15 Best Hiking Movies, Ranked Perfectly

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collage of characters from the best hiking movies

The best hiking movies

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Want to watch the best hiking movies? This list of the best hiking movies spans multiple genres: comedy, horror, adventure, social criticism, biography, and spirituality.

Some are big budget A-List actor affairs. Some are beautiful mini-films shot directly on the trail by no-name hikers. Some are impressively good movies. Some are impressively bad. 

Turns out that making good movies about hiking is surprisingly difficult. Amazing scenery only gets you so far.

hThe trail gives hikers so much. At the same time, hiking’s rewards are largely internal. Mostly because it’s just walking, and watching someone get out of breath, or eat a PB&J — it’s not gripping stuff. It’s a challenge to show cinematically what is so personal.

Nonetheless, some of these best hiking movies do a great job conveying what hiking really feels like, and what it can mean to hikers.

That may be your interest, or it may not. Sometimes the mountains and woods are just a fun setting for a fun movie.

Hiking can be monotonous and it can be profound. At the same time! Very noticeably, the majority of these films are driven by characters who are dealing with loss and with grief. I’ve definitely felt the mountains’ support when I needed it. Hiking helps with so many things.

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Movie lists are always personal. This best hiking movies list is no different. It’s what worked and what didn’t work for me, a random person on the internet.

If you agree or disagree with my rankings, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

With apologies to my family for making them sit through so much hiking content, here are best hiking movies you can watch right now…

The Not Best Hiking Movies

Please allow me to share a few of the worst movie experiences of my life — so you can, hopefully, skip right to some of the best hiking movies you’ll ever see.

A Walk in the Woods (2015)

Having never really hiked before, successful writer Bill Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail with on old friend.

Need a break from suffering on the trail? Watch this movie and suffer at home.

To be honest, I was dreading this movie. I loved the book so much. I never laughed so hard while reading anything. But the trailer did not inspire, so I prepared for the worst.

I was worried the film would be something that dads would laugh out loud at at. Folks, I’m telling you: it’s so much worse.

This is an “old man knows a thing or two” kind of movie. And it is a bitter fantasy.

Can a movie with Nick Offerman be terrible? Somehow, yes. And that’s impressive.

Watching Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson act together is like watching a steam train drive into the side of the Titanic that’s been sucked into in a tornado.

My wife is a very patient person. We stuck it out as long as we could. But even she suggested we fast forward. When we did, we discovered that, twenty minutes in, the story was still barely getting started.

Bad movies are a bad time, but bad comedies are trauma. We bailed.

Without question, this is the worst movie on this list.

Takeaway: It’s okay to stop investing in lousy evenings.

Edie (2017)

After the death of her husband, 83-year-old Englishwoman Edie packs her camping gear and embarks on an adventure: climbing Mount Suilven in Scotland.

Watch this movie to feel perplexed by why anybody would watch this movie.

I feel bad for hating this movie. I really wanted to like it. Its grim opening scenes gave me hope that it would be a nuanced study in grief. And it is. For a minute.

But, my god, it’s sloooooow. Like glacier era slow. Like waiting an hour for a bus in the rain slow. Like listening to a boring person at work tell you about their weekend slow.

Of the movies on this list, it’s the only other title I couldn’t get through.

I am absolutely perplexed by who the audience for this movie might be. I’m half a century old but maybe I’m still not old enough to get it. (By the time I am, I reckon someone will be draining my blood and replacing it with formaldehyde.)

Takeaway: Hiking mountains is hard work. This movie is harder.

Deliverance (1972)

Determined to see the Cahulawassee River Valley in Northern Georgia before it gets dammed and turned into a lake, a macho man and his friends go canoeing.

Watch when you wanted to be bored, embarrassed, skeeved-out and impressed all at the same time.

First off: is this even a hiking movie? Technically, yes! At one point, the four friends hike through the woods carrying the corpse of someone they just murdered. Totally counts.

Watching Deliverance in 2022 is a head-trip. The movie opens immediately with language that may be triggering for victims of sexual assault. (The dialogue reflects the characters and their time period but, still, some viewers may want to just skip this movie; life is short.)

