Tag Archives: Books

Top 10 Guidebooks to National Parks

Every major travel publisher (Fodors, Moon, Lonely Planet) has a guidebook to America’s National Parks, which all say the same things about where to go.  We recently published our first book to offer alternatives for those readers seeking to have unique National Park adventures.  You might guess where that one ended up on our Top 10 list, but we also recommend the following guidebooks. 

10. Wildlife Watching in America’s National Parks: A Seasonal Guide by Gary W. Vequist & Daniel S. Licht (2013)

Tips abound in 12 chapters that cover the best spot to see wildlife each month of the year with excellent color photos.

9. 10 Best of Everything: National Parks: 800 Top Picks From Parks Coast to Coast by National Geographic (2011)

Brief descriptions of parks in a variety of categories introduce readers to units in the National Park Service (NPS) system beyond the 61 National Parks.

8. 50 Great American Places: Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S. by Brent D. Glass (2016)

A historian chooses his top 50 iconic American spots to visit, many of which are in the NPS system.

7. Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into National Parks by Toney Allman, Jahnna Beecham, et al. (2007)

Beyond the funny stories, this book is actually full of interesting tidbits of information on National Parks that you might not learn anywhere else.

6. Ancient America: Fifty Archaeological Sites to See for Yourself by Kenneth L.  Feder (2016)

Many NPS units focus on archaeology and this succinct guide provides a solid background on many of the best sites spread across the country.

5. The West Less Traveled: The Best and Lesser Known Parks, Monuments, and Natural Areas by Jan Bannan (1996)

Out-of-print guide focused not solely on units in the NPS system that contains good detail on geology and ecology.

4. Guide to the National Park Areas: Eastern States by David L. Scott & Kay W. Scott (2004)

Out-of-print two-volume set includes all NPS units at the time, with great information for RV campers.

3. Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 59 National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald (2017)

An ambitious and in-depth exploration of the National Parks, including great detail on hiking trails and full-color maps.

2. Complete National Parks of the United States by National Geographic (2016)

Provides a brief description of all 400+ units in the NPS system, plus some of the affiliated sites.

1. A Park To Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks by Scott Sink & Tiff Sink (2019)

As far as we know, our guidebook is the first one to include Indiana Dunes National Park, established February 15, 2019.

Honorable Mentions

National Parks: A Kids Guide to America’s Parks, Monuments, and Landmarks by Erin McHugh (2012)

This full-color, graphic-oriented children’s book is perfect for anyone collecting the 56 quarters in the U.S. Mint’s America the Beautiful collection.

Guide to the National Parks of the USA by National Geographic (2016)

Of the major publishers, National Geographic does the best job of summarizing each park, plus they include color photographs.

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Introduction to Our National Park Guidebook

Since we published our first guidebook to the National Parks today (available on Amazon), we wanted to share the Introduction we wrote to explain why we took on this project.  A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks contains 155 black-and-white photographs, but not all of our favorites made it into the book so we included the best excluded photos, too.

American pika in Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)

Introduction to A Park to Yourself

Purpose of this Guidebook

Our goal is to inspire great adventures for every type of visitor to America’s National Parks.  These wild places were set aside to be shared, and we believe in the importance of introducing them to a new generation of National Park enthusiasts.  This guidebook is for everyone from families with small children to thrill-seekers.  Even if you have been to every National Park or none at all, in these pages are new ideas for first-timers and frequent visitors to each site.  So, whether you want to go hiking, driving, camping, selfie snapping, or backpacking, we have your options covered. 

Every visitor is looking for different experiences in National Parks and we aim to cover the diversity of opportunities each park has to offer.  Even Florida’s tiny Dry Tortugas (at 40 acres the smallest park by landmass in this book) can provide a variety of experiences: learning history on a ranger-led tour of a coastal fort, sunbathing on a white-sand beach, taking incredible photographs, snorkeling a coral reef, birdwatching unique species, camping on a remote island, visiting lighthouses, or hiking on a paved seawall surrounded by turquoise water.  That list does not even include the biggest adventure, which is getting to the park’s islands by ferry boat or floatplane.  

Some experiences in National Parks are enhanced by sharing the wonders with a large gathering of people, like the evening bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns, eruptions of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, or glacier calving in Kenai Fjords and Glacier Bay.  We also recognize the desire to seek solitude in National Parks and have a personal experience with the natural world.  Information on where to expect crowds is lacking in other guidebooks and it is one of the main reasons we wrote A Park to Yourself.  While you must anticipate that you will see plenty of people in Yosemite Valley, there are other corners of that park you do not have to share with others. 

Even though public lands are owned by everyone, there are admission fees for nearly every National Park in this book (with Great Smoky Mountains providing one notable exception).  We believe all the parks offer a good value for their price.  To save some money, check the National Park Service website (www.nps.gov) for the cost of annual passes, plus see if you qualify for discounted senior, access, and military cards that provide free entry and half-off on all tours and campsites.

Tiff walking across the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park (California)

About the Authors

We love the National Parks of America.  Some of our happiest memories together have been made in these special places set aside for the enjoyment of all.  Early in our relationship, we took a weeklong camping trip through Utah’s National Parks (shown in the cover photo) and we have been traveling together ever since.  In National Parks we have been awed by breaching whales, inspired by rushing waterfalls, engulfed in the warm sulphur steam of a fumarole, buried in a tent under a fresh layer of snow, overwhelmed by the roar of a calving glacier, awed by cave decorations, surrounded by a herd of bison, and submerged in the healing waters of a hot spring.  Where else can you have this variety of life-changing experiences? 

As of October 2019, there are 61 National Parks named among the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  Of the top 150 most visited NPS sites, 46 National Parks are ranked.  Clearly, we are not the only ones who love visiting the National Parks, and you must be, too, since you are reading this book.  However, we do not want to sit in traffic or follow a line of noisy day hikers when we are trying to commune with nature.  Personally, we do not think that is why conservationists protected these unique landmarks and it is the main reason we wrote this guidebook.  In these pages we cover all 61 National Parks, with an in-depth focus on the 50 most developed, including Indiana Dunes National Park, established in February 2019.

We have spent at least two days in each of the 50 highlighted National Parks and several weeks in places like Yellowstone and Great Smoky Mountains.  If you try to see all of Grand Canyon, Glacier, or other large National Parks in one trip it is possible to feel overwhelmed, so you may not fully appreciate each overlook and hiking trail.  To avoid burnout, it is important that you either plan rest days or plan to return.  We have revisited most of the selected 50 National Parks on multiple occasions.  We recommend that our readers do so, too.  Each time is special, especially when you arrive at different times of the year. 

We enjoy hiking, backpacking, kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and photography.  However, you do not have to buy specialized gear to follow the recommendations within the guidebook.  A sense of adventure and a good pair of hiking boots are the only equipment required.  We know not everyone wants to go camping in a National Park, and there are always lodging options within and nearby for those who prefer to take day trips.  We have found that you do not have to backpack dozens of miles to savor solitude on America’s public lands.  To reach many of the most spectacular views in National Parks often requires only a short walk.  Even in the most heavily-visited National Parks, it is possible to have a unique and personal experience if you just get out there.

Humpback whale diving in Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)

How to Use this Guidebook

The purpose of this guidebook is to help you, the reader, enjoy not just the popular spots in America’s National Parks, but also to have a unique, personalized experience.  This book is a starting place with suggestions, but the real fun is in finding your own adventure.  It may be a little harder to see a park this way, but it is definitely worth the effort.  The following is a breakdown of each section we cover for the 50 highlighted National Parks. 

Overview

We give some basic background information you will want to know before visiting each park.  In the section above this one, we provide the most recent annual visitation numbers, total acreage, and the year each area was officially designated a National Park.

Peak Visitation Months

Based on an average of data from the most recent years, we provide a ranking of the four busiest months with the percentage of annual visitors that arrive during that month.  Some National Parks, such as Crater Lake and Glacier Bay, have short summer windows for visitation, while places like Joshua Tree and Haleakalā have evenly distributed numbers.

Busiest Spots

The busiest spots in each park are where you are most likely to encounter crowds.  They are typically crowded for good reason, for example at an incredible waterfall or amazing overlook.

Worth The Crowds

Our choice for the one place you must visit in each National Park, regardless of how difficult it is to find a parking space. 

A Park To Yourself

Sometimes it is nice to feel like you have an entire National Park all to yourself (or your small group of loved ones).  It is easy to say, “Avoid crowds by going in the off season or at odd hours.”  That is good advice, but not always practical.  We try to balance the allure of a place with the feasibility of getting there.

Iconic Photograph

In this book we use black-and-white photography in homage to Ansel Adams, who did so much to popularize Yosemite and other parks with his stunning imagery.  In this age of photo filters and picture enhancing software, there is something honest about a black-and-white photograph.

Inspiration Point on East Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park (California)

Favorite Trails

We share our two favorite trails (or tours in the caves) for each National Park, providing one that will likely be busy and one with less hikers.  Typically, even the largest crowds will thin out within the first mile of a trail. 

Camping

We provide information on whether you can find RV hookups in the NPS campgrounds or if you need to seek accommodations outside the park, as well as what seasons they take reservations.  We also enjoy primitive camping on back roads managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and give specifics on those options when possible.

Backpacking

We have backpack camped in many National Parks, so we offer our recommendations on places to go, in addition to information on the logistics of getting permits at each park.

Getting Around

Not all roads in National Parks are paved, so we explain which ones actually require a high-clearance vehicle and should be avoided by RVs.  We also cover seasonal road closures and whether a park offers shuttle buses for accessing trailheads and overlooks.

Nearby Public Lands

If you are like us, you are interested in other units within the NPS system, as well as National Forests, Wildlife Refuges, and State Parks.  In this section, we offer a few recommendations for public lands to visit near the highlighted National Park.

Insider Tip

There is always something unique about each National Park that does not fit in any category, so we use this spot for those tidbits of information that are often left out of other guidebooks.

