Short on time? Our pick for the best national park book is the Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks.
Thirty-one of the best national park books, including some you didn’t know you needed!
“He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.”
Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, said these words, and I couldn’t agree more.
I have been a national park fan for a long time. One of my favorite things to do in my non-travel time is to peruse national park books for inspiration.
Thankfully, there are tons of excellent books out there. From photo guides and coffee table books to fiction books about national parks and books about national park history, there’s something for all national park lovers to dive into.
Below I’ve compiled the best national parks books, including some of my personal favorite choices and some items on my wish list.
Whether planning a national park trip, occupying kids on a car trip, or shopping for gifts for national park lovers, you’re sure to find something that fits the bill here.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
#1 Lonely Planet USA’s National Parks
Hands down, one of the best national parks books is Lonely Planet USA’s National Parks guide. This book has everything national parks-related and is a perfect resource for planning a national park vacation.
Lonely Planet’s USA’s National Parks travel guide includes post-Covid up-to-date information (mainly regarding which businesses are still open).
This book contains detailed road trip itineraries, phone numbers, hours of operation, prices, full-color park maps, and honest reviews of the best places to eat, sleep, shop, and sightsee.
#2 National Geographic Guide to the US National Parks
The 9th edition of the National Geographic Guide to the US National Parks is another must-have guide to the national parks.
This National Geographic atlas of the national parks contains detailed maps and tips for hiking. Learn the National Geographic secrets from park rangers and expert travel writers.
Note that most national parks guide-books can’t keep perfect pace with the addition of new national parks.
While the 9th addition includes recently added national parks like Indiana Dunes and White Sands, it doesn’t include the 63rd national park, New River Gorge.
#3 Moon USA National Parks
Moon is another highly trusted brand that puts out national park guide-books.
The newest edition of the Moon USA National Parks is undoubtedly one of the best national parks books. It’s sure to delight any national parks lover because it’s a complete guide that includes all the national parks, including New River Gorge.
Publishers updated the latest Moon USA National Parks book in October 2022, so it’s hot off the press. The guide includes maps, the best outdoor activities in every park, and scenic drives, including drive times between national parks.
#4 National Geographic Complete National Parks of the United States
If you’re looking for a definitive book on national parks, the complete guide from National Geographic is the way to go.
I love the 3rd Edition of the National Geographic Complete National Parks of the United States because it includes all the national park units–national monuments, national battlefields, national historic sites, seashores, and recreation areas.
Sometimes people get hung up on the “national park” designation.
These folks may think national monuments are just subpar parks when in reality, some of the best scenic road trips I’ve ever taken included national monuments and national recreation areas.
The national park system includes many natural and historical sites, so catch them all (as they say in Pokemon) with this National Geographic classic.
#5 Your Guide to the National Parks
Your Guide to the National Parks is a winner of the National Outdoor Book Award and includes all 63 national parks, including New River Gorge.
Dive into America’s national parks with 150 maps and 550 photos. Your Guide to the National Parks helps you plan your national park adventure with advice on avoiding crowds.
#6 National Geographic 100 Parks, 5000 Ideas
National Geographic’s 100 Parks, 5000 Ideas is for national park fans in America and Canada. It’s one of the few national park guide-books that include state parks, city parks, and Canadian parks.
Consider this National Geographic book on national parks the complete guide to a national parks trip of a lifetime.
And since it includes both state and city parks, it is one of the best national parks books for those on a budget.
#7 Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges
The best national park guide to the park lodges is the Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges. The National Park Service has a park lodge in many of the bigger national parks and national monuments.
The authors of this guidebook use their personal stories to help you plan a smooth and enjoyable stay at one of the iconic park lodges in the US.
#8 Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West
If Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon are on your bucket list, you’ll want to check out Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West.
It’s the best national park guidebook for the western national parks.
This book is one of the few national park guides that focus on our treasured lands in the west, which, let’s be honest, *most* of the iconic parks are in the west.
#9 Rand McNally’s Road Atlas and National Park Guide
Rand McNally’s Road Atlas and National Park Guide is one of the best national park books for older folks who don’t like using their phones to navigate.
Plus, many national parks lack cell reception and wifi, so having an atlas of the national parks for your national park trip can be handy regardless of your comfort level with technology.
Unlike most national park guides, this atlas also contains maps of 350 cities, the Canadian provinces, and an overview map of Mexico.
#10 Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks
Of course, many excellent books about national parks aren’t strictly guides.
Mark Woods grew up as a national park lover with his family.
