If you’re looking for something to watch on a quiet evening at home, there are all kinds of films and documentaries about the outdoors to watch. You can’t always be hiking, camping, or practicing your favorite outdoor sport, after all! Liven up your downtime with a selection from our featured list. Whether you want films about sport or films about the majesty of nature, we’ve got you covered. Here is our list of the best outdoor documentaries organized by categories, and with links for streaming each as well as the trailers embedded directly into this article.
These documentaries feature amazing climbing in some of the most challenging mountains in the world. Innovations in aerial photography mean that climbing documentaries are finally able to match the dizzying heights attained by the climbers themselves.
Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey
Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey celebrates the life and legend of Fred Beckey, a pioneer in American mountaineering. With nearly a thousand first ascents under his belt, Beckey’s contributions to the sport are insurmountable. This documentary chronicles his devotion to climbing and his passion and enthusiasm for the mountains.
14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible
14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible follows Nepali mountaineer Nimsdai Purja as he embarks on a seemingly impossible quest: to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in seven months. As he climbs, he proves to us and himself that nothing is impossible.
Released in 2021, this documentary has a run time of 101 minutes and is available on Netflix.
A thrilling documentary, Free Solo captures climber Alex Honnold’s quest to climb Yosemite’s famed El Capitan without ropes or assistance. It’s also a portrait of a passionate athlete whose relationship with the rock sits in stark contrast to his relationships with people. It’ll have you on the edge of your seat.
Meru is the story of three elite climbers’ attempts to make the first ascent up Mount Meru in the Himalayas. On the surface, it’s a spectacular film about a nearly impossible climb. But when you look deeper, it’s a story about three people facing their inner demons and overcoming not just a mountain, but their own fears.
United States of Joe’s
One of the many great features of the Reel Rock climbing film festivals, United States of Joe’s tells the story of the bouldering community’s discovery of Joe’s Valley in the 1990s and the tensions that emerged between the conservative community of cowboys, Mormons, and other locals and the climbers… as well as the resolution of these conflicts. It’s a fun look at a unique place in American climbing
Released in 2019, this documentary short has a run time of 23 minutes and is available on RedBull TV.
The Alpinist tells the story of Marc-André Leclerc, a solo climber whose bold ascents were often overlooked by the greater climbing community. This was largely by choice, as Leclerc was a reclusive climber who used no ropes and preferred no cameras or audience— only the spirit of adventure. This documentary is a testament to his free spirit and the choice to follow his passions.
Released in 2021, this documentary has a run time of 93 minutes and is available on Netflix.
Yosemite National Park is a climbers paradise. It is also one of the major destinations in the world that helped define and create an incredible climbing culture. This culture clashed with the National Park Service, and is highlighted beautifully in this stunning and interesting film. This is one of those “must watch” climbing documentaries filled with stunning footage, climbing celebrities, and a deep dive into the beginnings of climbing culture in the American west.
The world of cycling covers extreme sports like mountain biking, but it also encompasses biking as transportation. Filming the world from the back of a bike is a way to explore ideas and communities intimately, and these cycling documentaries show just how bikes can build connections.
Elsewhere. Alone in Africa
In Elsewhere. Alone in Africa (Anderswo. Allein in Afrika), German artist Anselm Nathanael Pahnke rides his bike across Africa, a ride spanning 15,000 kilometers and 15 countries. His trek features breathtaking nature and friendly people— but as he crosses the Kalahari Desert, he finds himself in serious danger several times. This documentary is perfect for fans of extreme cycling and adventure traveling.
Released in 2018, this documentary has a run time of 103 minutes and is available on Prime Video.
Icarus begins as a documentary about cycling but goes so much further. It starts with an interest in doping by an amateur cyclist and ends with revelations about a Russian state-sponsored Olympic doping scandal that goes all the way back to 1968.
Released in 2017, this documentary has a run time of 121 minutes and is available on Netflix.
Life Cycles is a visually stunning film that uses mountain biking as a way to explore ideas of creation and destruction in nature’s most beautiful, dramatic, and unforgiving landscapes. The gorgeous visuals and beautiful imagery will leave you wanting to take up cycling yourself!
The Bikes of Wrath
The Bikes of Wrath features five Australian friends cycling from Oklahoma to California, following the Dust Bowl migration route as written about in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The group explores the idea of the American dream and looks at how the country has changed since the book was written. It’s as much a piece of social commentary as it is a great movie about biking.
