With the 100th birthday of the National Park Service occurring this year, now is the perfect time to explore all those national parks you’ve always wanted to visit.
A little planning is always beneficial for making the most of any national park exploration. Sure you can spend hours pouring over guidebooks, paper maps, and combing through the park websites, but don’t overlook the resource that you probably already have in your back pocket.
Yup, I am talking about your phone. You know that near constant travel companion that we use for everything from finding our way around to posting jealousy-inducing photos on Facebook.
Mobile apps have seeped into all aspects of my travel planning lately. And while I still love those glossy brochures that the National Parks hand out, after exploring three of the most popular free National Park mobile apps, I can confidently say that I will never approach national park exploration in the same way again.
Here are my three top picks for free National Park mobile apps along with all the details about the good, the bad, and the useful.
- Features an impressive 400+ National Park Service areas including parks, recreation areas, seashores, monuments, and battlefields.
- Each place has a robust description overview including popular ways to enjoy the park along with a bit of history and geographic facts.
- A basic trip planning tool provides park recommendations based on your chosen activities and regional interests.
- Offers 21 additional detailed guides for the most popular parks available as separate free apps. These apps include camping, hiking trails, various points of interest, auto tours, ranger-led events, the best places to watch the sunrise and sunset, shuttle schedules, and an excellent interactive map.
- Earn badges and score points by checking in and marking completed activities.
- Simple, well organized interface.
- The trip planning feature is easy to use and may put new parks on your radar.
- The additional detailed guides provide excellent information and interactive maps.
- Maps are downloadable for offline use.
- Those parks without an available detailed guide only have very basic information. Which means if you want to find out about hiking trails, camping, or user fees for the lesser known parks you would be better off simply using the park website.
- While the trip planning feature is great for discovering new parks and activities, it does not allow for customization. For example, I wanted to add specific hiking trials to the itinerary I made for Arches National Park, but was only able to add those that the app recommended.
The Bottom Line
While at first glance this app appears to feature an impressive amount of national park service areas, the basic app is somewhat limited and offers only written descriptions for all but the most popular parks. Where the real magic happens in the detailed guides available as separate apps for 21 different parks. Here you will find a wealth of information and a handy interactive map.
I like that this app is completely free, and I love the detailed guides. I downloaded both the Arches and Zion detailed guides in preparation for upcoming visits and spent hours reading about all the hiking trails and drooling over the photos.
I anticipate using both these apps while in the park since the maps are available offline. Overall, these are a great set of apps and I eagerly await the release of more detailed guides.