The 7 Best National Park Documentaries (Ranked)

Here are my favorite docs on National Parks (in the U.S. and beyond!).


1) The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (Ken Burns)

The above video embed is a 26 min. preview of PBS’s “The National Parks: America’s Best Ideaby Ken Burns

Ken Burns usually goes big with his docs and “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is no different.

The 2009 PBS-funded doc boasts:

  • 6 parts (over 12 hours of footage)
  • A crew of 228 people (at least that’s what IMDB lists)
  • Celeb “Readers” such as Tom Hanks, John Lithgow, Sam Waterston and Andy Garcia
  • Narration by Peter Coyote

In the hands of Burns and co., the creation of the national parks system fgets the cinematic glory it deserves.

They’re the backbone of America – the purple mountain majesties, fruited plains and amber waves of grain that made this country great!

We’re talking primetime drama, political intrigue, bold icons like John Muir and gutsy locals going directly at greedy industrialists in vintage America’s Game of Thrones style!

This one reading by Peter Coyote says it all:

“A man could catch a fish in one spot and then swing his line over a few feet and instantly cook his catch in a hot spring”.

— John Muir (describing the geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park).

Prairie wind whistles through a Kazakhesque expanse out in Badlands while Florida’s Everglades ooze with gators, panthers, and prime airboat real estate.

Big Bend’s a southwestern sizzler bordered by major league canyon country and volcano vistas so nice the natives named them twice down Hawaii way.

And for the frosty-browed outdoorsy legion, Alaska’s glaciated crowns and peak still deliver that 1902 Muir magic, untouched by the 21st century.

Here’s a summary of the 6 episodes:

  • E1 ∙ The Scripture of Nature: 1851-1890 — Strap in for a journey back to the 1800s, where we’re diving into the birth of America’s national parks. Think of it as nature’s gospel, with John Muir as the preacher, and the awe-inspiring landscapes of Yosemite and Yellowstone as the congregation. It’s the beginning of a wild and wondrous tale.
  • E2 ∙ The Last Refuge: 1890-1915 — “America’s on the move, but some start questioning the toll it’s taking on our forests and wildlife. Enter Theodore Roosevelt, the conservation maverick who goes big by setting aside a whopping 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon. Talk about audacious moves in the wilderness.
  • S1.E3 ∙ The Empire of Grandeur: 1915-1919 — Here’s where things get interesting. Stephen Mather steps into the spotlight and takes on the Herculean task of promoting the parks as a united front. He’s on a mission to convince Congress to create the National Park Service. It’s a grand vision that’ll change the game.
  • S1.E4 ∙ Going Home: 1920-1933 — Mather and Albright hitch a ride with the automobile to make national parks accessible to everyone. Meanwhile, Horace Kephart and George Masa launch a crusade to save the Smoky Mountains. National park heroes, anyone?
  • S1.E5 ∙ Great Nature: 1933-1945 — Now, we’re talking FDR and his quest to create national parks in some seriously epic spots. We’re talking the Olympic Peninsula, Florida’s Everglades, and California’s High Sierra. Plus, George Melendez Wright starts stirring the pot, saying the parks aren’t doing enough for the critters. It’s a wildlife showdown!
  • S1.E6 ∙ The Morning of Creation: 1946-1980 — After World War II, America’s on the move, and the parks are more popular than ever. But wait, there’s more! Jimmy Carter steps in and sets aside a mind-boggling 56 million acres in Alaska. It’s like the Super Bowl of conservation, folks – a grassroots movement for seven new parks. The morning of creation, indeed!

Watch “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” by Ken Burns:

2) America’s National Parks (2015, 2016, 2022)

National Geographic nailed 2 series of docs on National Parks in 2015 and 2022.

Here are the 2015/2016 episodes:

  • S1.E1: “Olympic” — The Olympic Peninsula is a hotbed of biodiversity, making it one of North America’s most diverse National Parks.
  • S1.E2: “Yosemite” — Yosemite National Park famed for iconic mountain vistas, waterfalls and giant sequoias.
  • S1.E3: “Everglades” — This National Park in Florida hosts an array of creatures like alligators, the Florida panther, and delicate Key deer.
  • S1.E4: “Gates of the Arctic” — Alaska (mountain ranges, grizzly bears on the hunt for salmon, and mighty moose).
  • S1.E5: “Yellowstone” — Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming (the world’s first National Park, home to bison, wolf packs, and grizzly bears).
  • S1.E6: “Saguaro” — The Saguaro Desert in Arizona Iconic cacti, stunning sunsets, unique desert biodiversity, remarkable landscapes.)
  • S1.E7: “Grand Canyon” — There’s only one Grand Canyon. See beyond the touristy stuff (hint: it’s between the rim and the river) .
  • S1.E8: “Great Smoky Mountains” — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a real treasure trove (Diverse flora, misty peaks, rich Appalachian culture, vibrant wildlife).

