Icebergs floating in a lake in Alaska

Must Read Alaska : Books Set in Alaska

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Alaska is a place that conjures up images of towering mountains, raging rivers, abundant wildlife, and stormy seas. It’s no wonder that the must read Alaska books often have these landscapes and animals as the main character. Books set in Alaska are by their nature adventurous and wild, even while detailing the day-to-day aspects of living in the Last Frontier.

I’ve gathered submissions from fellow bloggers and travelers to create this list of books on Alaska. And I’ve added some of my favorite books that take place in Alaska to the mix.

Below you will find the Alaska novel, Alaskan adventure books, mysteries set in Alaska, and romance novels set in Alaska. A lot of the books can fit into more than one category. Is Into The Wild an adventure novel or a mystery? Maybe a little of both.

Books set in Alaska on a shelf

Must Read Alaska: Best Books Set in Alaska

Getting ready for an Alaska trip? Don’t miss these posts: 

Nonfiction Books About Alaska and Alaska Adventure Books

walking on a beach in Alaska while talking about must read Alaska books

Any list of must read Alaska books must include some nonfiction. The largeness and wildness of the state has inspired some of the best adventure books, in fact, I’d say that almost any book set in Alaska is an adventure book.

The following books about Alaska adventure and living in Alaska aren’t only about the land, several are about the people. It seems that the state draws those that crave individualism and self-sufficiency or who just need more space to fit in.

I’ve included memoirs and books by Alaska natives to round out the selections.

Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir

  • by Ernestine Hayes
  • Alaska setting: In and around Juneau and San Francisco and Seattle
  • Published 2006

Hayes weaves her own story with Tlingit stories and those of friends and families to paint a picture of growing up part Euro-American and part Tlingit. She started life in Juneau Indian Village before Alaska was a state and moved around the Pacific Coast until she could finally return to Juneau.

It’s a little hard to read, but an important story. Hayes tells of relatives being taken to missionary schools, racism, alcoholism, homelessness, as well as love and family. She moved with her mom to San Fransisco where she spent 25 years. 

Like the salmon, Hayes eventually makes it home to Alaska where she worked as a ranger on cruise tours of the Inside Passage and now teaches creative writing, composition, and Alaska literature at the UAS Juneau campus.

I had a little trouble figuring out who some of the people were and their relation to her, but it didn’t bother me too much. Her prose is lyrical and it’s more the feeling than the details that matter here.

— Mel

Other books by Ernestine Hayes

Into the Wild

  • by Jon Krakauer
  • Alaska Setting: Fairbanks and near Denali National Park
  • Published 1997

Probably one of the best books set in Alaska is definitely Into the Wild, written by Jon Krakauer. In the summer of 1992, a dead body was found in Alaska. The author researches the deceased Chris McCandless and reconstructs his story of life.

The book is exciting and very moving the more you read. You dive into the beautiful and at the same time so sad life of a seeker. It is about the longing for freedom that leads a young man to leave modern society behind.

McCandless is traveling through the USA, is meeting new friends, and finally Alaska, for finding peace in the deepest nature.

His last adventure was not to have a happy ending. Finally, he hikes through Denali National Park and, after days of hiking along the Sushana River, finds an abandoned bus that becomes his base camp.

After 112 days in Alaska’s wilderness, Chris McCandless meets his lonely death. 

— Martina from PlacesofJuma

From Mel: This is an Alaskan wilderness adventure that does not bear repeating. The Park Service has removed McCandless’ bus since people kept looking for it in the wilderness.

If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News From Small Town Alaska

  • by Heather Lende
  • Alaska setting: Haines
  • Published 2006

Heather Lende writes both a social column and obituaries for her Haines, Alaska newspaper. She’s also an NPR commentator and author of several other books about small town Alaska, so she is the right person for this book.

Each chapter of If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name starts with selections from her “Duly Noted” column. It’s followed by an essay about the quirky people and places in her town. It’s all done with kindness and wholesomeness. The stories are kind of an Alaskan version of Prairie Home Companion.

This book left me wanting to go to Haines, meet some of her neighbors, and be part of the community.

