From ocean shores to mountain peaks, Skagit County has long been an inspiration to artists and authors. There are numerous books either about or set in this region, from tomes of poetry and beat generation novels to hiking guides and historical compendiums. Check out this list of Skagit County books.
Fiction and Memoir
“Another Roadside Attraction” by Tom Robbins
Perhaps the Skagit Valley’s most famous wordsmith, Robbins has resided in La Conner for most of the last 50 years. His debut novel from 1971 revolves around a newly married couple that inhabits an abandoned restaurant in Skagit County, reviving it as a hot dog stand and roadside zoo. From there, the story gets exciting, with a secret group of Catholic assassins and even Jesus himself, albeit in a particularly stiff performance.
“This Boy’s Life” by Tobias Wolff
The 1989 source material for the Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro film tells the autobiographical tale of Wolff’s 1950s childhood, part of which was spent living in Newhalem (called ‘Chinook’ in the book) and attending high school in Concrete. It is a story filled with both humor and heartbreak, and in 2019, The New York Timesnamed it one of the 50 best memoirs of the last 50 years.
“The Dharma Bums” and “Desolation Angels” by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac’s1958 novel tells a semi-fictionalized version of Kerouac and Gary Snyder’s forays into Zen Buddhism and the American West, and mentions Kerouac’s summer spent as a fire lookout atop the North Cascades’ Desolation Peak in 1956. The 1965 book “Desolation Angels” also mentions his time as a fire lookout near its beginning.
“Day Hiking: North Cascades” by Craig Romano
Skagit County’s Romano is well-known regionally for his excellent hiking guidebooks, and this one is no exception. The book covers dozens of hikes across multiple regions, including the Skagit River Valley and Baker Lake areas.
“100 Hikes in Washington’s North Cascades National Park Region” by Ira Spring and Harvey Manning
Longtime authorities on regional hiking, Spring and Manning’s compendium of North Cascade hikes features estimated hiking times, skill levels and plenty of other essential info for your next day hike or backpacking trip.
“Valley of the Spirits: The Upper Skagit Indians of Western Washington” by June McCormick Collins
Though it may be hard to find, Collins’ 1974 book provides in-depth descriptions of the Upper Skagit River’s indigenous people.
“Poems from Ish River Country” by Robert Sund
This book from the late Sund, a longtime Skagit County resident and artist, won the Washington State Governor’s Award for best new book of poetry in 1984. His poems, in the tradition of William Carlos Williams and others, capture our region with profound beauty and thoughtful simplicity.
History and Non-Fiction
“Poets on the Peaks” by John Suiter
This 2002 book delves into time that Beat-era writers Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen all spent as North Cascades fire lookouts. Suiter uses previously unpublished letters, journals and interviews to piece together the trio’s experiences along the West Coast, from San Francisco’s literary scene to rugged Northwest terrain.
“Under the Red Roof: 100 Years at Northern State Hospital” by M.J. McGoffin
Sedro-Woolley’s Northern State Hospital occupies a place of both fascination and shame in Skagit County’s past. While its property is now partially a public recreation area, it remains a ghostly monument to society’s often inferior way of dealing with the mentally-ill. McGoffin’s 2011 book provides ample historical information and photos of the facility’s past.
“Natural Skagit: A Journey from Mountains to Sea” by Skagit Land Trust
This book includes spectacular photography and essays, an introduction by Tom Robbins, and an afterword by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and local resident Bill Dietrich.
“Murder & Mayhem in the Fourth Corner” series by Todd Warger
A must-read for any true crime fans, the second and third parts of Warger’s Fourth Corner book trilogy detail the most brutal and mysterious slayings in the earlier history of Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties. The stories make for gripping and occasionally disturbing reading, especially around Halloween.
“Images of America: Big Lake Valley” by Big Lake Historical Society
The illustrated history of Skagit’s Big Lake Valley is part of the popular “Images of America” book series. Other Skagit-centric selections include Sedro-Woolley, Mount Vernon and Anacortes. Anyone looking for easily-accessible historical information and photos will be well-satisfied by these books.
“Logging Railroads in Skagit County: The First Comprehensive History of the Logging Railroads in Skagit County, Washington, USA” by Dennis Blake Thompson
This 1989 work provides a detailed history of the region’s logging days, and features an incredible assortment of old photographs and drawings.
“Yarns of the Skagit Country: ‘Ray’s Writin’s’” by Ray Jordan
Jordan’s self-published 1974 book contains a collection of stories detailing the history of Sedro-Woolley area, including numerous pioneer families he interviewed as a historian and columnist for the Sedro-Woolley Courier Times. The book was long out-of-print until the Skagit County Historical Society began re-publishing it in 2016, along with a handful of other great local history titles.