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30+ Best National Parks Books (Great Gifts for Park Lovers) 2021

In this ultimate National Parks Books List we cover the best national parks guides, travel books, coffee table books, photo books, and more.

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Ultimate National Parks Book List

national parks books
The Best National Parks Books | Complete Guide

In this post we’re covering the 30+ best national parks books. These national parks books cover a variety of categories from national park guides to national park history, photo books, and more.

When you walk into a bookstore or browse online, you want choices. The story of the national parks is about culture, customs, events, history, places, people, traditions and so much more.

You go to the parks to do things and to learn things. Our Ultimate National Parks Book List is going to give you all of that and more.

We begin with our overview of the parks including things to do and places to see. Then we’ll to take a deeper dive with our national parks books list.

a book, bookstore, training-1905891.jpg
When it comes to books, you want choices

RELATED: 70 PERFECT National Park Gifts: The 2021 National Parks Gift Guide

List of Best National Parks Books

Best Overall National Park Book

1. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns & Dayton Duncan

Buy: Amazon

There’s Ken Burns & Dayton Duncan’s The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Based on the PBS series of the same, it’s a wonderful overview of the history of our parks.

You begin to have your memories or the important memories, the major signposts etched into your consciousness by the power of the national parks, and I can’t think of anything else besides tragedy–and this is the opposite of tragedy–that does that so well for us.”

-Ken Burns

This wonderful book begins with the first sighting of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872.

And there’s the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres.

RELATED: 10 (AMAZING) Yosemite National Park Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Best National Park Coffee Table Books

2. National Geographic’s: 100 Parks, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do

Buy: Amazon

Looking for a book to help you or someone else plan their next national park vacation?

National Geographic’s: 100 Parks, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do has everything you’ll need to plan a great trip so this is the perfect book for you.

This book is chock full of helpful travel tips and beautiful National Geographic photography.

It’s an expert guide which showcases the best experiences in the top national, state, and city parks throughout North America.

Best National Park Book for Road Trip Planning

3. Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West: with the Best Scenic Road Trips

Buy: Amazon

Fodor’s: The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West: with the Best Scenic Road Trips is another excellent tool for planning your next trip.

These Are The Books That Will Help You Plan Your Next Road Trip To Your Favorite National Park

Don’t be like the Griswold Family. Plan your next family vacation with a comprehensive guide. Courtesy of ABC News.

It includes maps, carefully curated recommendations, and everything else you need.

It can simplify your trip-planning process and help you to make the most of your time. 

“The parks do not belong to one state or to one section….

The Yosemite, the Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon are national properties in which every citizen has a vested interest; they belong as much to the man of Massachusetts, of Michigan, of Florida, as they do to the people of California, of Wyoming, and of Arizona.”

-Stephen Mather, First Director of the National Park Service

Best National Park Coffee Table Books

4. National Geographic Atlas of the National Parks

atlas of the national parks best national parks books
Atlas of the National Parks | Best National Parks Books

Buy: Amazon

This book holds a special place in our hearts as the photo for the Voyageurs National Park page was shot by us as part of the filming for our Voyageurs film. That aside, it is a wonderful compendium of the national parks full of stunning photos that are sure to inspire future trips.

Best National Parks Photo Books

5. Treasured Lands by QT Luong

treasured lands national park photo books
National Parks Photo Books | Treasured Lands by QT Luong

Buy: Amazon

QT is a national parks photographer living legend and his photo books know no equal in terms of capturing the parks shear beauty. In his book, Treasured Lands, Luong focuses on national parks and the results are spectacular.

From his book description:

“QT Luong has updated and expanded his national parks book by adding 28 more pages, 32 new locations, and revising all the maps.

Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks pays tribute to the millions of acres of protected wilderness and historical heritage in our country’s 62 national parks, including the three designated since the award-winning first edition was published in 2016 and became an instant classic – Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes, White Sands.”

6. Our National Monuments: America’s Hidden Gems

our national monuments national park photo books
National Park Photo Books | Our National Monuments by QT Luong

Buy: Amazon

QTs most recent photo book shines a spotlight on America’s National Monuments like never before. In Our National Monuments, spectacular, never before seen images of these lesser-traveled but equally stunning places are put on full display.

Best National Park Guide Books

7. Moon USA National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 62 Parks

Buy: Amazon

Moon USA National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 62 Parks is a wonderful resource (even though it’s short one park now).