— Mel

Other books set in Alaska by Heather Lende:

woman holding a stack of books set in Alaska

Lonesome for Bears: A Woman’s Journey in the Tracks of the Wilderness

  • by Linda Jo Hunter
  • Alaska setting: Near the Lake Clark Preserve and Wilderness at Big River Lake.
  • Published 2008

You can’t begin to think of an Alaskan vacation and that dream trip to Denali National Park without dozens of questions about bears entering your mind. Will you see bears, will you get a photo of a bear, will they steal your food, and most importantly will you have a scary or even deadly bear encounter?

Lonesome for Bears: A Woman’s Journey in the Tracks of the Wilderness is a must-read to better understand the behaviors of the brown bears (grizzly bears) of Alaska. The author, Linda Jo Hunter, grew up terrified of bears. She read one too many stories of people killed by bears in the wild. As an avid adventurer, she found her fear of bears interfering with her love of solo hiking. What started as a study of brown bear behavior for her own hiking safety led to her becoming an expert on black bears and a guide to an Alaskan wilderness adventure.

As you read her story, you will start to see brown bears through Linda’s eyes. She’s frank about the dangers of working near bears but at the same time will help you see the challenges wildlife encounter when clashing with humans. I don’t think any story will take away my fear of crossing paths with a bear in the wild, but this book helped me find empathy for their difficult life and respect for the way the black bears of Alaska live.

— Ladona from Walking The Parks

Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier

  • by Mark Adams
  • Alaska setting: Most of coastal Alaska
  • Published 2018

I read Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams before setting out on my own walk to Machu Picchu and the book both got me excited for my trip and informed my trek. In Tip of the Iceberg,

Adams does the same thing for parts of Alaska. My husband, older son, and I all read (or listened) to Tip of the Iceberg and were able to reference it throughout our trip.

The author roughly follows the 1889 Harriman Expedition, in which the railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman, gathered scientists, naturalists, and artists, and chartered a luxury yacht. As Adams travels a similar route as the “floating university” he meets interesting and quirky characters and ponders on how lessons from the Harriman Expedition relate to today’s Alaska.

While not perfect, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There could have been more Native Alaskan inclusion, but I appreciated his coverage of the science, climate change effects, and some of the people living in Alaska today.

Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home, and Family on the Edge of Alaska

  • by Erin McKittrick
  • Alaska setting: Alaska wilderness
  • Published 2013

 I first read Small Feet, Big Land in 2014 and was so inspired by the outdoor adventures McKittrick and her husband took with their small children. I think we are a fairly outdoorsy family, but they tackled serious expeditions in the Alaskan bush with their babies.

As they trek along Alaska’s rugged coastline, spend months on a glacier, visit tiny villages, and tour a zinc mine, she considers how Alaska is changing and what the impact that will have on her family and the rest of the world.

This is the story of a family figuring out how to maintain an adventuring lifestyle, but also the story of the Alaskan landscape.

There is something special about McKittrick’s blend of family, activism, and adventure that makes me want to emulate it. And her view of Alaska is a good one for those traveling to the Last Frontier for real or via armchair.

Other books set in Alaska by Erin McKittrick:

Looking for Alaska

  • by Peter Jenkins
  • Alaska setting: All over Alaska
  • Published 2002

When I was in high school, I read Jenkins’ first book, A Walk Across America. It had such a huge impact on me. It opened my eyes to another way to live — walking and having a nontraditional job — and even spurred my interest in having a Malamute.

I was excited to read Looking for Alaska, and while I did enjoy it, it didn’t get me the same way. I may have changed in the more than two decades since I read the first book.

Jenkins and part of his family moved to Seward, Alaska for a year and a half, in which he spent the time traveling around the state and talking to people. He does an excellent job making friends and being welcomed into the lives of Alaskans to tell their stories in Looking for Alaska. At the same time, he is telling his own tale of rediscovery, much like he did in A Walk Across America.

woman sitting on stairs reading Alaska books

Alaska Bookstores

As a little side note: when we visited Alaska, we stayed in a charming apartment above the Old Inlet Bookshop and Mermaid Cafe in Homer. It was a lovely basecamp for Homer adventures and we could browse the used bookstore to our heart’s content.

See our favorite place to stay in Homer, Alaska.

They had an extensive collection of Alaska and polar region books. I was limited by how much I wanted to carry home on the plane, otherwise, I would have walked out of there with 50 books.

books set in Alaska on a shelf

Novels About Alaska

You can learn a lot about The Last Frontier from fiction books about Alaska. The stories may be imagined, but the best Alaska books drop you into the landscape of the place.

