POST SUMMARY: 20 books on the national parks that cover guidebooks, memoirs, historical accounts, and more.
See why America’s national parks have been hailed “America’s best idea” with these 20 national park books that cover everything from photography-rich coffee books to national park guide books to deeply personal memoirs that weave history and personal tales.
As a National Park family that traveled through the parks in our renovated vintage camper, we have a deep love and appreciation for the astounding natural beauty each park brings.
We spent a lot of time reading a variety of national park books to help us get inspired and help plan our family bucket list trip. Here’s our round-up of 20 of the best books on national parks. Some we’ve read ourselves, and some have sat in our Amazon cart waiting for the day we’re ready to make it our own.
Note: It’s a good idea to check the publication date for any book mentioned. Guides that are a few years old will not include the newest additions to the National Park Service, like New River Gorge National Park.
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*This post about the best national park books may contain affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission if you purchase from them. This is at no extra cost to you! We only recommend products and services we truly think are helpful.
20 OF THE BEST BOOKS ABOUT NATIONAL PARKS
THE COMPLETE NATIONAL PARKS BOOK
The Complete National Parks Book from Mel White is a great choice for anyone who wants a general summary of every national park unit. It’s a great coffee table book or a beginning guide for planning a national parks trip. Since it’s National Geographic, you can safely assume the pictures are stunning. To me, this is a great book for a wanderluster who can start to dream up their next trip by browsing through this beautiful book
100 PARKS, 5000 IDEAS
100 Parks, 5000 Ideas from Joe Yogerst is similar to the above national park book in that it offers short summaries with outstanding photos. Where this one varies is that in addition to national parks, it includes state and city parks throughout North America. It’s a great buy for anyone planning a cross-country road trip and who wants general inspiration and guidance. It also makes for an excellent national park coffee table book.
YOUR GUIDE TO THE NATIONAL PARKS
Your Guide to the National Parks from Michael Joseph Oswald is the DEFINITIVE national parks guidebook. It’s largely considered the best national parks guidebook. While the above national park books are great glimpses into the parks, this book is a complete guide and dives deep into each national park, offering itineraries, hiking tables, suggestions for hotels and restaurants, road trip routes, and more. If you are hitting the open road and want one book to be your source of information, this is the book to get.
MOON USA NATIONAL PARKS
Like the above national park book, the Moon USA National Parks guidebook from Becky Lomax offers a more in-depth rundown of 62 National Parks. While the above book is more comprehensive, the Moon Guidebook was published in October 2020, so it has a few more parks, including White Sands NP, Gateway Arch NP, and Indiana Dunes NP. It’s a great general source of information if you’re planning to make a big National Parks trip.
THE 10 BEST OF EVERYTHING NATIONAL PARKS: 800 TOP PICKS FROM PARKS COAST TO COAST
Offering a different spin than the traditional national park guidebooks, The 10 Best Of Everything National Parks from National Geographic is a compilation of an assortment of lists ranking “the 10 Best”. Lists range from the best trails and waterfalls to the best hotels and places to eat. It’s a fun, easy to digest book that will inspire travel and introduce you to new places in the National Park system.
WALKS OF A LIFETIME IN AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS: EXTRAORDINARY HIKES IN EXCEPTIONAL PLACES
Walks of a Lifetime in America’s National Parks explores every national park and the writer’s picks for the best walks in the park. While most suggestions are well known to anyone who has five minutes to do a quick google search, it’s nice to have one book covering every park. There are also a few gems that would be considered lesser-known trails. With beautiful photos and descriptive summaries, it’s a great choice as a gift or coffee table book.
THE NATIONAL PARKS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY
If you are looking for a book that’s mostly photography with a small amount of writing, The National Parks: An Illustrated History from Kim Heacox is a perfect choice. With some insight into the history of the parks and the people who have worked there, fans of the parks are sure to learn something new from this exquisite national park book.
TREASURED LANDS: A PHOTOGRAPHIC ODYSSEY THROUGH AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS
Treasured Lands from QT Luong is the national park book for anyone who wants extravagantly beautiful photos of every park. High-quality paper and soul-stirring imagery come together to bring the ultimate choice in national parks coffee books. Along with the images come descriptions of the places with tips on how to replicate the photos at the right time of day. It’s a great book for national park enthusiasts as well as landscape photographers.
LEAVE ONLY FOOTPRINTS
A memoir is a great alternative if you want to do something different from a national park guide book. Leave Only Footprints is a well-written travel memoir by Connor Knighton. Fresh from a breakup with his fiance, Knighton journeys to every single national park in America. He offers interesting history and trivia to the parks while weaving in his own personal stories. I loved reading this book and would recommend it to any national park fan who is also a book lover.
