Litter nutrient dynamics contribute significantly to biogeochemical cycling in forest ecosystems. We examined how site environment and initial substrate quality influence decomposition and nitrogen (N) dynamics of multiple litter types. A 2.5-year decomposition study was installed in the Oregon Coast Range and West Cascades using 15N-labeled litter from Acer macrophyllum, Picea sitchensis, and Pseudotsuga menziesii. Mass loss for leaf litter was similar between the two sites, while root and twig litter exhibited greater mass loss in the Coast Range. Mass loss was greatest from leaves and roots, and species differences in mass loss were more prominent in the Coast Range. All litter types and species mineralized N early in the decomposition process; only A. macrophyllum leaves exhibited a net N immobilization phase. There were no site differences with respect to litter N dynamics despite differences in site N availability, and litter N mineralization patterns were species-specific. For multiple litter × species combinations, the difference between gross and net N mineralization was significant, and gross mineralization was 7–20 % greater than net mineralization. The mineralization results suggest that initial litter chemistry may be an important driver of litter N dynamics. Our study demonstrates that greater amounts of N are cycling through these systems than may be quantified by only measuring net mineralization and challenges current leaf-based biogeochemical theory regarding patterns of N immobilization and mineralization.