When he turned 50, he took his mother on a road trip to re-create some of his favorite childhood memories. Their plans change when she is diagnosed with cancer.
Wood’s book, Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks, explores legacy, family, and the parks in a tear-jerking true life story.
#11 Ranger Confidential
Andrea Lankford, a retired park ranger, writes Ranger Confidential. Lankford worked in some of our most extraordinary national parks, and she details her harrowing adventures during her 12-year stint as a park ranger.
It’s fascinating to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of the park rangers, plus some stories are unbelievably cool.
#12 The Last Season
The story follows the life of Randy Morgenson, a legendary ranger for the National Park Service, who mysteriously disappeared one summer from his backcountry patrol cabin in the Sierra Nevada.
The exceptional writing in this detailed account of the disappearance makes it one of the must-read national park books.
#13 The Hour of Land
The Hour of Land is another personal favorite of mine, and it’s a perfect national park coffee table book. The Hour of Land was written by poet Terry Tempest Williams to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service.
Williams uses 12 national parks to create a “manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.” It’s a beautiful work.
Side note: I met Terry Tempest Williams once, fangirled way too hard, and…cried? I did not expect to cry, but I did. Buy her book.
#14 Before Yellowstone: Native American Archeology in the National Park
One of the best national park books to connect with the Native history of the national parks is Before Yellowstone: Native American Archeology in the National Park.
Way before John Muir explored Yosemite, Native people lived in, used, and revered every one of today’s great national parks. It’s vital to keep that in our minds as we visit.
Before Yellowstone recounts national park history before Yellowstone was Yellowstone.
#15 Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon
Got a road trip to the Grand Canyon in the future? You might like Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon if you’re not squeamish. I see these national park books at most big park visitor centers.
I’ve never purchased one, but I’ve thumbed through them. Most big USA national parks have some version of “Over the Edge.”
Some of the deaths are mysterious, some are plain dumb, and some are tragic.
#16 The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite president because he’s known as the “naturalist president.”
He wasn’t perfect, but he set aside 230 million acres of land as national parks and monuments; we should be grateful for that.
The Wilderness Warrior is one of the best national parks books for history buffs. It details Roosevelt’s incredible conservation accomplishments and interesting anecdotes from his life outdoors.
#17 Our National Parks
Our National Parks is the best national parks book for Muir nerds.
There are many national parks books about John Muir, but our National Parks reprints his inspired writings about the national parks as they originally appeared in The Atlantic Monthly.
If you’re unfamiliar, John Muir is considered the father of national parks. His writings and influence on Teddy Roosevelt led to the preservation of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
#18 Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia to Zion Journey Through Every National Park
Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia to Zion Journey Through Every National Park is the best national park book for someone who loved Eat, Pray, Love.
The author sets out on a year-long road trip after a broken engagement leaves him heartbroken.
His accounts are captivating and hilarious. In fact, Leave Only Footprints was a New York Times bestseller and named one of the best books of the year by Outside Magazine.
#19 Discovery of the Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851
Discovery of the Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851 is a book I’m dying to read (HINT to my boyfriend reading this).
The ugly truth about America’s national parks is that they were all wrongfully taken from native people.
Discovery of the Yosemite is the best national park book on the early Euro-American history of Yosemite National Park.
The medical officer of the Mariposa Battalion wrote the account of some of the first white people to enter Yosemite Valley.
Not many books about national parks are written as firsthand exploration accounts, which is what makes this book so enjoyable.
#20 Track of the Cat
Some of the best national parks books for fiction lovers are the Nevada Barr series. Nevada Barr is a pen name for a former park ranger who now writes fictional murder mysteries in the parks she once worked in.
Track of the Cat takes place in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, but Barr’s books take place all over, from Rocky Mountain National Park to Isle Royale National Park.
I personally find her murder mysteries to be a little dark, but, then again, I’m particularly sensitive to graphic violence.
#21 The National Parks: An American Legacy
One of the best national park coffee table books is The National Parks: An American Legacy.
The National Parks: An American Legacy recounts the splendor of the national parks through photography and short essays by scientists and naturalists.
This national park coffee table book includes fifty-nine parks because it came out in 2015, so it’s missing the latest additions to the national parks (i.e., Indiana Dunes, White Sands, and New River Gorge). Still, it includes almost all the other 400 national monuments, historical sites, etc.
#22 Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks
Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks is one of the most updated coffee table books on America’s national parks.
The gorgeous images of all 63 national parks are the work of Q.T. Luong, a celebrated and prolific national parks photographer.
