There is something about a movie that can inspire you to climb a mountain, hike the pacific crest trail, or want to jump out of a plane and rob a bank. Ok, so maybe not the rob a bank part, but a well told story can inspire and encourage you to try things you never thought of before. They give you motivation and that sense of excitement that most daily lives simply don’t have.
We all have those movies in our lives that you watch and never forget. You may not watch them every day for a year like you did as a child, but they resonate with you. Hiking movies and a good documentary can inspire positive changes in your life.
The following list of hiking and outdoor movies we put together in no particular order so we can all find some hiking movies worth watching.
Best Hiking Movies in No Particular Order
We put together the following list of the best hiking movies in no particular order.
James Franco plays Aron Ralston in this harrowing tale of an adventurous young man who loves the outdoors. Hiking and adventure is a way of life for him and is a true source of enjoyment. The film is based on the book, appropriately named, Between a Rock and a Hard Place (2004).
He lives for bouldering and exploring his magnificent backyard in the state of Utah. This particular time he left without telling anyone where he was going which proves to be an enormous mistake. Ending up alone and trapped in a canyon literally between a rock and a hard place he has one life or death decision to make.
The film was nominated for 6 academy awards, including best actor and best picture (source). The ending is tragic and joyful at the same time. Moral of the story, always let at least two people know where you are going, especially if you are going alone.
Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed who is searching for meaning in her life after years of destructive behavior. Her mother’s passing sent her into a deep depression and she was looking for something, anything to help ease the pain. The movie was based on the book Wild, from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012).
Cheryl begins the trail with little to no preparation beforehand and attempts to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail with little to no preparation. Her time is spent reflecting on her childhood and healing the pain she has somehow managed to endure.
After the release of this movie, the Pacific Crest Trail began issuing permits to people due to the massive influx of hikers searching for a life changing experience. Still to this day only 60 percent of the people who attempt the PCT actually finish it. It’s no small feat and nothing short of inspirational that she was able to complete 1100 miles of the trail.
Into the Wild
Emile Hirsch plays the young fictional character, Christopher McCandless, who 2 years after college decides he’s finished with conventional living. He sells everything he has, gives away his savings to a charity, and heads for Alaska. The movie is based on the book Into the Wild by John Krakauer and was directed and adapted into movie form by Sean Penn.
When Christopher decides that it’s his time to go, unfortunately, he doesn’t tell anyone where he is going. If you have seen 127 hours you know how silly of an idea that is. He embarks on a journey from Massachusetts towards Alaska convinced that modern life is corrupt and unmanageable.
The story covers his journey and all the ups and downs he experiences on his path to self reflection. After spending some time in the woods he realizes the harsh reality that nature can be just as unforgiving as the modern world.
When you make the decision to hike the Appalachian Trail the first choice you have to make is to head up North or down South. These days with the popularity of the Appalachian trail, people also choose to start in the middle to miss the hordes of other hikers. But I digress…
This movie follows the journey of Olivia (Amy Cale Peterson) as she decides to Southbound the Appalachian Trail in one continuous thru-hike. Taking time off from her life as a medical student, in which things have not been going so well, she sets off on her personal journey.
It brings together 3 people’s stories on the trail and their efforts to find some sort of meaning and purpose. They help each other during the ups and downs of a thru-hike as they share stories and experiences tackling the AT.
Mile… Mile and a Half
This Kickstarter funded documentary follows a group of five friends on their quest to complete the John Muir Trail. The John Muir Trail covers 211 miles through Yosemite to Mount Whitney. They want to cover all 211 miles in 25 days or less.
Unbeknownst to them, the year they chose turned out to be basically a blizzard. Their goal was always to complete the journey and take in the view from Mount Whitney. The old saying that it’s the journey that matters not the destination is driven home throughout this movie.
The group was all into media and the whole point of the Kickstarter was to professionally document their journey. They reached $84,405 and set off to hike, record, learn and laugh. What we are left with is an extremely well produced documentary about their epic snowy journey.
This work of fiction stars Martin Sheen as Dr. Thomas Avery in his quest for clarity on the El Camino de Santiago Pilgrims Trail. Dr. Avery is trying to find the body of his son who died on the Camino de Santiago in a terrible storm in the Pyrenees mountains. He never intended on hiking the entire trail, however, he felt the need to when he retrieved his son’s ashes as a way to pay homage to him.
Along the way, he bumps into a few other people to walk with who all have similar goals but different motives. The movie covers their ups and down throughout the trail as they all work together to complete the journey.
It’s hard to say exactly how long the Camino de Santiago is because there are a variety of different routes you can take. The French Way which Dr. Thomas Avery embarked on is the most popular route on the trail and ends up being around 790 Kilometers (source).
Just as it says in the name, Blind Courage is the true story of a recovering blind alcoholic who is going to attempt the Appalachian Trail. The only companion he has is his guide dog. It’s a true story of the first blind person to complete the AT.
Bill lived a tumultuous life that saw him burn through four marriages, becoming a full blown alcoholic while smoking 5 packs of cigarettes a day. That’s basically always having a smoke in your mouth from the minute you wake up until the minute you go to bed. He was ready for a challenge and set out to conquer the biggest challenge of his life.
In 1990 Bill took on the challenge of North bounding the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with zero human assistance. It was just a man and his dog on a truly challenging journey.
To Sum It All Up
There seems to be a common thread that runs through many of these stories. The quest for meaning or for a purpose in life, often after a tragedy. Stories of people using hiking as a way to heal themselves through solitude and hard work seem to be the recurring theme.
Taking on a thru-hike is a 3-6 month ordeal that not everyone has the time to accomplish. While the movies are largely based on long trail walks, you can still get the same results by a weekend backpacking trip. The most important part is that you get out and enjoy this beautiful planet that we are all fortunate enough to share with each other.
Solvitur Ambulando, it is solved by walking. It is a Latin saying that is one of our favorites. When in doubt, walk it out.
If your looking for a feature length backpacking documentary to watch for your viewing pleasure, or you are planning to hike the West Highland Way in Scotland check out a film called Chasing Shadows, Chasing Shadows — disq.us . Jason Fitzpatrick, co-producer of Mile…Mile and a half watched and said it was, “excellent work.”
Thanks for the tip! We’ll definitely check it out!