My Book

Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks

In my National Outdoor Book Award-winning book, Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, from Beacon Press, I write about spending a year taking wilderness adventures with my wife, Penny, our nine-year-old son, Nate, and our seven-year-old daughter, Alex, in national parks that, because of climate change, are likely to be very different places by the time my kids are my age.

Within often-humorous travel narratives about our backpacking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, and canoeing trips in ten parks, I weave the science story about how the warming climate is singularly affecting each park. Based on exhaustive reading of scientific literature and interviews with leading researchers, that more-serious side of my book goes beyond the usual tales of melting glaciers and rising seas to examine the complex interactions of climate, the physical environment, and native flora and fauna. I also contemplate what these changes will mean to future visitors—such as my grown kids, should they someday repeat our adventures.

At this website, you can see my stories, photos, and videos from our family trips for my book in crown jewels of our park system: the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Glacier Bay, Mount Rainier, Olympic, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Joshua Tree, Yellowstone, and Everglades. (By the way, my kids’ favorite trips for this book were Glacier Bay, Olympic coast, Everglades, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone.)

To receive notices when I post new content at The Big Outside, please subscribe to my e-mail list (at left). Learn more about The Big Outside and me at the About page. Feel free to drop me an e-mail at If you want to see other samples of my published writing and photography, or find out about the programs I offer as a speaker, please visit

Michael Lanza

For information about or a review copy of Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, or to schedule an interview with me, please contact Caitlin Meyer, Publicist, Beacon Press, Boston, (617) 742-2110,

Buy the Book:
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Visit my author page

Praise for Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, by Michael Lanza:

Before They’re Gone is a beautifully written, moving meditation on the meaning of parenthood, our parks, and the first generation of children to grow up in the age of global warming.”
—Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods

“Michael Lanza is a skilled wordsmith and his finely fashioned handiwork is on full display in Before They’re Gone. Lanza takes his wife and two young children to some of the country’s most famous National Parks. They hike, sea kayak, climb, canoe and cross-country ski. It’s a heartwarming narrative of a family and their explorations of wild places. It’s also a cautionary story of what might happen, and is happening, to those spectacular places that they visit as the earth continues to warm.”
National Outdoor Book Awards

“Wilderness adventurers like Lanza are the advance scouts of global warming, bringing back first-hand testimony from pristine landscapes that powerfully corroborates what climate scientists are telling us about our changing planet. But this eyewitness report is much more than an impassioned polemic. It’s that, to be sure, but also an entertaining collection of backcountry anecdotes—surprise encounters with grizzlies, anxious moments on glaciers and wild coastlines, jaw-dropping views from remote summits—that bring climate change to life in a way that’s more palpable and persuasive than any data chart. Above all, Before They’re Gone is a fetching love letter to Mike’s wife, son and daughter, and friends—and to the wild places he treasures as only a hiker, climber, and explorer can.”
—Jonathan Dorn, former editor-in-chief, BACKPACKER

“Delightful… a fresh and engaging way to tell the climate change story.”
—Laura Helmuth, Senior Science Editor, Smithsonian magazine

“Blending anecdotes and ecology lessons, Lanza sheds light on his family’s charming dynamic (from his daughter’s sensible suggestion that they depart from bear territory to his son’s preference to attack the brutes), the wonder of the natural world, and the ethical responsibility we all have to mitigate the forces that are changing our planet ‘faster even than scientists or computer models have anticipated.’ This is a terrific blend of adventure (“Seeing a bison gallop thirty miles an hour—as they can—is like seeing a grand piano suddenly sprout horns and charge you with the speed of a horse.”) and ecological forecasting (and forewarning) that aptly conveys the passion of a devoted outdoorsman, and serves as a wake-up call to the state of our planet.”
—Publisher’s Weekly

“Michael Lanza braids a story of family, wilderness, and climate that’s at once heartwarming and terrifying. I envy his kids for the incredible year they spent exploring America’s finest wild places. And I mourn that they—and my own daughter—will have to endure the devastating consequences of our heating planet. Lanza makes abundantly clear that our children deserve better than the legacy we’re leaving them.”
—John Harlin, author, The Eiger Obsession: Facing the Mountain That Killed My Father, and editor, The American Alpine Journal

“Lanza establishes his profoundly compelling narrative strategy of mixing in-the-moment accounts of their demanding hikes and intrepid Nate and Alex’s exuberant pleasure in nature with scientifically based and heart-clenching observations of ‘climatic anarchy.’… ‘Climate change,’ Lanza wisely concludes, ‘forces us to confront our deepest values.’”