Favorite parts: the dueling banjo scene and the very macho white water stunts.

Least favorite part: the famous rape scene is still awful to watch. 

Technically, three things stand out:

  1. There are no shots from inside canoes. All the canoeing shots are from shore. In 1972, apparently, film tech hadn’t yet been miniaturized enough, or wasn’t yet inexpensive enough, to allow for the kinds white-water action shots we now take for granted. 
  2. Deliverance has the worst fake-nighttime scenes in the history of history. Real, wow-this-nighttime-is-terrible-nighttime shenanigans.
  3. In later years, Burt Reynolds admitted his acting improved a lot after Deliverance. I can confirm.

Be warned: this is a Men-Yelling-At-Each-Other kind of movie. For much of its run time, it’s kinda tiresome.

All that said, Deliverance is an efficient movie with iconic scenes. It is also a record of the limitations of 1970’s cinema and 1970’s role models. 

Although the movie is about adults and adult themes, its consciousness is 100% adolescent boy adventure story.

Takeaway: They don’t make movies like this any more, and that’s okay!

Keep Breathing (2022)

When a small plane crashes in the wilderness, a lone woman must find a way to survive.

Watch this show when you want to root for actors who are hot without a plot.

Oh, Canada. You’re awesome. This show should have been too.

The plot of this six episode mini-series is the stuff of compelling survival drama — interrupted by some of entertainment’s most lugubrious flashbacks.

Liv is a young, sharp attorney. And her name is Liv! She’s smart, she’s strong, she’s beautiful, she’s brave. She always had to be because, you see, she had Lousy Parents™. Which, look, it’s a fine backstory. And it explains her troubles with boys. We get it. 

But in a good movie, which this series should have been, backstory is laid out efficiently one time and then we get back to the present moment. Instead, Keep Breathing drags us back, time and again, to basically the same scene: Liv picks up a thing, it reminds her troubled childhood when she picked up a thing, and now here we are watching mom and dad do their thing again.

Still, I found myself rooting for Liv for three reasons. First, the actor is great. Second, the character she plays is young and tough and fights hard, so you just want to see her prevail. Third, the actor and the character are both stuck in a lousy show. I was rooting for everybody.

There are only six episodes of Keep Breathing but I’m sorry to say that they progressively more exhausting to sit though. It took all of my strength to get through the fifth episode. I only watched the sixth episode, the finale, to complete this list.

Takeaway: Great actors in a great location? Awesome. But, wow, storytelling is important too…

Into the Wild (2007)

Top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his cookie-cutter all-American  life and attempts to live alone in the Alaskan wilderness.

Watch when you want to be entertained — and irked.

Criticism of this movie is very intense and based largely on how the director, Sean Penn, frames his hero. McCandless is sympathetic and problematic, but the way the movie frames him is self-serving in how it sanctifies McCandless, rather than providing an account of his many mistakes. 

(Here’s a YouTube video that breaks down some of the controversy.)

The release of Into the Wild encouraged such a huge increase in visitors to the bus where McCandless expired that the US Army was eventually called into to remove it.

The bus was 30 miles from the nearest town, and many pilgrims on their way to its remote location got into trouble and needed to be rescued. Several died.

With great power comes great responsibility and, undeniably, this movie has great power — but it doesn’t feel responsible to its audience.

Into the Wild also reminded me of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. In both films, a dreamer is ultimately crushed by the ungrounded quality of his dream. 

On the positive side, the scope of Into the Wild is amazing. Its vision of American culture and of nature is broad and clear. 

And the actors are great. McCandless is played by Emile Hirsch who looks like if Michael Shannon and Jack Black made a teenager. He’s great.

And Hal Holbrok is amazing. What else do you even want from an actor?

Zach Galifinakis is also on screen, even if it’s only for five seconds. (He gets smacked in the face in the fifth second, which is perfect.)

Do you have a good looking friend who sometimes says deep things but is also just too annoying to hang out with? This whole movie is that friend.