Enough coffee table books and comprehensive guides. There’s much more to share with you!

RELATED: 10 (FASCINATING) Yellowstone National Park Facts You Probably Didn’t Realize

Best National Park Guide Books

8. 63 National Park Adventure Guide: 2021 Edition (Includes New River Gorge!)

Buy: Amazon

Joel & Nathan Anderson have updated their guide titled 63 National Park Adventure Guide: 2021 Edition (Includes New River Gorge!). I want to make sure that you have a guide which includes all of the latest information and this one is definitely it.

Their update guide includes information on recently-added parks, including New River Gorge, White Sands, Indiana Dunes, and Gateway Arch. 

And, if you’re someone who likes to keep score, these two even include stickers for all 63 of the National Parks. You can place a sticker on the park page whenever you visit a new one!

The Best National Parks Book for Kids

9. National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide USA Centennial Edition: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes, and Cool Activities from Coast to Coast

Buy: Amazon

They’re never too young when it comes to getting them excited about a National Park Adventure. Whether it’s Grand Teton National Park (above) or one of the other sixty-two, there are some wonderful children’s books out there.

National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide USA Centennial Edition: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes, and Cool Activities from Coast to Coast is a great book for a child interested in learning about the national parks.

As a parent of three (now fully grown) boys, I can tell you that activity books are a great way to get kids interested in national parks too.

The Best National Parks Books for Kids

10. National Geographic’s Junior Ranger Activity Book: Puzzles, Games, Facts, and Tons More Fun Inspired by the U.S. National Parks

Buy: Amazon

National Geographic’s Junior Ranger Activity Book: Puzzles, Games, Facts, and Tons More Fun Inspired by the U.S. National Parks is a great book.

The book includes games, trivia, jokes, fun facts, and much more.

And while were on the topic of children, I want to mention the Junior Ranger Program. Activity based programs in parks across the country offer young visitors the chance to join the National Park Service “family” as a Junior Ranger.

If you or a friend have a child who might benefit from this wonderful program then you might want to check it out.

Best National Parks Camping Books

11. Camp: Stories and Itineraries for Sleeping Under the Stars

camp book national parks and outdoors
Best National Parks Camping Books | Camp: Stories and Itineraries for Sleeping Under the Stars

Buy: Amazon

Camp is a great gift for folks who love the outdoors – that includes us park lovers too. This is just a fun read with all sorts of interesting anecdotes and stories.

From the description:

“With tales from the trail, arresting images, and helpful instruction, this wild guide reveals what calls people to camp: under all the gear, it’s as much about living off the grid as it is about the thrill of staying alive.

Whether you love car camping with kids, rock climbing with friends, or roughing it solo in a lean-to, you’ll find there’s always somewhere new to explore—even if it’s just in your backyard.”

Best National Parks History Books

12. Teddy Roosevelt in California: The Whistle Stop Tour That Changed America

Buy: Amazon

One of my favorite stories is Chris Epting’s Teddy Roosevelt in California: The Whistle Stop Tour That Changed America.

It’s the story of President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1903 California Whistle Stop Tour.  

He embarked on three days of epic adventures in the wilderness of Yosemite with the famous and influential naturalist John Muir. 

It’s a wonderfully entertaining book and a real page turner too!

13. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

Buy: Amazon

Author and historian Douglas Brinkley which examine the relationship examines the life and achievements of our “naturalist president.”

14. Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America

Buy: Amazon

This examines how Theodore’s fifth cousin, Franklin, continued his crusade to protect America’s public lands.

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

15. Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir

Buy: Amazon

No self-respecting list of national parks books is complete without the story of John Muir–the man who is called the “Father of the National Parks.”

Of course no list would be complete without including the man who was called the “Father of the National Parks.” Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

16. A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

Buy: Amazon

Muir played an instrumental role in building public support for the idea of a system of national parks.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”

― John Muir, Our National Parks

Best National Parks Rescue Books

17. Death, Daring, and Disaster (Revised Edition): Search and Rescue in the National Parks

Buy: Amazon

Imagine a plane landing on the summit of Mount Rainier. Or how about a person being rescued after spending 37 days lost in Yellowstone National Park.

The author recounts more than 400 exciting tales of heroism from the 150,000 search-and-rescue missions carried out by the National Park Service.