“The book is much more than a diary about how places such as Glacier National Park, Everglades National Park, Yellowstone National Park and even Grand Teton National Park are being altered by the changing climate from our normal perceptions of them, though. It is also part primer on natural resources and ecological systems in some of our premier national parks, as well as a story of parents’ love and tutelage of their children… Before They’re Gone carries a strong message.”
National Parks Traveler

“Lanza is a fine writer and an excellent observer both of nature and of family life, but he expands beyond a family adventure travelogue to chronicle the many ways in which climate change affects the nation’s most extraordinary natural places… a heartbreaking, compelling story.”
AMC Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog

“In Michael Lanza’s Before They’re Gone… we have the pleasure of joining a seasoned writer on his family’s journey through several national parks, all endangered by the impacts of climate change. His mastery with the language brings us to a deeper level, one where a metaphor places us with him at the toe of a crumbling glacier or a detailed description of geological forces has you overlooking the Grand Canyon with the awe and wonder of a child.”
The Campsite Blog

“In ten chapters, each one an artful hybrid of environmental reporting and travel memoir dedicated to one unique and irreplaceable place, Before They’re Gone combines feeling and knowledge to moving effect… Lanza adds a bright measure of humanity to an issue often obscured by the language of politics and science.”

“I grew up in a national park, worked in twelve others and have visited well over two hundred of them. Their values, for people like me, often are taken for granted. In this wonderful book, Michael Lanza’s children learn and experience what is most important about our national parks—the necessity to leave them ‘unimpaired for future generations’—and why.”
—Bill Wade, Chair, Executive Council, Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park

“Part family travelogue and part ecological observation… Lanza has opened the doors to this world to his children and readers alike.”
—Kirkus Reviews


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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Media coverage of Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks:

Before They’re Gone wins National Outdoor Book Award.

The Today Show/MSNBC online article and interview.

“Is Yosemite’s Waterfall Disappearing?” at

Interview with John Hockenberry on WNYC/PRI program “The Takeaway.”

Interview with Marcia Franklin on “Dialogue” on Idaho Public Television.

Interview with Anne Strainchamps on Wisconsin Public Radio program “45 North” (scroll down to 7/5/13 episode in Archives)

Interview on “To the Best of Our Knowledge” on Wisconsin Public Radio

Washington Post review.

Chicago Tribune story on hiking with kids.

Op-ed about parks and coastal cities in the Seattle Times.

The Today Show/MSNBC online interview about backpacking with children.

Interview at adaptation from the book.

Adaptation from the book in summer 2012 issue of National Parks magazine.

WHYY Radio Times call-in program (NPR affiliate in Philadelphia).

Article at The Climate Reality Project blog.

Interview with Outside Online’s Raising Rippers blog, and story on the 10 best national park adventures with kids.

Article at The Wilderness Society blog.

Interview with Earthfix program on Boise State Public Radio.

Guest appearance and interview on The Green Room, on 94.9 The River in Boise.

Interview on KPOJ AM 620 progressive radio talk show in Portland, Oregon.

Interview on The Azumano Travel Show at AM 860 KPAM in Portland.

Review at National Parks Traveler and an interview on how to get kids to love the outdoors.

Review in the journal Appalachia. gives Before They’re Gone a 100% rating.

Idaho Statesman environment story and interview.

Idaho Statesman Outdoor page story on hiking with kids.

Story in the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette.

Review at The Campsite Blog.

Review at the AMC Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog.

10 recommended books of 2012 at the AMC Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog.

Article at the Appalachian Mountain Club website.

Guest post at the L.L. Bean Trail Mix blog.

Article at Random House’s Books For Better Living.

Random House’s Books for Better Living shares my tips on backpacking with young kids.

AAA of Southern California article about national parks.

Article and excerpt at Wenatchee Outdoors.

Beacon Broadside blog asks, “What is today’s most pressing environmental issue?”

Interview at Brian’s Backpacking Blog.

Seattle Backpackers Magazine article on getting kids outdoors.

Essay for Beacon Broadside on anniversary of Thoreau’s death.

Interview with the Family Wilds blog.

Adventure Tykes blog review and interview.

Review at the Go Explore Nature blog.

Mother of All Trips blog review and interview.

Interview with the Nature Moms blog.

Adventure Parents blog post about National Outdoor Book Awards.

Interview with the Adventure Parents blog.

Article at the Tales of a Mountain Family blog.

Review at The Joy Trip Project.

Story at the Child Mode blog.

Post at the New Book A Week blog.

Community reviews at


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19 Responses to My Book

  1. federico grimaldi llovet   |  September 18, 2016 at 8:40 am

    Dear Michael: thanks for you book is really good to use in the Scout of México.

    • MichaelALanza   |  September 19, 2016 at 6:42 am

      I’m happy to hear that, Federico. Thanks very much.

  2. Kris   |  June 7, 2015 at 2:37 pm


    I am presently reading ‘before they’re gone’. Fantastic read. You bring not only the beauty, but the issues of loss to our world vividly to life. Your energetic children, who must be much grown by now, sound amazing. You are both wonderful parents offering an immeasurable education.

    In Australia our treks offer different insights, dangers and amazements.

    Thank you for bringing your world to life through your descriptive prose.


    • michaellanza   |  June 7, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Cris, thanks for writing, I really appreciate hearing from readers of my book. Our kids are now 14 and 12, so not quite grown, and we take a lot of adventures with them (which you can read about at this blog). I hope to get to Australia to write about adventures in your country.

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  6. Jamie   |  December 2, 2014 at 8:42 am

    We LOVED your book! Read it aloud at bedtime to the kids & husband- Really enjoyed the extra pics on your blog to go along with that story~ and my 9 &11 year olds are getting excited for our next camping trip, in which we are planning to backpack part of the Long Trail.
    Thanks for inspiring us!!

    • michaellanza   |  December 2, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Thanks Jamie, I appreciate hearing that.

  7. neotoke   |  September 21, 2014 at 5:29 am

    Dear Michael: I bought your book earlier this year and devoured it. Hopefully you’re pleased to know that you’ve got a readership downunder in Australia. The most immediate effect is that I’m thinking about ways to slowly get my 5yo daughter onto her first overnight hike (hopefully in November this year, 2014). But it’s also got me thinking more broadly about the interweaving of hiking, writing and activism… We’ll see what comes out of it all. I’ve started my own blog in the meantime, where you can find my review: Feel free to quote whatever you need!

    • michaellanza   |  September 21, 2014 at 7:33 am

      Hi James, thanks for the compliments and nice review in your blog. I hope to get a chance to visit your beautiful country.

  8. Eric Ortman   |  July 27, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I just finished reading just your book, and wanted to say thanks for writing something so important. I was a ranger in North Cascades National Park in the early 90s, but in subsequent trips I’ve definitely witnessed change, particularly with the recession of glaciers. Looking at some of the major fires in the west – particularly the massive fire in Yosemite last year and this year’s fire in Washington state – it’s hard not to think about the connections you so clearly illustrate. Global warming, pine beetles, dying forests, and so on.

    But I think your book espouses a great deal of hope as well in getting your kids out there. My kids are 10 and 7, and i too try to get them out as often as possible. Over the last year, my oldest has asked how climate change is impacting national parks we visit. This winter we went to Death Valley and she asked the ranger about such change when we were in Badwater. He said to look at the “lowest point” sign, and of course the elevation below sea level is changing. There are many other changes too, but I think people just say Badwater has a fixed elevation, or even Everest, but it’s not.

    Maybe that doesn’t sound hopeful, but I think by taking my kids to national parks that they see beautiful things, learn of the pending threats, and determine to preserve them. Hopefully they believe they can stem the tide, and maybe it’s going to just take another generation to get there.

    Thanks again for writing such a great book, I really enjoyed it!

    • michaellanza   |  July 28, 2014 at 6:10 am

      Hi Eric, thanks for the nice words and for sharing your thoughtful observations. Good on you for getting your kids outside in beautiful and important places. Thanks for caring about our parks. By the way, North Cascades is one of my favorite places.

  9. Sue Webster   |  June 11, 2014 at 6:27 am

    After reading “Before They’re Gone” this past winter I was particularly inspired to visit Yosemite National Park this spring. My daughter and I just returned from a memorable and very special (first time) trip to the Park. We hiked the Panorama Trail (amazing) and started up the Yosemite Falls Trail, past Columbia Rock, when a major boulder slide made us realize our vulnerability and we decided to turn back and explore other trails.

    Thank you so much for writing this book. Much needed, much appreciated.
    Keep up the good work that you do!
    Happy hiking!
    Boise Native

    • MichaelALanza   |  June 11, 2014 at 7:09 am

      Thanks Sue, much appreciated. You certainly picked a great trip from my book. I think you’d enjoy the other parks I write about just as much.

  10. Barry Lazarus   |  March 21, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Hello Mr. Lanza,

    I’m reading your book Before They’re Gone right now. I have a 9 year old son and 13 year old daughter and take them on (for us) big outdoor trips at least once a year. When the boy is older I want to take him more often, plan on taking him on a “rites of passage” trip when he’s 13, maybe to the Maze in Canyonlands in Utah.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for your book, am thoroughly enjoying it. In the chapter on Glacier Bay you mentioned your “most beautiful places” list. I had never heard of Dientes de Navarino before. Since Torres Del Paine is my favorite mountain place in the world, I was very curious about it and looked it up online. WOW!!! Wish I knew about it when I was in Tierra Del Fuego a long time ago. Who knows if I’ll ever make it, but it’s high on my long wish list now.

    My wife and kids go to England every year or two to visit her family, I went with her twice and was not planning on going the next time. Her Mom may take her and the kids to Scotland next time, I still said likely not. (Too far, too expensive since I only like England so much). Since the Scottish Highlands made it on your list, I may have to reconsider!

    Looking forward to your next article in Backpacker, whenever that may be.

    Thanks again,

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