If you’re a film or TV fan, you probably spent countless hours binging on favorite flicks and series during the recent lockdown. Now, as America opens up again, it’s time to see the places where the movie magic happened. The following Southwest destinations served as locations for some of the most popular entertainment ever to hit the screen (big or small). Hit your marks for movie-inspired camping trips, then stay at nearby Good Sam Parks. Before visiting, check each destination’s website for COVID-19 updates. If your favorite location is closed, put it on your bucket list for future adventures.
Over the years, dozens of movie crews rolled into Flagstaff in Northern Arizona to take advantage of the rugged landscape and college-town vibe. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper cruised through the town on their motorcycles for “Easy Rider” (1969) and Keanu Reeves visited while filming the stoner comedy “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989).
As seen on screen: The title character of “Forrest Gump” (1994) coins the phrase, “S**t Happens” when Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) steps on dog poop in downtown Flagstaff on San Francisco Street during his cross-country run. Outside of town, the abandoned Twin Arrows Trading Post on Route 66 made an appearance in the comedy “Joe Dirt” (2001) during the title character’s visit to fireworks stand.
Stay: Black Barts RV Park, Flagstaff
Famous for its unforgiving desert landscapes, southern Arizona has been the go-to location for directors of Western flicks. It was so popular in Hollywood’s Golden Age that Columbia Pictures built a replica of a small town near Tucson for the film, “Arizona” (1940) starring William Holden. The “town,” consisting of 50 buildings along a dusty main street, was later pressed into service for classics like the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (1957) and “Rio Bravo” (1959), starring John Wayne.
As seen on the screen: In recent years, Old Tucson dazzled visitors with gunfight demonstrations, food and souvenirs. Unfortunately, this attraction is temporarily closed, but visitors can get takeout (including barbecue by the pound and ribs and sides) from the Last Outpost Gift Shop. Southeast of Tucson, just off Interstate 10, Old Tucson’s sister site, Mescal, also has a slew of Old West buildings that served as a backdrop to “Tombstone” (1993) and “The Quick and the Dead” (1995). Elsewhere in Tucson, baseball fans can visit Hi Corbett Field, where “Major League” (1989) pitcher Ricky Vaughn (played by Charlie Sheen) honed his fastball during spring training.
Stay: Crazy Horse RV Campgrounds, Tucson
Death Valley National Park, California
In the mid-1970s, filmmaker George Lucas embarked on a search for filming locations for the production of a sci-fi adventure film, “Star Wars” (1977). Lucas didn’t have to look far for the location for the desert planet, Tatooine. Just 258 miles north of Hollywood, Death Valley National Park fits the bill for an environment with otherworldly desert landscapes and rugged terrain.
As seen on the screen: See where Luke Skywalker and friends battled sand people and haggled with Jawas. Currently, the park is closed, but when it reopens, visitors can take the 9-mile Artists Drive for views of eroded, multi-colored hills. Stop at Artists Palette viewpoint to see landscapes that appeared in the epic film. Currently, California State Route 190 and Daylight Pass are open to pass-through traffic. Check the website for updates.
Stay: Shoshone RV Park, Shoshone
Redwood National Park, California
The towering trees of Redwood National Park have made it a prized location for filmmakers in every genre. Director Stephen Spielberg used the backdrop of giant redwoods for several scenes in the blockbuster film, “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” (1982). It also took a star turn for the planet Endor in the Star Wars film, “Return of the Jedi” (1983).
As seen on the screen: Several hiking trails take visitors in and around the towering trees, some of which rise as high as 300 feet. It’s hard to find the exact filming locations, but a day spent in the park will make you feel like you’re in a galaxy far, far away. Check for updates about Redwood National and State Park’s phased reopening.
Stay: Redwood Coast Cabins & RV Resort, Eureka
Glenwood Canyon, Colorado
In the film “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (2005), Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play secret agents that turn on each other with explosive consequences. Their adventures take them to the rugged landscapes of the Rocky Mountains, where Jolie scales a sheer rock wall to gain the upper hand.
As seen on screen: Glenwood Canyon’s sheer cliffs attract climbers from all over the world, and Jolie made it look easy when she made the ascent. Running through the 16-mile canyon is the Colorado River, and visitors who are afraid of heights might want to check out the whitewater action instead. Heed local health guidelines during your visit.
Stay: Glenwood Canyon Resort, Glenwood Springs
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The hit TV show “Breaking Bad” put several quirky Albuquerque locations on the map for TV fans. See where high-school-teacher-turned-meth-dealer Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) navigated the criminal underworld at places like the Octopus Car Wash and the Crossroads Motel.
As seen on the screen: Cruise by Twisters Restaurant (which doubled as Los Pollos Hermanos during the show), where Walt and drug lord Gus Fring (played by Giancarlo Esposito) cemented an uneasy alliance. If you’re lucky, you’ll snag a seat at Walt’s Booth to chow down on their signature Carne Adovado Twister Burrito (when it reopens, of course).
Stay: American RV Resort, Albuquerque
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas ranks as one of the most filmed cities on the planet. Glitzy neon lights, larger-than-life casinos and round-the-clock shows entice filmmakers to set up their cameras along the famous strip. Several casinos have undergone major facelifts over the years, giving directors fresh fodder for TV shows and movies.
As seen on the screen: Here’s an offer you can’t refuse: The Tropicana Hotel served as setting for pivotal scenes in the “Godfather” (1972); showgirls from the casino performed in “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) and “Viva Las Vegas” (1964). The 1957 Chevy parked in front of the casino reminds visitors of the establishment’s swinging early days. Also on the strip, Caesar’s Palace served as the setting for the ultimate Vegas film, “The Hangover” (2009). Don’t forget to visit the spots where “Oceans” was filmed, from the original “Oceans 11” (1960), with scenes at Riviera Hotel & Casino, and the remake (2001), featuring the Bellagio Casino & Hotel. Comedy fans will remember “Vegas Vacation” (1997) at the Sands Hotel.
Casinos are reopening gradually; check VisitLasVegas.com for updates.
Stay: LVM Resort, Las Vegas
Arches National Park, Utah
Swashbuckling archeologist Indiana Jones really got around. He nabbed treasures in Egypt and India in movies like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) and “Temple of Doom” (1984) and even made his way stateside. For “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989), director Stephen Spielberg set up shooting in Arches National Park, where a young Indy (played by River Phoenix) runs into some bad guys during a Boy Scout trip. Check the Arches National Park website for updates on its phased opening.
As seen on the screen: Check out the area around the Double Arch, which is visible in the scene in which young Indy exits a cave. Other movies featuring the famous arches include “City Slickers II” (1993) and “Thelma and Louise” (1990).
Stay: Archview RV Park & Campground, Moab
Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
Utah’s surreal rocky landscapes have often served as settings for alien planets in films. In “Galaxy Quest” (1999), Goblin Valley State Park took the role of a desert world inhabited by deadly space babies and a rock monster. Spoiler: The heroes (played by Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman) survived to fight another day.
As seen on screen: Several of the eerie hoodoos that stand in the park make appearances in the film. Although some of the park’s facilities have been closed because of COVID-19, you can still explore the park and relive the adventures of the space heroes.
Stay: Canyonlands Campground, Moab