Whether you’re participating in our Read Around the USA Challenge or simply found your way to our website researching books set in Alaska, the Northern Plains, or the Northern Rockies, you’ve come to the right place!
Books Set in the Northern States
Below, you’ll find a list of highly-rated books featuring the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Check our comprehensive index of books set in every state for books covering the other Rocky Mountain and Northern Plains states.
What Kind of Books are Included On This List?
Our curated recommendations strike a good balance between historical fiction, contemporary novels, and non-fiction books about the northern states. We’ve grouped the books by state and indicated each time setting. You’ll also find a brief description of each state’s characteristics before the corresponding books.
History of Alaska
Alaska has a rich history shaped by indigenous peoples and natural resources. For over 10,000 years, Native groups like the Tlingit, Haida, and Eskimo inhabited this land, and each developed distinct cultures and subsistence lifestyles. In the 18th century, Russian explorers claimed this land, and it became an outpost for the fur trade. The region became known as Russian America. But by the mid-19th century, with fur resources dwindling, Russia decided to sell the territory. The US purchased Alaska in 1867, a decision that was initially met with great skepticism but ultimately proved extremely valuable when gold and oil were later discovered in the region.
More than 90 years passed between the Alaska Purchase and 1959, when Alaska became the 49th state admitted to the US. This was partly due to its geographic distance and sparse population, as well as concerns from Indigenous Alaskans about how statehood would impact their rights and way of life.
Most of us know that Alaska is the largest state in the US, but because of its distance from the contiguous states, it can be hard to envision exactly how its scale compares. Alaska is one-fifth the size of the entire lower 48, and is larger than Texas, California, and Montana combined. Its vast geography ranges from temperate rainforests in the southeast to barren, frozen tundras in the north. The mountain ranges throughout the state boast North America’s highest peak (Denali at 20,310 feet) and some of the continent’s largest glaciers. Additionally, Alaska’s tidal shoreline measures over 46,600 miles, which is longer than the combined shorelines of all the continental states.
Despite its large size, Alaska has a relatively small population, with just 731,000 residents as of the 2020 census. A significant portion of Alaska’s population lives in just a few urban areas. The largest city of Anchorage, which serves as the state’s primary economic and transportation hub, is home to more than 40% of the state’s population. Other major cities include: Fairbanks, located in the interior of the state and a prime location for viewing the Northern Lights; Juneau, the state’s capital, is only accessible by boat or plane; and Sitka, which maintains a unique blend of Tlingit and Russian cultures.
Depending on the year, the number of tourists who visit Alaska via cruise ship can be more than double the entire population of the state. Cruising to this far northern state provides breathtaking views of the glaciers, fjords, and wildlife. On the other hand, cruises limit your ability to visit interior sights like Denali National Park. Visitors wishing to see more of Alaska can consider traveling via the Alaskan Railroad or renting a car to venture further on their own.
Books Set in Alaska
In addition to the Alaska books below, we have an additional list of Books Set in Alaska available now.
History of Idaho
The region now known as Idaho was originally inhabited by Native American tribes such as the Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Coeur d’Alene. The 1805 expedition of Lewis and Clark traversed the state, opening the doors for fur traders and trappers. The Oregon Trail, used by pioneers migrating west in the 19th century, passed through southern Idaho, marking a period of significant migration and settlement.
The discovery of gold and silver in the 1860s brought a rush of prospectors to the region, leading to the establishment of many mining communities. Idaho’s vast agricultural potential was also recognized, with irrigation playing a pivotal role in its development, beginning with wheat, oats, and barley. Settlers then began planting orchards of apples, cherries, and other fruits. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, potatoes became the state’s main crop.
Idaho became the 43rd state of the Union on July 3, 1890. Throughout the 20th century, the state experienced growth in both agricultural and technological industries. Today, Idaho remains the leading potato-producing state in the US. The state’s volcanic soil, combined with its climate—warm days and cool nights—and irrigation systems, provides an ideal environment for cultivating high-quality potatoes.
Idaho is also called the “Gem State” due to its rich deposits of precious and semi-precious gemstones. From the rugged Rocky Mountains to the serene lakes and plains, this state is renowned for its scenic beauty and varied recreational activities. Locations like Sun Valley and Coeur d’Alene are especially popular, making tourism an important part of Idaho’s economy. Sun Valley, in central Idaho, was established in the 1930s and quickly gained fame as a winter playground for the rich and famous. Coeur d’Alene, located in northern Idaho, is a picturesque lake-side city with a vibrant arts and restaurant scene.
While Idaho’s population is relatively small compared to most other states, it was one of the fastest-growing states in terms of percentage of population during the period leading up to 2020. Boise, the capital and largest city of Idaho, melds urban sophistication with outdoor appeal. Nestled along the Boise River and set against the backdrop of the Boise Foothills, it offers abundant recreational opportunities from river activities to mountain hiking. The vibrant downtown showcases features historic architecture and tree-lined streets, earning Boise its nickname, the “City of Trees.”
Books Set in Idaho
History of Montana
Montana has a history that dates back to the indigenous tribes that called this land home long before European exploration. The Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and other tribes thrived off the land’s bountiful resources, shaping its early cultural tapestry. The 19th century brought Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition (1804-1806), mapping the vast uncharted territory.
Montana subsequently became a hub during the mid-century gold rush, drawing prospectors and settlers alike and earning it the nickname the “Treasure State,” due to its rich mineral reserves. With this influx, tension between settlers and indigenous tribes escalated, leading to tragic events like the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. As miners continued to dig deeper, they discovered vast copper deposits. Butte became known as the “Richest Hill on Earth” due to its abundant copper deposit, and copper magnates, such as the infamous Copper Kings, held immense power and wealth.
