8 Famous Sci-Fi Filming Locations You Can Actually Visit

Creating the right setting for a film is one of the most difficult aspects to filmmaking, but when the script calls for something from another planet the job becomes...

Creating the right setting for a film is one of the most difficult aspects to filmmaking, but when the script calls for something from another planet the job becomes that much harder. It’s no secret that the perfect location sets the tone for an event, according to the GrandView, and movies are no different. Location scouts scour the world over to find the perfect locations that give these films their other-worldly aesthetic. Even though many sets are constructed on a back lot somewhere in Hollywood, there are still plenty of places that visitors can see with their own eyes. From the great states of the western U.S. to a national park in China, here are some sci-fi sets that aren’t as out of this world as they seem on the silver screen.

1. Jebediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California

Looking for Ewoks? Try heading out to the Redwoods in California, which served as the sky-high canopied forest for the planet of Endor in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. On the off chance that the visitor doesn’t find any of the film’s cute, teddy bear-like population still inhabiting the forest, there’s still plenty to do: over 20 miles of gorgeous hiking trails crisscross this majestic piece of nature.

2. Tikal, Guatemala

The thousands of yearly visitors who travel to this UNESCO National Heritage Site are treated to an unparalleled view, but they may not even realize they’re also experiencing moviemaking history. According to UNESCO.org, Tikal is one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the world and a jewel of the Mayan civilization, but many visitors may not know that this structure also served as the rebel base in Star Wars: A New Hope.

3. San Rafael Reef, Utah

Serving as the setting of the planet Vulcan in the 2009 Star Trek film, this wild country of barren rocks, dagger-like peaks, and hidden canyons makes for the perfect barren planet. Relive the moment Spock watches Nero destroy Vulcan with a thirst for vengeance befitting the fictional planet’s Greek name as the real-world silhouette of the San Rafael Swell peaks disappears into the misty distance.

4. Zhangjiajie National Park, China

While there was no lack of CGI enhancement in Avatar, the film did find a real-world location that offered the right fantastical forest and rock landscape the filmmakers were seeking. According to this piece in The Daily Mail, they headed all the way to China and set up their cameras in Zhangjiajie National Park in the northwestern part of the Hunan province. The forest’s descends into a mystical realm when the mist sets in, making it perfect for the backdrop of the floating mountains.

5. Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah

Only very careful viewers will recognize the spectacular Monument Valley as it appeared on the flickering screen: as the surface of the alien planet through which Dave makes his odyssey at the end of the iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey scene. This scene, masterfully stitched together by director Stanley Kubrick, is remembered as one of the most surreal sequences in the history of film.

6. Westward Beach, California

Normally full of sun-bathers enjoying the beach, surfers riding the waves, and climbers hanging from the jagged cliffs, Westward Beach is where Captain George Taylor utters his famous indictment of those damn dirty apes in the classic film The Planet of the Apes. The beach is home to one climactic scene that fans are sure to remember, though younger everyday visitors may not catch on.

7. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Though the 1959 classic film Journey to the Center of the Earth successfully depicts the titular undertaking as nearly impossible due to magma flows, giant lizards, and deadly rock falls, it’s relatively easy to visit the actual filming location. Carlsbad Caverns receives many visitors yearly looking to explore this exceptional underground world of subterranean lakes, cathedral like caverns, and veritable maze of trippy rock formations.

8. Devils Tower, Wyoming

Close Encounters of the Third Kind found the perfect icon in Wyoming where the Devils Tower rises above the forest and prairie lands. It’s surreal all on its own, a perfect spot for ambitious rock climbers to challenge the height and thin ridges, or for hovering over in an intergalactic spacecraft.


Anna is a freelance writer and researcher from the Olympia, WA area who loves to obsess about weird topics and then write about them. When she isn't writing, she is outside on her bike and contemplating her eventual trip to graduate school.
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