Park Related Books I Read in 2020


A blogger I follow, Ken Dowell, posted his top six books of 2019 last year. That gave me the idea to look at the books I’ve read this year and rate the ones related to public lands. I completed my Goodreads challenge of 40 books read for the year, up from 38 in 2019.


Have you ever read a book about, or set in a National Park? Would you recommend it? Here are the ones I read this year, in no particular order:

A Ride into Morning: The Story of Tempe Wick by Ann Rinaldi

Having visited the Wick House and Jockey Hollow in Morristown National Historic Park and listened to an abbreviated version of Tempe’s legend as recited by a park volunteer dressed in colonial garb, I had to add this novel to my TBR list.

Ann Rinaldi did a fine job of researching the real-life people who once lived in Jockey Hollow and suffered through the long winter encampments of George Washington’s Continental Army. From her research, she extrapolated a story that may or may not be true, but has been the fodder of urban legend in New Jersey for over a century. She does an excellent job developing the characters in keeping with the times and what we know of historical facts.

It’s a quick, engaging read and makes you realize how close we came to losing the revolution. What would the world be like today had we remained subjects of the throne?

That Wild Country: An Epic Journey through the Past, Present, and Future of America’s Public Lands by Mark Kenyon

I picked up this book free on Amazon Prime. I usually find it hard to finish non-fiction, losing interest somewhere in the middle. But Kenyon kept me engaged throughout, weaving his personal explorations of the parks together with the history of public lands. Below are some thought-provoking excerpts I highlighted on my Kindle.

Wild public places, I was reminded, mean something different to each person who sets foot in them. They can be enjoyed in so many different ways.

Mark Kenyon

If we limited outdoor experiences only to silent retreats, stealthy hunts, and meditative fishing, there’d be a whole lot fewer people experiencing these places. Selfishly, I might like that for a bit. Imagine all that peace and quiet. But if no one ever got to see public lands, to hear them, to feel them—who would fight for them?

Mark Kenyon

A Superior Death by Nevada Barr

This is the second in the Ranger Anna Pigeon series. Nevada Barr was once a national park ranger and wrote 19 book series of mysteries, with each novel set in a different National Park. Barr’s vivid descriptions transport readers to the park setting. A Superior Death features a murder mystery in the cold waters surrounding Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

In 1991, Christopher McCandless graduated college, gave away most of his earthly possessions and embarked on a journey across public lands, inspired by John Muir and Jack London. He cut off all communication with his family and vanished into the wilderness. In September of 1992, he was found dead of apparent starvation in the outskirts of Denali National Park.

Krakauer gradually reveals the complexity of McCandless’ short life, his motivations and the tragic series of mistakes that ultimately proved fatal. I read this with my book club during shutdowns for the pandemic when it was difficult for some of the ladies to obtain books from the library. The high school was reading this book, so we decided to read it too. I hadn’t seen the Sean Penn movie, so I was genuinely surprised by some of the revelations.

Happy Trail (Park Ranger #1) by Daisy Prescott

This is a light and fairly predictable (the subtitle is A Trapped Together Forced Proximity Romance) romance novel set in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sparks fly between a Park Ranger and an Appalachian Trail thru hiker when they become…you guessed it…trapped together, proximity forced upon them by Mother Nature.

It was a quick read and wasn’t terrible, and had some good bits about the AT, but I’m not sure if I’ll bother with the next in the series.

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan

In August of 1910, a massive wildfire consumed three million acres in Idaho and Montana, killing 86 firefighters. Theodore Roosevelt set aside most of those acres as public lands during his presidency. The US Forest Service, pioneered by Gifford Pinchot was responsible for defending the forests from fire.

At the time of the Big Burn, Roosevelt and Pinchot had left their federal posts. The ‘Robber Barons’ (Timber, Mining and Railroad interests) had chipped away at the protections afforded to these public lands. The forest service and its rangers were deeply unpopular.

The heroic efforts of the men of the Forest Service in fighting the blaze turned public opinion back in favor of conservation. The author contends that, in destroying the forests, the fire actually saved them from industrialization.

Don, aka the Beerchaser, recommended this book to me. Given that nearly six million acres burned in the West in 2020, reading the section about the actual firefighting was particularly gripping.

Other sections are prophetic.

He [Pinchot] predicted that America might one day, within this century, be a nation of two or three hundred million people. And what would his generation leave them? Their duty was to the future. To ensure that people in 2010 would have a country of clean water, healthy forests, and open land would require battle with certain groups, namely “the alliance between business and politics.”

Timothy Egan

Happy New Year!

23 thoughts on “Park Related Books I Read in 2020

  1. Thanks for the reminder! I own a couple of these already that I need to finish. Going to give the Nevada Barr book a try, since I rarely read fiction.

    1. Ah…I am the opposite. I prefer fiction. My attention often wanders when reading non-fiction. But the Krakauer book read like fiction…glad all our high school kids had the book laying around, otherwise we wouldn’t have read it.

  2. I read “A Walk in the Woods” about the AT, after seeing the Robert Redford movie. I also read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, about the Pacific Coast Trail, after seeing that movie. Other than that I don’t remember reading any books about national parks.

      1. I enjoyed both books. Cheryl’s book included more of her background and the people she met along the trail and the challenges she faced. The Walk in the Woods book contained more of the history and challenges of the AT. I have been a long time hiker and camper but it amazes me people can set out on these trails and go from beginning to end, planning their places to have supplies sent, planning how far they’ll get in a day, what they’ll need, etc.

      2. If you still haven’t seen Sean Penn’s movie, it is well worth it. I read that the actors did all their stunts and Sean did them, too, not asking them to do anything he wouldn’t do.

  3. Check out “The Last Season” by Eric Blehm. It’s a true account of a long-time park ranger that went missing in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Very compelling. Also, for my favorite National Park fiction book, try reading “Back of Beyond” by C.J. Box. Exciting mystery set in Yellowstone that kept the pages turning faster than a hiker being chased by a grizzly. I wrote a book review about it on my ParkYourselfOutdoors blog. Here’s a link if you’re interested:

  4. One of the things I do when we visit national parks is buy a book. As a result, I have a variety, mostly nonfiction but also some fiction. Nevada Barr’s are a fun read.
    I enjoyed your list and have read a number of the books mentioned there and in the comments but now I have more books to search out. Hooray!
    One of the classic park books is “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey. Wallace Stegner’s biography of John Wesley Powell is also good.
    Our last trip was socially distanced and because of the pandemic many park visitor centers were closed or partially closed which put a crimp in my book buying so I went online. One book I really enjoyed was “The Undying Past of Shenandoah National Park” by Darwin Lambert. He’s an excellent writer and worked and lived in or near the park beginning in the 1930’s. This park is unusual in that it was formed from entirely privately owned land so that story is very interesting. Lambert also wrote about Great Basin – haven’t read it yet but plan to.

Leave a Reply