Visiting the national parks this summer? If you’re carrying your smartphone in your pocket, you’ll have all the guidance you’ll need to get around rough terrain with apps from the Apple App Store and Google Play.
That great American author and historian Wallace Stegner once called thenation’s park system the best idea we ever had: “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” So it’s no surprise that the Apple App Store and Google Play are all too happy to contribute the mobile digital take on America’s heritage, and arguably, its future.
If you’re carrying your smartphone on vacation in one or more of the 50 states, iOS and Android apps will provide all the guidance you’ll need to traverse the often-challenging terrain of the nation’s 59 national parks, part of the 401-strong network of parks, monuments, preserves, recreation areas, and assorted open spaces, overseen by the government.
National park guides, as well as localized state and regional guides, are mostly found in the app stores’ Travel category, though sometime also in the Navigation or Education sections. Most apps are free, though sometimes the free app is a shell under which in-app or adjunct purchases are needed to fill in detail and park-specific information. A free app can help you decide where to go, and which supplemental app to buy. Happily, even in-app purchases are reasonably priced—much less than the tank of gas you’ll likely spend getting from your house to the open road.
Almost all the apps are smartphone optimized, but many are tablet friendly too, so depending on how light you travel, or whether you plan your trek in a motel room, a tent, or an RV, you can use a tablet for a big-screen view of many National Park apps.
Count on using apps while in civilization, as it’s hard to predict where within a national park you will have a cellular network available, no less an open wireless hotspot. Some parks are now heavily wired, especially around campgrounds, but some wilderness areas still have no service. Which is kind of the point, after all.
Chimani National Parks
Chimani is a sweeping purveyor of the American recreational outdoors. Its Chimani National Parks series offer a number of discrete iOS and Android apps covering a range of American historical places—including national parks, historical parks, national monuments, battlefields, memorials, parkways, preserves, seashores, lakeshores, and rivers. Broad but not deep, the free app references all properties under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. As you drill down to specific locations of the main app, it won’t take you long to hit the National Park Service’s own excellent, detailed website. Chimani’s free app gives users an overview of the entire landscape—what’s out there and where it is. Each entry zooms to a full map with standard, hybrid, and satellite views. The general app also lets you record the places you’ve visited and create a list of places you want to go. The real value of Chimani, however, is its component apps; separate downloads provide specific park information, detailed maps, ranger event listings, places to eat or picnic, accessibility resources, and more. The suite of individual apps, for $2 each, include Acadia National Park, Cape Cod National Seashore, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Zion National Park. Chimani’s only in-app purchase is the National Parks Traveler ($2). A new in-app purchase for some apps is an Augmented Reality viewer for $2. (Free, iPhone, iPad, and Android. Individual park apps, $2.)