Robert Redford’s Sundance Scenes
It was certainly Robert Redford’s stellar acting chops that captivated audiences over the last several decades — but the jaw-dropping Utah landscapes in some of his most famous films helped set the scene for that magic. Journey through some of the most striking mountain and desert filming locations to experience the awe of that all-American frontier immortalized in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Jeremiah Johnson," and "The Electric Horseman."
During the golden era of Western films, Robert Redford made his leap to true stardom with his masterful portrayal of the Sundance Kid, an original American outlaw, in 1969's “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Utah’s wild Western landscapes had already caught Redford’s heart and imagination — in fact, he purchased land in Provo Canyon in the early-1960s. (Devoted to Utah’s open lands, towering mountains and intricate red rock deserts, Redford convinced the director of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to film in Utah.)
In the years that followed, Redford’s land in Provo Canyon eventually became Sundance Mountain Resort — a ski and summer resort built around an appreciation for nature. Soon, seeking a place where independent filmmakers could gather, collaborate and be inspired, he founded Sundance Institute. Later, the institute would take over what would eventually become the Sundance Film Festival, based today in the larger mountain town of Park City.
These days, the Sundance Film Festival draws crowds and fanfare from around the globe. And the festival is indeed a film buff’s dream. But if you want to get to the heart of what Utah film, Sundance Institute and Redford himself are all about, you’ll want to journey into the real heart of the outlaw West. Lay your own eyes on the soaring walls of Zion Canyon. Wander the twists and turns of Snow Canyon. Feel the wind blowing through a real ghost town. Set foot in Jeremiah Johnson’s wilderness cabin. Then you’ll get a taste of the adventure and wanderlust that inspired Redford the man and the characters he played.
Start at the Home of the Famed Sundance Film Institute and Festival
- Arrive in Park City
- Experience Sundance Film Festival
- "Jeremiah Johnson" film location at Sundance Resort
If you’re able to visit in the winter, you can time a Utah visit to coincide with the annual Sundance Film Festival in January, a blockbuster event drawing filmmakers, artists, studios, celebrities and everyday film enthusiasts to celebrate and screen exceptional independent films. And, any time of year, you can drive by the stunning 70,000-square-foot Utah Film Studios complex, just on the edge of town. The breathtaking facility serves as a go-to studio location for producers from around the world. And it keeps the Park City film energy pulsing year-round, long after the festival parties wrap.
Then, head southward to Sundance Mountain Resort, 45 minutes away — a charming mountain enclave with wonderful skiing in the winter and family-friendly adventure in the warmer months. Whether you ride the resort's lifts to ski or to try the famed summer zip line — be sure to stop at the mountaintop Bearclaw Cabin. Perched on a steep ridge with dramatic mountain views all around, this cabin was a filming location for Redford’s 1972 movie “Jeremiah Johnson.” Once you take in the scene, you’ll experience firsthand the cinematic scale of the place — and its lure to the early mountain men.
Back at the Sundance village, amble into the Owl Bar, an artful yet rustic watering hole beloved by locals and out-of-towners alike. Redford himself brought the antique oak bar down from a small-town bar in Wyoming — legend has it that the outlaw Butch Cassidy himself commissioned the bar in Ireland and had it imported to the U.S., where it later hid under formica and shag carpeting till Redford had it painstakingly restored to its original splendor.
Where to Stay: Sundance Mountain Resort
How to Spend Bonus Time: Park City and Sundance offer a lifetime of exploration opportunity, so if you can carve enough room into your trip, spend as much time as you can here. Hike to Stewart Falls and follow with lunch at the Foundry Grill at Sundance. Mountain bike Park City’s endless summer trails and ski your heart out on the perfect winter groomers at Sundance, Deer Valley, and Park City Mountain resorts.
Experience the Sheer Magnitude and Intricacy of Kolob Canyon and Zion
- Kolob Canyon film location of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
- Zion National Park film location of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
After your time in the mountains in Utah’s north, chart your course through Butch Cassidy’s famed desert hideouts in the otherworldly textured landscape of Zion National Park and the neighboring Kolob Canyon. Here, there’s another wonder, another astounding view, another desert adventure at every twist and turn. (For an even deeper dive into Butch Cassidy, the man, see our itinerary: Butch Cassidy’s West.)
Start by driving south to the Cedar City area and head to Kolob Canyon Terrace, a stunning plateau between Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon. In an area called Cave Valley, accessed by a scenic drive, you’ll see the place where Butch Cassidy faced off with Harvey Logan to establish leadership of the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang.
