Best Alaska Books and Movies: Unlocking the Essence of Alaska

The best Alaska books and movies will help you plan your trip to the Last Frontier. With its vast wilderness, towering mountains, and thriving culture, Alaska has always held a magnetic allure for travelers.

As you gear up for your Alaskan adventure, why not immerse yourself in this state’s rich literary and cinematic world? We’ll take you on a virtual expedition through the pages of must-read books. Then we follow up with the captivating scenes of the best movies in Alaska.

These stories and films will not only heighten your anticipation about visiting the 49th State. But they’ll also offer a profound understanding of Alaska’s history, culture. In addition, you’ll see unparalleled natural beauty, enriching your experience and engagement with this remarkable land.

Denali National Park
Here we are taking one Denali’s bus rides

Books that Bring Alaska to Life

Alaska, the Last Frontier, is a land of captivating contrasts. It’s where breathtaking wilderness meets rugged urbanity, and the past intertwines with the present to create a unique cultural tapestry. If you’re planning a journey or want to get lost in the pages of an Alaskan adventure from home. Either way, we’ve got the best Alaska books and movies to explore and discover.

So, whether you’re a traveler, an armchair explorer, or simply appreciate a good story, we’ve got a list of the best books to read about Alaska. These selections span a variety of genres. You’ll find adventure to historical fiction, and offer unique perspectives on Alaska’s history, culture, and natural beauty. They will help you delve into the nuances of this vast and alluring land.

Be sure to check out our Denali National Park and Preserve article to learn about visiting this beautiful park.

“Follow Me To Alaska” by Ann Parker

A retired law enforcement officer turned pilot, and a former math teacher leave Texas for a new life in the Alaskan wilderness. This memoir is written by Ann Parker. She is a seasoned adventurer and author of several books about her experiences in the wild. Their cabin on Cub Lake is accessible only by bush plane or snow machine. And it presents a steep learning curve and unique challenges. 

For example, they must master hunting, fishing, gardening, and flying to thrive off-the-grid amidst arctic temperatures and wild animals. Their adventures include encounters with bears to humorous mishaps with chickens. The book highlights their resilience and newfound strengths, inspiring readers to pursue their dreams.

“Alaska” by James A. Michener

In “Alaska,” James A. Michener crafts a sweeping epic that explores the rugged terrain and rich history of America’s northernmost frontier. The novel follows characters struggling for survival. It interweaves pivotal events such as the gold rush and the salmon industry’s rise. It also touches on the construction of the Alcan Highway during WWII. 

Additionally, Michener’s narrative captures the brutal origins of Alaska and its American acquisition. He paints a vivid portrait of resilience and growth. This spellbinding tale celebrates the enduring spirit of the land and its people. Additionally, it invites readers into a bold and majestic saga.

“Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer

In April 1992, Christopher Johnson McCandless hitchhiked to Alaska and ventured alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. McCandless is a young man from a wealthy family, who isn’t fully prepared for this adventure. Four months later, a moose hunter discovered his decomposed body. This book recounts the unforgettable story of how McCandless met his tragic end. Through his journey, readers are drawn into the mystery and profound solitude that led to his demise.

Additionally, “Into the Wild” makes the cut for the best Alaska books AND movies. Especially since you can visit the Magic Bus during your Alaska trip.

“Coming into the Country” by John McPhee

This best Alaska book explores America’s last frontier, a place that profoundly changes those who venture into it. McPhee’s narrative allows readers to experience the awe and challenges our forefathers felt upon arriving in the New World. The author uses his characteristic tolerance, brisk and entertaining prose, and keen observation of overlooked details. Furthermore, McPhee crafts an engaging travel literature piece. This book brings Alaska to life, offering a unique and captivating glimpse into its transformative power.

“Two Old Women” by Velma Wallis

This book is an award-winning, bestselling tale based on an Athabascan Indian legend from Alaska’s upper Yukon River Valley. The story follows two elderly Native American women. Their tribe abandoned them during a harsh winter famine. So they must survive on their own or die trying. Wallis’s simple yet vivid prose captures the merciless, starkly beautiful landscape and the women’s steely determination. 

In addition, this suspenseful and inspirational tale of betrayal, friendship, community, and forgiveness resonates deeply with readers. It offers clarity, sweetness, and wisdom. This book is recommended for its powerful themes and its ability to evoke a strong emotional response in readers.

“Arctic Dreams” by Barry Lopez

This New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-winning book offers an unparalleled exploration of the Arctic. It is also praised as “one of the finest books ever written about the far North” (Publishers Weekly). Renowned nature writer Barry Lopez ventures into this barren yet beautiful, dangerous yet alluring landscape. It is rich with vibrant life and human history. For centuries, the Arctic has captivated ambitious explorers with its dreams, fears, and awe-inspiring spectacles. In this “dazzling” account, Lopez takes readers on a breathtaking journey. Come along into one of the world’s last frontiers, bringing its stark beauty and profound mysteries to life.

