Natural Gems

Spot North Carolina's natural beauty in these Hollywood films. 

Jamie Lockwood

I live and breathe environmental protection, policy, and advocacy. But when I get on a screen or read I generally prefer my entertainment to be of the fictional variety. I am a big fantasy nut. When I watch television shows or movies or sit down with a book, I like to be transported to a new and exciting world. Nevertheless, sometimes the greatest excitement comes from catching a glimpse of a beautiful and familiar friend on the big screen. And by friend, I mean the natural beauty of North Carolina.

Here are a few movies and stills from the big screen that highlight North Carolina’s best. 

  1. The Hunger Games: Okay…spoiler alert: If you’re a superfan like me, you’ll vividly remember the moment when Katniss discovers there can be two winners from the same district. She runs through the vibrant forest and  a gushing stream to find Peeta camouflaged as a rock in a beautiful waterfall backdrop. In the movie, those forests and mountain streams should look all too familiar to North Carolinians. The reason: That scene was shot in Dupont State Recreational Forest


The Hunger Games. Lions Gate Home Entertainment, 2012. Screenshot by author.


  1. Dirty Dancing: Depending on your love of romance this may or may not be the perfect fantasy movie. However, it is undeniably a classic. The film does a great job of dropping the viewer right in New York’s Catskills for family summer camp in 1963. While the movie is portraying a mountain range in the Northeast,  a true North Carolina nature enthusiast might recognize the set for it’s true location — Lake Lure in Rutherford County, North Carolina. 


Dirty Dancing. Vestron Pictures, 1987. Screenshot by author. 

  1. Safe Haven, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, and The Choice: If you have ever been to Wilmington, North Carolina, Hatteras Island or Topsail Beach, I probably don’t have to tell you that North Carolina’s coast can be a romantic setting. That’s why it is the filming location of not one Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but four! The quaint town, gentle waves, and fine sand can be spotted through your tears in any of these films. 


Safe Haven. Relativity Media. 2013. Screenshot by author. 

A Walk to Remember. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2002. Screenshot by author.

Nights in Rodanthe. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2008. Screenshot by author. 



  1. Last of the Mohicans: Movie producers love the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. While “The Last of the Mohicans” was set in upstate New York, it was mostly filmed in North Carolina. In fact, it not only featured three of our waterfalls but also the Biltmore. All three waterfalls, High, Hooker and Triple, can be found in Dupont State Recreational Forest (same filming location as “The Hunger Games”). However, there is a movie modification to these natural landmarks: You won’t find a cave behind any of them like you see in the final scene of the movie.  


Last of the Mohicans. 20th Century Fox. Warner Bros. Pictures. 1992. Screenshot by author

  1. Nell: In this 1994 film, a woman called Nell is discovered alone in the woods. She has grown up in complete isolation. Once again, the mountains of North Carolina were chosen to portray dense forest, silky lakes and relatively untouched scenery. From the cotton candy sunsets to the mountainous backdrops, the whole movie was filmed at Fontana Lake


Nell. 20th Century Fox. 1994. Screenshot by author. 


For me, these films are a reminder that I don’t need to be transported to a fantasy world to experience astonishing nature. Living in North Carolina, we are blessed with awe-inspiring mountains, coast, woods and even waterfalls. It’s no surprise that movie producers chose North Carolina as filming locations because it’s nearly impossible not to recognize our state’s natural wealth. Finding golden nuggets, like these shots in movies, reinstills my passion for protecting the places in North Carolina worthy of fairy tales. 


Jamie Lockwood