In April 2021, the National Parks Service released a brand-new mobile app dedicated to America’s National Parks. It promises to be a go-to resource for all 423 National Parks, monuments, and designated areas. But, is it actually useful for backpacking, hiking, and general nature lovers? We dove deep inside the app to bring you this National Parks App review- let’s go!
National Parks Service App: Overview
The app, overall, is very easy to use and chock full of helpful and fun information. It’s an easy way to learn about parks you’re about to visit, plan out some sightseeing, and satisfy your curiosities when you’re bored. The app has just about everything I would hope for- weather updates, announcements and notices, and all the “fun facts” you could ever want.
The one thing that the National Parks Service mobile app is lacking, compared to other hiking/backpacking apps, is detailed maps of the trails. Outside of that, though, there is a lot to love about the NPS App!
National Parks App Review
Navigation and User Experience: 4/5
The first thing that turns me off to a new app or website is when I can’t figure out how to use it. I’m Gen Z, raised on tech; if I can’t figure out how to use an app, it’s not usable! Thankfully, the NPS app is pretty intuitive– navigation felt natural, even if you did have to get a few clicks deep to go anywhere interesting. But, that type of navigation is kind of the spirit of the National Parks themselves- the best parts are hidden deep within!
National Parks Info 4/5
Whether it’s current updates about each park, fire warnings, weather updates, or a massive list of attractions, this park almost has it all. When you navigate to a park, you can see all the info laid out before you. Things to see and do, places to stay, the park calendar, lists of hikes- it’s all there!
You can find lots of fun facts and history about each park/site by clicking on “What to See” or “Self-Guided Tours” for the park you’re exploring. If you’re a curious person or just a bored nerd looking to soak up random facts, you’ll love those features!
The app is, sadly, lacking a large collection of photos. There are a few photos for each park, location, and trail on the app; it would just be better if there were more!
Hiking and Trails: 2/5
This is the biggest disappointment for me: the maps of hiking trails are a bit useless. They’ll show you where the trailheads are, but not much else. No actual maps of the trails, waypoints, or ability to share trip reports. I guess it makes sense, though- what’s the point in competing with AllTrails, Summit Post, and the Hiking Project?
Still, it was a bit of a letdown. Maybe they’ll add detailed trail maps in a future update!
Campground and Lodge Reservations
Need to reserve a spot in a campground? This process is now easier than ever. Click “Where to Stay” on any of the parks/sites in the app, and you’ll be shown a selection of campgrounds and lodges, depending on the park you chose. Once you find a place, you can click “reserve now” to head straight to the reservation portal!
This is one of the best features of the app overall. You can go on self-guided walking tours, chock full of information, at any number of sites and parks! If you’re stuck at home, unable to visit in person, you can still learn a ton from these self-guided tours!
Is the National Parks Service App Any Good?
Yes! Wholeheartedly yes. The only thing that keeps the app from being perfect is that the trail maps are little more than “dropped pins” where the trailheads are. If they add more depth to the hiking trail functions, there would be almost nothing stopping this app from being the best outdoors app around. It’s great for planning trips, learning about the National Parks, and making reservations. All in all, the National Parks Service App gets a 4/5.