Whether you enjoy reading a book on the trail or need something to tide you over when you can’t be outdoors, there is something for you on this list of great books.
This collection of books includes fiction, travel accounts, a bit of philosophy, and a range of topics from fishing and hunting to environmental appeals and travel logs. No matter what kind of outdoors person you are, there is bound to be at least one book on this list that you will love.
View the slideshow to check out some of our favorite books about the wide open spaces we love.
Hatchet – Gary Paulsen
This young adult wilderness survival novel follows a young man who crashes into a lake in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. He must survive for the duration of the summer with only his hatchet, becoming quite adept by the end of his journey. This is a great read if you want to keep things short and sweet or if you have a young adult at home.
“Come on, he thought, baring his teeth in the darkness—come on. Is that the best you can do—is that all you can hit me with—a moose and a tornado? Well, he thought, holding his ribs and smiling, then spitting mosquitoes out of his mouth. Well, that won’t get the job done. That was the difference now. He had changed, and he was tough.”
Into the Wild – John Krakauer
A nonfiction account of the life of Christopher McCandless who did what many of us dream of; he left the world he knew behind and ventured into the wild. On September 6, 1992 his body was found in an abandoned bus in Alaska.
“It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it. When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell my tale.”
To Build a Fire – Jack London
This short story is about a man as he ventures off the Yukon trail in an attempt to find his comrades. He travels with a husky and the story follows them as they struggle to survive the intense winter cold. Short and quite sobering, a fantastic read by one of America’s greatest wilderness writers.
“This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seventy degrees below freezing point. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge.”
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
This classic continues to be one of the most harrowing accounts of the simple life of a fisherman I have ever encountered. A simple story of a man, Santiago, and a marlin who struggle against one another for their lives.
“He always thought of the sea as la mar, which is what people call her in spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her, but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fisherman, those who used buoys as floats for their lines or had motorboats bought when the shark lovers had much money, spoke of her as el mar, which is masculine, they spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine, as something that gave or withheld great favors. If she did wild or wicked things, it is because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.”
Mediations on Hunting – Jose Ortega y Gasset
This work seeks to philosophically address the question of, “Why do we hunt?” Written half a century ago, the mediation rings particularly true today. Being a work of philosophy, it is not an easy read, but for anyone who loves hunting, it is well worth the effort to absorb.
“One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted. . . If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it: the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job.”
Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
This novel is a fictionalized account of a teenager, referred to only as “the kid,” as he travels with the historically based Glanton Gang. Extreme in its depictions of brutality, this work distills the violence of survival in the American west in the middle of the 19th Century into a single tome.
“At dusk they halted and built a fire and roasted the deer. The night was much enclosed about them and there were no stars. To the north they could see other fires that burned red and sullen along the invisible ridges. They ate and moved on, leaving the fire on the ground behind them, and as they rode up into the mountains this fire seemed to become altered of its location, now here, now there, drawing away, or shifting unaccountably along the flank of their movement. Like some ignis fatuus belated upon the road behind them which all could see and of which none spoke. For this will to deceive that is in things luminous may manifest itself likewise in retrospect and so by sleight of some fixed part of a journey already accomplished may also post men to fraudulent destinies.”
A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold
This book, part philosophical undertaking and part natural depiction, continues to be a major influence on the conservation movement. It provides autobiographical hunting experiences as well as descriptions of a vast amount of scenery and life around the author’s home in Sauk County, Wisconsin. The later sections of the book continue to other parts of the continent with continued description and philosophical insight.
“Some paintings become famous because, being durable, they are viewed by successive generations, in each of which are likely to be found a few appreciative eyes. I know a painting so evanescent that it is seldom viewed at all, except by some wandering deer. It is a river who wields the brush, and it is the same river who, before I can bring my friends to view his work, erases it forever.”
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
This account of simple life in the wilderness follows the author over the course of two years (condensed to a single year in the book) spent living alone in a cabin on the edge of Walden pond. It is equal parts social experiment and spiritual journey. It may be difficult to grasp at times, as Thoreau plays with his reader quite a lot, but it is well worth an attempt.
“Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business. Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things.”
Encounters with the Archdruid – John McPhee
This work of nonfiction reads like a novel and reports on the life of David Brower, conservationist and mountaineer, as he encounters his ideological enemies at three separate moments in his life. This work fully engages with the problem of balance that exists between our shrinking wildernesses and our need for the resources they contain.
“When Brower was born – in 1912 – there was in the Sierra Nevada a valley called Hetch Hetchy that paralleled in shape, size, and beauty the Valley of the Yosemite. The two valleys lay side by side. Both were in Yosemite National Park, which had been established in 1890. Yet within three decades–the National Park notwithstanding–the outlet of Hetch Hetchy was filled with a dam and the entire valley was deeply flooded. Brower was a boy when the dam was being built. He remembers spending his sixth birthday in the hills below Hetch Hetchy and hearing stories of the battle that had been fought over it, a battle that centered on the very definition of conservation.”
The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen
A journey of worldly and spiritual exploration, this work follows Peter Matthiessen and George Schaller through the Himalayas as they search for the elusive snow leopard, a species that had been seen only a handful of times by Westerners in the decades that proceeded. This traditional western travel log, fused with eastern spirituality, is sure to evoke emotion as well as thought.
“The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one were being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one sees that there is a source fro this deep restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home…The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is so overgrown with thorns and thickets of ‘ideas,’ of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions. The holy grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own “true nature;”each man is his own savior after all.”
Mountain Interval – Robert Frost
While not every poem in this collection of poetry has the specific theme of ‘nature,’ this work has a number of poems that are some of the best American nature poetry yet written. Great for those trips where you only need a quick read before the sun sets and the fire dies.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”
– The Road Not Taken
The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons – John Wesley Powell
This seminal book is Joseph Powell’s account of the Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869. Describing the first trip down the Green and Colorado rivers by boat and the first journey through the Grand Canyon, this three month expedition details what is now some of the most iconic American landscapes through the eyes of one of the first American men to see it.
“We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves agains the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we are but pygmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders. We have an unknown distance yet to run; an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not.”
Steep Trails – John Muir
The legend, John Muir, Father of the National Parks, and perhaps the greatest outdoor lover to have lived, was a major voice in shaping how we understand and enjoy the wilderness today. This collection of his letters, articles, and contemplations spanning nearly three decades provides wonderful insight into the mind of a man whose voice swayed presidents and preserved mountains.
“The view we enjoyed from the summit could hardly be surpassed in sublimity and grandeur; but one feels far from home so high in the sky, so much so that one is inclined to guess that, apart from the acquisition of knowledge and the exhilaration of climbing, more pleasure is to be found at the foot of the mountains than on their tops. Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain tops are within reach, for the lights that shine there illumine all that lies below.”
Check this out: the strangest way to spell fish: “ghoti”