RELATED: Ten (AMAZING) Mount Rainier National Park Facts For Your Next Trip

Best National Parks Books for History

18. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Buy: Amazon

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is approximately 4,900 miles long, extending from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the mouth of the Columbia River, near present day Astoria, Oregon. 

To understand the story of the trail it helps to understand the story of the men who explored it.

Lewis & Clark courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s a story of incredible courage and colorful characters who opened up the west told by a master storyteller-Stephen Ambrose.

RELATED: 6 Missouri National Parks Worth A Stop On Your Next Midwest Road Trip

19. West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express

Buy: Amazon

The Pony Express delivered messages, newspapers and mail using relays of horse mounted riders. Only in operation for eighteen months, it reduced the time for messages to travel between the east and west coasts to about ten days.

An exciting tale of daring young men pushing their limits to the extremes across the vast, rugged, and unsettled American West. It’s by best-selling author Jim DeFelice.

The challenges they faced were enormous, yet the Pony Express succeeded, delivering tens of thousands of letters at record speed.

Learn the colorful story behind the Pony Express National Trail | Courtesy of Wikimedia

RELATED: 7 AMAZING Kansas National Parks-Everything You Need To Know

20. Terror on the Santa Fe Trail: Kit Carson and the Jicarilla Apache

Buy: Amazon

Westward Ho! Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was a highway connecting Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Originally pioneered by Missouri trader William Becknell, this trail has some fascinating stories to tell.

In this riveting account, you’ll learn about the worst defeat of the U.S. Army in the West up to that time and what they did to avenge that defeat.

Best National Parks Biographies

21. Benton MacKaye: Conservationist, Planner, and Creator of the Appalachian Trail

Buy: Amazon

One of these colorful characters is Benton MacKaye. He’s the “Father of the Appalachian Trail.”

MacKaye was an American forester, planner and conservationist.

This co-founder of the Wilderness Society has a story to tell and its told in by Larry Anderson.

Benton MacKaye | National Parks Book List
Benton MacKaye was the man responsible for the Appalachian Trail. We’ll tell you where you can learn about him and other colorful characters who are a part of the story of our national parks. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

22. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Buy: Amazon

While we’re on the subject of the Appalachian Trail, I had to include entertaining guide. It’s Bill Bryson’s personal account of his travels on this historic trail.

He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way–and a couple of bears.

23. A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

Buy: Amazon

John Wesley Powell was an American geologist, U.S. Army soldier, explorer of the American West, professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, and director of major scientific and cultural institutions.

He went on to lead a dangerous expedition to explore the Grand Canyon and Colorado River.

John Wesley Powell | National Parks Book List
John Wesley Powell was a 19th century Indiana Jones with an incredible story to tell | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The book is written by Daniel Worster. He tells the story of Powell’s great adventures and describes his historical significance with compelling clarity and skill.

“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore.

What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not.

Ah, well! we may conjecture many things.”

-John Wesley Powell

24. Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island

Carol Ruckdeschel | The Wild Woman of Cumberland Island

Buy: Amazon

Cumberland Island lies off the coast of Georgia. It’s a place where nature and history come together to tell a most unusual story.

One of the most fascinating residents of this island is Carol Ruckdeschel. She’s the road kill eating, bareback riding, wild woman of Cumberland Island.

RELATED: Whose Island Is It Anyway: A History & Guide To Cumberland Island

Best National Parks Civil War Books

25. Shelby Foote: The Civil War

Shelby Foote The Civil War | National Park Books

Buy: Amazon

The big three authors are Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote and James M. McPherson.

My personal favorite is Shelby Foote. I have read his fabulous three volume history of the Civil War–twice!

Shelby Foote giving President Jimmy Carter a tour of Gettysburg | National Parks Book List
When it comes to Civil War historians, you can’t go wrong with Shelby Foote (pictured on the right). Here he’s giving then President Jimmy Carter a tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield. President Carter really knew how to pick his tour guides! (Courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library)

26. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Buy: Amazon

James McPherson’s narrative fully integrates the political, social, and military events that crowded the two decades from the outbreak of one war in Mexico to the ending of another at Appomattox.

The book vividly recounts the momentous episodes that preceded the Civil War–the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.

27. Bruce Catton’s Civil War: Boxed 3 Volume Set

Buy: Amazon

Best National Park Fiction Books

Prefer fiction to fact? There’s wonderful stories set inside of the national parks waiting to be read. I’ll give you three of my favorites.

