Destination Reads: Novels Set in National Parks

My husband and I began writing a novel together in 2015. We thought it would be fun to write a story in tandem and one day we just began with the only rule being we had a strict 24-hour turnaround window.  That meant that no matter what, we had to get our next page written and emailed back to the other within 24-hours of receiving it. Fun, right?

Why am I telling you this? Because that novel began in Yellowstone National Park - the 1st National Park in the United States, if you didn't know - and Friday, August 25 happens to be National Park Service Founders Day!

Never heard of National Park Service Founders Day? I probably wouldn't have either if it hadn't been for Monday's Pretty Literate LIVE. We were discussing Katherine Center's Happiness for Beginners (set in Wyoming's beautiful Absaroka Mountains, which I believe dips into Yellowstone National Park) and one of our Monthly Book Club Members mentioned having read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods (a book I have in my physical TBR pile right now). One rabbit trail led to another and before I realized it, I was Jonesing for one last summer adventure.

I woke up the next morning with my mind still fixated on hiking virgin swatches of America with my dog thanks to Katherine Center's heroine in Happiness for Beginners (and our rabbit trails during Pretty Literate LIVE). That is when I made the delightful discovery about National Park Service Founders Day!

Whenever you are enjoying scenic trails, open spaces, watersheds, or recreational areas, remember that the National Parks Service works hard to provide a natural outdoor resource accessible to every American. They are also responsible for making hiking and biking trails accessible to all of us. The National Parks System is committed to creating outdoor experiences like no other.

With summer swiftly coming to a close & after having spent several months spotlighting awesome destination reads (like this one, & this one, & this one) in our little corner of the reading community, I thought, What better way to celebrate National Park Service Founders Day than with amazing books set in some of our beautiful National Parks?

This week's blog is the result of many hours of research and reviews this week, obsessively reading and cross-referencing Books Set in National Parks that I've added to my own TBR - you know, alongside Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods

If you enjoy the beauty of natural surroundings and are itching to get in one more vicarious vacation this summer, I invite you to try one of the baker's dozen of destination reads below, all set in our country's breathtaking National Parks.

Badlands National Park

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

Praised by Alice Walker and many other best-selling writers, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is an award-winning debut novel with incredible heart about life on the prairie as it's rarely been seen. Reminiscent of The Color Purple as well as the frontier novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather, it opens a window on the little-known history of African American homesteaders and gives voice to an extraordinary heroine who embodies the spirit that built America.* 

Big Bend National Park

Borderline by Nevada Barr

Hoping a raft trip in Big Bend National Park will lift her spirits, Anna Pigeon and her husband Paul go to southwest Texas, where the Rio Grande is running high. The beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert and the power of the river work their magic—until the raft is lost in the rapids and a young college student makes a grisly discovery. Caught in a strainer between two boulders—and more dead than alive—is a pregnant woman. Anna will soon discover that nature isn’t the only one who wants to see the woman and her baby dead…*


Carlsbad Caverns Park

Blind Descent by Nevada Barr

Park ranger Anna Pigeon is enjoying the open spaces of Colorado when she receives an urgent call. A young woman has been injured while exploring a cave in New Mexico's Carlsbad Cavern Park. Before she can be pulled to safety, she sends for her friend Anna. Only one problem: a crushing fear of confined spaces has kept Anna out in the open her whole life.*

Glacier National Park

The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo

As intriguing and alluring as bestselling crime novels by C.J. Box, Louise Penny, and William Kent Krueger, as atmospheric and evocative as the nature writing of John Krakauer and Cheryl Strayed, The Wild Inside is a gripping debut novel about the perilous, unforgiving intersection between man and nature.*

