Tag Archives: Pop Culture

On the Road Again: Best American Road Trip Movies

Ah, the road trip.  The great American journey across the country, soaking in the beauty and uniqueness of our great land from the cramped quarters of a car or an RV, singing along to good tunes, pinching your brother in the backseat, and making memories with friends and family.  This summer ritual is as American as apple pie.  Whether you’re heading to the beach, to a theme park, or to a great State Park, we’ve compiled a list of road trip movies to watch either before you hit the road or while you’re on those long stretches of interstate, all chosen to muster up your spirit of adventure.

The Classics

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

The first (and best?) of the National Lampoon Vacation films, this comedy features the hapless Griswold family.  Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) has grand ideas about bonding with his family on the Great American Road Trip to Walley World (the fictionalized Disneyland), but – as with any family adventure – nothing goes according to plan, resulting in hilarity (and, eventually, a number of “Vacation” sequels, proving that the journey might just be worth it, no matter what happens).

Easy Rider (1969)

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper star in this classic film that helped define an era.  As two rough bikers ride through the American South and Southwest, they uncover the gritty American landscape – physical and social – of the late 1960s.  It’s a road trip for the sake of the trip and the freedom it gives to define a counterculture in a tumultuous era.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)

Beloved ’80s director John Hughes brought us this comedy starring Steve Martin and John Candy, a story about Murphy’s Law on the road. Neal Page (Martin) is an uptight ad-man just trying to get to Chicago for Thanksgiving, but every obstacle imaginable – including meeting the bumbling Del Griffith (Candy) – conspires to make the quick flight a 3-day road trip full of memorable comedy and heart.

Thelma and Louise (1991)

When an honest fishing trip between two best friends goes awry, they travel from Oklahoma to Mexico to escape the law.  It’s not your typical family-friendly fare, but the film does feature two saucy ladies-turned-fugitive (both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon were nominated for an Academy Award for their roles), the first big screen appearance of Brad Pitt, an unforgettable ending, and enough memories in a 1966 Thunderbird to make you want to buy a convertible and hit the road.

For the Family

The Muppet Movie (1979)

“A frog and a bear seeing America.”  What more do you need for a road trip?  When everybody’s favorite little green friend decides to head for the big lights of Hollywood, he meets all manner of creature and adventure along the way.  Spun off of The Muppet Show, the series that brought good humor and famous faces into our childhood living rooms, this film has everything from psychadelic cars to catchy tunes: “Movin’ right along.  Footloose and fancy-free.  Getting there is half the fun; come share it with me.”

The Princess Bride (1987)

Adventure, fantasy, drama, “Twoo love,”  and enough quotable one-liners to last you a lifetime. Though not a typical road trip with a car and the highway, it’s a multi-layered journey.  A caring grandfather (Peter Falk) leads his sick grandson (Fred Savage) through a magical book journey, the star-crossed lovers Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Wesley/The Dread Pirate Roberts (Cary Elwes) must travel through fantasy – not to mention the Cliffs of Insanity and the Fire Swamp – to find one another, and a host of unforgettable characters find the path to movie history in this beloved film.  Missing out on the adventure would be “inconceivable.”


We’re treating all of the delightful Disney-Pixar feature films as a composite of greatness here because all of them are thoroughly entertaining films (for kids and adults alike), almost all are about some kind of trip, and any of them would be perfect to pass the time in between destinations.

Our Favorites:

Toy Story (1995, 1999, 2010) -The journey from childhood to adulthood, from kid’s room to neighbor’s house to daycare to landfill and back again.

Finding Nemo (2003) – A road trip Down Under – literally, under the sea and in Australia – that helps a son grow up and a father let him.

Cars (2006) – An homage to the wonder years of the road trip, to the days of Route 66 and small-town America, we couldn’t help but include this one on our list.

Up (2009) – After the most emotionally compelling opening sequence ever, this film leads viewers from heartache to Paradise Falls in Venezuela.



The New Classics

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

This comedy-drama breathes new life into the family-bonding-through-a-road-trip experience.  A highly dysfunctional family characterized by anger, depression, and disappointment realizes how much they need each other when they band together to protect and support the charmingly idealistic Olive (Abigail Breslin) in her attempt to win the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.

Away We Go (2009)

This small but touching film approaches the family road trip from a different angle – from the beginning.  Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona de Tessant (Maya Rudolph) are a couple expecting their first child, and they go on the road searching for a place to settle down, a place to call home.  Seeing their friends and family in different stages of life and trial – in places as diverse as Arizona, Wisconsin, Montreal, and Florida – they come to define themselves, their relationship, and their future as they travel. (Bonus: It’s a green film, whose every element of production was environmentally conscious.)

On the Road (2012)

“The road is life” (On the Road, Part 3, Chapter 5). This choice is a sneak peek, but it’s an upcoming film based on Jack Kerouac’s iconic 1951 road trip novel of the same name. In it, Sal Paradise (representing Kerouac) and the enigmatic Dean Moriarty (representing Neal Cassady) criss-cross the American landscape, helping to define the Beat Generation.  Sal’s journey is literal and metaphorical as he journeys from East to West Coast, loving the free-spirited nature of the road, jazz music, and the democratic idealism embodied in American culture: “Why think about that when all the golden land’s ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?” (On the Road, Part 2, Chapter 6).

As Seen on TV: What We Learned About the Outdoors From Watching Sitcoms

Much of what we know about the great outdoors comes from television series. Even though it seems almost counterintuitive to learn about camping and hiking while lazily sitting in front of a television set, simulated exploration often bodes well for both the timid-yet-curious and first-timers wishing to get their metaphorical feet wet before hitting the parks. I mean, how else would we learn about what to pack and what sounds we should look out for? Plus, unfortunate accidents such as wipeouts and collapsed tents are funnier, and still as informative, when they happen to other campers.