These documentaries all highlight the beauty of the natural world and take the viewer to some of the most remote and pristine locations on Earth. They focus on what makes nature unique and special and are great viewing for anybody.
Chasing Coral is a movie for anybody who loves the ocean. It offers a breathtaking, beautiful look at some of the Earth’s most incredible natural wonders while delivering a sobering warning about its uncertain future. An absolute must-see for anybody who’s ever dived or snorkeled on a coral reef.
Released in 2017, this documentary has a run time of 90 minutes and is available on Netflix.
David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet
Any of the nature documentaries narrated by Sir David Attenborough are worth watching and could easily have made this list, but we chose David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, his most recent because it’s his most personal. Attenborough’s work over the past decades has shown us some of this planet’s most astonishing wonders. This documentary uses his remarkable life to examine how drastically the natural world has changed during his career. It serves as his personal “witness statement” to encourage humanity to fundamentally change its relationship with nature for the greater good.
Released in 2020, this documentary has a run time of 83 minutes and is available on Netflix.
Encounters at the End of the World
Directed by Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World captures the beauty of the frozen continent and the dreams and lives of people who work there. Featuring Herzog’s unique, deep interview questions and dazzling cinematography, Encounters at the End of the World show Antarctica in a new light.
Released in 2007, this documentary has a run time of 99 minutes and is available on Amazon Prime.
My Octopus Teacher
Rather than a broad, sweeping look at the natural world, My Octopus Teacher is a personal story about one man’s journey towards self-discovery, thanks in large part to the unique relationship he forms with an octopus. The documentary follows South African freediver Craig Foster, who meets a curious octopus during one of his dives and chronicles a year of his experiences bonding with the creature. In the process, he learns to appreciate his own life and humanity’s crucial ties to nature.
Released in 2020, this documentary has a run time of 84 minutes and is available on Netflix.
Night on Earth
Night on Earth is a documentary mini-series that uses newly-developed night camera technology to capture dramatic images of nighttime activity in some of the most beautiful places in the world. The wonders of the natural world are seen like never before in bright vibrant colors.
Released in 2020, this documentary series has six 45-minute episodes and is available on Netflix.
Ken Burns: The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
An epic-scale Ken Burns documentary series, The National Parks America’s Best Idea is a detailed history of America’s national parks system. Each episode looks at a different period in the parks’ 150 years of history and the people who loved nature enough to see it protected in perpetuity.
Released in 2009, this documentary series has six 120-minute episodes and is available on Amazon Prime.
Running documentaries are often very inspiring because running and the reasons that people run are so deeply personal. The running community spans the globe and no matter how or where you run, you can feel a connection to the subjects of these films.
A Mile an Hour
The shortest film on our list, this mini documentary is too fun not to include. Beau Miles is a runner, a tinkerer, and a Ph.D. in Outdoor Education. He’s running a different kind of marathon in this featurette, showing himself and everyone how running can be both practical and deeply personal. A Mile an Hour is a sweet, inspiring, good-feel documentary.
Boston: The Documentary
Boston: The Documentary, released just before the 121st Boston Marathon, immerses the viewer into the wondrous kaleidoscope of the oldest annually-run marathon in the world. It traces the evolution of the race from a workingman’s challenge to its modern incarnation, demonstrating how it became the iconic event it is today and how it paved the way for the modern marathon and mass participatory sports.
In Desert Runners, non-professional runners set out to complete the most difficult ultramarathon race series on earth, 4 Deserts. Far more than just a film about running, this documentary looks at the human spirit and how we respond to both achievement and heartbreak.
Released in 2013, this documentary has a run time of 95 minutes and is available on Amazon Prime.
Lorena: Light-Footed Woman
Lorena Ramírez, a Rarámuri woman from Mexico, lives a rural, pastoral life… except when she straps on her sandals to compete as an ultramarathon runner. Yes, sandals. Lorena: Light-Footed Woman documents her journey in an emotional, inspiring, and intimate look at a woman, her community, and her people.
Released in 2019, this short documentary has a run time of 28 minutes, and is available on Netflix.
The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young
The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young chronicles a famous prison escape, the race it inspired, and the cult-like following that became obsessed with it. With only 10 finishers in 25 years of racing, the Barkley Marathons were a different beast. This hilarious documentary captures the race and its interesting, enigmatic founder. It’s funny, it’s weird, and it’s impossible to stop watching.