These novels set in Alaska make you feel like you are there, immersed in the mountains, rivers, cabins, and lives that make it such a special place.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses

  • by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
  • Setting: Fairbanks and other parts of Alaska
  • Published 2016

This stirring and arresting Alaskan novel follows the lives of four teenagers in 1970 facing various difficulties and triumphs in rural Alaska. The characters in The Smell of Other People’s Houses intertwine throughout the book, coming together in the end.

She captures the lives of native and rural teens in Alaska in a poignant way, without sugar-coating anything, but also not dropping into despair.

Hitchock was a radio reporter for Alaska Public Radio and a producer of the Independent Native News.

This may be one of my favorite fiction books set in Alaska. It’s a Young Adult book, which I didn’t realize until I started writing this post, but I think it’s totally suitable for us Old Adults, too.

— Mel

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock also wrote:

The Snow Child

  • by Eowyn Ivey
  • Alaska setting: Alaskan wilderness
  • Published 2012

 The Snow Child is a compelling book based on the real-life story of a couple from Alaska in 1920.

The book is a mix of episodes of struggles and loneliness which the couple faces in the aspiration of a child. It is also coupled with the unique wilderness of the place with the winter season bringing more challenges and monotony to deal with.

The author being born and brought up at the same place wonderfully brings the beauty of the place in its own sense of isolation and disconnect. The winter season is metaphorically used with the story of the couple to create an engaging yet inspiring tale.

The book also tries to bring out the vast uninhabited landscape of Alaska and the difficult life which people have to live there due to improper resources and facilities. The winter season which takes over for the major part of the year adds to the struggle, but a positive note and message has been delivered subtly.

— Utkarsh from Journeys from Heart

From Mel: This story is based on a Russian fairy tale and it is probably best considered magical realism. I loved this book and highly recommend it. The author was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for this novel debut. For books about Alaska, fiction like this can be a fun read.

The Bright Edge of the World

  • by Eowyn Ivey
  • Alaska setting: The fictional Wolverine River Valley and Vancouver, Washington
  • Published 2016

 The Bright Edge of the World is by the author of The Snow Child, and while I enjoyed both, I preferred The Snow Child – one of my favorite Alaska fiction books.

Author Eowyn Ivey is a native Alaskan journalist and bookseller. She is a lovely writer and describes the places and emotions in this book so well that I almost felt like I was there.

The book is really two stories. One is the story of Colonel Allen Forrester who leads a troop of men up an Alaskan river valley and off the known map. This part was a little too much “white man discovers native tribes and new lands” for me, at first. It does redeem itself in a lot of ways, and I did appreciate the shaman/crazy old man who, I think, represented Alaskan nature.

The other story is of Allen’s wife Sophie who is left at the Vancouver Barracks while her husband is traipsing about Alaska. She wishes she was with him, but instead must find a way to find happiness while she waits for his return.

In the end, they both have life-changing adventures.

— Mel

The Call of the Wild

  • by Jack London
  • Alaska setting: Skagway and the Yukon
  • Published 1903

Published in 1903 and set in the Yukon Territory during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, The Call of the Wild was inspired by Jack London’s year in Alaska.

The story follows a St. Bernard/Collie mix named Buck, who is stolen from his home in California and sold into service as a sled dog in Alaska. Buck’s teammates teach him about pack life and how to survive cold winter nights, but he develops a bitter rivalry with the lead dog, Spitz, a malicious husky.

After Buck kills Spitz in a fight, he becomes the leader for the team’s arduous trip on the Yukon Trail. The book depicts the unflinching brutality and beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, as Buck and his team endure a succession of travails before he eventually heeds “the call of the wild” and joins a pack of wild wolves.

The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the pioneer spirit of America’s last frontier, and why it remains the nation’s most unspoiled and underdeveloped state.

— Bret Love from Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide

Touching the Clouds

  • by Bonnie Leon
  • Alaska setting: Alaskan wilderness
  • Published 2010

Alaska is the largest and wildest state in the United States. Many places, including five of Alaska’s eight national parks, have no roadways. The only way to reach them is by plane or plane and boat.

One of the best and most exciting experiences during a journey to Alaska is to soar above the Alaskan mountain peaks, endless forests, rivers, and glaciers and admire them from a bird’s eye view. That is why it is worth reading the novel Touching the Clouds by Bonnie Leon before a trip to Alaska.

