The Perfect Playlist Inspired by National Parks

Music and nature have always been connected. There's a reason why most music festivals are held outdoors, and why going for a run just feels wrong without your trusty earbuds — a great song and the great outdoors both have ways of inspiring us.

Speaking of inspiration, national parks provide plenty of that. The wild landscapes of our national parks have sparked the creativity of quite a few composers, and the results are stunning. These national park-inspired classical pieces are the perfect soundtrack to your next wilderness adventure, whether it's a quiet hike in the woods or watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon:

  • From The Canyons to the Stars (Olivier Messiaen): Also known by its French title, Des canyons aux étoiles, this piece was commissioned by American opera singer Alice Tully in 1971 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. The composer, French-born Olivier Messiaen, traveled to Utah for inspiration, which he found in the towering spires of Bryce Canyon National Park.
  • Denali (Stephen Lias): Part of an entire series of park-inspired pieces by American composer Stephen Lias, Denali is a thrilling composition that alternates between exuberance, grace, danger, and grandeur — not unlike the landscape of Alaska's Denali National Park.
  • Grand Canyon Suite (Ferde Grofe): In 1916, a young wandering pianist named Ferde Grofe took a road trip across the Arizona desert, camping overnight near the rim of the Grand Canyon. When dawn arrived, Grofe found the sights and sounds of the landscape coming alive too beautiful for words to describe, so he used music instead. The Grand Canyon Suite remains one of the greatest and best-known compositions inspired by national parks.
  • Alligator Alley (Michael Daugherty): Dark, mysterious, and exciting — just like the Florida wetlands — Michael Daugherty's Alligator Alley powerfully pays tribute to Everglades National Park, and to the ancient reptiles that live there.
  • The Ghosts of Mesa Verde (Stephen Lias): Another entry in Lias' National Park Series, The Ghosts of Mesa Verde beautifully captures the eerie emptiness of Mesa Verde National Park, as well as its overwhelming sense of history.

National parks continue to inspire, as the relationship between music and nature is unlikely to change. The Music in the American Wild concert series has been bringing live classical music to national parks across the country throughout 2016 in celebration of the National Park Service's centennial year, and some of America's most exciting music festivals take place in or near national parks, including:

  • Zion Canyon Music Festival (Zion National Park, California)
  • Bar Harbor Music Festival (Acadia National Park, Maine)
  • Carl Sandburg Folk Music Festival (Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, North Carolina)
  • Hot Springs Music Festival (Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas)
  • New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, Louisiana)
  • Grand Teton Music Festival (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)
  • Kantishna Music Festival (Denali National Park, Alaska)
  • Lowell Folk Festival (National Historical Park, Massachusetts)
  • Moab Music Festival (Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Utah)

Music in the American Wild performances. @musicintheamericanwild #music #musicinthepark #findyourpark #npwest #nps100

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If you're a music fan and a lover of the outdoors, chances are you have favorite songs, records, and playlists that you turn to whenever you go exploring. Share your favorite national park musical memories at!