The best books about U.S. national parks from science to thrillers

Who am I?

I grew up hiking and camping with my family in the national parks of Washington. Isn’t that what everyone did in summer? Later, I learned how wrong I was. That most people had never seen a glacier, stood on a mountaintop, walked through a rainforest, gazed at the size of a grizzly, skied past erupting geysers, or rafted a rushing river. These experiences have shaped who I am. I return to the haunts of national parks, from deserts to mountains and remote islands, because they wow me and feed my soul. 


I wrote...

Moon USA National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 63 Parks

By Becky Lomax,

Book cover of Moon USA National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 63 Parks

What is my book about?

Get inspired, get outdoors, and discover the wild beauty of the United States with Moon USA National Parks. Inside you'll find coverage of all 63 national parks, from the misty mountains of the east and the redwoods of the west to the glaciers of Alaska and volcanoes of Hawaii. Written by a former national park guide who knows how to travel the parks, the book includes strategic lists and itineraries for planning. The best outdoor adventures target wildlife-watching, hiking, backpacking, biking, climbing, kayaking, and rafting. Road trips show how to link multiple regional parks, and in-park scenic drives highlight the best sightseeing. Full-color photos and a detachable fold-out poster map will inspire wanderlust for visiting the U.S. national parks.

The books I picked & why

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The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

By Kevin Fedarko,

Book cover of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

Why this book?

After I backpacked the Inner Canyon and Tonto Trail for 10 days in Grand Canyon, I longed for a book like this: one that would wrap the massive creation of the Grand Canyon into a compelling story and explore the depth of human connection. Fedarko adeptly weaves in history, geology, environmental concerns, wildlife, flora, Indigenous culture, and climate around a thrilling dory adventure on the Colorado River—so much so that you feel you really know the park. To pair reading it with hiking or boating into the inner canyon yields an immersive experience where you can see, touch, and breathe much of what he describes. This book is always my first recommendation for anyone headed to Grand Canyon, and I’ll re-read it again during my next Grand Canyon visit.

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

By Kevin Fedarko,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Emerald Mile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983.

In the spring of 1983, massive flooding along the length of the Colorado River confronted a team of engineers at the Glen Canyon Dam with an unprecedented emergency that may have resulted in the most catastrophic dam failure in history. In the midst of this crisis, the decision to launch a small wooden dory named “The Emerald Mile” at the head of the…


Yellowstone: A Journey Through America's Wild Heart

By David Quammen,

Book cover of Yellowstone: A Journey Through America's Wild Heart

Why this book?

Since Yellowstone is within a day’s drive, I’ve visited it many times in all seasons. While it’s a fave for volcanic activity and abundant wildlife, its unnaturally straight boundaries are at odds with topography and animal needs. With stunning photography, David Quammen dives into the complexities of how everything in the national park expands into a greater interconnected ecosystem. Nothing shows it better for Yellowstone than his stories of the annual elk migrations, the return of wolves, and the intricacies of food webs. In short, no parks, including Yellowstone, are islands unto themselves, and their preservation means looking at the bigger picture. Quammen addresses the issues with skill from his decades as a science writer for National Geographic and his personal witness of living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Yellowstone: A Journey Through America's Wild Heart

By David Quammen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Best-selling author David Quammen takes readers on a breathtaking journey through America's most inspiring and imperilled ecosystem - Yellowstone National Park. Filled with amazing images captured by eight National Geographic photographers over an extensive two year deployment in the park, it is unlike any Yellowstone book before it. Yellowstone's storied past, rich ecosystem and dynamic landscape are brilliantly portrayed in a captivating mosaic of photographs and eloquently written text that blend history, science and research from the field.


Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt's American Wilderness

By David Gessner,

Book cover of Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt's American Wilderness

Why this book?

When I visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I only gleaned a few tidbits about Teddy Roosevelt’s presence there and, of course, poked my head into his log cabin. Gessner’s book filled in the gaps for me. He uses a road trip through several national parks that Roosevelt visited, including Badlands and Yosemite, to paint a picture of the president who established 228 public lands, including five national parks. But Gessner also balances praise with some of Roosevelt’s flaws, including viewing the land as unpeopled when Indigenous people lived, hunted, and thrived there long before parkhood. Gessner is savvy in his storytelling as he seamlessly leads readers through gorgeous parks, meetings with tribes striving to retain preservation, loads of Roosevelt research, and a personal road trip adventure.

Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt's American Wilderness

By David Gessner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leave It As It Is as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bestselling author David Gessner’s wilderness road trip inspired by America’s greatest conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt, is “a rallying cry in the age of climate change” (Robert Redford).

“Leave it as it is,” Theodore Roosevelt announced while viewing the Grand Canyon for the first time. “The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.” Roosevelt’s pronouncement signaled the beginning of an environmental fight that still wages today. To reconnect with the American wilderness and with the president who courageously protected it, acclaimed nature writer and New York Times bestselling author David Gessner embarks on a great American…


America's National Parks: A Pop-Up Book

By Don Compton, Dave Ember (illustrator), Bruce Foster (illustrator)

Book cover of America's National Parks: A Pop-Up Book

Why this book?

Every national park bookstore has coffee table books full of stunning photos, and I certainly own my share of them—mostly gathering dust. But this book, a gift from my mom, is one of the most perused and interactive books in my collection. The pop-up art captivates all ages with attention to small details of each national park. The accompanying text seeks to educate while being inventive in its delivery. While the book doesn’t cover every national park, the biggies appear in two-page pop-up glory, including Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, and Glacier, to name a few. Everyone who visits our house ends up perusing this book. It’s just downright fun.

America's National Parks: A Pop-Up Book

By Don Compton, Dave Ember (illustrator), Bruce Foster (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked America's National Parks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

America's National Parks: A Pop-Up Book is a coast to coast journey featuring 18 of our most visited national parks, with six as stunning, double-page pop-ups: Everglades, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite national parks. See two bear cubs scrambling up a tree to safety, an alligator charging its prey, a dory boat crashing through the rapids of the Colorado River, a Red Jammer tour bus coming out of a mountain tunnel, Old Faithful Geyser erupting 13 inches above the page, and a mother Grizzly rising up to defend her cubs. Fascinating park action springs to life…


Blind Descent

By Nevada Barr,

Book cover of Blind Descent

Why this book?

Last month, descending on the tour again of Lehman Caves at Great Basin National Park, I immediately felt the terror in Blind Descent creep into my head. Then, the park naturalist turned off the lights so we could experience utter black darkness—and my own dread grew larger. Barr’s mystery-thriller digs into the real fear in the cave depths, not like controlled spookiness on a tour. A fun read, Barr’s book captures what caving is all about…and the hidden dangers. If you plan on visiting Carlsbad Caverns, where this story is set, it’s a must-read. But it’s also equally good if you plan on touring caves at Mammoth, Great Basin, Sequoia, or Wind Cave National Parks. Once you’ve read it, the story will haunt you on every underground exploration.

Blind Descent

By Nevada Barr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Park ranger Anna Pigeon is enjoying the open spaces of Colorado when she receives an urgent call. A young woman has been injured while exploring a cave in New Mexico's Carlsbad Cavern Park. Before she can be pulled to safety, she sends for her friend Anna. Only one problem: a crushing fear of confined spaces has kept Anna out in the open her whole life.



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