We will step back to 1935, where a brave young woman, Kate Evans, decided to be a pilot in Alaska. At that time, the aviation world is dominated by men, and it would seem that there is no place for women in it. Kate Evans grew up at the controls of an airplane thanks to her father, and she is ready to prove her worth by working as a pilot in the harsh, airportless territory of Alaska. Living and working in Alaska poses many challenges and any mistake in the Alaskan wilderness can have dire consequences. Kate struggles with unpredictable nature, harsh weather conditions, and the disapproval of men who look askance at the female pilot.

However, the young pilot also makes many friendships, including with Paul – a lonely, secretive man who lives in the Alaskan wilderness. Certainly, neither of them is looking for love, but love likes to come unexpectedly, and the past often gets in the way of the future.

— Agnes from The Van Escape

The Great Alone

  • by Kristin Hannah
  • Alaska setting: fictional town of Kaneq, located near Homer, Alaska
  • Published 2018

 The Great Alone follows the story of Leni Allbright as her father, a troubled Vietnam vet moves his family to a small homesite on Kachemak Bay. The story begins in 1974 and spans just over a decade as it details life in “The Great Alone” where Leni and her mother learn how to deal with their father and husband’s PTSD as they navigate a new life in remote Alaska.

Despite being fiction with the names of places and events being changed, the scenery and sense of community are described beautifully. Kristin Hannah used to live on the shores of the Kenai river and so does have first-hand experience of Alaska. You’ll learn more about the harsh realities of a remote Alaskan winter and wildlife and it’ll get you excited about a trip to this wild and beautiful state.

— Hannah from That Adventurer

Two Old Women

  • by Velma Wallis
  • Alaska setting: Upper Yukon River Valley
  • Published 1993

 Two Old Women is an incredible book and a must-read for anyone wanting to visit Alaska or simply interested in the region’s incredible history.

Long before the Europeans arrive, various nomadic groups roamed Alaska in constant search of huntable game. One of these nomadic groups decides to leave the two women Sa’ and Ch’idzigyaak behind in the snowy and lonely wilderness because of the impending cold winter and acute lack of food.

The two old women then have to fight for survival in the harsh climate. They start to set traps to get food and at the same time try to protect themselves from the icy winter.

In the following winter, the tribe comes back to the area, still unsuccessful in the hunt. They find the two old women again, who by then had built up a huge stockpile of food. The two old women reconcile with the tribe that once abandoned them and give them plenty of food.

— Victoria from Guide your Travel

From Mel: Two Old Women is based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska. The author was raised around Fort Yukon with traditional Athabascan values.

Alaska: A Novel

  • by James A. Michener
  • Alaska setting: All of Alaska
  • Published 1998

I have some fond memories of reading Michener’s epics when I was younger. I learned so much from the fictional stories rooted in the history of Chesapeake and Centennial.

I learned a lot of history in the novel Alaska as well but ultimately gave up on the book about a third of the way through.

This book lacked the continuity of characters with whom I could feel engagement. After the geology and ancient history chapters, the sympathetic characters seemed to get killed off at the end of each chapter. And each chapter seemed to consist entirely of ways in which the Native Alaskans were casually cheated, murdered, raped, and enslaved, time and again.

It was all too much to sustain me over the 868 pages. Perhaps the Euro-Americans treated native peoples and each other better, but history would say they don’t. I just needed someone to root for and they kept getting murdered.

That said, I did learn some good history that added to our own Alaskan adventure but this particular epic just couldn’t maintain my interest.

— Henry from TravelingFilmmaker.

Mystery Books Set in Alaska

I love a good murder mystery and was happy to find several Alaska mystery series to get me excited for my trip to Alaska, not that I wanted to experience murder, but you know what I mean. These mysteries of Alaska run the gambit from cozy to gritty.

Mousse and Murder

  • by Elizabeth Logan
  • Alaska setting: Fictional small town “Elkview” between Anchorage and Denali National Park.
  • Published 2020

 Mousse and Murder is a cozy mystery and the first in Logan’s An Alaskan Diner Mystery Series.

Charlotte “Charlie” Cooke returns to her hometown of Elkview to take over the diner her mom’s diner.

