Tag Archives: film

Top 10 Movies Filmed in National Forests

Many classic movies have been filmed within the boundaries of America’s National Forests due to their natural beauty (or maybe their state’s favorable laws and tax breaks).  Our ranking is partially based on the quality of the movie and partially on the prominence of the setting to the story.  We hope this list brings back some fond cinematic memories.  Click here to check out all our Top 10 Lists, including our favorite movies filmed in National Parks.

10. Fire in the Sky (1993) Umpqua National Forest (Oregon)

This terrifying alien abduction story took place in Arizona, so naturally they filmed it in Oregon

9. The Thing (1982) Tongass National Forest (Alaska)

John Carpenter’s book The Thing is set in Antarctica, but this parasitic alien preferred a temperate rainforest

8. ¡Three Amigos! (1986) Coronado National Forest (Arizona)

This comedy was filmed close enough to Mexico to stand in for it

7. 3:10 to Yuma (2007) Santa Fe National Forest (New Mexico)

50 years after its original release, this remake had its tunnel scenes filmed in this National Forest

6. The Last of the Mohicans (1992) Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina)

The 1920 version was filmed in California’s San Bernardino National Forest (see Honorable Mentions below) so they’re getting closer to the book’s northeastern U.S. setting

5. Homeward Bound (1993) Deschutes, Mt. Hood, Wallowa-Whitman, and Willamette National Forests (Oregon)

The incredible journey of three beloved pets was filmed across the state of Oregon

4. The River Wild (1994) Kootenai National Forest (Montana-Idaho)

A wet and wild thriller that featured this National Forest’s whitewater rivers

3. The Hunger Games (2012) Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina)

The forests of District 13 are where we first witness Katniss’ skills with a bow and arrow

2. A River Runs Through It (1992) Gallatin National Forest (Montana)

Beautiful scenery helped this film win the 1993 Academy Award for best cinematography

…and finally our #1 movie filmed in a National Forest:

1. Dances With Wolves (1990) Black Hills National Forest (South Dakota-Wyoming)

This Academy Award-winning film separately inspired both our families go west to see bison in 1992

Honorable Mentions

Glory (1989) Osceola National Forest (Florida)

The famous 54th Massachusetts fought at Olustee in 1864 and they filmed on site, which is also true of Ocala National Forest’s The Yearling (1946) based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel

Dante’s Peak (1997) Idaho Panhandle National Forests (Idaho)

Not the greatest movie, nor are we sure which of the three National Forests were featured: Coeur d’Alene, Kaniksu, or St. Joe

Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Angeles National Forest (California)

Given its proximity to Hollywood, you would have thought more films would highlight this National Forest…

Dr. Doolittle (2001) San Bernardino National Forest (California)

…but directors seem to prefer to go a little further east based on these classic titles: Heidi (1937), Gone with the Wind (1939), Lassie Come Home (1943), The Yearling (1946), Shane (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and Old Yeller (1957)

Hovenweep National Monument

Overview

Partially surrounded by Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (run by the Bureau of Land Management), Hovenweep National Monument occupies a remote area on the southern Utah-Colorado border.  Established in 1923, it is composed of six units, the largest of which has a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center on the rim of Little Ruin Canyon, the location of the variable architectural styles of Square Tower Group. 

Highlights

Square Tower Group, Holly Group, Cajon Group, Hackberry Group, Cutthroat Castle Group

Must-Do Activity

At Square Tower Group a two-mile loop hike takes visitors past an impressive collection of structures that date back to the 1200s, the same period that Ancestral Puebloans inhabited nearby Mesa Verde National Park.  The variety of building styles in this narrow canyon is remarkable, from Square Tower and Hovenweep Castle to Twin Towers and the unique Eroded Boulder House.  There is almost no shade to be found on the sagebrush plain of Cajon Mesa, so visiting in the heat of summer may not be as enjoyable.  The good news is that it makes for boundless vistas, especially to the south where Sleeping Ute Mountain looms.

Best Trail

The loop trail at Square Tower Group is paved and wheelchair accessible to the first overlook at Stronghold Point, but then gets much rougher over its two miles, especially at the end where it drops into Little Ruin Canyon.  A four-mile one-way trail connects this area to the Holly Group of ruins.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Little Ruin Canyon has one of the highest density collections of ruins anywhere in the southwest U.S., including the cool Eroded Boulder House, a part of the Square Tower Group.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hove/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Despite its remote location, roads are paved to Square Tower Group, but accessing most of the other units requires driving or hiking rough dirt roads.  Further east in Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, visitors can drive well-maintained roads to the Escalante Ruins and Lowry Pueblo, as well as the two trailheads for Sand Canyon.

