One of the best things a person can do to enjoy a national park visit is to put the phone away. But that doesn’t mean it has to be ignored – a mobile device can be a useful tool. With the right apps, accessories, and tips, a mobile device can make your next national park adventure even better.
Most of these mobile apps are available for iOS and Android. The accessories and tips can work on just about any kind of mobile device. Take a look through the list, do a little shopping, and leave me a comment to let me know if it helped your next national park adventure.
Every day, more apps hit the market for Apple and Android devices – and some of these apps are powerful planning tools for national park adventures. Find out what apps are best for planning outdoor recreation, keeping up with the weather, booking campsites, and capturing memories of your adventures.
National Park Service
Do a search for “national park service” and you’re bound to find more than a dozen apps promising inside tips, interactive maps, and park information. But there is only one definitive app with that information – and it was launched by the National Park Service in February 2021.
The official National Park Service app takes everything from their various websites and puts the information on your mobile device. Visitor center locations, hours of operation, things to do – all the information is easy to find with a user friendly and attractive app design.
But the best part about the official National Park Service app is that all the information is current. Alerts in various parks, trail conditions, and hours of operation at visitor centers support buildings are always kept up to date.
Looking for a hiking trail nearby? Checking for elevation change to determine the difficulty of the trail? Gaia GPS has you covered.
Gaia GPS serves two primary functions: provides a database of trails based on current location or a search and allows users to view topographic maps of the trails to determine difficulty. The app is easy to use, includes a save feature for marking favorite trails, and even allows users to record their hike.
The free version of the app gives instant access to topo maps and route planning. For $19.99 per year, the Gaia GPS Member Level allows users to download maps for offline use. For $39.99 per year, the Gaia GPS Premium Level goes even further with downloadable offline maps and access to the full catalog of National Geographic maps.
It was love at first sight when I discovered this app. AllTrails is my go-to app for finding hiking trails, but there is so much more to the app than just a search engine. This app has grown over the years to be a fantastic planning and recording tool for outdoor adventures.
The app syncs smoothly with their website so you can begin the planning from the comfort of your computer, but hopefully not while you’re at work. The website and app has a search feature to quickly find a specific trail, state or national park, or destination you want to hike. You can also search via map if you know the route you are driving and want to find something interesting along the way.
With the app on your phone and smartwatch, upgrade to their AllTrails Pro plan for the option to download hiking maps for offline use. With their free plan, you can create lists to easily find particular trails later and you can record your hike for posterity!
Pro Camera by Moment
Although Pro Camera by Moment is only available on iOS, it’s one of the best pro-level camera apps on the market. With a one-time purchase of $6.99, the camera app comes loaded with features, presets, and potential for capturing amazing photos with your mobile device.
The app is ready to use with automatic camera settings but allows for full manual control of ISO and shutter speed for special effects. Presets are tailored for long exposure light trails, time lapse videos, or you can create your own for later use. Take advantage of Apple Pro RAW with the built-in RAW capture mode to get the most out of your mobile photos.
iOS (iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch)
Do you keep up with sunrise and sunset times when you travel to the national parks? It’s good to know these times so you can plan when to start or end a hike, catch that amazing sunrise and sunset view, or enjoy the starry sky at night.
GoldenHour.One uses a simle graphical interface to show lots of information all at once. At a glance, you’ll know when the sun and moon rise and sets and the point on the horizon to see them both. Click on the “Weather” tab and you’ll see the app’s best guess for the “Sky Index” – a ranking of how gorgeous the sunrise or sunset will look.
The day of exploring a national park site is done. You return to your campsite in the woods beneath a blanket of stars across the sky and wonder: what is that constellation called? Pull out your phone, orient it the camera to the sky, and Stellariumd will tell you!
The Stellarium app is fantastic for containing a complete database of names for stars, constellations, and comets. The app will even display the constellations with neat overlays to help you visualize it better. It can turn any starry night into a little bit of education and a lot of fun.
When I first came across The Outbound, I realized I had stumbled upon more than just an app for finding outdoor adventures. It was a community of travelers who thrive in the outdoors, create stories of their adventures, and share points of interest for others to find.