“Ordinary Wolves” by Seth Kantner

“Ordinary Wolves” is a national bestselling novel. It vividly portrays the clash between Iñupiaq Eskimo and white cultures in the contemporary Alaskan wilderness. The story follows Cutuk Hawcley, who grows up in the Arctic. He learns to survive by hunting, fishing, and trading while idolizing the indigenous hunters.

Despite mastering these skills, Cutuk faces rejection and bullying in a nearby Inupiaq village for being white. When he ventures into mainstream society, he confronts a stark contrast between the wild world and modern consumer culture. This powerful coming-of-age tale captures Cutuk’s struggle to find his place between two worlds that both seem to reject him.

“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London

“The Call of the Wild” tells the story of Buck, a half-St. Bernard and half-Shepherd dog. He is stolen from his comfortable Californian home and sold as a sled dog in the harsh Yukon Territory. As Buck is passed from master to master, he embarks on a remarkable journey. London showcases his unbreakable spirit and survival instincts. First published in 1903, Jack London’s masterpiece draws from his experiences as a gold prospector and explores themes of nature and survival in the Alaskan Klondike. The novel profoundly examines the connection between the creative spirit and the primal instinct to survive.

“Alaska’s History, Revised Edition: The People, Land, and Events of the North Country” by Harry Ritter

The newly revised edition of “Alaska’s History” offers a travel-friendly guide. It is packed with up-to-date information and historical photographs, bringing Alaska’s rich cultural history to life. Readers can explore the origins of Russian America and the fur trade. Additionally, delve into native lifestyles before and after European contact. You’ll also read about John Muir’s Glacier Bay visit and the Klondike gold rush. Finally Ritter touches on the exploits of Bush pilots, big game hunting, and famous fisheries.

The five new chapters delve into modern topics. For example, Ritter explores the political empowerment of Alaska Natives, the impact of climate change on wildlife, and the future of coastal villages. This engaging history book provides a comprehensive and enjoyable look at the deep story behind Alaska.

“Pilgrim’s Wilderness” by Tom Kizzia

“Pilgrim’s Wilderness” by Tom Kizzia is a riveting true story blending elements of “Into the Wild” and “Helter Skelter.” It is about a modern-day homesteading family deep in the Alaskan wilderness and the chilling secrets of its maniacal patriarch. When Papa Pilgrim arrived in McCarthy, Alaska, with his wife and fifteen children, they initially seemed to embody the Christian ideal.

However, Papa Pilgrim’s actions soon sparked a volatile conflict with the National Park Service and divided the community. Kizzia reveals that Papa Pilgrim was actually the son of a wealthy Texas family. Additionally, they had ties to Hoover’s FBI and oblique connections to the Kennedy assassination. The book delves into the family’s internal turmoil and their patriarch’s mesmerizing yet destructive influence. It captures an intense clash between environmentalists and pioneers. You’re in for a treat in this dark, complex story of a town and family held captive.

“The Milepost” by Morris Communications

“The Milepost” is the ultimate travel guide to Alaska. It is renowned for its comprehensive coverage. Explore detailed descriptions of over 15,000 miles of roads in Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Alberta. This 76th edition includes mile-by-mile details. Learn about accommodations, camping sites, fishing spots, gas stations, restaurants, attractions, and services along the highways.

The guide’s Travel Planning section addresses common questions about traveling in the region. It covers border crossings, pet travel, the Alaska ferry system, driving conditions, and wildlife. With maps, photos, and sidebar features, “The Milepost” is an indispensable resource. We found it indispensable for planning and navigating journeys through the breathtaking landscapes of Alaska and western Canada.

We used this book extensively in 2023 and will use it in June 2024 as we head North again. It even lists mileposts where you might expect to see wildlife, and it’s right!

Best Alaska Books Recap 

Reading these books before your trip will deepen your appreciation of Alaska’s rich heritage. You’ll get a feel for the rugged landscapes and unique culture to enhance your travel experience in the Last Frontier. Or to simply entertain you from the couch! These best Alaska books and movies are sure to entertain, whether or not you’re heading North for a visit.

Best Alaska Movies: Capture the Frontier Spirit

Watching movies set in or inspired by Alaska is a great way to witness the state’s stunning landscapes. Let’s continue with the best Alaska books and movies by checking out some of the best Alaska movies to watch.

“Into the Wild” (2007)

It’s based on Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book. This movie recounts the journey of a man who renounced his possessions and ventured to Alaska in search of a primitive existence closer to nature. Tragically, he perished four months later in an abandoned bus at a remote campsite. Krakauer’s gripping narrative delves into the motivations and challenges faced by the protagonist. He grapples with the wilderness and his inner demons. The movie offers profound insights into the allure and dangers of living off the grid.

As promised, this title makes the best Alaska books AND movies list! Once you get to Alaska, see the movie set bus in Healy, Alaska, at 49th State Brewing Co. You can even walk around inside the bus. The actual bus was removed from the Stampede Trail and now resides at the University of Fairbanks. Engineering students restored the bus, and we saw it during our 2023 visit. I believe it’s currently off display until the college raises enough funds to create a permanent exhibition.

