The best Alaska adventure books that are not Into the Wild

Who am I?

I followed the call of the North from Germany to Alaska in 1989—too much Jack London in my formative years, you might say. After living in a cabin without running water and getting a degree in anthropology in Fairbanks, I drifted into the world of wilderness guiding and outdoors instructing, which for the next twenty-five years determined the course of my life. Human-powered travel, on foot or skis, by raft, canoe, or kayak, has fascinated me ever since. At the same time I became immersed in wildlife and natural history, which, despite threats to the Arctic, still largely play out as they did thousands of years ago.

I wrote...

Arctic Traverse: A Thousand-Mile Summer of Trekking the Brooks Range

By Michael Engelhard,

Book cover of Arctic Traverse: A Thousand-Mile Summer of Trekking the Brooks Range

What is my book about?

A lyrical memoir of wilderness, cultural connections, and gritty adventure across northern Alaska. With his enthralling story of bear encounters, white-knuckled river moments, and lyrical observations of a vast, wild landscape, it evokes classic writers like Margaret Murie, Farley Mowat, Barry Lopez, and Edward Abbey. Much more than a harrowing account of a human-powered solo journey from Canada’s Yukon border to the Bering Strait, Arctic Traverse unspools anecdotes from encounters with Indigenous elders, clients, homesteaders, and others, as well as from the author’s intimate experiences of the land itself.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd

Michael Engelhard Why did I love this book?

For five months, the wildlife biologist and his filmmaker wife, on skis and on foot, shadowed the Porcupine caribou herd’s spring migration from boreal forest wintering grounds to their nursery on Alaska’s tussock-studded tundra—“North America’s Serengeti,” or, to the Gwich’in Indians, who depend on the animals for subsistence and spiritual nourishment, “The Place Where Life Begins.”

The couple’s journey impresses me as a long-distance feat, and with its poetic rendering, but foremost with its conservation angle. They raised awareness of fossil fuel extraction that threatens lifeways, both the Gwich’in’s and the caribou’s; after their trip, they ventured to Washington D.C. to lobby for the wildlife refuge’s protection.

The book’s highlight for me is the couple tentbound, whispering—out of consideration—amidst thousands of birthing caribou cows.

By Karsten Heuer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Being Caribou as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

For eons, female members of the Porcupine caribou herd have made the journey from their winter feeding grounds to their summer calving grounds-which happen to lie on vast reserves of oil. They once roamed borderless wilderness; now they trek from Canada, where they're protected, to the United States, where they are not.

In April 2003, wildlife biologist Karsten Heuer and filmmaker Leanne Allison set out with the Porcupine caribou herd. Walking along with the animals over four mountain ranges, through hundreds of passes, and across dozens of rivers-a thousand-mile journey altogether, from the Yukon Territory to the Arctic National Wildlife…

Book cover of Walking Home: A Journey in the Alaskan Wilderness

Michael Engelhard Why did I love this book?

Hoping to gain perspective on his troubled marriage, the deaths of friends, and the vagaries of middle age, charter-boat captain Lynn Schooler commits to a walkabout along the “Lost Coast,” one of Southeast Alaska’s wildest stretches.

What begins as a voyage of introspection soon becomes a grueling march—through pelting rain, jungle-like brush, and ankle-busting boulder fields—that climaxes in a long face-off with a rogue bear and the terrifying crossing of a meltwater torrent.

Just getting to this trail-less wilderness in Glacier Bay National Park tests Schooler's mettle; waves pound his small vessel, and boat-swallowing currents threaten his entry into Lituya Bay. On my Brooks Range traverse, I too was moving steadily toward home (in my case, Nome) a knowledge that powered each step and oar stroke.

By Lynn Schooler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walking Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the spring of 2007, hard on the heels of the worst winter in the history of Juneau, Alaska, Lynn Schooler finds himself facing the far side of middle age and exhausted by labouring to handcraft a home as his marriage slips away. Seeking solace and escape in nature, he sets out on a solo journey into the Alaskan wilderness, travelling first by small boat across the formidable Gulf of Alaska, then on foot along one of the wildest coastlines in North America. Walking Home is filled with stunning observations of the natural world, and rife with nail-biting adventure as…

Book cover of Beyond the Bear: How I Learned to Live and Love Again after Being Blinded by a Bear

Michael Engelhard Why did I love this book?

I know this book’s journalist co-author, so I may be a bit biased. But I’ve also had scary grizzly encounters—many during my arctic traverse—and few books capture the terror as does this account of a twenty-five-year-old blinded permanently in a bear attack.