Takeaway (not provided by the movie, added by me): Nature is indifferent to your spiritual journey. Don’t be an idiot.

The Almost Best Hiking Movies

All these movies are solid watches and definitely belong on a best hiking movies list…

The Way (2011)

A grieving father recovers the body of his estranged son who died while hiking a pilgrimage trail in Spain, and then decides to take the trail himself.

Watch if you want to feel simultaneously compelled and repelled.

Martin Sheen has been so great for so long. This movie is a masterclass in how an amazing actor can make you feel exactly what he or she wants you to feel.

The Way is directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, who also appears in the film as the deceased son.

One scene in particular has stayed with me. It’s a very common scene in movies: the identification of the corpse of a loved one. There’s always a lot of tears. Maybe the grieving party bites their knuckles.

Sheen goes a different way. He delivers the quickest and most painful version of this horrible task I’ve ever seen. So accurate. So affecting to watch.

But the movie has problems. It’s creaky. The dialogue is painful. And we don’t learn very much about the main character, except that he seems, IMO, closed-off and a bit judgmental.

Personally, I’m non-religious. This is an extremely Christian movie, and a specifically Catholic one. Somehow, in the middle of it all, there’s even an anti-abortion propaganda scene. Just kinda stuck in there for no real reason; it’s a bit weird.

So The Way is a mixed bag. Some parts are great. Some parts, not no great.

But I definitely found it moving, and a lot of its images have stayed with me.

For example, Emilio is great too. He plays the deceased son who sometimes appears to his grieving father, wordlessly, for a few seconds. It’s one of those cool things in a movie: we see him leaning against a tree, or looking beatific while ringing a bell. These moments might normally feel too cheesy to me but here, somehow, I found them really moving. 

Takeaway: just like people, this movie is peculiar, awkward, special and memorable.

The Community (2022)

A quick watch on YouTube, this eight minute film acts as both a promotional piece for the Appalachian Trail and a smoke signal announcing the problems the trail faces as it becomes ever more popular.

The Community also points to the responsibilities all hikers share to be good stewards and give back a little to the trails they love. Sweet lil watch.

Wild (2014)

An inexperienced woman hikes the Pacific Crest Trail after multiple personal tragedies.

Watch when you want to be bored by hiking but moved by a complex person finding her way.

Few movies on this list pull out more cinematic tricks than Wild to keep our eyeballs interested. It’s an expertly made film, with stellar actors and a central story that’s an engaging exploration of loss, grief, sex, drugs and degradation. 

For me, the movie is strongest is when it focuses on Cheryl Strayed’s story — and on the dangers, big and small, that female hikers face. These dangers are present at all times, for all women, on and off the trail, though for solo female hikers they’re heightened in remote locations. (Not to mention how, in 1995, so much modern tech was still years from hitting the trails.)

As a regular hiker, I definitely bring my own hiking experiences to watching a movie about hiking. I watched Wild with my wife who is not a hiker. I was keen to see what resonated most for her. 

She definitely understood the hiker-specific scenes of, say, gear troubles and whatnot as being classic trail drama that all hikers must experience.

The ending did not catch her in the heart as deeply as it did for me. I really liked the ending. I haven’t done a long through-hike, but I’ve definitely felt the feeling of accomplishment that goes with getting a long hike done.

We don‘t have many clear beginnings and endings in life. And that feeling of triumph and inner satisfaction at the end of a journey is one of the magical things that hiking provides.

Where the film resonated best for both of us was the same: in the some-men-can-be-dangerous moments, and in the trauma/grief cycles. People are messy. It’s always compelling to watch. I admire anyone who’s willing to show us their own beautiful mess, because we’re all that way.

Takeaway: Movies about hiking are really difficult to make but this one makes the cut.

It Is The People (2019)

This is a superb 16 minute YouTube documentary by New Zealander Elina Osborne who captures her 2018 PCT experience beautifully. Watch this if you want to know why anyone does a long thru-hike.

127 Hours (2010)

A young man experiences difficulty with a rock.