And here are the 2022 episodes:

  • S1.E1: Grand Canyon — The high-rise haven in Arizona sculpted by elements, where all life connects.
  • S1.E2: Yosemite — Witness wild Yosemite of California, from lush valley floor to soaring alpine peaks.
  • S1.E3: Big Bend — Big Bend National Park in Texas: Ecosystem, wildlife, survival amidst extreme seasons.
  • S1.E4: Badlands — Sacred South Dakoa land born of fire and sea.
  • S1.E5: Hawai’i Volcanoes — Ancient land, home to America’s iconic species.
  • S2.E1: Grand Teton — Soaring peaks of Wyoming, lush meadows, endless forests, hidden lives in Teton.

Where to Watch “America’s National Parks”:

The 2015 season is on Disney+ at

The 2015 season is also on DirecTV, PureFlix and Xumo Play (check here for all 2015 options:

Watch the 2022 season on Disney+ here and it might be on Hulu too. Check here for the latest streaming options:

You can also watch 41 variations of videos of “America’s National Parks” for free on YouTube at (including the full 44 minute episodes of Yosemite, Yellowstone and Volcanoes of Hawaii!)

3) Crown of the Continent: Wrangell-St. Elias

Pack your parka and prepare for a monster Alaska wilderness that makes the continental US look puny!

“Crown of the Continent” is about the 13.2 million acre expanse known as Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

It’s bigger than Switzerland (and also boasts the highest coastal mountains in the world).

This place is home to 9 of the 16 highest peaks in America, including the 16,390 ft tall Mount St. Elias. And get this – the park’s Bagley Icefield could swallow up the whole state of Rhode Island with its 127 miles of glacial ice.

Trekking through this park is like stepping into the Pleistocene era, with giant mountains still rising and volcanoes like the 16,175 ft

Mount Wrangell steaming from the last ice age. Heck, Wrangell erupted as recently as 1900! Even the weather here seems epicly extreme, with over 60 ft of snow burying the higher peaks each winter.

We’re talking some of the fiercest conditions on Earth according to climbers.

And the wildlife? We’re not just talking cute and cuddly marmots.

This park is prowled by coastal brown bears and moose galore, with bald eagles swirling the skies overhead.

Beneath the icy waters, sea creatures like orcas and salmon thrive in the nutrient rich fjords.

Grabowska is the right man to tell the story for this doc — his dad took him to Wrangell one summer…and you can tell he still loves it.

You’ll see old home movie footage of John and his father and family . They dealt with 7 busted tires over a 1,000 mile , cook-outs busting tires on their voyage an camping out (and busting tires!

Watch “Crown of the Continent” for free on YouTube at

4) Our Great National Parks (2022)

Netflix takes a more global approach to its 5-part “Our Great National Park” series (narrated by Barak Obama).

Instead of Yellowstone and Yosemite, you get Patagonia, Kenya and more:

  • E1: “A World of Wonder” — Get ready for a globetrotting adventure as we explore the untamed beauty of Africa’s beaches, Japan’s islands, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Nature takes the spotlight, and it’s a jaw-dropping spectacle.
  • E2: “Chilean Patagonia” — Hold onto your hats because we’re delving into 24 unique national parks in Chilean Patagonia. These places are rapidly becoming some of the most protected on Earth, and you’re in for a treasure trove of natural wonders.
  • E3: “Tsavo, Kenya” — It’s action-packed in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park, where thousands of elephants, hippos, rhinos, hornbills, and more roam the vast, breathtaking landscape. This is the ultimate African safari from your living room.
  • E4: “Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, USA” — Dive deep into California’s vibrant coastline in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Here, it’s a marine life extravaganza, and we’ll explore the delicate balance between wildlife and humanity.
  • E5: “Gunung Leuser, Indonesia” — Pack your virtual bags for Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia, home to some of the planet’s most endangered species, including the elusive Sumatran tiger. It’s a wildlife adventure like no other.

