If you’re reading this, you’re staring at a screen. Wouldn’t you rather be exploring a different part of the world than the Internet? Get inspired (and stare at a screen for just a bit longer) by the best travel and adventure documentaries streaming on Netflix right now.
The year 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Parks Service, a federal program that has saved such treasures as Yellowstone and Yosemite for public use. National Parks Adventure, an ambitious documentary from filmmaker Greg MacGillivray and narrated by the one-and-only Robert Redford, explores the history and modern landscape of America’s precious natural assets. Artist Rachel Pohl, mountaineer Conrad Anker, and photographer Max Lowe lead the journey on camera from glaciers in Montana to the spectacle of Utah’s natural arches. Warning: This film will trigger severe travel envy, which can only be treated by planning your own trip to a national park.
While the late, great Anthon Bourdain’s original acclaimed series, No Reservations, focused on the culinary scene of each location, Parts Unknown is a more encompassing look at the cultures, people, and history that make up the lesser-known gems in our big, beautiful world. Bourdain’s famed background as a chef means the series has an edible slant, so foodies will enjoy Parts Unknown as much as adventure-hungry travelers.
What do you do after failing to summit India’s Meru Peak via the infamous “Shark’s Fin” route in 2008? Why, you do it again three years later, of course. Meru, co-directed by Jimmy Chin and his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, follows Chin, Conrad Naker, and Renan Ozturk as they attempt to tackle the namesake mountain a second time and deal with the trials of summiting a mounting — loss, recovery, and one gnarly avalanche — along the way.
How can we talk about worldly flicks without mentioning Werner Herzog? The German filmmaker blessed with a velvety smooth narrating voice teamed up with long-time collaborator and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger for another captivating documentary. Destination? The South Pole. Rather than focus on the wildlife found in Antarctica — yeah, penguins are cute, we get it — Encounters at the End of the World is a deep dive into the human population that works and lives on Earth’s most relentless continent: the resilient men and women who research the biology and geography that make up the bottom part of our globe. Highlights include volcanoes, ice caves, icebergs, okay, yes, some “fluffy penguins,” and a chilly rooftop concert.
Surf’s up … in Iceland? Travel to the opposite pole with Under an Arctic Sky and watch as six fearless (and perhaps a little reckless, but definitely fun-loving) surfers shred the coast of Iceland. During a storm. The movie is a heartfelt look at a dangerous sport in one of the most unforgiving, yet gorgeous places on Earth.
All of the most potent documentary films, in-depth magazine features, and stirring non-fiction works have someone to thank: the person behind the camera. Photographers are often left out of the spotlight because they’re too busy searching for the next perfect shot (and, you know, taking it). Tales By Light, which began as a short series from Canon and evolved into a partnership with National Geographic, introduces you to one amazing photographer in each episode and takes you along his or her next journey to capture elusive wildlife, unique communities, and heartfelt themes. The almost metaphysical look through the lens at another person looking through a lens encourages you to see the subject matter in a slightly different light (no pun on the show name intended).
What happens when a group of rock climbers goes toe-to-toe with the National Park Service in Yosemite, one of the country’s most amazing landscapes? A few parties, a little bit of dumpster diving, a little more drama, and some of the most daring feats of climbing you’ve ever seen. Valley Uprising, narrated by Peter Sarsgaard, causes you to think about the importance of public lands, the power of counterculture, and the thrill of the climb.
If you’re reading this, chances are you would jump at the chance to travel to a remote city and escape it all. Karl Pilkington, arguably one of the most well-traveled celebrities today, would whole-heartedly disagree with you. Pilkington began his TV career as the titular idiot in An Idiot Abroad, an off-center travel series spearheaded by comedians (and friends) Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, that forces the very particular and opinionated Pilkington into unusual situations across the globe. An Idiot Abroad is certainly worth a watch for the laughs, but Pilkington’s short-lived follow-up show, The Moaning of Life, is a more poignant exploration of the people in each of these destinations. Our host is in search for answers about how different cultures deal with big life topics like marriage, children, and death. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without some classic Pilkington complaints.
In 2016, Karl Meltzer completed the Appalachian Trail — a stretch of over 2,000 miles of rugged American terrain between Maine and Georgia — in record time. The name of this documentary, which chronicles the ultrarunner’s awe-inspiring and successful trek, takes on two meanings. Just last year, Joe McConaughy beat Meltzer’s time by nearly a day. Regardless, Made to Broken is a fascinating look at what it takes to pull off something as intense as covering a huge portion of the United States in less than two months.
Craving something more culinary? Check out the best food documentaries and series streaming on Netflix right now. Our brother site, Digital Trends, also has an overall guide on the best movies and shows.
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