Watch when you want to sit with abnormally high twenty-something hubris and astonishingly high twenty-something grit.

You probably don’t need anyone to tell you about this movie. All that matters is that 127 Hours is immediately entertaining in an authentically frenetic and male way.

The director Danny Boyle describes 127 Hours as “an action movie with a guy who can’t move.” Which is accurate. The camera rarely stops moving. James Franco never stops acting.

This post-amputation TLC interview with Aron Ralston is not gruesome, but it’s excruciating to listen to him describe how he hacked off his own arm. Amazing person.

Takeaway: Always tell someone where you’re going.

The Best Hiking Movies

The remaining movies on this list — the top five best hiking movies — are movies I can see myself re-watching again and again and getting a lot from each viewing.

Backcountry (2015)

The true story of an urban couple who go camping until one of them gets eaten by a bear.

Watch when you need a refresher on just how badly a hike can go.

The plot is based on the true story of a man-eating black bear that attacked a couple in the Canadian backcountry in 2005.

At the trailhead, boyfriend Alex refuses a map from a park ranger, confident that he knows the area well. In fact, he doesn’t. After a canoe trip down river, Alex injures his foot and, when girlfriend Jen looks for her cell phone, he reveals that he removed it from her backpack and left it in their car.

The next day Alex decides to bushwhack to a waterfall to impress Jen but, when he can’t find it, they finally realize they’re lost. He also doesn‘t tell her about the bear print he saw on the way.

Their weekend continues downhill. 

This is a hiking how-not-to. It’s also a Boyfriend Red Flag Master List. 

A lot of the dread comes from learning what a horror show Alex is, and how much danger his girlfriend is in. The only relief, here, is that the right person gets eaten.

Backcountry is a wilderness horror movie with solid actors and great gore. It’s a little by-the-numbers but it’s so well made it’s a ton of fun to watch. Great movie for family and friends. I really enjoyed it.

Takeaway: Pack a map and compass. (Also: ditch him, girl.)

The Ritual (2017)

Grieving college friends reunite to hike through a forest in Sweden only to be stalked by a menacing presence.

Watch this if you need a break from hiking.

This British movie is set in a spruce forest in Sweden but shot in spruce forest in Romania that’s a dead ringer for the spruce forest between Balsam Cap and Rocky in The Catskills.

Basically, for me, it’s a horror movie set in my local playground.

Be warned once more: this is another Men-Yelling-At-Each-Other kind of movie. Luckily, in this case, the story never lags.

The direction and horror are effective and do a great job making the woods feel ominous and menacing: the low light, the creepy slow zooms, the incongruous things you find in the forest…

Without giving too much away, The Ritual combines multiple horror movie tropes: slowness, foreboding, a creepy house, a weird religion, a legendary beast, gory deaths, and main characters who should know better.

(It took me a minute to recognize Thomas from Downton Abbey.)

Overall, this was a lot of fun and very scary. I watched it with my daughter who now refuses to go camping. Good for the movie. Bad for me. Personally, I will also need a minute before stepping into a spruce forest again. 

Takeaway: Don’t hike in Sweden.

Infinite Storm (2022)

When a seasoned mountain hiker gets caught in a blizzard and wisely decides to bail, she encounters an unprepared and possibly-suicidal stranger.

Watch this if you want to enjoy an intense, inspiring, moving true story.

A friend told me Pam Bales’ true story years ago and, of course, it stuck with me. It’s fundamentally compelling, even for non-hikers.

When I heard it had been turned into a movie with Naomi Watts, I thought, “Well, that’s going to be great.” Watts has been a beast for decades. She gives so much to this role. It’s hard to think of other actors who would go as hard. You’ll see what I mean.

And Infinite Storm also succeeds in showing what hiking actually feels like, one of the few movies that accomplishes this feat. 

It nails every part of the morning before a big hike: from waking up to the drive to the trailhead, and the long hike-in that many mountain hikes require. Then the isolation, the quiet, the grinding uphillness, the inevitable tumbles, the anxiety, the strength and the beauty.