We took care of the channel surfing so you could do some real surfing—and hiking, camping!—of your own. What follows is our list of solid nature information taken from some of our favorite TV shows both old and new.

1. Label your stuff.

Unless you want your underpants standing in in for the camp’s flag or your toothbrush to be confused for your lodge’s toilet brush, we suggest putting your name on everything. Luckily, none of the above has ever happened to us because we spent a considerable amount of time early on life glued to Nickelodeon’s ode to summer camp, otherwise known as Salute Your Shorts. You may outgrow the summer camp bully but flashbacks of your neon-colored underwear waving proudly high above won’t be as easy to shake.

Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our hearts.

2. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie. When Dennis the Menace goes to camp, naturally, all chaos ensues. Mr. Wilson offers to take Dennis for the day but then a storm forces them to stay there overnight. All slapstick hilarity aside, getting stranded anywhere outdoors—in a storm, no less—is terrifying and dangerous. Because stressful situations take less than TV’s requisite 22-minutes to resolve, it’s important to plan ahead for emergencies by brining the right gear, safety equipment and downloading the Pocket Ranger® app, which automatically sends alerts to designated contacts should danger occur.

When Dennis goes camping, mischief follows.

3. Carry in, but don’t always carry out.

Nature is wonderful and welcoming but that doesn’t mean you should take a piece of it with you—that’s what pictures and Welcome Center souvenirs are for. High on the list of nature you should not bring home is animals. While it’s not really a camping story, Shameless character Carl Gallagher’s relationship with animals serves as a cautionary tale for what not to do with wild animals we encounter outdoors. This bold kid is known to bring home stray animals and, on occasion, play taxidermist. In real life, animals should be seen, heard but never touched or bothered. You may find yourself surrounded by bunnies but you also may come face-to-face with a 6-foot-tall bear. Because the latter is just as likely to happen in the wild, we recommend carrying out your trash—and that’s it. Your karma will thank us.

Ethan Cutkosky as Carl Gallagher on Showtime series “Shameless.”

4. Listen up, but wise up.

Not all creaks and squeaks you hear at the campsite is a bear coming to ravage you. Before panicking, look for prints and, if they look like this, RUN! Otherwise, take a valuable lesson we learned while watching the episode of That 70’s Show when the gang goes camping. Donna’s Lady of the Lake story goes awry, skinny dipping doesn’t pan out well (But when does it?), and everyone is just plain freaking out. But nothing other than a few off-color jokes and partial nudity happens during the episode. Before you go running around scaring other campers, we suggest assessing the situation and gauging its severity. Full House‘s Uncle Jesse found himself in a similar predicament, terrified of all sights and sounds, on a Tanner family camping trip. It’s normal to hear strange sounds but that’s the beauty of camping—you’re one with Mother Nature, even if she is a restless sleeper.

Beware of wild animals… and practical jokers.

5. Learn the trade.

All outdoor skills are put to the test on the “Back to Nature” episode of The Andy Griffith Show. From fishing to campfire building, viewers have a front-row seat to some of the skills essential to any camping trip. But if you’re anything like Barney, and barely earning a passing grade in Camping 101, our series of posts directed to first-time outdoorsmen and women is necessary reading material. Brush up on the basics such as building a campfire, pitching a tent and what to bring on a camping trip, before setting off so that your experience outdoors is minimally stressful and more enjoyable.

Sage advice never goes out of style.

Jump the Shark: Watersports Photo Contest

For anyone cooped up from autumn to spring by the school year, a demanding job, or cold weather, summer feels like delicious freedom—especially if you’re heading to the lake.  There’s nothing like the first time you take the boat out for the season, feeling the motor hum and the hull cut cleanly through the water’s mirror-like surface on a calm day.

Well, there may be something better—the feeling of that same water beneath your feet as you cut across water or the air you catch as you jump a particularly good wave.  That’s right: we’re talking about water sports.

Even the coolest of the cool guys can’t resist the water.  In the 1970s, the epitome of “cool” was a leather jacket-sporting, juke box-punching, catch phrase-spouting (“Heeeeey!”) guy named Arthur Fonzarelli—the Fonz—on Happy Days.  In a 1977 episode that will live in infamy, the Fonz saves the day by accepting a challenge to jump over a shark while waterskiing.

The phrase “jumping the shark” has since been memorialized in pop culture as the moment when a TV series begins to go downhill, especially after the writers pull a wild stunt that is grossly inconsistent with the show’s premise or tone.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a wild stunt, especially one involving waterskiing (and waterskiing in a leather jacket, no less).  This may be the most memorable waterskiing moment in pop culture history, so in the spirit of the open water and summer, we want to celebrate your history on the water.

For this week’s contest, PocketRanger® wants you to submit a vintage or impressive photo of your watersports adventures. For instance, the Fonz jumping the shark is both vintage—1970s—and impressive (after all, he did jump over a shark).

Photos will be published on Facebook and put up to a vote. The submission with the most “likes” wins!


  • “Like” Pocket Ranger® on Facebook
  • Email your photos to info[at]parksbynature.com (Include your name, phone number, and a brief description of the picture.)
  • Get your friends to vote for your photo—the photo with the most “likes” wins!
  • Share the water fun; feel free to enter as many photos as you want.

Winner will be announced Friday, June 22, and receive cool, Pocket Ranger® gear to help kickstart the summer!