Read about our visit to the Magic Bus and other things to visit in Alaska.

Bus 142, best Alaska books and movies

“Grizzly Man” (2005)

Werner Herzog’s documentary delves into the captivating yet tragic life of Timothy Treadwell. He was an amateur grizzly bear expert and wildlife preservationist. Treadwell spent 13 summers living unarmed among the bears in Alaska. While doing so, he documented his adventures in the wild. He kept filming until his untimely demise alongside his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, in a grizzly attack.

Herzog uses Treadwell’s own footage to paint a nuanced portrait of this complex figure. The documentary explores the relationship between man and nature. It also delves into more significant questions about the human psyche and our place in the natural world. Steve and I watched this documentary years ago and felt astounded by Treadwell’s belief of safety among grizzlies.

“The Grey” (2011)

“The Grey” is a 2011 survival thriller directed by Joe Carnahan, starring Liam Neeson and an ensemble cast. It is based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers. The story follows a group of oil men stranded in Alaska after a plane crash. They battle multiple packs of Canadian grey wolves in harsh weather conditions.

Released in January 2012, the film received acclaim for its philosophical themes and Neeson’s performance, grossing $81 million worldwide. Through intense action and gripping storytelling, “The Grey” explores themes of survival. It also explores human resilience, and the relentless forces of nature in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness.

“North to Alaska” (1960)

This comedic adventure is a classic John Wayne film. It’s set during the Klondike Gold Rush and showcases the region’s rugged and pioneering spirit. Sam and George strike gold in the Alaskan wilderness, leading to romantic entanglements and betrayals. When George sends Sam to Seattle to fetch his fiancée, Sam discovers she’s already married and returns with Angel instead.

However, despite Sam’s efforts to reunite George and Angel, he falls for her. At the same time, she fends off advances from George’s brother, Billy. Amidst the romantic drama, Frankie, a con man, schemes to steal the partners’ gold claim. He adds another layer of tension to the unfolding story of love and greed in the frontier. Classic John Wayne!

“The Edge” (1997)

This thriller, starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, is a survival story set in the Alaskan wilderness. A billionaire, his wife, and two companions are stranded in a remote North American wilderness after a plane crash. Suspicions arise when Charles observes a kiss between his wife and one of his companions, Bob.

Tensions escalate as they struggle to survive, facing both the harsh elements and the threat of a stalking Kodiak Bear. Charles, drawing on his survival knowledge, guides them through the ordeal while uncovering Bob’s treacherous intentions to kill him.

“The Thing” (1982)

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is a chilling adaptation of the classic tale. Kurt Russell gives a standout performance. The movie takes place in the winter of 1982 at a remote Antarctic research station. A twelve-man team unearths an ancient alien buried in the snow for millennia. As the shape-shifting alien emerges, it unleashes chaos and terror among the crew. It infiltrates their ranks and sowing distrust and paranoia. Additionally, Carpenter masterfully builds suspense. The team battles not only the elements but also the insidious threat from within, resulting in a thriller you’ll want to watch.

“White Fang” (1991)

Next is this cinematic adaptation of Jack London’s timeless tale. Ethan Hawke portrays a young man trying to fulfill his father’s dying wish of finding gold in the rugged Yukon Valley. Guided by a seasoned gold miner, Jack encounters the majestic wolf-dog White Fang, whose companionship changes his life.

The breathtaking backdrop of the Alaskan wilderness captures the scenes. And Jack undergoes a transformative journey, facing challenges and overcoming his fears to emerge as a courageous man. Filmed on location in Alaska, this spectacular outdoor adventure captures the essence of London’s novel. It offers a thrilling and visually stunning portrayal of courage and survival.

“Big Miracle” (2012)

Set in October 1988, Adam Carlson is a reporter in Barrow, Alaska. He discovers three California gray whales trapped in the ice and facing certain death. His coverage of their plight gains national attention, sparking efforts from various groups to rescue the whales. Anchorage-based Rachel Kramer, Adam’s ex-girlfriend, leads Greenpeace’s campaign to save the whales despite personal and political obstacles.

As the story gains traction, more news outlets flock to Barrow, including reporter Jill Jerard, whom Adam admires from afar. With pressure mounting from public and political spheres, the race to rescue the whales intensifies. But the Inupiat community’s traditional practices and the interests of oil tycoon J.W. McGraw play into the situation. Through a gripping narrative, “Big Miracle” explores themes of environmentalism, political maneuvering, and human compassion.

Conclusion: Best Alaska Books and Movies

As you prepare for your Alaskan vacation, these best Alaska books and movies offer a gateway to the state’s soul. Reading about the indomitable spirit of its people and watching the breathtaking landscapes come to life on screen, you’ll deepen your connection to the Last Frontier.

Watching these films can help set the mood for your Alaska adventure. They provide glimpses of the state’s diverse landscapes. They also show the unique challenges and joys of living in such a wild and remote place. So, whether you’re looking for adventure, drama, or a touch of humor, these movies offer a range of perspectives on Alaska.

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