Motivation has long been implicated as an antecedent to place attachment among recreationists. Research has framed this association around expectancy theory, suggesting that the realization of preferred modes of experience leads to a positive evaluation of a setting (i.e., attachment). In this study, we tested an alternative hypothesis rooted in self-determination theory, which purported that place attachment arises from the realization of human needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. We tested this hypothesis using structural equation modeling with data from a study of visitors to wilderness areas in the southeastern United States. Results support the proposition that perceptions of a landscape supporting autonomy, relatedness, and competence are associated with identification, dependence, and emotional connection with that landscape. Reframing the association between motivation and place attachment around psychological needs furthers the generalizability of results and highlights the importance of wilderness as a context for self-determined thought and behavior.