The app has a pretty amazing search feature, and you can also use your current location to search for adventures on a map. The adventures include information on how to get there, where to park, admission if applicable, and photos of previous users who have taken the option. It’s more than just hiking trails; The Outbound is all about getting outside, so the app includes parks, trails, waterways, beaches, pretty much anything that puts the sun on your face.
There are lots of navigation apps and built-in maps in most mobile devices – and even plenty of features – but Google Maps is my favorite for national park adventures. The greatest feature I enjoy about the app when exploring the parks is the ability to download offline maps. Although not exclusive to Google Maps, it works flawlessly when I need it most.
The one feature I enjoy the most, though, is the ability to create custom Google Maps on the computer, save to Google’s servers, and then access from my mobile device. I can sit comfortable with a laptop, browsing an online map, and add countless waypoints to mark places I want to visit. After downloading the offline version of the map and preloading the custom map, I’ll have everything with me during the adventure!
Have you ever looked across the horizon in a national park and wondered what that mountain peak was called? Or have you ever wanted to find a particular peak among dozens across the landscape? The PeakFinder app has been one of my favorite travel apps since I discovered it for this very reason.
Enable the camera on your mobile device through the app. Point at a mountain. The PeakFinder app overlays a wireframe and provides the name for every mountain peak in the frame. It’s that simple.
PeakFinder can download an entire database to your mobile device without taking up much room, allowing it to be used offline at any time. The only requirement is a strong GPS signal which is usually available even in the most remote sections of national parks.
If you’ve ever booked a campground in a national park – or any other government-maintained property – you’ve probably used the Recreation.gov website. The app is a relatively new product for the essential website that brings the power of booking to your mobile device.
The app has a search feature by location or address, scrollable map with markers for campgrounds, and a simple user interface to help you book campsites. Going a few steps beyond, the app also lists guided tours and lotteries for high-demand activities in national parks that require a ticket for entry.
The Reserve America app is exclusively an app for booking sites at campgrounds – and you won’t find any national park campgrounds listed through this app. So why am I recommending this?
Because national park campgrounds tend to book fast and early, leaving spontaneous trips the way of the dodo. With Reserve America, you can book campsites and thousands of private campgrounds across the country. The app has a powerful search feature, scrollable map to find exactly where you want to camp, and an easy interface to make booking fast.
The Dyrt app is not a booking app, but it does have one feature that gives it an advantage over the others. The app will list free camping sites.
This app is meant for finding campsites for RVs and tents, but you can’t actually book the site through the app. It’s a search app only. But in addition to listing campgrounds privately owned or operated by state or federal government, it also lists free or dispersed campsites. It’s a handy app to have if you’re car camping or just need a place to spend the night before moving on the next day.
As mobile devices continue to advance with better camera lenses, battery life, and features, they are becoming more powerful tools. Here are some mobile accessories that will help you plan a national park adventure, capture photos to remember the fun, and take care of your mobile device in the wild.
Moment was founded in 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign to produce high-quality lenses for mobile photography. Since then, the company has promoted capturing amazing photos and video with mobile devices using minimal equipment.
Their line of mobile photography lenses is the best on the market. The all-glass and metal construction make the lenses durable and sharp. The lineup includes a wide angle and telephoto – the two I recommend every traveler purchase – but you’ll also find a macro and fisheye lens.
You’ll need to get one of their specialized phone cases – the lenses screw into a mount on the case. I love this design because the cases are minimal and the lens mount is sturdy.
The Joby GorillaPod is one of the most versatile and portable tripods on the market. Long, spider-like legs with nearly a dozen bendable joints allow the tripod to be used in a traditional manner or wrapped around objects on the go.
The GorlliaPod Original is perfect for use with mobile photography or videography. Wrap the legs around a tree limb, handrail, or set it on the ground for a stable platform to capture photos and videos of your national park adventure.
Joby GripTight 2
Another product from Joby, the Joby GripTight Pro 2 is the most versatile adapter for attaching your mobile device to a tripod. Most brackets only allow for a horizontal orientation – leaving out vertical footage for social media stories.