Statehood was achieved in 1889, and the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad played an essential role in connecting Montana to other parts of the U.S., facilitating trade and migration. The homestead acts brought settlers looking to farm the land, and by 1910, Montana saw a dramatic rise in population. With these demographic shifts came political struggles. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company had a massive influence over state politics, controlling newspapers and, indirectly, policies. This domination led to grassroots movements advocating for campaign reforms and challenging corporate dominance.
Montana is often referred to as “Big Sky Country” due to its expansive landscapes and clear blue skies. This state boasts some of the nation’s most breathtaking natural sites, including Glacier National Park, known as the “Crown of the Continent,” and a portion of Yellowstone National Park. Its vast wilderness areas, pristine lakes, and towering mountain ranges are a haven for wildlife and draw outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.
Montana is the 4th largest state in the US but has a relatively small population at just over 1 million residents as of the most recent census. The largest city, Billings, serves as a major economic and cultural hub. However, two of the fastest-growing cities are Bozeman and Missoula, where new residents are attracted by the strong economy, natural beauty, and good quality of life. This is especially true in recent years as increasing remote work opportunities allow individuals to live in scenic areas while maintaining urban employment.
Books Set in Montana
History of the Dakota Territory
The Dakota region was originally inhabited by indigenous tribes such as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. European explorers arrived in the 18th century and the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter of 1804-1805 near present-day Washburn at Fort Mandan. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Dakota Territory was established in 1861, encompassing present-day North and South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Railroad expansion in the late 19th century, alongside the discovery of fertile land, lured settlers, leading to an agricultural boom. Statehood was granted in 1889, when North and South Dakota became separate entities.
Book Set in the Dakota Territory
History of North Dakota
Throughout the 20th century, the economy of North Dakota was dominated by agriculture and natural resources, with a heavy shift toward energy production in the late 1900s and early 2000s. The state is a major producer of crops like wheat, barley, soybeans, sunflowers, and flaxseed. North Dakota saw a coal boom in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the Bakken oil boom in the late 2000s truly transformed its economy, making North Dakota the second-largest oil-producing state in the U.S.
Although North Dakota has historically been a relatively conservative state on the political spectrum, in the early 20th century, the state became a hotbed for the Nonpartisan League (NPL). This populist movement aimed to assist farmers against the big corporations. The NPL influenced the state’s politics and led to the establishment of state-owned enterprises, like the Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator. Unique to North Dakota, these state-owned enterprises are still operational today and contribute to its economic landscape.
In terms of landscape, North Dakota is divided into three primary regions. The Red River Valley in the east is a flat, fertile plain that’s a hub for agriculture. Moving westward, the Drift Prairie is home to the rolling Turtle Mountains, lakes, and pastures. The Missouri Plateau, also known as the Great Plains region, dominates the western half of the state, featuring rugged badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as well as buttes and deep river valleys.
Fargo, the largest city in the state, is home to North Dakota State University and a thriving arts scene, including its annual film festival and historical museums. The capital city of Bismarck features a towering Art Deco capitol building and is the state’s center of health care and commerce. Grand Forks, home to the University of North Dakota, is recognized for its vibrant student population and its aerospace and drone industries. Grand Forks is also recognized for its resilience, having rebuilt impressively after a devastating flood in 1997.
Books Set in North Dakota
History of South Dakota
Historically, mining and agriculture dominated the economy of South Dakota. And while both remain important, other industries have had major impacts on this state. In the 1980s, South Dakota liberalized its banking laws, attracting numerous financial institutions to the state. This deregulation led to the growth of credit card operations in cities like Sioux Falls, making finance a significant industry. In recent decades, South Dakota has worked to diversify its economy, focusing on sectors like biotechnology, renewable energy, and telecommunications.
South Dakota’s landscape varies from rolling prairies to rugged badlands and scenic mountains. The eastern portion of the state has fertile farmland, but as you travel west, the topography becomes more dramatic with the unique formations of the Badlands, a maze of canyons, pinnacles, and spires sculpted by millions of years of erosion. Even further west lie the Black Hills, a small, isolated mountain range. South Dakota’s rich cultural and natural attractions, from Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial to Badlands National Park and the historic town of Deadwood, have made tourism an important part of the state’s economy. The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally also draws a significant number of visitors.
South Dakota’s major cities each have their own distinct character and charm. The largest city, Sioux Falls, is a modern hub of healthcare, finance, and commerce. Its bustling downtown is set against the cascading waters of Falls Park, blending urban life with natural beauty. The capital city of Pierre is nestled along the Missouri River. And Rapid City is strategically located at the gateway to the Black Hills. Its proximity to national treasures like Mount Rushmore and the Badlands places Rapid City at the center of the state’s tourism industry.
Over the years, South Dakota has maintained a slightly higher population than its neighbor to the north. However, both Dakotas grapple with challenges like rural depopulation and economic dependency on commodities, which can lead to boom-bust cycles.
Books Set in South Dakota
We hope you enjoyed this book list and found several books to add to your TBR (to be read list). If you’re choosing a book for our reading challenge, you are also welcome to read any other book that meets the challenge prompt.
If you have a suggestion for a book that you think would be a great addition to this list, please fill out this form.
Book Recommendations for Other Regions of the USA
If you’re participating in our 2024 Read Around the USA Challenge and reading one book per region, you can find links to every region below. If you’re doing the Challenge and reading books from every state and territory, you can get an alphabetical index here.
- Books Set in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin
- Books Set in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC
- Books Set in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota
- Books About Traveling Across America
- Books Set in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington
- Books Set in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas
- Books Set in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware
- Books Set in Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Nebraska
- Books Set in the U.S. Territories
- Books Set in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee
- Books Set in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
- Books Set in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont