Freeman Tilden, 96, author of a number of popular books about national parklands, died Tuesday in a Nashua, N.H. nursing home. He had suffered a stroke about a year and a half ago.

A former newspaperman and then a free-lance magazine writer, playwright and radio script author, he joined the National Park Service in 1941 as a literary consultant.

Mr. Tilden had said then that he was tired of writing fiction and wanted to do "something serious."

He was given carte blanche to roam the National Park System and with support from some foundation grants, produced a number of books. Many of them are available to the pulbic at the visitors centers in the national parks. t

One of the best known, published in 1951 and revised in 1968, is "The National Parks, What They Mean to You and Me." Another, 'Interpreting Our Heritage," is used as a guide by national parks personnel as well as visitors.

Mr. Tilden's other books include "The State Parks," Following the Frontier," and "The Fifth Essence." In 1976, five years after he retired, he wrote a booklet for the National Park Service entitled "Who Am I?" which is described as "reflections on the meaning of parks on the occasion of the nation's bicentennial."

Mr. Tilden grew up in Malden, Mass., where he reviewed books for his father's newspaper. After graduating from high school, he worked as a reporter for newspapers in Boston, Charleston, S.C., and New York City. r

As a free-lance writer, he traveled around the world.

During his years with the Park Service, he was in and out of Washington, often staying at the Cosmos Club, of which he was a member. Friendship, Maine and his winters with a daughter-in-law, Rosalie Tilden, in Arlington. A son, Paul Mason Tilden, died here in 1973.

Survivors include another son, Freeman Tilden Jr., of Nashua; Two daughters, Millicent Moore, of Warren, Maine, and Jane Van Auken, of East Canaan, Conn., and seven children.