Then, drive to Springdale at the gateway of Zion Canyon and the main entrance to Zion National Park. Here, you can hop a shuttle into the heart of one of the nation’s most famous parks. Scarlet-hued red rock canyon walls soar thousands of feet overhead, with mossy emerald waterfalls cascading down with full desert-scale drama. Choose from any number of hiking trails to the canyon’s overlooks and pinnacles. First-time visitors will want to climb to Scout’s Lookout, which offers an unforgettable view of the park — and you can poke along the narrow ridgeline to Angel’s Landing if you dare. But well-prepared visitors to Zion can also escape the crowds of Utah’s most popular park.
As you look down Zion Canyon, you’ll see a view familiar to any "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" fan: here, Robert Redford and Paul Newman rode their horses side-by-side along the Virgin River. There may have been fewer people in the park then, but the splendor remains exactly the same. (And for an in-depth look into the story behind the filmmaking, have a look at the film’s 50th anniversary video from the Utah Film Commission.)
Where to Stay: Springdale
How to Spend Bonus Time: Zion National Park is a veritable wonderland at massive geologic scale. Every single trail in the park deserves exploration and awe, so carve out more time to really take the place in. Hike to the jewel-hued Emerald Pools, gaze at The Grotto, get your feet wet in the Virgin River Narrows, or admire The Watchman formation. While the park is busy in summer, winter travelers find a deep sense of serenity. Just bundle up, wear shoes with solid grip and consider microspikes or neoprene booties if you’ll be on slick or wet trails.
Wander Sunny Snow Canyon, Scene of the Infamous 30-Minute Chase Scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
- Snow Canyon film location of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and of “The Electric Horseman”
- Stroll Historic St. George
An hour from Zion National Park, Snow Canyon State Park may be a bit smaller, but its majesty and intriguing rock scapes capture the imagination just the same. The park’s unique petrified sand dunes give much of it a slightly Martian feel, with huge striped mounds of twisting rock — carved by water, wind and time — standing stark against the bright blue sky.
It was in the twists, turns and drops of this canyon that the infamous chase scene of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was filmed. Redford returned later to film further displays of masterful horsemanship in this same canyon for “The Electric Horseman,” in which he plays yet another kind of renegade fleeing glitz and glamour that doesn’t suit him. Redford’s costar and fellow wrangler Wilford Brimley spent his later years living just outside Snow Canyon. (He’d been working as a horseshoer in Salt Lake City when Sydney Pollack called him up and offered him a small part.)
As you make your way through the canyon’s slots, sands and formations, you’ll feel a little more outlaw at every step.
If you have any time left in the day (which is unlikely, given the lures of Snow Canyon), jaunt into St. George, which is now a college town and home to sun-seeking retirees, but was once a pioneer outpost commissioned by the Mormon settlers’ leader, Brigham Young. You can tour his historic winter home for a peek at early pioneer life.
Where to Stay: St. George
How to Spend Bonus Time: The hiking, horse riding, rock climbing and mountain biking in the St. George area are absolutely unparalleled. If you can, do yourself a favor and hire a local guide or outfitter to take you on a grand adventure scaling cliffs, descending steep canyons, or cruising flowy singletrack on a nice dual-suspension bike.
Frontier Towns and Ghost Towns: Life on the Edge of the Known
- Leeds and Virgin film locations of “The Electric Horseman”
- The Grafton ghost town film location of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
As you drive into the little desert towns of Leeds and Virgin, you’ll notice exactly why these places were the perfect setting for extensive horse-riding chase scenes. As Redford’s character covered mile after mile with authorities in hot pursuit in "The Electric Horseman," these sagebrush-studded, sandy expanses provided the landscape.
Of course, you needn’t be on horseback to enjoy the area. The Red Cliffs Recreation Area (part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve) just outside Leeds offers beautiful hiking — check out the Red Cliffs Trail, which follows a refreshing stream that winds through a narrow canyon.
When you’ve had your fill of hiking and sightseeing, drive out to Grafton, a ghost town along the Virgin River, which was abandoned decades ago by early Mormon settlers. This is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up with schoolteacher Etta Place. (Many viewers loved this scene’s sweet bike ride on Etta’s property, set to the song “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.”) The well-preserved ghost town is not only an ideal movie set, but it’s a fascinating look into early settler history. (As Grafton is very close to Zion National Park, it can also be visited on the day you visit Zion — but that day is so likely to be jam-packed with excitement that you may want to space things out.)
Where to Stay: Hurricane, Springdale, or St. George
How to Spend Bonus Time: You’re exactly poised between a mecca of outdoor adventure options — near the entrance of Zion National Park, Kolob Canyons, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and Gooseberry Mesa (a mountain biking nirvana). Stay a little longer and chase down any trails that spark your imagination. If you’re a mountain biking enthusiast, you absolutely need to check out Gooseberry Mesa — rent a bike from a local outfitter or hire a guide as needed. The thrill of rolling over this high mesa’s cliffside trails is much akin (we think) to the thrill of a good old-fashioned outlaw horseback chase.
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