Community Education Environment Health & Wellness

Check Out Washington backpacks bring the great outdoors into the library

Posted on May 14th, 2024 By:

There’s more to the library than books, magazines and CDs.

Library cardholders can explore Washington’s 120-plus state parks and other state-owned lands through a Check Out Washington backpack, filled with things that provide access and inspiration for getting outside and exploring the Evergreen State.

The Gig Harbor library at 4424 Point Fosdick Drive has two of the Check Out Washington backpacks, as does the Key Center library. The Port Orchard library in Kitsap County also has a backpack.

The Check Out Washington backpacks available at the Gig Harbor and other libraries includes a Discover Pass, maps, binoculars and more. Photo by Charlee Glock-Jackson

What’s in the pack

Each backpack contains maps of Washington State Parks and Department of Natural Resources lands. Also included are pocket guides about birds, wildlife, trees and wildflowers found in our state; a Discover Pass for free admission to state-owned lands; and even a pair of binoculars. 

The Discover Pass

The Discover Pass is one of the handiest items in the Check Out Washington backpack.

Since 2011, Washington has required that visitors to its State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife lands obtain either a $10 day-use pass or a $30 Discover Pass, good for a year. The pass in the Check Out Washington pack allows access to families who may not be able to afford the $30 Discover Pass.

It can be used on any vehicle and it’s good every day of the year.


Washington has about 140 state parks,75 of which allow camping. One of the maps in the Check out Washington backpack shows tent and RV camp sites available in those parks — from primitive parks without flush toilets, to those with full hookups for water, sewer and electric and group campsites that can accommodate multiple vehicles and 20 or more people.

Most campsites — whether primitive of full-hook-up — have a firepit and picnic table. And drinking water is available in just about every state park.

Rentable cabins, yurts, platform tents, and picnic shelters are popular get-together places for large groups.

A few parks, such as Fort Warden State Park in Jefferson County and Scenic Beach State Park in Kitsap County, have retreat centers. Several have historic sites like lighthouses, military structures and lodges.

East of the Cascades, there’s even a granite lookout building atop Mount Spokane available for day use. (Mount Spokane State Park also has a downhill ski area for wintertime outdoor enthusiasts. The Discover Pass provides access to slopes, although lift fees aren’t covered.)

DNR lands

The Discover Pass also provides access to 33 million acres of state trust lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources, including 161,000 acres of natural areas that conserve Washington’s natural heritage and offer education and low-impact recreation.

DNR lands offer activities like mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking and off-roading. About 70 campgrounds, mostly primitive, are on DNR land. Campsites on DNR lands are first-come-first-served, but camping is free with a Discover Pass.

Pocket guides

The binoculars in the Check out Washington backpack bring the outdoors “up close and personal” to many of the critters pictured in the Washington State Wildlife pocket guide. The Wildlife Guide includes four-legged mammals like the Olympic marmot, porcupine, badger, lynx, otter, pika, chipmunk, raccoon and black bear.

Also shown are several dozen species of birds; amphibians and reptiles like newts, frogs, lizards, turtles and snakes.  Fish and marine invertebrates and even bugs and slugs are also pictured.

The Bird Guide shows still more varieties of birds – waterbirds, birds of prey, perching birds and other species like grouse and woodpeckers.

The Trees and Wildflowers guide includes many species of conifers and deciduous trees – with drawings of their leaves, flowers and cones. The guide also features many varieties of shrubs and dozens of varieties of wildflowers, listed according to color.

How it began

The Check out Washington program began five years ago in Pierce County as a pilot program between Washington State Parks, Washington State Parks Foundation and Washington State Library, according to PCLS Marketing and Communications Director Mary Getchell. Pierce County libraries, including the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula branches, were the first to participate.

Fourteen counties participate in the backpack program and more want to join, John Floberg, executive director of WSPF said in an email. The program will expand in 2025 if it can find funding.

Floberg added he’s “proud of the fact that the bags were designed and are made right here in Washington” by a company called EQPD in Twisp.

Checking out a backpack

Library cardholders can check out backpacks for one week at a time. The packs are popular and in summer and during school breaks; wait times can be long.

“People of all ages and families love the backpack program,” Getchell said. “It truly is an all access pass to discover the wonders of Washington for free.”