The Portable Northwest Outdoor Library

©istockphoto/RyanJLaneWhen 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.