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The national parks have been called “America’s best idea.” They contain the most spectacular natural wonders, protected for all to see, and are available and accessible to everyone. Whether you’re already planning the route you’ll take or just dreaming of the adventures to be had, there’s a perfect guide book to the national parks out there to help you plan. Inspiration, detailed maps, or full-page photography are available in these books on the US national parks.
Best US National Parks Guide Books
Best Overall Guide
Best Book for Inspiration
Best Guide for Kids
Best Photo Book
Best Coffee Table Book
Best Guide Book
Best Travel Log
Best Park History Book
This National Geographic Traveler publication is your best national park guide book for the country’s 62 parks. The ninth edition is dated February 2021 and includes the newest parks, Indiana Dunes, White Sands, and Gateway Arches. As you would expect from any NatGeo publication, the guide is full of gorgeous photography. But it’s also a comprehensive travel guide, with tips to help you navigate, hike, and spot wildlife. There is also a selection of regional road trip planners to help you maximize your time on the road and see the most parks.
The NatGeo Guide shouldn’t be confused with the National Geographic Complete National Parks of the United States. This book is a larger hardcover book, with 544 pages of reference materials and full-color photos. It covers recreation areas, historic sites, monuments, hikes, seashores, and camping options. It has more than just the parks, and it is updated less frequently. Complete National Parks was published for the centennial in 2016.
Best Book for Inspiration—USA National Parks: Lands of Wonder
Looking for something to inspire your journeys but not necessarily pinpoint your plans? Lands of Wonder is a gorgeous hardcover book that full of great pictures. Each park gets a two-page spread that includes stunning photography, a little bit of history and geography, and a list of the best ways to explore the spot. You won’t find the little details, but this book will inspire you to get up and go.
Best Guide for Kids—National Parks of the USA
Winner of the 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12, National Parks of the USA is packed with fun facts on flora and fauna found in the parks. While it only covers 21 of the 62 parks, it still hits all of the major sports from the Everglades to the Grand Canyon. It’s organized by region and includes maps and illustrations to make science come alive. You may also want to check out this book’s companion publications, National Parks of the USA: Activity Book and National Parks of the USA Postcards.
Best Photo Book—Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks, Second Expanded Edition
One photographer’s journey through the parks has won 12 national and international book awards—the photos are just that good. Treasured Lands by QT Luong will take your breath away. Luong’s work was featured in the Ken Burns’ documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Besides the photos, each park includes maps and details on how and where Luong captured the photos. The book includes all 62 parks—as a matter of fact, Luong is the only photographer to have captured large-format images of all of the parks.
The companion book to the Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan 2009 documentary series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is an excellent book in itself. It’s full of photographs and full of the adventures, myths, and political battles that happened behind the scenes to create the national park system we have today.
Best Coffee Table Book—America’s National Parks: An American Legacy
Ian Shive’s photo book of the national parks deserves a spot on every table in America. It includes over 200 large-print images that cover many of the most popular parks. Images range from broad landscapes and vistas to extraordinary wildlife shots. The book is a living tribute to the millions of visitors that go to parks every year and the hardworking people who preserve these spaces for the rest of us.
Best Guide Book—Moon USA National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 62 Parks
Moon is known for its quality paperback guides, and the USA National Parks guide is the perfect road trip companion. It is recently updated to cover all of the new parks, and it includes lots of itineraries that include your choice of activities. The dedicated hiking descriptions and trail maps for each park are especially beneficial. There’s also a keepsake section for stashing your park stamps and a fold-out poster.
Best Travel Log—Roaming America: Exploring All the National Parks
A more personal travel log, this book chronicles the journey of authors Matthew and Renee Hahnel, who took an adventure of a lifetime to see all the parks in just a few months. The book covers their ups and downs as they travel to 39 states and two territories, on a journey of over 25,000 miles driven and 26 flights. Being travel photographers, the Hahnel’s bring you along for the ride and show you not only the parks but the adventure too.
Best Park History Book—Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service
Written for the park service’s centennial in 2016, this book covers the park system’s history and the characters who helped create it. Author Heather Hansen weaves the stories of park workers and visitors together in an enjoyable and readable way. Unlike most books about national parks, this book is organized chronologically to walk you through the growth and history of the park service.
America’s parks are gems of natural wonder and beauty. They’re worth seeing, even if you can only get to a few. National park guide books can help you plan your trip or simply remind you what a wonderful world we live in.
You might be interested in reading fun facts of the Best American National Parks: