From informative travel guides and stories of discovery to compelling tributes to some of the state’s most cherished wild places, this essential California book list dives deep into the history, natural environment and lure of the Sierra Nevada and beyond. If you’re planning a Northern California adventure, you’ll surely want to put a few of these books on your must-read list.
Introduction to California
California the Beautiful | By Peter Beren, Photography by Galen Rowell
Exquisite photographs by late photographer Galen Rowell are accompanied by excerpts from Joan Didion, Jack London, Maya Angelou and many other luminaries in this inspiring read that celebrates the nature and spirit of California.
My First Summer in the Sierra | By John Muir
Based on the journal John Muir kept during his first explorations of Yosemite and surrounding High Sierra, this classic read has inspired generations of nature lovers to visit and protect one of California’s most treasured landscapes.
The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream | By H.W. Brands
A well-researched and entertaining history of California’s Gold Rush era told through multiple perspectives and a cast of colorful characters. It’s a captivating story of how the discovery of gold on the American River in 1848 ultimately transformed a nation.
California History for Kids: Missions, Miners, and Moviemakers in the Golden State | By Katy S. Duffield
This kid-friendly history book highlights the dreamers who shaped the great state of California and includes a timeline of important events, as well as fun and educational hands-on activities.
California Travel Books & Field Guides
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide California | By DK Travel
A visually-rich guide to the Golden State, featuring color photography, dozens of excellent local maps and a region-by-region synopsis of California’s attractions.
Yosemite: The Complete Guide | By James Kaiser
Through stunning photography and expert travel tips, photographer and bestselling guide book author James Kaiser provides a comprehensive guide to Yosemite’s best hikes, sights, and hidden gems.
The American River: Insider’s Guide to the North, Middle and South Forks | By Protect American River Canyons
This comprehensive guide to California’s American River canyon includes area history, culture, trails, and a mile-by-mile whitewater guide for the North, Middle and South Forks of the American River.
This practical hiking guide features thorough descriptions, maps, and photographs of more than 90 hikes in the Sierra Nevada, including Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to California | By Peter Alden
A compact, easy-to-use guide featuring 1,000 species of trees, wildflowers, mammals, insects, birds and many other flora and fauna of California.
Field Guide to California Rivers | By Tim Palmer
With a spotlight on more than 150 of California’s waterways, this valuable resource is part natural history guide, part recreation guide, including insider tips on where to hike, fish, canoe, kayak, and raft on California’s rivers.
California Natural History & Environment
The Mountains of California | By John Muir
In this classic read, pioneering conservationist John Muir transports readers to some of California’s most majestic wilderness areas as he pays tribute to Yosemite and lesser-known regions of the Sierra Nevada.
Sierra Nevada: The Naturalists Companion | By Verna Johnston
This portrait of the Sierra Nevada has been a favorite among naturalists since first being published in 1970. It’s a lyrical tour of the region’s wildlife, plants and landscapes.
The Klamath Knot | By David Rains Wallace
A celebrated meditation on the natural history and mythology of the Klamath Mountains of northern California and southern Oregon.
Assembling California | By John McPhee
You’ll see California and its landscapes differently after reading this complex and illuminating geological history of the state.
Introduction to Water in California | By David Carle
An accessible scientific overview of California’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, dams and aqueducts, as well as its current water crisis and the impact of climate change.
River of Renewal: Myth & History in the Klamath River Basin | By Stephen Most
River of Renewal is an in-depth look at the over-allocation controversy that has long plagued the Klamath River Basin and its people—everyone from native tribes and fishermen to farmers and ranchers—and their fight to find common ground.
Photos: Yosemite hiking – Wanderlove World; South Fork American River Rafting – OARS; Fishing on the Tuolumne River – James Kaiser; Yosemite High Sierra – James Kaiser