Wildlife

Many people visit National Parks specifically to watch and photograph wildlife.  These are by no means exhaustive lists of all the species found in each park, but a good idea of what animals you can expect to see while touring.  Oftentimes your car provides the best place to watch wildlife, as animals are used to vehicles and are not stressed by their presence, which may not be the case if you step out of your car. 

Journal Entry

A first person account of an experience we had in a specific National Park.  We try to match the photograph below with the event described.

Illustrations

Scott has created graphics for each of the 50 highlighted National Parks, which we sell on a variety of products through our travel website Raven About The Parks (www.ravenabouttheparks.com).

Mountain goat kids in Glacier National Park (Montana)
Tiff at the entrance to a talus cave in Pinnacles National Park (California)
Balanced Rock in Big Bend National Park (Texas)
Tiff in the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park (California)
Ravens at Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
Our first guidebook is available for sale on Amazon

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We Published Our First Guidebook!

We are proud to announce the publication of our first guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon).

A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks covers all 61 National Parks, with an in-depth focus on the 50 most developed, including Indiana Dunes National Park, established in February 2019. 

The goal of the book is to inspire great adventures for every type of visitor to America’s National Parks: first-timers and frequent travelers, RVers and tent campers, families and solo trekkers, backpackers and daytrippers, thrill-seekers and photographers, and everyone in between.

The guidebook includes detailed descriptions of the best places to hike, take photos, and see wildlife.  If you are camping in a tent, RV, or prefer not to camp at all, we include the logistics you need to know.  We identify the peak months of visitation and the busiest places in each park, whether you are attracted to those spots or want to avoid them altogether.  Seeking solitude?  We provide ideas of where to find it in A Park to Yourself.

So get out there and start your own National Park adventure!

Read the entire Introduction to the guidebook here.

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Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set During World War II

Following up on our list of the Top 10 novels set during World War II, these are our favorite non-fiction works.  If you feel that we missed an important one, we invite you to walk into your local library and count how many shelves are filled by this subject.  The choices may betray our preference for pilots and air combat, which is perhaps why our first blog post covered Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.  Do not miss our other book recommendations under the Top 10 Lists tab.

10. God Is My Co-Pilot by Col. Robert L. Scott (1943)

One of the original “Flying Tigers” wrote his autobiography during the war.

9. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw (1998)

These short biographical sketches focus on the post-war lives of servicemen and women.

8. Going Solo by Roald Dahl (1986)

An autobiography of his time as a young pilot by the author of The BFG, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach.

7. The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II by Gregory A. Freeman (2007)

A gripping story of the daring rescue of Allied airmen stranded on the Balkan Peninsula.

6. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Capt. Ted W. Lawson (1943)

A first-hand account of the lead-up and aftermath of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942.

5. Night by Elie Wiesel (1960)

The first in a trilogy tells the story of the author’s survival in a concentration camp.

4. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose (1992)

Better known as a TV miniseries, a book by the author of D-Day and Citizen Soldiers.

3. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

A 20th-century classic featuring writing that still elicits fear and dread in a reader.

2. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)

This well-written biography of Louie Zamperini can be summed up in one word: unbelievable.

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl  (1946)

This is one of the most inspiring books ever written and it starts with the author’s experience in a concentration camp.

Honorable Mentions

Soaring to Glory: A Tuskegee Airman’s Firsthand Account of World War II by Philip Handleman and Lt. Col. Harry T. Stewart Jr. (2019)

The latest in a growing library of books written about and by Tuskegee Airmen.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013)

The events described in one of the best non-fiction books ever written culminated in Germany before the war began.

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Top 10 Novels Set During World War II

Since the world just commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we thought we would honor the Greatest Generation with a list of our favorite novels set during World War II, of which there are so many that some great ones did not make the cut.  In 2016, we were on hand for the ceremonies on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai‘i and can imagine how moving it must have been to be there in Normandy.  We will soon release our list of the Top 10 non-fiction books set during World War II, but in the meantime check out our other book recommendations.

10. The Thin Red Line by James Jones (1962)

A story of the fight to take Guadalcanal from the author of From Here to Eternity.

9. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)

There are several good books about Japanese-American internment, but this is our favorite.

8. The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean (1957)

An action novel about a commando team that destroys an impenetrable fortress on a Greek island.

7. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)

A fascinating glimpse into the lives of two sisters in occupied France.

6. Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener (1947)

Imperialism and racism are the backdrop to all of these short stories.

5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)

A fun yet sad story told through a series of letters from an island in the English Channel.

4. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (1951)

Pulitzer Prize-winner based on the author’s experiences in the U.S. Navy.

3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012)

A Gestapo interrogation is the center of this tale with a major plot twist.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)

Most World War II novels involve Death, but he is an actual character in this masterpiece.

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

These unforgettable characters stuck at an air base in Italy are both hysterical and poignant.

Honorable Mentions

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008)

Two Russian prisoners attempt to secure a dozen eggs or face execution during the siege of Leningrad.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)

This classic is set during the Spanish Civil War in the years leading up to WWII.

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