The GripTight Pro 2 can rotate horizontally or vertically to allow for video and photos in either orientation. The grips are adjustable and will fit most standard cellphone sizes. The additional coldshoe mount on the top of the GripTight Pro 2 allows you to add a microphone or light.
Adonit PhotoGrip Qi
The Adonit PhotoGrip Qi provides a comfortable grip with traditional shutter release button for you mobile device – effectively turning your cellphone into a point and shoot camera. It’s one of my favorite photography accessories and always has a place in my bag.
I love this device because when I’m hiking a trail with sweaty hands, it can become difficult to hold a cellphone to capture a photo. The PhotoGrip gives me a comfortable way to grip the phone, capture a photo, and then stuff it back into a pocket in my day bag.
The PhotoGrip also features a rechargeable Qi battery to give your mobile device a boost while adventuring in the national parks. The standard thread tripod screw hole on the bottom also allows the PhotoGrip to be attached to a tripod – like the Joby GorillaPod – for added stability while shooting. The Bluetooth trigger button can even be removed from the PhotoGrip for capturing selfies or group portraits!
Anker PowerCore Essential Power Bank
Continuous use of mobile apps and capturing photos will quickly drain even the largest of cellphone batteries. The Anker PowerCore Essential Power Bank has a massive capacity of 20,000 mAh, enough to charge a cellphone almost a dozen times. It’s relatively lightweight and slips easily into a daypack to keep your mobile device charged all day.
DJI Osmo Mobile 3 and 4
Do you ever capture video of hiking trails, stunning vistas, or timelapse videos? The DJI Osmo Mobile 3 – and the new Osmo Mobile 4 – can help capture video without that annoying bounce from holding it in your hand.
Both devices are a three-axis gimbal for cellphone that provides steady video footage while on the move. Pair with your mobile device via Bluetooth to enable wireless controls for changing lenses, zooming, and changing the direction of the video capture.
The biggest difference between the Osmo Mobile 3 and Osmo Mobile 4 is the newer model has a magnetic attachment. Slip the bracket onto your mobile device and when you’re ready to record video simply attach the phone to the gimbal using the magnetic connection. It’s a much faster and easier way to set up the device while hiking trails or enjoying other outdoor adventures in the national parks.
Otterbox Cellphone Case
Otterbox has cornered the market with protective cases for mobile devices that can withstand the elements of man and nature – including a typical adventure in a national park.
The rugged cases can protect against most drops that typically shatter cellphone screens – such as dropping the phone while hiking a trail. The cases are not water or dust proof – but they do provide a measure of protection against dirt and rain. The cellphone cases are perfect for protecting your mobile device during your adventure.
You’ve got the apps and accessories and you’re ready for your national park adventure. What are you forgetting? How about some of these tips on what to do before, during, and after your adventure?
Update the App Before You Leave
Lots of apps like AllTrails, PeakFinder, and Reserve America periodically need to update their database depending on your location. This can certainly be done on the go – if you have cellular signal. The best practice is to open the apps and find your current location before you head into the national park.
Use Airplane Mode to Save Battery
Unless you need a data connection for a particular reason, you can always enable Airplane Mode on your mobile device to preserve the battery. The mode disables the cellular and data connection – you won’t be able to send or receive phone calls, text messages, emails, or app updates. But with the reduced demand from all the various apps, it will require less battery power and keep your mobile device working longer.
Download Data for Offline Usage
Apps like Google Maps and AllTrails allow you to download information for offline use. That will certainly come in handy if you were relying on navigation inside a national park without cellular signal.
Create Accounts in the Apps
Lots of apps allow you to create accounts and save the data in cloud storage. You can create a list of favorite hiking trails on the AllTrails app through an account and then load that list on your mobile device later. With apps like Reserve American and Recreation.gov, you can manage your payment methods either online or through the app.
Clean the Camera Lens
You keep your mobile device in your back pocket with lint or stuff it into your purse with who knows what in there. Do you think the lens is clean? Use a small piece of lint-free cloth to clean the lens on your mobile device before capturing photos or video – or even better, get one of these awesome Mobile Lens Clean Pens from Moment.