The best books about park rangers – and the wild places they protect

Andrew Vietze Author Of This Wild Land: Two Decades of Adventure as a Park Ranger in the Shadow of Katahdin
By Andrew Vietze

Who am I?

Andrew Vietze was five years old when he told his older sister that one day, he would be a park ranger. Twenty-eight years later, he put on his badge for the first time as a seasonal ranger in one of the premier wilderness areas in the East, Maine’s Baxter State Park. Home of Katahdin and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, “Forever Wild” Baxter has no pavement, no electricity, no stores, no cell service. As a boy, Vietze imagined a life flying around in helicopters, rescuing hikers off mountaintops, fighting forest fires, chasing wilderness despoilers, and plucking people out of raging rivers. And he's spent the past twenty years doing just that.


I wrote...

This Wild Land: Two Decades of Adventure as a Park Ranger in the Shadow of Katahdin

By Andrew Vietze,

Book cover of This Wild Land: Two Decades of Adventure as a Park Ranger in the Shadow of Katahdin

What is my book about?

Two decades ago, writer Andrew Vietze left a cushy job as managing editor of a glossy magazine to begin life as a park ranger in the “Forever Wild” wilderness of Baxter State Park. “I decided I could write about the interesting people of Maine – or I could go and become one,” he said. The bestselling, award-winning author of Becoming Teddy Roosevelt, Boon Island, and White Pine recounts the adventures that followed in his new book, This Wild Land. From daring, all-night rescues in storms atop Katahdin to moonlit raids on illegal camps, from fighting forest fires to staring contests with black bears and moose, Vietze has done it all, and he recounts it in page-turning fashion. 

The books I picked & why

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Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of Desert Solitaire

Why this book?

Edward Abbey was the dean of ranger writing, the ranger’s ranger, a man who inspired countless others to join the ranks of the “pine pigs” and dedicate their lives to protecting what’s left of the nation’s wilderness. Published in 1968, Desert Solitaire chronicles his single season with the National Park Service in Utah’s Arches National Park. Despite his short career, “Cactus Ed” managed to glean profound insight into the workings of the NPS, how Americans used their national parks, and how endangered were the country’s wild places – even a half-century ago. He documented it all in his trademark curmudgeonly fashion, with acerbic wit, humor, and passages that rival the beauty of the natural places they describe. Along with Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, this book showed me, a young punk rocker, that I belonged in the wilderness.

Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Desert Solitaire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'My favourite book about the wilderness' Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

In this shimmering masterpiece of American nature writing, Edward Abbey ventures alone into the canyonlands of Moab, Utah, to work as a seasonal ranger for the United States National Park Service.

Living out of a trailer, Abbey captures in rapt, poetic prose the landscape of the desert; a world of terracotta earth, empty skies, arching rock formations, cliffrose, juniper, pinyon pine and sand sage. His summers become spirit quests, taking him in search of wild horses and Ancient Puebloan petroglyphs, up mountains and across tribal lands, and down the…


Switchbacks: True Stories from the Canadian Rockies

By Sid Marty,

Book cover of Switchbacks: True Stories from the Canadian Rockies

Why this book?

Like Edward Abbey, Sid Marty is from the old guard and it’s one of his greatest strengths – he was one of the last park ranger cowboys, literally spending part of his career working for Parks Canada as a mounted, backcountry patrolman alone deep in the bush. That’s when he wasn’t climbing. Switchbacks is a paean to high places, a love song to the Canadian Rockies. In it, Marty notes that his faithful rucksack has been dragged up cliff faces with climbing rope, fallen down couloirs, banged around in helicopters, and washed down rivers. Just like he has. Just the kind of life I wanted.

Switchbacks: True Stories from the Canadian Rockies

By Sid Marty,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Switchbacks, Sid Marty draws on his own memories and those of friends and former colleagues in relating a series of true mountain tales. Among his subjects are: the old guide who built a staircase up a cliff; the stranded snowshoer who was rescued between rounds of beer in a Banff tavern; the man who catered to hungry grizzlies; an opinionated packrat with a gift for larceny; and a horse named Candy whose heart was as big as a stove.

