20 Books for Outdoorsy Adventurists, Nature Lovers & Wild Animals
Books are one of the easiest ways to escape. One of the most cost effective too. They let us fall into an alternate reality, a land unknown. They slip us out of our tethers and lead us away, to something else, something new, something better, maybe.
This list is a collection of some of my favorite books about wild things, wild people and wild places.
Together with her husband, ornithologist Caroline Van Hemert set out for a 4,000-mile journey from the Pacific rainforest to the Alaskan Arctic using only human power. They hike and travel by rowboat, ski, raft and canoe, survive harrowing encounters with pissed off grizzly bears, and bask in moon-illuminated landscapes. The journey is incredible, a true testament to what humans are capable of, and the writing is brilliant.
Dystopian and relevant in a world increasingly altered by climate change, Franny Stone watches the world she loves disappear. She’s made a life of studying the ocean’s tides and the birds that fly above it and finds herself on a fishing boat chasing the world’s last flock of Arctic tern as they make their final migration. Along the way, her story unravels, we see her secrets and what she’s running from. This book made me ache, for all that was, what could of been and what maybe never will be again.
Possibly my favorite book of all time, this brilliant piece of historical fiction takes us to Alaska at the end of the 19th century. There, Col. Allen Forrester is charged with leading a small group of men to the uncharted and as-yet impassable Wolverine River in hopes of expanding access to gold. His pregnant wife, Sophie, stays behind in Fort Vancouver (today a national historic site) where she doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the military wives. This story is dark, deeply adventurous and touched with an otherworldly element of magic.
Julie Williams and Lollie Winans were murdered in 1996 in Shenandoah National Park, right next to the Appalachian Trail. Both in their 20s, the women had met and fallen in love the year before and were both competent and accomplished outdoorswomen. Their case is still unsolved, all these years later. In this book, Kathryn Miles, a journalist, digs into the case and tries to determine who killed these women while also honoring and remembering Julie and Lollie.
A young adult book that was probably more formative than I can even imagine, along with Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, this book is about a boy who runs away to the Catskills, lives in a hollowed-out tree and befriends a falcon and a weasel, which is what I wanted out of life as an 11-year-old, and, apparently, as a 39-year-old, too.
The story of Alex Honnold’s stunning free solo of El Capitan, this book dives into the history of the climbing culture that’s flourished in Yosemite National Park for years and talks about what led Honnold to this epic endeavor.
Horror, revenge and violence converge after tradition is broken by four American Indian men. Something is after them, exacting violent revenge for a wretched misstep. Maybe this seems like a weird choice for this list, but at its core, this book is about respecting tradition and the gifts the Earth has given us and the very real price we pay when we don’t appreciate those gifts. It is also one of the best books I’ve read in the last five years.
There’s maybe no other book that quite captures the wild, wandering of our early adulthood, that point when, if we’re so lucky, the crush of responsibility hasn’t bound us to something or someone. If you’re even a little bit of a wild creature, if a little bit of you ever wanted to go into the wild, you’ve probably already read this book, but I couldn’t omit it. It’s a brilliant work about a wandering spirit and an incredible piece of investigative journalism, one Krakauer kept returning to for years.
This books is look behind the curtain of managing worlds where humans and other wild animals collide. From bears who are really, really good at breaking into trashcans, to birds who try real hard to wreck the pope’s Easter Mass, this book is very fun and showed me a whole host of careers I never knew existed.
No list of outdoorsy books would be complete without Wild, about Cheryl Strayed’s solo thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail as she navigated the loss of her mother, her marriage and so much more.
If you want to feel connected to the earth, to uncover the ways it runs our lives, read something by Barbara Kingsolver. I’ve never read a book of hers I didn’t love, and this one is no different. This book is about a young widow plucked from her city life now trying to make it work on a farm, a woman living alone in the woods and the hunter who invades her privacy, and a pair of neighbors warring over pesticides, God and most everything else.
A collection of story’s from Backpacker magazine’s Pacific Northwest writer, these stories introduce incredible places, people and adventures, sometimes very much at the expense of the author.
The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury & Laney Salisbury
In 1925, a diphtheria epidemic smashed through Nome, Alaska. Those suffering needed an antitoxin that was a thousand miles away. The port was iced in, planes couldn’t fly and the only hope of getting the antitoxin to those in need was dog sled teams made up of good, good dogs with names like Balto, Togo and Fritz.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Chris McDougall
This book is about running, but it is also a book that includes donkeys, science and the reclusive Tarahumara Indians. It is a neat look into physiology, adventure and the ability of the human body to do absolutely incredible things.
A compilation of some of Outside Magazine’s best stories from the last 20 years are so. Some are hilarious, ridiculous or insane, and others are poignant pieces on dedication and determination. This book takes you to far away places and introduces incredible, unique real-life humans often doing wild (and sometimes ill-advised) things.
After a tough divorce, Kristin Knight Pace agreed to stay in a remote cabin outside of Denali National Park and take care of the sled dogs that called the place home. There, she healed her heart and fell in love with running dogs and is one of the few women to complete both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, both 1,000-mile dog sled races. If you want a book about a badass woman leaning into solitude, this is a great one.
Published in 1998, A Walk in the Woods is a classic outdoorsy book about the Appalachian Trail, the more then 2,000-mile trail running from Georgia to Maine. Here, Bill Bryson talks about the history of the trail, his fellow hikers and a few bears, all with the humor of your slightly nerdy uncle.
In 2014, Cody, son of National Geographic Explorer Roman Dial, walked into the wilds of Costa Rica and never returned. This is the story of Roman’s search to find answers about what happened to his son, his dogged determination and a tribute to his son, their relationship and the weight of raising a wild, fearless child.
It’s 1974 and Ernt Allbright, a Vietnam veteran and former POW, decides to move his family north, to the final frontier, to Alaska. When winter comes, so does the darkness. This is a story about survival and being alone in vast, wild places.
When Jon Krakauer climbed Everest in 1996, it ended it disaster. A storm rolled in. Eight people died. It was one of the deadliest days on the mountain ever. This is that story, one that is sometimes contested, but in typical Krakauer fashion, it is a brilliant telling of a horrible thing.