Luong won twelve national and international awards for this work and is honored with the distinction of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Robin W. Winks Award for Enhancing Public Understanding of National Parks (wow, say that three times fast).
#23 USA National Parks: Lands of Wonder
USA National Parks: Lands of Wonder is a national park book that’s a cross between a coffee table book and a guidebook. And, as a DK Eyewitness book, it’s an excellent option for kids.
The book includes 62 national parks (missing New River Gorge), beautiful photography, and practical tips on when and how to enjoy the parks best.
Lands of Wonder also includes a little quiz section that tests you on your national park trivia.
#24 The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is the companion book to the Ken Burns’ series of the same name. If you haven’t seen the documentary, I *highly* recommend it.
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea details the creation of America’s National Parks; the complete story includes the behind-the-scenes political skirmish that preceded the creation of the National Park Service.
The photos are beautiful, and the story is so well-told it will make you want to be a ranger.
It’s one of the best national park books for those who already love the Ken Burns documentary or simply need a stunning coffee table book.
#25 Atlas of the National Parks
Atlas of the National Parks is another national parks book. It’s unique in that it’s part coffee table book and part guide book.
Atlas of the National Parks is a National Geographic book, so you know the photography is breathtaking.
This National Geographic atlas includes park maps for 61 national parks (so it’s a wee bit outdated) and narratives about each park written by former park ranger Jonathan Waterman.
#26 Seek and Find National Parks
National park book recommendations for kids can be tricky! Kids are some of the least impressed visitors to the national parks, so they need some extra inspiration.
Seek and Find National Parks is the best national park book to keep kids occupied during a long summer road trip.
Seek and Find National Parks challenges kids to find hidden shapes, Where’s Waldo-style, and includes a glossary to teach kids more about what makes the parks unique.
This book features American and Canadian national parks, including Acadia, Banff, Crater Lake, Great Smoky Mountains, Thousand Islands, US Virgin Islands, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion.
#27 Who Pooped in the Park?
Who Pooped in the Park? It is the best national parks book for little boys or girls.
Most parks of the United States have a Who Pooped book. The one I linked is for the Great Smoky Mountains, but you can also find them for almost all the parks of the United States, like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc.
Kids can be disappointed when they don’t see wildlife in the park, but these books teach kids to recognize the evidence of nature through scat and tracks, which is a fun and safe way to engage kids in the outdoors without having them pose with a buffalo or whatever.
#28 National Parks of the USA
National park guidebooks for kids are an excellent way to inspire and educate youngsters.
National Parks of the USA won the 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K-12. The book portrays twenty-one parks with fun facts about the plants and animals and is an excellent choice for scientifically inclined kids.
National Parks of the USA has lots of beautifully illustrated images of the national parks with captions about wildlife.
#29 National Parks of the USA: Activity Book
National Parks of the USA: Activity Book is the best national park book for kids who love stickers. The book has 15 activities, a fold-out poster, and 50 national park stickers.
This companion book to the illustrated National Parks of the USA book above has coloring pages, puzzles, trivia games, and wildlife facts to keep kids occupied.
This book would have been my jam as a little kid. Maybe I’ll try to influence my friends’ kids with it…
#30 National Park Journal for Kids
The National Park Journal for Kids is an excellent substitute for the junior ranger journal if you don’t get to the visitor center in time to nab one.
The journal is intended for kids ages six to nine and has four spaces to journal about any national park.
There are little activities for each journal entry, and kids can draw pictures for each entry space.
#31 America’s National Parks by Lonely Planet Kids
Lastly, America’s National Parks by Lonely Planet Kids is an excellent way to engage kids who like to collect things and check off boxes (that would have been me).
This edition of the Lonely Planet Kids book only has 60 national parks, but that should be plenty to keep your youngster busy.
The book is brimming with park facts, pictures, and wildlife trivia.
Conclusion: Our Pick for the Best National Park Book
The US national parks are undoubtedly one of the best parts of being American.
Having national park inspiration in your home can be nice when you’re not traveling.
From the national park guidebooks to the coffee table books, the USA national parks lands have inspired countless tomes.
If I had to choose one national park book to recommend, I’d go with Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks.
I have to pay homage to the author/photographer, Q.T. Luong, winner of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Robin W. Winks Award for Enhancing Public Understanding of National Parks.
It’s one of the most beautiful national park coffee table books you’ll find, and it is a (currently) complete guide to all 63 national parks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is chef’s kiss next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
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