Along the way, Marty tries to answer the kind of questions that all of us must face some day. Do…


Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

By Philip Connors,

Book cover of Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

Why this book?

Technically not a park ranger (but close enough), Philip Connors works seasonally as a fire lookout in one of the last remaining fire towers in the nation,10,000 feet above sea level in the vast fastness of the Gila National Wilderness of New Mexico. From his 7’ by 7’ tower, he oversees a huge swath of a 2.7 million-acre wilderness that seems to want to burn, seeing more than 30,000 lightning strikes a year. It’s a rugged, remote, lonely landscape – and a singular way of life. Like me, Connors left a job as an editor to take up in the wilderness in 2002, and like me, he returns every season because it’s where he belongs. Fire Season explores the history of the Forest Service, fire management, and wilderness conservation in a can’t-put-it-down fashion.

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

By Philip Connors,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'I've watched deer and elk frolic in the meadow below me, and pine trees explode in a blue ball of smoke. If there's a better job anywhere on the planet, I'd like to know what it is.'

For nearly a decade, Philip Connors has spent half of each year in a small room at the top of a tower, on top of a mountain, alone in millions of acres of remote American wilderness. His job: to look for wildfires.

Capturing the wonder and grandeur of this most unusual job and place, Fire Season evokes both the eerie pleasure of solitude…


The Last Season

By Eric Blehm,

Book cover of The Last Season

Why this book?

The Last Season recounts the disappearance of ranger Randy Morgenstern in California’s High Sierra. A legend in the NPS for his devotion to wild places, Morgenson spent more than 25 seasons as a backcountry ranger in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks before disappearing without a trace in 1996. An introspective sort who knew every corner of the territory he patrolled, Morgenson left behind a tantalizing mystery that writer Eric Blehm turns into a page-turning, psychological thriller. Did he fall off a cliff? Was he murdered? Did he take his own life? As a young ranger, I read this book late into the night under the hissing gas light of my duty station. We’ve had campers vanish in our wilderness—and a ranger die in the line of duty—so every page rang true. 

The Last Season

By Eric Blehm,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Destined to become a classic of adventure literature, The Last Season examines the extraordinary life of legendary backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson and his mysterious disappearance in California's unforgiving Sierra Nevada—mountains as perilous as they are beautiful. Eric Blehm's masterful work is a gripping detective story interwoven with the riveting biography of a complicated, original, and wholly fascinating man.


Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, And Dying In The National Parks

By Andrea Lankford,

Book cover of Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, And Dying In The National Parks

Why this book?

Andy Lankford reveals the kind of secrets the NPS probably doesn’t want you to know in Ranger Confidential. She worked twelve years as a ranger, and she takes readers behind the scenes at Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Denali. Did you know law enforcement park rangers are 12 times more likely to die on the job than an FBI agent? And that they’re assaulted more than any other federal officers? I didn’t either until I read this captivating book. I also learned that NPS rangers do everything we do at Baxter State Park—rescues, forest firefighting, enforcement, loon identification—just on a larger scale. Already a great work, Ranger Confidential will age into a classic, perhaps the be-all, end-all opus of ranger life. 

Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, And Dying In The National Parks

By Andrea Lankford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For twelve years, Andrea Lankford lived in the biggest, most impressive national parks in the world, working a job she loved. She chaperoned baby sea turtles on their journey to sea. She pursued bad guys on her galloping patrol horse. She jumped into rescue helicopters bound for the heart of the Grand Canyon. She won arguments with bears. She slept with a few too many rattlesnakes.

Hell yeah, it was the best job in the world! Fortunately, Andrea survived it.

In this graphic and yet surprisingly funny account of her and others' extraordinary careers, Lankford unveils a world in which…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in park rangers, Edward Abbey, and New Mexico?

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