Dan Bigley had not embarked on a grand adventure; he was on a trail through the woods, returning from a day of salmon fishing. Like me, Dan used to take troubled kids into the outdoors, so I easily identify with him. His true adventure, and true courage, shows in how he mended his life and even gave it new meaning.

After five reconstructive surgeries, he reconnected with a woman he’d fallen for just before the trauma and resumed his role as a caring member of his community.  

By Dan Bigley, Debra McKinney,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Beyond the Bear as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 25-year-old backcountry wanderer, a man happiest exploring wild places with his dog, Dan Bigley woke up one midsummer morning to a day full of promise. Before it was over, after a stellar day of salmon fishing along Alaska's Kenai and Russian rivers, a grizzly came tearing around a corner in the trail. Dan barely had time for "bear charging" to register before it had him on the ground, altering his life forever. "Upper nose, eyes, forehead anatomy unrecognizable," as the medevac report put it. Until then, one thing after another had fallen into place in Dan's life. He had…

Book cover of Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival

Michael Engelhard Why did I love this book?

Officially billed as a “novel,” this sleeper hit by a Native Athabaskan author is based on a traditional legend told in the Upper Yukon Valley for generations.

The two Gwich’in women, left behind by the tribe during a winter famine in the brutal struggle for survival, are thrown back on their knowledge of the boreal forest and ancient woodcraft skills—trapping, building shelter, wayfinding, and fashioning clothes.

A strange beauty and serenity infuses this book and its heroines, and the tale brings back memories of my interviewing Alaska Native elders in northern communities as part of my anthropological fieldwork. Great to see women, and the elderly (now that I’m past sixty myself), as the protagonists of a story of derring-do! 

By Velma Wallis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Two Old Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"No one should miss this beautiful legend." —Tony Hillerman

Velma Wallis’s award-winning, bestselling novel about two elderly Native American women who must fend for themselves during a harsh Alaskan winter

Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine.

Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid…

Book cover of Denali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak

Michael Engelhard Why did I love this book?

No list like this would be complete without a great mountaineering book.

The story of North America’s deadliest climbing disaster, in 1967, serves as a reminder how quickly even well-planned adventure can turn into tragedy. Hall, the five-year-old son of the park's superintendent at the time of the events he describes, puts you squarely into the boots and onto the crampons of these mountaineers.

Having climbed Denali myself once, with a buddy, under atrocious conditions, this book again brought home the fact that small decisions can have unforseen, lethal consequences, especially on a mountain that brews its own weather. I have seen snow and clouds roll in and blanket the view within thirty minutes, up there in the “death zone.”   

By Andy Hall,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Denali's Howl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1967, twelve young men ascended Alaska's Mount McKinley-known to the locals as Denali. Engulfed by a once-in-alifetime blizzard, only five made it back down.

Andy Hall, a journalist and son of the park superintendent at the time, was living in the park when the tragedy occurred and spent years tracking down rescuers, survivors, lost documents, and recordings of radio communications. In Denali's Howl, Hall reveals the full story of the expedition in a powerful retelling that will mesmerize the climbing community as well as anyone interested in mega-storms and man's sometimes deadly drive to challenge the…

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Fourth and Long

By Britt Belle,

Book cover of Fourth and Long

Britt Belle Author Of The Earl Was Wrong

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Romance reader Romance writer Sports lover

Britt's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Plus, Britt's 6-year-old's favorite books.

What is my book about?

Fourth and Long is a novel written in the first person with dual POVs.

Ellie: When I meet Slater, an infamous quarterback trying to salvage his career, I know better than to form expectations. Our relationship starts out casual, but I can’t help falling for him. The problem is, that he’s leaving as soon as he signs with a new team, and I have no choice but to let him go.

Slater: I can’t risk distractions, so when I hook up with Ellie, I tell myself she’s nothing but a pretty girl. We keep it casual because as soon as the ink is dry on my new contract, I’ll be hundreds of miles away. She follows my rules and lets me go without a fight, but even though football consumes me, I can’t forget her.

Fourth and Long

By Britt Belle,

What is this book about?

My professional life is a failure—I’ve convinced more couples to divorce than to work on their marriages. My personal life is a mess—my mother wants my attention, but not my advice, my father is pushing me to bond with his second family, and my sister, who likes to meddle in my love life, thinks I need to get laid.

When I meet Slater, an infamous quarterback trying to salvage his career, I know better than to form expectations. Our relationship starts out casual, but as our lives become more intertwined, I can’t help falling for him. Problem is, he’s…

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