Top 10 Films at National Park Service Visitor Centers

This fall we have driven all over the country and stopped at a handful of National Park Service (NPS) sites that we had never visited.  We have been surprised at the quality of the introductory films shown at some of these lesser-known spots, so we decided to put together a list of our all-time favorites.  Not every NPS site has a film, nor have we watched every one available at the 385 units we have visited, so there is a good bet we have missed some excellent ones.  Please let us know if you have a recommendation, as quite a few of the films are now available for free through the NPS app or on YouTube.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 lists, including some lists of movies not made by the NPS.

10. Fort Davis National Historic Site (Texas)

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a cowboy hat is probably the best reason to watch this film about the “Buffalo Soldiers” (click to watch it on YouTube)

9. Moores Creek National Battlefield (North Carolina)

Reenactors in kilts holding swords make this seem more like Braveheart than the historically-accurate Revolutionary War scene that it is

8. Camp Nelson National Monument (Kentucky)

This recent addition to the NPS system has a great film about how a Civil War fort became a haven for runaway slaves

7. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Most of these films emphasize history, but this one focuses on the natural beauty and recreational opportunities in this forested wonderland

Scott with the 42′ x 377′ Cyclorama mural

6. Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

The only movie on this list that charges an admission fee, it is well-produced and pairs well with viewing the Cyclorama painting

5. Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Washington-Montana)

The Nez Perce have a thriving nation as shown in this documentary that emphasizes the present more than the past (it plays at the visitor center in Spaulding, Idaho)

4. Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee)

A short, modern film (on YouTube) that thoroughly and artfully explains the battle with long, uncut shots and realistic depictions of bullet wounds

3. Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho)

New film covers the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, not just the 13,000 imprisoned in central Idaho

2. Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (New York)

The excellent documentary Close To Home (on YouTube) focuses primarily on the former First Lady’s inspirational career after her time in the White House

…and finally our #1 film at a National Park Service visitor center:

1. Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Multiple screens with props in the foreground make for an unforgettable telling of Paul Revere’s ride at the visitor center in Lexington


Honorable Mentions

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (Ohio)

This film is less than six minutes long, but it is very informative and available on YouTube

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

This film is very dated to the 1970s, so it is unintentionally funny while still being informative

President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Interviews with the former President highlight this retelling of his childhood in the small town of Hope where he was born to a widowed mother under the name Billy Blythe III

Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park (Hawai’i)

We did not watch the whole film, but this must be the most pleasant theater in the NPS system

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

There are actually two films shown at the visitor center in downtown Philadelphia, but only one stars a young Kristen Bell (from Veronica Mars and Disney’s Frozen)

5 thoughts on “Top 10 Films at National Park Service Visitor Centers”

  1. What a great list! I have no idea how you managed to narrow this down from almost 400 sites (which, wow, that’s impressive!) to just ten. I can’t even recall most of the films I’ve seen at visitor centers. We’re headed to Independence Hall soon, though, so good to know we have a couple videos to look forward to

    Liked by 1 person

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