The Human Race
Everyone who runs runs for a reason, and The Human Race examines six runners’ physical training and emotional, personal journeys towards the biggest races of their life. The documentary spotlights six runners over the age of 50– including an 80-year-old running a half marathon to celebrate her birthday, a father attempting his very first 5k after taking up running to help his autistic son navigate cross country meets, and four other incredible athletes.
Released in 2019, this documentary has a run time of 45 minutes, and is available on Amazon Prime.
You don’t have to be a surfer to admire the sinuous moves and daunting curls of a wave. These documentaries will have you wishing for summer and making plans to go to the beach.
Andy Irons: Kissed By God
Andy Irons: Kissed By God is a raw and honest portrayal of beloved surf champion Andy Irons, authored by those who knew and loved him and packed with unbelievable stories from his life and surfing career. It’s a must-view for any surf fan.
Released in 2018, this documentary has a run time of 100 minutes, and is available on Amazon Prime.
Momentum Generation focuses on how a group of teenagers changed the sport of surfing in the early 1990s. It lifts the curtain on a group of now-famous surfers to tell their stories of early-life hardship, rivalry, tragedy and, perhaps most importantly, friendship and camaraderie.
The Endless Summer
The Endless Summer is a classic documentary that still holds up today. It tells the story of two surfers traveling from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere, chasing the perfect wave. Watching this film isn’t just a nostalgia trip; it’s a surprisingly introspective look at what it means to follow your dreams.
View From A Blue Moon
View From a Blue Moon follows Hawaiian surfer John Florence as he surfs all over the world. Rich with emotion and replete with the beauty of the world’s oceans, it follows one man’s passion and dream to redefine what’s possible on the waves.
There are a million things you can do outdoors, and there are some amazing documentaries that don’t fit neatly into one category.
Expedition Happiness tells the story of a German couple and their dog setting off on a journey from Canada to Mexico, experiencing everything in between in the pursuit of happiness. This joyful documentary feels very intimate as you experience this continental road trip alongside artist Felix, musician Mogli, and Bernese Mountain Dog Rudi.
Released in 2017, this documentary has a run time of 95 minutes, and is available on Netflix.
Iron Cowboy: The Story of the 50-50-50
Completing one Ironman race is a challenge. Completing 50 of them in 50 days in all 50 states is impossible. Or is it? Iron Cowboy: The Story of the 50-50-50 follows James Lawrence as he attempts this grueling challenge.
Released in 2019, this documentary has a run time of 76 minutes and is available on Amazon Prime.
180° South follows adventurer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the legendary 1968 journey of his heroes, Patagonia Inc. founder Yvon Chouinard and North Face founder Doug Tompkins, to Patagonia. A must-see for fans of climbing, adventure, and the outdoors.
Released in 2010, this documentary has a run time of 86 minutes and is available on Amazon Prime.
Documentaries by Streaming Platform
- A Mile an Hour
- Andy Irons: Kissed By God
- Boston: The Documentary
- Desert Runners
- Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey
- Elsewhere. Alone in Africa
- Encounters at the End of the World
- Free Solo
- Iron Cowboy: The Story of the 50-50-50
- Life Cycles
- 180° South
- The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young
- The Bikes of Wrath
- The Human Race
- The Endless Summer
- The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
- View From A Blue Moon
- Valley Uprising
In addition to our recommendations, Disney+ has the entire National Geographic catalog and the DisneyNature catalog available to stream. This is a great option for nature documentaries.
In addition to our recommendation, HBO Max hosts several sports documentaries made by HBO over the years. If you want to watch a film about sport, this streaming service is a good one to choose from.
- Chasing Coral
- David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet
- Elsewhere. Alone in Africa
- Expedition Happiness
- 14 Peaks
- Lorena: Light-Footed Woman
- My Octopus Teacher
- Night on Earth
- The Alpinist
Youtube and other sites host several documentaries. We want to give a special mention to RedBull TV, which has hundreds of feature-length and short extreme sports and outdoor documentaries. RedBull TV also hosts all of the Reel Rock climbing documentary festival curated selections, so if you want to watch films about mountaineering or bouldering, they’re a great resource.
Have any other documentaries that you think are worth adding? Let us know! Also, we know that streaming platforms are constantly changing their inventory, so please let us know of any corrections.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and sharing experiences with others. Max is a published author for various outdoor websites and digital marketing websites. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about