, William Shatner’s Captain Kirk is seen climbing the El Capitan vertical rock formation at Yosemite National Park. In the original Star Wars, the desert landscape of the planet Tatooine was actually Death Valley National Park, as well as Tunisia. The original Planet of the Apes featured the red rocks of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area as the land of the speaking simians.

In Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T., the big-eyed extraterrestrial is shown at the beginning and end of the movie walking through the national and state redwood forests of Northern California—the same forests used in scenes depicting the moon Endor in Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi. The 1,267-foot-tall butte known as Devil’s Tower, located in the national monument of that name in Wyoming, is prominently seen at the end of another Spielberg favorite—Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Other Movies

Of course, not all movies featuring national parks are of the sci-fi genre. The Robert Redford-Paul Newman Western outlaw movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in natural areas throughout much of the American West and Mexico. Some of the film’s most memorable scenery was shot at Zion National Park in southwestern Utah.

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In National Lampoon’s Vacation, Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold “self-cashes” a check at the historic El Tovar Hotel at Grand Canyon National Park before looking out at the canyon for only two seconds with his family—and then making a quick escape as the hotel staff discovers the missing cash from the register.

Although Kevin Coster filmed most of Dances With Wolves on private ranchland in South Dakota, some of the Western’s early scenes were shot in Badlands National Park. Back to science fiction, the rocky landscape in this same park became the scene of exciting battles with giant insects in Starship Troopers.

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Arches National Park in Utah served as the location where young Indiana, played by River Phoenix, is seen to encounter a band of grave robbers—leading to an explanation for how the adventurist archaeologist obtained his fedora, chin scar, and fear of snakes.

For something completely different and rather surprising—Meryl Streep and her stunt double are seen rafting along the Flathead and Kootenai rivers in Montana’s Glacier National Park in the crime thriller The River Wild. Real-life whitewater rafters can make this same journey on the Middle Fork of the Flathead.