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The Best Apps for Exploring U.S. Parks

Smartphone Apps for Exploring America's Parks


A trip into the great outdoors is an excellent opportunity to unplug from work and our digital devices. Yet there are some excellent smartphone apps that help to make the most of adventures into the nation's parks. Download the following apps to learn more about state and national parks before you go.

National Parks by National Geographic

National Parks app from National Geographic
National Geographic
Sponsored by Canon and produced by National Geographic, the National Parks app is one of the most visually-pleasing travel apps on the iTunes market (and only the iTunes market for now). While the NatGeo parks app has information on only the 20 most-visited parks in the USA, it is packed with information.

When users click on the name of the park, the app leads to a panel displaying tabs that include information on current weather; park stats (size, number of visitors, date established); park details ranging from getting there to camping and lodging to pet access; the most recent twitter updates from the park; and gorgeous, scrollable photos of the parks that users can save or share to create a park itinerary. A separate panel shows points of interest, camping and lodging, and photos with different colored pushpins and users are able to filter these pins by activity (active, camping, drive, water, snow/ice), season, and geo-location.

Even more functionality is accessible from a profile tab that lets users save itineraries, view the editors' picks, and view current and archival photos from National Geographic photographers as well as the best photos from fans of Nat Geo.

The National Parks guide by National Geographic is free, as is one first fully-featured park download, but requires in-app purchases of approximately $.099 to $1.99 each to unlock its full potential. The full guides have recommendations on what to see and do, photography tips from National Geographic expert photographers, and park secrets.

This app is truly a rich one, with the only drawback being that it works only with a WiFi or 3G connection (i.e., it may be difficult to access while actually inside a park.)

National Parks Field Guide

National Parks Field Guide app from NPCA
Created by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the field guide app is an interactive catalog of 100 national parks and their respective flora and fauna. The app uses GPS to locate nearby parks, which can be viewed on a map or in a list. Click on a park to get details information on animal and plant species, endangered wildlife, and general park information, which includes info on geography, location, directions, best times to visit, and entry fees. Within each "About the Park" tab is a smaller tab that links to several scrollable photos of each park. A search tab lets users find information according to park name and plant or animal species.

There are a few other bells and whistles, including a link to the NPCA's twitter stream for the latest updates on parks news. But until the National Park Service develops an app that includes all 397 national park areas and the plants and animals within them, this app, available for iOS and Android, is the most comprehensive for nature buffs. Also, it is free.

Oh, Ranger! Park Finder

Oh, Ranger! Park Finder app
Users who are interested in the many activities that state and federal parks have to offer may want to download the Oh, Ranger! app. The app's simple interface has users enter a location (or allow the app to use GPS to find the location), then select from among 30 activities, which range from scenic drives to bird watching to horseback riding to winter sports. The app claims to have 50,000+ parks in its database, from national parks to wildlife refuges to state parks, and stores this information locally on a user's smartphone, making the app a useful one when traveling where there is little to no connectivity. A drawback to this is that the app can be slow to load if a phone is low on local storage (read: is cluttered with apps). Nevertheless, Oh, Ranger! is a powerful app for active, nature-loving travelers. Oh, Ranger! Park Finder is available for free from iTunes and Google Play.

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