The National Parks: America's Best Idea TV Poster Image

The National Parks: America's Best Idea



Breathtaking historical look at nation's favorite places.

What parents need to know

Educational value

This unique view of America's past includes content of historical, geological, and sociological value and gives little-known figures in our country’s past their due for helping create this national treasure.

Positive messages

The series celebrates the American spirit and the equalizing effect of democracy -- as reflected in the concept that the country’s most spectacular treasures should belong to all citizens equally. The subject matter raises awareness of issues like deforestation and conservation. Though some content mentions the existence of indigenous people on the lands acquired by the government, not much time is devoted to describing how the change affected them.

Positive role models

The series makes heroes of average people-turned-visionaries who enabled the preservation of land for future generations.

Violence & scariness

Men and women are shown with guns in historical photos, and the narrative sometimes includes details of the physical hardships pioneers endured while navigating the wilds of future national parks.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable

Very rare use of "hell."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this stunning historical look at America’s national parks from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns is an excellent pick for families. More than just a collection of awe-inspiring sights, the series is also a gripping history lesson that touches on the economic, political, sociological, and geological forces at play during the formative years of America’s past. While its content is mostly appropriate for any age, it will be best appreciated by tweens and teens who already have some knowledge of American history.

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades. The names evoke visions of awesome natural splendor, but for all their fame, the tales of how they achieved their landmark standing are rarely told. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA -- a beautiful documentary series from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns and writer Dayton Duncan -- explores the history of America’s national parks, from the controversial infancy of the unique concept in the mid-1800s to the vast modern treasure that now belongs to everyone in the United States. The stories of the land are interwoven with tales of visionaries from all walks of life who helped preserve the sites that shape our modern parks system.

Is it any good?


Once in a while a series comes along that reminds us of all the positive qualities of the media -- The National Parks is exactly that. It simultaneously entertains, teaches, and inspires, offering a whole new perspective on an American institution that most of us likely take for granted. If you’ve never visited one of these historic sites and felt a surge of pride, you will after you see them through the eyes of the people who fought for the parks’ existence and consqeuently added an important new chapter to U.S. history.

Apart from rare instances of salty language ("hell," mostly in historic accounts), this documentary series is well suited for family viewing. Kids probably won’t absorb too much besides the breathtaking scenery from, but parents, tweens, and teens may be inspired to discuss everything from politics to conservation.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how the media can be used as a teaching tool. Kids: What did you learn from this series? How has the media changed how we learn? In what ways does your school incorporate it in education?

  • Does this series change your view of conservation? If so, how? What responsibility do we have toward future generations when it comes to land use?

  • What aspects of our nation -- past and present -- reflect the philosophy that "all men are created equal"? How does this series illustrate the idea of democracy?

TV details

Premiere date:September 27, 2009
Topics:Science and nature, Wild animals
Character strengths:Curiosity
TV rating:TV-G
Available on:DVD, Streaming

This review of The National Parks: America's Best Idea was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 16 year old Written bykalicwe January 22, 2011

Perfect for children of school age.

Wow! My 16 year old daughter was inspired to camp, become an active conservationist, and talked us into visiting Glacier National Park before the Glaciers melted! [Which we did in August 2010.] She developed an interest in some of the music used in the series, and learned to play it on her violin.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?