Everything is going along swimmingly until her chef is murdered. She teams up with a hunky friend from high school to find the killer. This mystery in Alaska has a lot of Alaska facts thrown in, which is both interesting and a little jarring at times. I also thought she was too crazy about her cat; I know it is important to the story, but I hope the next books in the series have a little less cat in them.

That said, I thought this was a quick, fun read set in a town of characters — a little like the town of Cicely on Northern Exposure. And you’ll definitely be ready for a delicious bear claw pastry after reading this.

— Mel

A Cold Day for Murder

  • by Dana Stabenow
  • Setting: Fictional National Park in the interior of Alaska
  • Published 2013

If you are looking for Alaska mystery novels in a series, Stabenow’s A Kate Shugak Investigation series is a good one. There are 22 books in this Alaska mystery series, so they will keep you busy for a while.

In a Cold Day for Murder, Aleut Kate Shugak is dragged into investigating a missing park ranger. Shugak had a successful career with the District Attorney’s office in Anchorage but returned to her home village of Niniltna after she burns out from the brutality of the job.

This book is full of Alaskan history, Aleut culture, complicated family dynamics, action, and a little bit of romantic interest. And she has a big, fluffy dog.

I am looking forward to the next book.

— Mel

Murder on the Iditarod Trail

  • by Sue Henry
  • Setting: The Iditarod Trail from Anchorage to Nome
  • Published 2018

The Iditarod is an eleven-hundred-mile dogsled race across the Alaskan bush. It’s always a tough race, but this time it turns deadly. Mushers keep getting murdered and no one knows why or who is doing it. State trooper Alex Jensen works his way along the trail (flying instead of mushing) trying to find the killer. He’s aided by Jesse Arnold, one of the mushers and a love interest.

In Murder on the Iditarod Trail, there is a lot of description of the Alaskan terrain the dogsled teams cover and information about dog sledding and the race itself. I found this to be very interesting. I would have enjoyed the book and going along for the ride (without having to freeze nearly to death and live on almost no sleep) without the murders.

I had a little trouble keeping track of the characters. Sometimes they are referred to by their first names and sometimes by their last. Alex Jensen gets credit for solving the murder, but really he just stumbled upon a murder attempt in progress.

This is the first in the 12-book Alaska Mysteries series.

— Mel

The Mystery on Alaska’s Iditarod Trail 

  • by Carole Marsh 
  • Setting: The Iditarod Trail from Anchorage to Nome
  • Published 2003

This is a kids’ book that I read to my boys when they were younger and they loved it. We were learning about dog sledding, the Iditarod, and Arctic environments.

The Mystery on Alaska’s Iditarod Trail is about four kids who travel to Alaska to watch the Iditarod but get wrapped up in a mystery they have to solve.

The kids are fictional, but the places and history are real. There’s enough action — picture trying to keep up with a runaway dog sled team and rogue musher — to keep kids engaged while they are learning about Alaska and dog sledding.

Like all of Carole Marsh Mysteries, this Alaska mystery incorporates history, geography, and culture. It’s rated for 3-6 grade. 

used bookshop in Homer Alaska

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Don’t miss these other book reviews and suggestions perfect for both the armchair traveler and those who like to read books set in the country in which they are traveling.

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8 thoughts on “Must Read Alaska : Books Set in Alaska”

  1. Kristine Drumm

    Great Selection. I read a few of these.
    Also check out The Red Mitten by Sarah Birdsall.

    1. The Red Mitten was on my list to read, but I didn’t get to it while we were in Alaska. Thanks for the recommendation! I will put it back on my to-read list!

  2. T.B. Ainslow

    Some wonderful reads here, some of read, some I have sitting on my table to be read, and some I’ve never heard of. Thanks for listing them plus more books by the authors. I read one, a memoir, that’s not here called Raised in Ruins about a family of 7 that lives in a burnt down cannery by themselves in the 80s. The kids don’t have much contact with the outside world till they get older. Made me want to live it.

  3. Shelly Cunningham

    I would highly recommend The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, as well as the other three books in the series, Wild at Heart, Forever Wild and Running Wild. They take place in a fictional town, but it’s modeled after Bethel, Alaska and is so fantastic in describing the village, life there and the ins and outs of life in the bush. After having lived in Marshall, Alaska for five years as a teacher wife (and mother to three young boys) I love when I find a book about Alaska that does its beauty (and its heartache) justice.

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