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Start Here: The Basics of the Nature Journal

Start Here: The Basics of the Nature Journal

You’re in for a fun, relaxing, and creative process: starting a nature journal. A nature journal is a creative expression of your time observing anything outdoors and no two journals are alike.

Whether you’re here to start your own nature journal or to help another, I’ll describe what can go into it and how to find your style. That’s the beauty of it: you can add it whatever you feel inspired to!

I’ve nature journaled for years. The practice is grounding and will help you get outside and slow down. Too stressed from work or school? Try this process in your own backyard, local park, or out on a trail.

Below you can find inspiration to start your very own nature journal. Come along for the ride!

What is a Nature Journal?

3 Nature Journals and 3 field guides
Field Guides and Nature Journal

A nature journal is ANY type of journal that examines ANY aspect of nature. Basically, if you find a spot outside to sit, you can journal about what you see, hear, touch, smell, or maybe even taste. Your nature journal can only have sketches, only words, a mix of both, or none at all.

The main point is to spend time outside and do something creative.

You’re aiming to use the right side of your brain.

There is plenty of research that shows that being outside in nature is good for the human brain and body. I recommend The Nature Fix by Florence Williams and Forest Bathing by Dr. Quig Li.

Journals can include:

  • species notes
  • sketches
  • photographs
  • habitat information
  • identifying characteristics
  • life cycle details
  • descriptions of where each entry was observed and the date (field notes)
  • revisits of a bird, plant, insect, or mammal at a different time of year
  • words on what you feel about anything in nature in front of you
  • collages about anything in nature

What should I bring outside?

Notebooks and field guides arranged outside.
Nature Journals & Field Guides

At the most basic level, bring a pen or pencil and any type of notebook! That’s it!

Start small and add more supplies as you feel the urge to go deeper.

For some people, a basic composition notebook will suffice. For others, try a moleskin notebook or a leuchtturm 1917 notebook. Both notebooks have the option for blank pages, dots, or lines.

If you’re artistically inclined, consider bringing color pencils, watercolors, watercolor pens, brush pens, or something similar.

You’ll find having a field guide or two very helpful. When you see a bird or plant you don’t know, you can use a field guide right there to identify it and learn more. Here are my favorite 4 field guides.

Personally, I’m more photographically inclined, so I bring my camera. I like to print out a polaroid to add instead of sketching. I often bring a small notepad to take basic notes, then sit somewhere more comfortable and journal later.

Do I have to sketch?

Above are two version of my nature journal. On the left, I have a journal entry of a White-Lined Sphinx Moth where I felt really motivated to sketch. On the right, an entry for a Desert Bighorn Sheep where I wanted to express the story of how I found a group of 5 bighorn rams.

Both are totally valid forms of nature journaling.

Basically, you do not need to sketch!

Obviously, you can if you want to. But, if it doesn’t relax you, try something else. Or, maybe try it later when you feel motivated to work on it.

Don’t forget, nature journaling should be fun and relaxing. AND, it’s yours to do as you please.

Journal Organization

3 nature journals on a rock.
3 Types of Nature Journals

You may organize your nature journal any way that makes sense to you.

Personally, I’ve tried two ways.

First, I tried a spiral bound option. This helped me add pages to different sections. I had a section for birds, plants, mammals, and insects.

Second, I’ve tried moleskin and leuchtturm. Here, I added two page spreads as I saw fit. However, I made rough categories by using different color pens to denote my categories.

In the end, your journal should be organized or not organized however you see fit. The point is to have a relaxing experience outside.

The Process and Flow of Starting a Nature Journal

Just like any activity, you can create your own process or flow.

For starters, try this process and modify as you go:

  1. Gather a few supplies. Begin with a notebook and writing utensil. Add more later.
  2. Bring something to sit on. Grab a picnic blanket, outdoor chair, or a pad to sit on.
  3. Go outside. Try your backyard first. There, if you forget anything or feel inspired to add more, you can grab more supplies. Otherwise, try a nearby park or trail.
  4. Find any aspect of nature that inspires your curiosity. Look for a plant, bird, mammal, insect, or a natural scene. You could even journal about your own vegetable garden.
  5. Sit down and write, draw, or creatively express what drew your curiosity. You can start anywhere, you just have to start.
  6. Repeat or pause until the next day. You don’t have to fill your journal in a single day. Just try to fill 1-2 pages each time you go out.

A Thru-Hiking Nature Journal

Want a simpler nature journal? Try my thru-hiking version.

When I thru-hike, I change my journaling style. Instead of more elaborate notes, I like to write giant species lists!

Since I’m outside observing nature doing 15-30 miles per day, I keep a running list of all the birds and animals I can identify. I organize it by state that I walk through. For example, on the Continental Divide Trail, I kept track of every species I saw in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho/Montana.

You could modify this to make a species list for a day’s walk, a week-long list, or even a yearly list.


In a world full of stress and productivity, try starting a nature journal to reconnect you to the outdoors in a creative way.

Don’t worry about how it looks or how you think it should look. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you took some time in your day to be in nature.

So cheers to you for starting!