A hybrid materials system to modulate lower critical solution temperature (LCST) and moisture content for thermo-responsivity and optical tunability was strategically developed by incorporating cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) into a poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAm) hydrogel matrix. The PNIPAm/CNC hydrogel films exhibit tunable optical properties and wavelength bandpass selectivity as characterized by PROBE Spectroscopy and Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS). Importantly, the micro/nano structures of the PNIPAm/CNC hydrogel films were completely different when dried below and above the LCST. Below the LCST, PNIPAm/CNC hydrogel films exhibit transparency or semi-transparency due to the uniform bonding of hydrophilic PNIPAm and CNC through hydrogen bonds. Above the LCST, the hydrogel films engage in both hydrophobic PNIPAm and hydrophilic CNC interactions due to changes in PNIPAm conformation which lead to light scattering effects and hence opacity. Furthermore, the incorporation of CNC induces a ∼ 15 °C reduction of the LCST relative to pure PNIPAm hydrogel films.