Watch “Our Great National Parks” on Netflix at

5) Great Wide Open

Some might argue that “Great Wide Open” is a docuseries on climbing (it mostly is).

But this series of 6 doc shorts (about 12 to 15 min. each), directed by Jared Leto boasts National Parks as the setting for 5 of the 6 episodes.

Episide 5 is not on National Park, per se, it’s still on America’s first National Monument.

Yosemite, alone, gets 3 episodes in this Leto series.

Here’s a summary of the 6 episodes with links to to where you can watch them:

Episode 1: Conquistador

In this episode, Jared’s mainly hanging with Tommy Caldwell to discuss the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California (the famous rock formation known for its steep, smooth surface).

Episode 2: The Dirtbag

In “The Dirtbag”, Jared and Renan hit a simul climb in Yosemite.

It’s a love letter to Yosemite and the legendary Camp 4.

Episode 3: The Rockstar

Yes, we have more Yosemite!

This time, it’s none other than Alex Honnold, Mr. Free Solo himself.

This guy climbed El Capitan without ropes, and now he’s with Jared at Matthes Crest in Tuolumne Meadows, right in the heart of Yosemite.

Episode 4: The Wolfman

Now we’re off to Yellowstone National Park where Jared links up with Douglas Smith, the “Wolfman” in the wildlife-rich Lamar Valley.

His two-plus decades of studying wolves have made him a legend in these parts.

Episode 5: Independence Day

Sasha DiGiulian, rock climbing prodigy, teams up with Jared Leto on this one.

They hit up Devils Tower, or Bear’s Lodge, in Wyoming. This place isn’t a National Park but it is America’s first national monument, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt.

Episode 6: Grand Tetons

This time, we’re off to Grand Teton National Park, another jewel in Wyoming.

Jared joins Peter Popinchalk, a mountain climber with a knack for high peaks.

Watch Great Wide Open’s episodes for free by clicking the links above or on YouTube here:

6) The Secrets of Death Valley Uncovered: How the Earth Was Made

Death Valley.

It’s the hottest, driest and lowest National Park in the world. It’s also the largest national park in the lower 48 states of the U.S.

The History Channel nails the highlights of Death Valley in this 44 min. doc.

Thanks to its national park status, Death Valley keeps its volcanic history, fossil record, and land-shaping forces intact for all to see.

Nowhere else can you witness such an extreme battle between the titanic forces that have shaped this planet over the past 1.2 billion.

We’re talking scenes straight out of Geological Wonders Monthly here, people.

Ogle ancient seashells atop dusty mountain peaks.

Peer down into Badwater Basin as it oozes apart year after year.

Catch rocks in the act of sliding across pancaked desert, mysteriously.

Where else can you witness billion-year-old evolutions in terrain like this?

Without the national park, who knows what state these mind-bending landscapes would be in!

Watch “The Secrets of Death Valley Uncovered” for free on YouTube by clicking the embed above or here:

7) Virunga (2014)

I’m not limiting reviews of National Parks to the U.S.

“Virunga”, on Africa’s oldest national park, ain’t your usual sleepy nature doc, folks!

We’re talking gangsters, gorilla grunts, corrupt politicians and armed militia dudes.

This real-life thriller follows a squad of heroic park rangers risking life and limb to guard Virunga’s mountain gorillas against danger-at-every-turn chaos.

We’re talking gloom n’ doom forces that want the UNESCO World Heritage site for its oil, timber and illicit charcoal.

The rangers are all that stand between the gorillas and the menacing chainsaws, oil rigs and AK-47s threatening their forest home.

Check out the park warrior dudes couraeously remove a snare from the neck of a sedated silverback — as ominously armed rebels creep nearby.

It might. make you wanna enlist in the ranger academy yourself!

But don’t quit your desk job just yet.

One ranger gets dragged out of his car and roughed up by rebel forces.

The rangers know Virunga holds the key to peace and economic recovery in embattled eastern Congo.

And wherever you find armed madmen hiding in hippo grass, recovery’s gonna be ugly.

And have some tissues handy when that 2000-pound silverback gives the game warden a farewell hug!

Watch”Virunga” on Netflix at

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac of Daily Doc