The National Parks: America's Best Idea

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The National Parks:
America's Best Idea
DVD cover of The National Parks- America's Best Idea.jpg
Written byDayton Duncan
Directed byKen Burns
Narrated byPeter Coyote
Country of originUnited States
No. of episodes6
ProducersKen Burns
Dayton Duncan[2]
Running time12 hours[2]
DistributorPublic Broadcasting Service
Original releaseSeptember 27 (2009-09-27) –
October 2, 2009 (2009-10-02)[3]

The National Parks: America's Best Idea is a 2009 television documentary miniseries by director/producer Ken Burns and producer/writer Dayton Duncan which features the United States National Park system and traces the system's history.[2] The series won two 2010 Emmy Awards; one for outstanding non-fiction series and one for outstanding writing in Episode 2 "The Last Refuge". A companion book (ISBN 978-0307268969) was released alongside.


Peter Coyote is the narrator of all episodes, with first-person voices supplied by Adam Arkin, Philip Bosco, Kevin Conway, Andy García, Tom Hanks, Derek Jacobi, Clay Jenkinson, John Lithgow, Josh Lucas, Carolyn McCormick, Campbell Scott, Gene Jones, George Takei, Eli Wallach and Sam Waterston.[1] Shelton Johnson, a National Park ranger,[4] was also featured.


  1. "The Scripture of Nature" (1851–1890) shows the beauty of Yosemite Valley and the geyser wonderland of Yellowstone. Additionally, it offers a lengthy discussion of how Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks were created and shows how John Muir became their eloquent defender. Aired Sunday, September 27, 2009.
  2. "The Last Refuge" (1890–1915) Theodore Roosevelt uses the presidential powers of the Antiquities Act to add National Monuments, including Devils Tower, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, Muir Woods, Crater Lake and the Grand Canyon. Hetch Hetchy Valley is lost through damming. Roosevelt's speech at the dedication of Yellowstone's Roosevelt Arch states the ultimate purpose of the National Parks: For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People. Aired Monday, September 28.
  3. "The Empire of Grandeur" (1915–1919) covers the creation of the National Park Service and the influence of its early leaders Stephen Mather and Horace M. Albright, and wealthy industrialists who Mather persuaded to help him champion the park system. Aired Tuesday, September 29.
  4. "Going Home" (1920–1933) focuses on the time when America embraced the automobile, setting off an explosion in the number of park visits. Also, the Rockefellers quietly buy up land in the Teton Mountain Range. Aired Wednesday, September 30.
  5. "Great Nature" (1933–1945) emphasizes the societal impacts of the park concept, including new environmental and naturalistic perspectives, employment opportunities and application of the park idea to additional geographical locations. Aired Thursday, October 1.
  6. "The Morning of Creation" (1946–1980) offers details about the ecological damage caused by 62 million visitors each year, the debates over the allocation of federal properties in Alaska, and the controversial decision to reintroduce wolves in Yellowstone which had been hunted to extinction in all other parks. Aired Friday, October 2.

Some foreign releases of the series – notably Australia – have separated it into 12 one hour-long episodes.


External video
video icon Presentation by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan on The National Parks at the National Book Festival, September 26, 2009, C-SPAN
video icon Interview with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan on The National Parks at the National Book Festival, September 26, 2009, C-SPAN

The series was previewed in a seven-minute segment at the end of the fourth episode of Burns's 2007 PBS documentary, The War.[citation needed] The first two-hour episode premiered at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College on April 17, 2009. Episodes debuted daily, airing from Sunday, September 27 to Friday, October 2, with full episodes online the following day.

Critical reception[edit]

The National Parks: America's Best Idea has received generally positive reviews from television critics and parents of young children. Mark Rahner of The Seattle Times wrote, "Stirring and sublime."[5]


  1. ^ a b LLC, The National Parks Film Project; WETA-TV (2009). "The National Parks: America's Best Idea: About the Series". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2009-07-07.
  2. ^ a b c PBS To Air Ken Burns’s The National Parks: America's Best Idea... a July 2008 press release from the PBS website
  3. ^ Official website from Public Broadcasting Service
  4. ^ LLC, The National Parks Film Project; WETA-TV (2009). "The National Parks: America's Best Idea: Shelton Johnson". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2014-10-29.
  5. ^ Rahner, Mark (2009-04-19). "Ken Burns talks about his national parks documentary". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2019-12-08.

External links[edit]