I loved the whole first part of this movie — which is mostly just watching someone go for a walk! But Infinite Storm is so beautifully made that it’s compelling to watch the whole way through.

Well, the spruce trap scene is… I mean… okay, let’s just move on.

It’s a real treat to see substantial movies about substantial women, especially movies that have nothing to do with romantic concerns and everything to do with grit and character. There are so many women like Pam Bales. The world needs more movies about them.

Infinite Storm didn’t do well in theaters, and it gets a low Metascore. Two crimes. Every frame is beautiful. The actors kick ass. The story is moving. IMO, this movie is criminally underrated.

Takeaway: Grief might fuck you up, but the mountains can hold you.

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Leave No Trace (2018)

A troubled father and his thirteen-year-old daughter live in the woods, off-the-grid, until a small mistake derails their lives forever.

Watch this if you want to see a superb movie that will make you sad for years.

Inspired by true life events, and based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock, Leave No Trace is the story of a 13-year-old girl and her father who live off-the-grid in Forest Park, an enormous nature preserve in Portland, Oregon — until one mistake forces their reintegration with regular life.

What’s immediately clear from the opening scenes is how much time goes into basic human survival: building fires, hunting, preparing for disaster, feeling scared, recovering.

It’s true that being unshackled from such labor has freed us from the grind of rudimentary existence, but this movie shows how the cost of our freedom is sometimes too painful to acknowledge.

Leave No Trace is not horror movie and yet, seen through the eyes of these two characters, we see the horror of our modern lives. The box rooms, beige and bare. The robotic psychological yes/no tests. The Christmas tree farm with helicopters. The thoughtless, spirit-deadening conformism.

I watched this movie on Memorial Day. There’s a clear human disaster at the center of the story. It infuses every corner of the film with tension and despair.

This is the best movie on this list.

Originally, I had it in the top position but decided to move it down one spot because, in truth, it’s not strictly a hiking movie.

On the other hand, I can’t leave it off the list, or push it further down the ranking, because it touches on so many things that are important to hikers: basic outdoors skills, mental health, parenting, freedom, commerce, society.

I suspect people’s mileage might vary wildly with this movie but, IMO, it’s rock solid. It’s sad, sensitive, tense, thoughtful, super efficient and deeply affecting. Without ever preaching, it speaks the most. It’s scathing. It’s heartbreaking. The final images did me in.

Like a handful of truly great movies, ever since I watched Leave No Trace it’s taken up space in my head, permanently.

Takeaway: the way we live is broken, producing broken people who continue to break the world.

Tracks (2013)

A young woman solo hikes 1700 miles across the deserts of western Australia with four camels and her dog.

Watch when you want a mysterious, moving and beautiful cinema experience.

Tracks is an adaptation of Robyn Davidson’s true-life memoir of the same name, first published in 1980.

I won’t say too much about the plot (which is minimal) other than, once again, the story rides interconnected waves of loss, abandonment, grief, struggle, acceptance and transformation.

Of course, with a female lead character, it’s also threaded with the struggles and dangers that women face in a world of men.

It’s constantly poignant, mostly due to exceptional performances from Mia Wasikowska and a young Adam Driver. But also due to the character at the center of the story who is noble, brave and empathetic. (The story is also sensitive to, and respectful of, the landscape’s indigenous people.)

For me, Tracks is the best hiking movie on this list because it was completely compelling in the moment and has stayed with me long after I’ve watched it.

It’s the most beautiful, majestic and cinematic hiking movie.

Takeaway: Being human is mysterious, lonely and painful, but worth it.

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Bonus Movies

These excellent hiking documentaries will keep you going for a few more evenings…

Where to Watch the Best Hiking Movies

With so many streaming services now, it’s hard to find out what’s playing where. When you want to watch the best hiking movies in a hurry, it can be a struggle to search through each service. Luckily, there’s an app for that…

I use an app called Reelgood to find where a movie or TV show is playing. You just tell it what services you have and then, when you search for a title, it’ll tell you which services carry it. Super handy. Enjoy!

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