28. Death Canyon

Buy: Amazon

Death Canyon, by David Riley Bertsch, is the story of a former prosecutor. He left the law for a more tranquil existence as a fishing guide in Jackson. Three seemingly unrelated deaths shatter that tranquility.

29. Boar Island

Buy: Amazon

Next up, there’s Boar Island by Nevada Barr. Anna Pigeon is a National Park Ranger traveling between parks to solve mysteries in the deep wilderness. This book takes place in Acadia National Park.

RELATED: Acadia National Park

30. Down By The River

Buy: Amazon

And there’s a Great Smoky Mountains National Park mystery. Titled Down By The River by Lin Stepp, it’s the story of middle-aged widow Grace Conley who decides that it’s time to start over.

Starting over may not be as easy as Grace thinks.

RELATED: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best National Forests Books

With national parks experiencing record crowds, there’s a less crowded alternative | Courtesy of Bloomberg

What if you love the great outdoors, but don’t want to join the hordes of people descending on some of our nation’s parks?

As Bloomberg reports, “A post-pandemic boom in national park tourism has left lawmakers wondering how to preserve nature and the visitor experience amid increased traffic, crowds, and waiting times.”

dixie national forest, utah national parks road trip
National Forests, like Dixie National Forest in Utah, are magnificent and far less crowded than our nation’s parks

Well, we’ve got some good news for you. There’s a less crowded alternative. It’s called our national forests.

While our national forests may not offer as many amenities, they do offer the same magnificent scenery, wildlife, activities, and everything else that you love about that great outdoor experience.

31. This Land: A Guide To The Western National Forests

Buy: Amazon

If you’re interested in planning a trip to a national forest than one excellent resource to help you plan that trip is This Land: A Guide to Western National Forests by Robert H. Mohlenbrock.

It’s part of a three-volume series which introduces people to all of our nation’s forests. The book is a comprehensive field guide that describes the natural features, wildernesses, scenic drives, campgrounds, and hiking trails of our national forests.

What you’ll learn is that many of these places―while little known and sparsely visited―boast features as spectacular as those found in our national parks and monuments.

32. This Land: A Guide to Central National Forests

Buy: Amazon

33. This Land: A Guide to Eastern National Forests

Buy: Amazon

Best National Forest History Books

34. Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism

Buy: Amazon

If you’re interested in traveling to our nation’s forest then why not learn about the man who helped to make them possible.

Gifford Pinchot was the first director of the U.S. Forest Service appointed in 1905. He is considered the “Father of America’s National Forests.”

Author and Conservation Historian Char Miller has written an excellent book about this “conservation pioneer.”

RELATED: Gifford Pinchot: A 2021 Lesson From America’s First Forest

Why Stop With National Parks?

35. National Geographic Guide to State Parks of the United States, 5th Edition

Buy: Amazon

Why stop with national parks when you can keep going? This book provides the very best in state parks which have been selected by park directors and National Geographic editors.

You may not have heard of Red Rock Canyon State Park in California, but did you know that it was the site where episodes of CSI, Lost In Space, and Star Trek were filmed?

Want to learn more?

RELATED: Look Familiar? Ten CLASSIC Television Shows Filmed In The National Parks

What About National Parks In The Movies?

Did you know that Monty Python And The Holy Grail was filmed in one of America’s favorite national parks? We can tell you which scene and which park. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The holidays are a great time to get everyone together. If you love the national parks why not get together and watch a film in which one of your favorite parks makes a cameo appearance.

We’ve put together a list of 25+ national parks which have made cameo appearances in some of our favorite films. Check out the article below.

RELATED: Look Familiar? 25+ CLASSIC Movies Filmed In The National Parks

Summary | Leave Us a Comment

pattiz brothers at badlands
At More Than Just Parks, Jim & Will Pattiz are looking to be your one-stop shop when it comes to learning about and experiencing what author Wallace Stegner called the best idea we ever had.

I hope you’ve found the More Than Just Parks National Parks Books List helpful as a result of this article which is to provide you with more books covering more topics than you might find elsewhere.

If you would like to share any of your own book recommendation with us then we invite you to do so. We’re always looking to learn more about America’s National Parks.

Check out some of our national park films

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

-Wallace Stegner, 1983
Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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