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100 Must-Read Books About the National Parks

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Ashley Bowen

Staff Writer

Ashley Bowen earned a PhD in American Studies and Public Humanities in December 2016. Her research focuses on the history of health, medicine, and social services in the period from the American Civil War to World War I. When she isn't feeling existential angst about finishing her dissertation, she works as a part-time bookseller and plans adventures as a field agent for Atlas Obscura. A Texas native now living in Washington, DC, she has been known to travel long distances for a proper breakfast taco and Dr. Pepper. Her writing appears on Book Riot, Atlas Obscura, museum blogs, and in various "serious" academic journals. Twitter: @aebowenPhD

National Park Service Ranger And Car early 20th century

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary. This is a little sneaky, since technically the first national park, Yellowstone, dates back to 1872. The Park Service, in contrast, didn’t come around until 1916. No matter the date, I’m all for more celebration of America’s beautiful spaces, historic sites, seashores, and monuments. Ken Burns called the National Parks “America’s best idea” and, honestly, I agree with him.

That said, the National Parks aren’t the most diverse spaces in the nation. The good news is that the NPS knows this is an issue and is actively working on it. They’re creating more historic sites dedicated to LGBTQ history and preserving places associated with the experiences of people of color. They selected Sonia Sanchez, an African American poet, scholar, and activist, as the NPS centennial’s poet laureate. Still, the relative lack of diversity in the parks is reflected in this list. Even some of the books about the NPS’ problematic relationship with Native communities are written by white people.

These limitations aside, America’s national parks inspire awe and more than a little writing. This list includes children’s books, fiction, nonfiction, some poetry, and coloring books! It’s heavy on nonfiction, memoir, and biography but also has books from romance and mystery series. I included only one book per author and did not include any guidebooks, though. There are well over 400 sites in the National Park System (spanning 84 million acres in all 50 states and some territories)! We could easily do a round up of just guidebooks to the National Parks.

  1. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
  2. Yellowstone Has Teeth by Marjane Ambler
  3. Altitude Adjustment: A Quest For Love, Home, And Meaning In The Tetons by Mary Beth Baptiste
  4. Track of the Cat (Anna Pigeon Mysteries) by Nevada Barr
  5. Endangered (A Sam Westin Mystery) by Pamela Beason
  6. Death Canyon (A Jake Trent Novel) by David Riley Bertsch
  7. The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston
  8. Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone by George Black
  9. The Last Season by Eric Blehm
  10. Mapping Yellowstone: A History of the Mapping of Yellowstone National Park by Bruce H. Blevins
  11. Back of Beyond by C. J. Box
  • When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle
  • Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley
  • Mule Train Mail by Craig Brown
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
  • Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor & Misadventure from America’s National Parks by Jim Burnett
  • Our Great Big Backyard by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager
  • So Far from God by Ana Castillo
  • Waltzing In Ragtime by Eileen Charbonneau
  • Redwoods by Jason Chin
  • National Parks Coloring Book illustrated by Peter F. Copeland
  • The Wild Inside: A Novel of Suspense by Christine Carbo
  • America’s National Parks: A Pop-Up Book by Don Compton, illustrated by Dave Ember and Bruce Foster
  • Love is a Monument (A Walk in the Park Book) by Annalisa Daughety
  • Yellowstone Summers: Touring with the Wylie Camping Company in America’s First National Park by Jane Galloway Demaray
  • Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon by Edward Dolnick
  • The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
  • Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples by Mark Dowie
  • Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry edited by Camille T. Dungy
  • The Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places: African Americans Making Nature and the Environment a Part of Their Everyday Lives by Dudley Edmondson
  • Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers
  • In the Summer of 1903: Colonel Charles Young and the Buffalo Soldiers in Sequoia National Park by Ward Eldredge
  • Temple Grove by Scott Elliott
  • The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko
  • The Carry Home by Gary Ferguson
  • Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney
  • Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage by Dianne D. Glave
  • Good Night Yellowstone by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper
  • All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West by David Gessner
  • Canyon Sacrifice (National Park Mystery Series) by Scott Graham
  • Among Wolves: Gordon Haber’s Insights into Alaska’s Most Misunderstood Animal by Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman
  • Denali’s Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America’s Wildest Peak by Andy Hall
  • Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo
  • The Year Yellowstone Burned: A Twenty-Five-Year Perspective by Jeff Henry
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston
  • The Ways of My Grandmothers by Beverly Hungry Wolf
  • Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation by Karl Jacoby
  • Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
  • Bear in the Back Seat: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by Kim DeLozier and Carolyn Jourdan
  • Gloryland by Shelton Johnson
  • Out on a Limb: A Smoky Mountain Mystery by Carolyn Jourdan
  • Old Faithful Murder  (Yellowstone Mystery Series) by Raymond Kieft
  • Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr
  • Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia
  • All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life by Winona LaDuke
  • In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter’s Immersion in Wild Yellowstone by Rick Lamplugh
  • The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham
  • Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankford
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery
  • Talking to the Dead: Religion, Music, and Lived Memory among Gullah/Geechee Women by LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant
  • A Trail Of Love by Bess McBride
  • National Parks: A Kid’s Guide to America’s Parks, Monuments and Landmarks by Erin McHugh
  • The Killing of Wolf Number Ten: The True Story by Thomas McNamee
  • All Aboard! National Parks: A Wildlife Primer by Haily Meyers and Kevin Meyers
  • The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors by James E. Mills
  • In the Bear’s House by N. Scott Momaday
  • The Yosemite by John Muir
  • Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas
  • American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America by Michelle Obama
  • No-No Boy by John Okada
  • Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson
  • from Sand Creek by Simon J. Ortiz
  • A Weird and Wild Beauty: The Story of Yellowstone, the World’s First National Park by Erin Peabody
  • Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care by Audrey Peterman
  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
  • Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr
  • Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail by Suzanne Roberts
  • Who Pooped in the Park? Acadia National Park: Scat and Tracks for Kids by Gary D. Robson
  • The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barb Rosenstock
  • Homegirls and Handgrenades by Sonia Sanchez
  • Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape by Kirk Savage
  • Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy
  • Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature by Jordan Fisher Smith
  • Nature Noir: A Park Ranger’s Patrol in the Sierra by Jordan Fisher Smith
  • Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks by Mark David Spence
  • Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs from America’s Wild Places edited by Andrea G. Stillman
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
  • Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades by Anne McCrary Sullivan
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  • Bachelor Father by Vicki Lewis Thompson
  • The National Parks Coloring Book by Sophie Tivona
  • Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class by Larry Tye
  • Poaching Daisies (Yellowstone Mystery) by Carole Thayne Warburton
  • Women in Wonderland: Lives, Legends, and Legacies of Yellowstone National Park by Elizabeth A Watry
  • In Velvet by Burt Weissbourd
  • Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping by Dan White
  • The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams
  • The Chief Ranger by Rebecca Winters
  • Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks
    by Mark Woods
  • Flames by Ginny L. Yttrup

    If these aren’t enough for your TBR pile, check out our list of 100 must-read books about nature.

    What are your favorite books that celebrate America’s wild spaces? What did you read to prepare for a vacation at an NPS site? Let us know in the comments.