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to grizzlies, caribou, Dall sheep, and Mt. McKinley.
Nothing triggers wanderlust quite like a classic American road-trip movie. The best of these films evoke the feeling of a place in such a way that the scenery becomes a character in its own right.
With that in mind, we started our search for great American drives at the movies, where we watched reel after reel until we found five films that feature U.S. highways and landscapes as prominently as the protagonists. From the vast soundstage of the Southwest to the Technicolor magic of the Alaskan wilderness, each of these drives captures the spirit of the film that inspired the route.
The Great Alaskan Wilderness ('Into the Wild')
Embrace the pioneering spirit that has led Americans to explore new frontiers for centuries.
Film Synopsis: Emory University grad Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) donates all of his possessions and life savings and sets off on a two-year journey that ends in a remote part of Alaska's wilderness.
Destination Highlights: After traveling through western U.S., McCandless's last great adventure took shape on Alaska's Stampede Trail, near Denali National Park & Preserve. Plan your trip: Fairbanks, Alaska, to Denali's Wonder Lake; 204 miles.
Route 66 ('Easy Rider')
Follow the highway that gave birth to the American road trip as we know it.
Film Synopsis: The South and Southwest come alive as Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) discover themselves and America in this 1960s counterculture classic.
Destination Highlights: Follow the old U.S. Route 66, which overlaps U.S. Route 40 in many places, from California to Louisiana. Plan your trip: Death Valley, Calif., to Flagstaff, Ariz., to Taos, N.M., to New Orleans; 2,017 miles.
California's Other Wine Country ('Sideways')
Experience one of our nation's cinematic wine regions.
Film Synopsis: This bromantic comedy by director Alexander Payne follows friends Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a tour through one of the less-trafficked areas of California wine country, the Santa Ynez Valley. The film is one of the first to celebrate American wine.
The itinerary for the classic family road trip.
Film Synopsis: "Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that." A family vacation goes amusingly awry when Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) and clan embark on an epic road trip to Walley World.
Destination Highlights: The film traces the Griswolds' route from their home in Chicago to St. Louis, the Grand Canyon, and Los Angeles — 2,408 miles, according to Clark's primitive PC. Plan your trip: Chicago to St. Louis to the Grand Canyon to Anaheim, Calif.; 2,221 miles.
Utah's Canyon Country ('Thelma & Louise')
Set out in search of freedom in the wide-open expanse of Utah.
Film Synopsis: Friends Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) break from their everyday lives and hit the road, where their journey turns into a flight from the law — and they end up choosing freedom on their own terms.
Destination Highlights: In the final, iconic freeze-frame, Thelma and Louise float suspended above Arizona's Grand Canyon, having driven their 1966 Thunderbird convertible off a cliff—and into film history. But director Ridley Scott actually shot all of the desert scenes in Utah, including at Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. Plan your trip: Bryce Canyon to Dead Horse Point, Utah; 287 miles.
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