Grand Canyon National Park

In the Heart of the Canyon by Elizabeth Hyde

Over the course of thirteen long days, twelve assorted passengers, three rafting guides and one stray dog will navigate the rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon together. From their early-morning rise on the shore of the river to the adrenaline rush of paddling through Lava Falls, they will soon come to know each other more intimately than they could have expected. Tempers will flare and decisions will be second-guessed . . . and ultimately all of them, from an unhappy teenager to an aging river guide, will realize that sometimes the most daunting adventures have nothing to do with white-water rapids, and everything to do with reconfiguring the rocky canyons of the heart.*

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Down by the River by Lin Stepp

Set against the backdrop of Tennessee's breathtaking Smoky Mountains, Lin Stepp's Down By the River is a warm-hearted novel that proves it's never too late--or too early--for a fresh start. . .*

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr

A young naturalist, Anna Pigeon, has moved to the Southwest wilderness to be a park ranger. There, her days are filled with the physical demands of working in the Guadalupe Mountains and the satisfaction of living in this splendid land. Her peace is shattered one morning, though, when she discovers the body of another ranger deep in Dog Canyon. How did the usually cautious woman die? Although at first the evidence indicates an attack by a mountain lion, Anna soon suspects that there are craftier predators afoot in the wild grasses.*

Mesa Verde National Park

Ill Wind by Nevada Barr


Sequoia National Park

Vanishing Edge by Claire Kells

The rugged landscape of Sequoia National Park is a challenge on the best of days - but when a park ranger discovers an abandoned exclusive campsite with an empty tent and high-end technical gear scattered on the shores of an alpine lake, the wilderness takes on a sinister new hue.* 

Yellowstone National Park 

The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett

Karen Barnett’s vintage national parks novels bring to vivid life President Theodore Roosevelt’s vision for protected lands, when he wrote in Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter:

"There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred."*

Yosemite National Park

Gloryland by Shelton Johnson

Born on Emancipation Day, 1863, to a sharecropping family of black and Indian blood, Elijah Yancy never lived as a slave―but his self-image as a free person is at war with his surroundings... Like other rootless young African-American men of that era, (he) joins up with the US cavalry. Elijah...ultimately finds a home when his troop is posted to the newly created Yosemite National Park in 1903. Here, living with little beyond mountain light, running water, campfires, and stars, he becomes a man who owns himself completely, while knowing he’s left pieces of himself scattered along his life’s path like pebbles on a creek bed.*

High Country by Nevada Barr

Loaded with intrigue and adventure, High Country showcases Barr at the top of her game. Anna is lodged in Yosemite National Park's historic Ahwahnee Hotel when four employees disappear. Sensing evil, Anna hikes a snowy trail to the high country, only to discover a disturbing reality that may end her adventures once and for all.*

Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett

Watercolorist Olivia Rutherford has shed her humble beginnings to fashion her image as an avant-garde artist to appeal to the region's wealthy art-collectors. When she lands a lucrative contract painting illustrations of Yosemite National Park for a travel magazine, including its nightly one-of-a-kind Firefall event, she hopes the money will lift Olivia and her sisters out of poverty. After false accusations cost him everything, former minister Clark Johnson has found purpose as a backcountry guide in this natural cathedral of granite and trees. Now he's faced with the opportunity to become a National Parks Ranger, but is it his true calling? As Clark opens Olivia's eyes to the wonders of Yosemite, she discovers the people are as vital to the park's story as its vistas--a revelation that may bring her charade to an end.*

What about you?

Which U.S. National Parks have YOU visited?

Have you read any of the baker's dozen of books above set in one of our National Parks?

Which book(s) would you add to the list?

Are any specific titles calling your name?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

*Amazon synopsis

1 comment

  • My favorite that I have visited (and revisited) is Big Bend NP. Love a book titled Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story about the family that bought the land on the Rio Grande with the hot springs and turned it into a destination before the National Parks Service even had it on its radar. I have also visited the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone (but just the uppermost section, so kind of feel robbed of seeing the rest if it), & Guadalupe Mountains (tho during the summer and 100+ degrees is too hot to hike to the top). I want to explore so many more.


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