A hiking app is exactly the kind of thing a hiker would think up somewhere along a solitary stretch of wilderness: “What if we could harness the power of all available map data, add it to the insights of other hikers, and stick it all on our phones?” Luckily some of those hikers went ahead and made that idea into reality.
Here are the ten best hiking apps, many of which will help you find a brand new place to check out. Some will make sure you don’t get lost on your way — and alert people if you do. Some will help you log your route and chronicle your trip. One even IDs mountains in the distance. Most have a free version to try out, with subscription features that make the hiking apps even more useful if you decide you like them. Load up your phone with the best hiking apps around then strap on your boots, grab your water, and get out on the trail.
With the huge number of trails in its database and the abundance of community-fueled trail data, AllTrails is the best way to find a new nearby hike when the need for nature hits. Use the slew of filters to dial in just the hike you want — from an easy, kid-friendly loop with big views, to a lightly trafficked trail running hike with a river. User-uploaded photos and hints tell you what to expect, while driving directions take you right to the trailhead. It’s great as a free app, and for $30 a year, the Pro version lets you download trail maps for offline use.
Hunters, backcountry skiers, and backpackers can go beyond day hike data with a GAIA GPS membership. The free version lets you use their hiking maps while your phone has service and a basic membership ($17/year) will let you download those maps. But it’s the Premium level ($36/year) where GAIA lets you seriously plan and navigate your backcountry trips by overlaying deep information on your maps. Maps include info like land ownership, game management, motor vehicle restrictions, and land management boundaries, along with US Geological Survey and Forest Service maps.
REI Co-op National Parks Guide
For an app that’s free, as no in-app purchases or membership needed, go for one of REI’s apps. The giant outdoor gear co-op has a few apps in their collection (see Hiking Project below) and they put together this National Parks App to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration. With details on hiking, camping, lodging, and food, plus a Gems section that makes sure you see all of the best parts of each park, the app is a necessary add-on if you’re heading to one of our preserved natural places.
Guthook Guides was started by a group of thru-hikers who tackled the Pacific Crest Trail. More than just a set of maps, each Guthook Guide is a handheld, detailed trail guide for long-distance trails and regional trail systems. Waypoints include information like water sources and campsites, which have comments and verification from other users. The guides also give information on the towns along your route for easier resupplying. The app itself is free. You buy and download the guide you need (which run from $8 to $60) from a list of growing trails — like the PCT, Appalachian, Continental Divide, John Muir and more.
Try before you buy with a free demo of BackCountry Navigator. The BCN app’s goal is to turn your phone into a GPS device. You download the topo maps (which include data from USG, Caltopo, and more) before you go so the maps are available offline. It’s only available for Android phones, and uses the GPS running in the background to find your location, so cell service isn’t required. After the trial period (thirty days) a flat $15 gives you full access to the downloadable maps and a $20 per year subscription will let you access Accuterra Topo maps as well.
This is REI’s free app for hikers. Most of the info on the app is crowdsourced from other hikers, but Hiking Project reviews every hike and photo submitted to make sure they’re legit. So far they’ve got more than 65,000 trails and 219,793 miles of hikes with some of the best user-generated photography on a hiking app. You can search for hikes by state or internationally by country — or just look for something nearby then strap on your hiking boots (whether or not you got them from REI) and get going.
For some, documenting time spent in nature is just as important as the act itself. While Instagram is the go-to platform, Ramblr is a free app with a trip-based approach to chronicling expeditions. Use the app to track your route as you hike, recording audio, video, and images along the way then upload your hike and see your route with your geotagged media dotting your path — with hike stats like elevation, speed, and duration included. It’s easy to share your trips on social media, or if you’re just documenting for your own enjoyment, setting your trips to private is always an option.
The name gives you an idea of the apps purpose: cairns are piles of rocks often used to mark a point in the landscape — helping you find your way home, or alerting others to the path. Cairn, the app, also makes sure you get home, and uses your ability to get cell service to allow others to find service on the trail. Before you head out, setting up alerts will tell your safety circle if you don’t check in by a set time and give them details about your location. Cairn also offers downloadable topo maps and uses an algorithm to figure out your ETA on thousands of trails. It’s free to try for thirty days, and goes for $26 a year after that.
PeakVisor will make sure you know every mountain peak in the distance, using AR and your phone’s camera. Just aim your phone at the summit in question and the app will add an overlay with the name and altitude. The app is free but requires service. To identify peaks when you’re out of range, the $3-per-month PRO plan lets you download the data. Every major and minor mountain range worldwide is included and the wide range of peaks is continually being added to. They’re also adding waterfall and even castle identification (which is probably more useful in Europe than the Rockies).
Made up of equal parts inspiration and bragging rights, nothing beats Instagram for proper hiking documentation. And if ever you’re stuck on the couch and need a nudge to get out there, just search #hiking. If nearly 50 million images of other people getting out there under the open sky and open trails doesn’t get you going, we don’t know what will. It’s also the best way to show everyone where you went and how much fun you had.
Disclosure: Clicking on these links and making a purchase may earn us a small referral fee, at no extra cost to you. Learn more here.