RANGER CONFIDENTIAL: LIVING, WORKING, AND DYING IN THE NATIONAL PARKS
Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankford is an outstanding national parks book from a former park ranger. In it, she details an extraordinary first-hand account of life as a park ranger with humor and depth. Reading this book gave me such respect for the hard and sometimes dangerous work park rangers do to keep the park safe. I devoured the book in four days while camping in Yellowstone National Park. An engrossing read.
LASSOING THE SUN: A YEAR IN AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS
A powerful book from Mark Woods, Lassoing The Sun, was intended to be about his one-year journey to explore the national parks in its 100th year. But then his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a few months to live. What came of it is a complex travelogue that weaves stories of the sacred nature of the parks, family, and mortality. A beautifully written book that is perfect for the national park lover who recognizes the sacred impact of the parks.
WILD RESCUES: A PARAMEDIC’S EXTREME ADVENTURES IN YOSEMITE, YELLOWSTONE, AND GRAND TETON
If you want a nail-biting dive into the extreme life of a paramedic’s career in the national parks, this is the book to get. Wild Rescues, from Kevin Grange, details the awe-inspiring and harrowing work that paramedics do in the deep wilderness. It’s the kind of book you won’t want to put down.
SECRETS OF THE NATIONAL PARKS
Secrets of the National Parks from National Geographic promises to unearth experiences beyond the well-worn tourist path. Pulling from the earned wisdom of park rangers, travelers, and readers, the book offers insight into how to beat the crowds and delightful sights to explore that few rarely visit. A fantastic national park book choice for anyone about to embark on a national park trip or for a frequent visitor looking to dive deeper into the parks.
THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is a companion piece to a PBS series from famed documentarians Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns. This is the premier national park book for anyone who wants an extensive history lesson on the national parks. The book goes into the creation of the parks, the political warfare, the famous figures of the national park, and more. A great choice for history buffs or families wanting to teach their kids about more than just the geography of the parks.
THE WILDERNESS WARRIOR: THEODORE ROOSEVELT AND THE CRUSADE FOR AMERICA
While this biography isn’t an “on the nose” national parks book, the park’s history and creation is deeply woven into the life of Theodore Roosevelt. Famed for establishing five national parks, 150 national forests, 18 national monuments, 51 federal bird reserves, and four national game preserves, Theodore Roosevelt was a pioneer for conservation. The Wilderness Warrior is a biography piece that focuses on his conservation efforts and what it took to accomplish. A perfect choice for history lovers.
DISPOSSESSING THE WILDERNESS: INDIAN REMOVAL AND THE MAKING OF THE NATIONAL PARKS
Dispossessing The Wilderness explores the uncomfortable truths behind our nation’s beloved national parks and the history of Indian removal from their land. Writer Mark David Spence focuses on Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier to reveal how the parks were formed and their impact on the native tribes. Impeccably researched, the book is a must-read for anyone who wants to broaden their perspective on what we often consider to be “untainted” wilderness.
A THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS
A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks is a compilation of essays exploring the different issues and questions that arise with the national parks. Conservation, climate change, human impact, and more are brought up in these thought-provoking pieces written by historians, naturalists, ecologists, and various specialists. It is perfect for anyone who wants to explore beyond the landscape and deepen their awareness of the National Park System.
SUBPAR PARKS: AMERICA’S MOST EXTRAORDINARY NATIONAL PARKS AND THEIR LEAST IMPRESSED VISITORS
This is the best national park book for anyone with a delightful sense of humor. Subpar Parks from Amber Share started as an Instagram account where she would make beautiful artwork from people’s bad reviews of the parks. While many think of Yellowstone as one of the premier parks of the US, one person wrote, “Save yourself some money, boil some water at home.” The reviews are hilarious and perfectly matched with her artwork. The book also offers her own personal insights into the park and advice and stories from park rangers. This is the national parks book for anyone who loves the park and loves to laugh.
THE ART OF THE NATIONAL PARKS
Of all the books in this list, The Art of the National Parks is the best national parks book for fine art lovers. Richly illustrated and thoughtfully put together, 59 artists created unique contemporary posters of the national parks in the vein of the original W.P.A. posters. In addition to the posters, the book comes with a write-up for the park it illustrates including the park’s flora and fauna, highlights, and tips for visiting. It’s a fantastic gift for a park lover and would make for a beautiful coffee table book. A portion of each sale goes toward the conservation of the National Parks.
CAMPFIRE STORIES: TALES FROM AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS
When looking for the best books about national parks, it’s easy to gravitate toward photography books and guidebooks. If you want something “off the beaten track,” Campfire Stories from Ilyssa Kyu and Dave Kyu is a great alternative. The book weaves a selection of stories, poems, and diary entries to take you into a different experience of the parks. Some of the stories come from famous writers like John Muir and Bill Bryson, while others are tales handed down from indigenous peoples. Its beautiful binding and presentation make it a fantastic gift choice.
That’s our selection of the best books about national parks.
Let us know if you have any other suggestions for must-read national park books. We’re always looking to improve our collection.
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