Camping

The NPS runs a 30-site campground (for a fee) at its visitor center near Square Tower Group.  Dispersed camping is allowed in many parts of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Related Sites

Yucca House National Monument (Colorado)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Explore More – Hovenweep is a Ute-Paiute word that translates as what?

Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Overview

Anyone who has watched the musical Hamilton is familiar with the life story of Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton Grange National Memorial is the only National Park Service (NPS) site dedicated to this “founding father.”  It is also the only one of 45 National Memorials built by the person it honors.  What you may not know is that his historic home in New York City has been moved twice, once in 1889 and again in 2008.

Highlights

Museum, tour, statue at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Must-Do Activity

The Grange gets its name from the Hamilton family’s ancestral home in Scotland.  Built in 1802 on a 32-acre estate in Upper Manhattan, Hamilton only lived there two years before being shot and killed in an infamous duel with Aaron Burr.  Today you enter the home through the basement where the NPS runs a museum.  Access upstairs is available on guided tours or during daily “open house” hours, but you must leave large items in lockers.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Grange was tucked between St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and an apartment building until 2008 when the NPS moved it to St. Nicholas Park, part of the original 32-acre estate.  A statue of Alexander Hamilton still stands where the house resided for more than a century.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hagr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

It is easiest not to drive into New York City, instead opt to take public transportation.

Camping

None

Related Sites

African Burial Ground National Monument (New York)

Federal Hall National Memorial (New York)

Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site (New York)

Explore More – After resuming his law practice in 1795, Hamilton represented free and enslaved African Americans and defended a newspaper editor sued for slander by which future president?

Steamtown National Historic Site

Overview

In downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania, 52 acres have been turned into a dreamscape for railroad enthusiasts by the National Park Service (NPS).  Specifically, the site is dedicated to steam engines, which truly got started in 1830 with the South Carolina Railroad and lasted more than century before being fully replaced by diesel locomotives.  A unique opportunity at this park is the chance to take one of several steam train excursions (additional fee) that leave from the site.

Highlights

Museum, film, turntable, tours, steam train excursions

Must-Do Activity

Steamtown National Historic Site is located on the grounds of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, which relied on the region’s cleaner-burning anthracite coal.  The park includes a theater, multiple museums, a 90-foot-diameter operating turntable, restoration shops, locomotives, and a collection of railroad cars.  A highlight is one of the few Union Pacific “Big Boys” built to haul freight trains through the mountains of Utah and Wyoming.  Guided tours are included with your admission fee, although there is enough to read and watch in the extensive museums to keep you busy all day long.

Best Trail

There is no trail, but you will get your daily steps if you tour the entire facility.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The turntable is surrounded on one half by the glass-fronted NPS visitor center and history museum, which makes for some cool photographs.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/stea/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved and ample parking is available.

Camping

See our blog post on Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area for a list of State Parks and State Forests with campgrounds in the area.

Related Sites

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (New York-Pennsylvania)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

Explore More – What year was the park’s oldest locomotive built for the Chicago Union Transfer Railroad Company?

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

Overview

Established in 1996, there are 34 separate sites encompassed within Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.  Not all of the areas are islands, some, like Worlds End, are the tips of peninsulas with roads accessing them from the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts.  The park is a managed by a hodgepodge of agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boston Light on Little Brewster Island (open to ranger-led tours in the summer months).

Highlights

Worlds End, Governors Island, Webb Memorial State Park, Spectacle Island

Must-Do Activity

It is probably best to pick one island and thoroughly explore it by catching a ferry from Long Wharf North in downtown Boston, Hingham Shipyard, or Pemberton Point in Hull.  We chose Georges Island which is mostly taken up by Fort Warren, which dates back to 1850.  During the Civil War, the fort served as an artillery base and a prison.  The National Park Service (NPS) operates an excellent museum on the island and shows a film on its history.  Georges and Spectacle Islands are the only two islands that offer food for sale, plus they have water taxis leave from each dock to access many of the other islands.

Best Trail

Spectacle Island has five miles of hiking trails and also contains the highest point within Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area at 157 feet in elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The site of the first lighthouse in America, Boston Light on Little Brewster Island can be seen from Georges Island and is open to guided tours in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/boha/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

Passengers ferries charge fares, but there is not an entrance fee to the islands or Webb Memorial State Park.

Road Conditions

Most of the islands do not allow private vehicles, but you can bring your bicycle onto the ferries.  Webb Memorial State Park, Deer Island, Worlds End, and Nut Island are accessible by paved roads in the Boston area.

Camping

There are yurts on Peddocks Island and tent camping is allowed on Bumpkin, Grape, Peddocks, and Lovells Islands from late June through Labor Day.  Backcountry permits are required for stays on undeveloped islands.

Related Sites

Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Explore More – During the Civil War, who wrote the lyrics to “John Brown’s Body” while serving at Fort Warren?