When you’re hiking, paddling, climbing, or skiing, reading material isn’t always high on the list. But part of being outdoors is knowing animal tracks, birds, and mountain wildflowers. Every northwest hiker should have these guidebooks on hand. Sometimes one or two will come with you on the trail or the water. Sometimes they live in the car so you can pull them out in the pub and figure out what you saw. Either way, they’re the perfect companions to helping you appreciate nature in the northwest.
Cascade-Olympic Nature History, by Daniel Matthews
Written by lamplight in a remote cabin in the mountains, this guide the single most useful book for Cascade hikers. It’s nearly-perfect mix of the critters and plants you’ll see, along with a lot of really interesting ecological information that goes well beyond just knowing what something is, and written with deep knowledge. One book that seems to magically have everything you need in it, and nothing you don’t.
Seashore Life of the Pacific Northwest Coast, by Eugene Kozloff
This guide is the all-inclusive book for sea life from the coast and Puget Sound. It’s a combination of telling all kinds of sea creatures apart and learning about the lives of limpets, sea stars, and other oddball creatures you share the coast with.
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, by David Allen Sibley
Far and away the best-designed, clearest, and portable bird guide to anywhere the Rockies and west, with great maps, illustrations, and songs. If it’s flying, you can find it in here.
Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon
Called simply “Pojar” because it’s so widespread, this is the definitive plant guide to anything from the cascade crest to the sea and from southern Oregon to south-central Alaska. My weathered copy is falling apart and full of notes for a reason; it packs information for the casual explorer and dichotomous keys for the serious naturalist. It’s been the plant’s gold standard for two decades.
Wildflowers of the Columbia Gorge, by Russ Jolley
But there’s one place where Pojar can let you down: the Columbia Gorge, where wildflowers found nowhere else in the world thrive. Jolley’s book to this well-defined area helps you identify the vast fields of wildflowers as they bloom in a distinctive east-to-west pattern.
Wetland Plants of Oregon & Washington, by Jennifer Guard
How about swamps, marshes, and wetlands that stretch from the Willamette Valley to the coast? Guard’s book will help you make sense of these plants that we usually take for granted. Throw one in your dry bag on your next canoe trip.
Scat and Tracks of the Pacific Coast, by James Halfpenny
A pocket guide by a master of tracking, this will help you identify those odd tracks in the beach or around your campsite at night, from the big critters like bears and elk to nocturnal critters like weasels, coyotes and foxes. You’ll also be able to fine-tune your ability to tell the tracks of a weasel from a vole.
Amphibians of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, by Char Corkran and Chris Toms
Tailed Frogs, Giant Pacific Salamanders, and Chorus Frogs, oh my! This is your definitive guide to these slippery guys, even down to the nearly impossible task of telling a Cope’s Giant Salamander or Pacific Giant Salamander apart. Good luck—this is usually done at night in very cold water with an angry, squirming creature. And those gelatinous egg masses you find paddling? This book will help you find out what they are.
Obviously, you won’t be carrying a full library on every hike, but these books should all spend some time in your pack, your car, and on your bookshelf. They’ll help you become an outdoor adventurer and outdoor scholar and naturalist all in one.