In today’s world, we carry our smartphones every… including on the hiking trails! Your iPhone is way more than just a phone. It’s a compass, flashlight, camera, and GPS. I know you’re probably thinking, “isn’t the whole point of hiking to escape technology?”. Yes, in theory… but are you really going to leave your phone at home?
Instead, consider downloading these 12 best hiking apps to enhance your hiking experience! This post shares the best hiking apps on the market, including:
- Best GPS hiking apps
- Best apps for finding hiking trails
- Best free hiking apps
- And the best hiking app for Apple watch!
Without further ado, here are the 12 best hiking apps on the market.
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- Why Do You Need Hiking Apps
- Best Hiking Apps
- 1. AllTrails
- 2. Gaia GPS
- 3. PeakVisor
- 4. Google Maps
- 5. Guthook Guides
- 6. Hiking Project
- 7. Recreation.Gov
- 8. National Park Service App
- 9. Seek by iNaturalist
- 10. SkyView Lite
- 11. Cairn
- 12. Apple Watch Workout App
- Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Hiking App
- Final Thoughts on the Best Hiking Apps
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Why Do You Need Hiking Apps
There’s a seemingly endless number of hiking apps out there, from navigation to inspiration! So what can a hiking app do for you? Well, it turns out quite a lot…
- Inspiration – An app is a great way to discover hikes in your area and across the globe! You can save hikes you’re interested in, avoiding the Saturday morning google search of “best hikes near me”.
- Navigation – An app can also help you find your trailhead and stay on course. This is particularly important if you’re going on a hike in an area with limited cell service.
- Learn – A smartphone is a walking encyclopedia, ready to help you learn about anything (it’s smart for a reason!). There are hiking apps out there to teach you about plants, wildlife, and constellations.
- Performance Tracking – Not only can you use an app to track a hike for later, but you can also share hike performance. I love a good competition, so tracking hikes with friends and family is great motivation.
Best Hiking Apps
- Best Free Hiking App: AllTrails (iOS & Android)
- Best GPS App for Hiking: Gaia GPS (iOS & Android)
- Best App for Hiking Trails Inspiration: Hiking Project (iOS & Android)
- Most Unique Hiking App: Seek by iNaturalist (iOS & Android)
- Best Apple Watch Hiking App: Apple Fitness Tracker (iOS only)
AllTrails is one of the most well-known hiking apps out there. With over 20 million users and 100,000 trails worldwide, it’s easy to see why. This is my go-to hike planning app. Hikes are searchable based on difficulty, length, elevation gain, route type, and user rating. You can also search hikes based on tags, like trail running, dog-friendly, or wildflowers.
Once you find a hike, you can view specific details, like distance and an elevation profile map. All Trails also provides tips and information on getting to the trailhead, how long the hike should take, and reviews from users. All Trails also allows its users to record their hikes, tracking the route using GPS and time to complete.
While the base version of All Trails is free, they also offer a Pro version for $29.99 per year. AllTrails Pro allows you to download maps offline and sends you notifications if you stray off-trail. The Pro version also comes with 3D maps!
2. Gaia GPS
Gaia GPS is one of the most popular hiking apps for navigation. In this app, you can do everything from find new trails, record your route, and save hike statistics and performance. The app will even tell you the weather forecast and help you find camping near your hike!
There is both a free and paid version of the Gaia GPS hiking app. For most day hikers, the free version is enough. In the free version, you can view both topographic and satellite maps and track your hike with cell service.
For backpackers or advanced hikers, I recommend the paid version. For only $39.99 per year, the paid version of Gaia GPS unlocks offline maps, including backpacking, off-road driving, backcountry skiing, and mountain biking maps. The offline map feature is crucial for being able to navigate and stay on trail without cell service.
Have you ever looked off in the distance and said, “what mountain is that?”. If so, I’ve got good news for you! It’s an app called PeakVisor. Here’s how it works: you open the app on your phone, point it at the peak, and it will tell you, using a combination of image recognition and GPS location.
You can even upload pictures of mountains from past hikes or when you’re without service and the app will identify those too! The catalog of mountain peaks is over 1 million. This app also offers a compass, great for navigation on hikes.
PeakVisor comes in both a free and pro version. The free version allows you to use most of the app’s features. The Pro version’s biggest advantage is offline peak identification and maps – no cell service required!
4. Google Maps
There’s a very high likelihood you’re already using this app. But I’d be willing to bet you’re not using it to its full functionality. Google Maps‘ best feature for hikers is the ability to download maps offline.
Downloading maps ahead of time will ensure you’re able to navigate to the trailhead even if you lose service. Since GPS continues to work without cell phone service, you can use Google Maps to navigate with your downloaded map. Many popular trails in busy parks are also shown on Google Maps, allowing you to track your progress on the trail and stay on track.
In the app, you can download a customized region. I recommend downloading the area from your home to your trailhead and the full trail area. To download offline in Google Maps, just go to the app, select Offline Maps from the menu, select a custom map to highlight the area, and then click download.
5. Guthook Guides
Guthook Guides is the most popular smartphone app for long-distance hiking and backpacking. With over 35,000 miles of trails in its database, it’s a go-to for thru-hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail. In fact, it was developed by former thru-hikers who understood the need for a reliable offline map.
In the app, you’ll find detailed trail information like distance, elevation, waypoints, water sources, and campsites, all viewable on topographic or satellite maps. The app actively tracks your location on the map, making sure you’re always on trail. All of this works offline without cell reception.
The app itself is free, but each trail is purchased individually. You can buy full trail guides for thru-hikes or buy smaller trail guides for national parks. The guides range from $4.99 to $59.99, depending on trail length. The app does offer some free demo trails to get you started too.
- Available on: iOS & Android
- Price: Free, but requires in-app purchases of the guides ($4.99-$59.99 per guide)
6. Hiking Project
This crowd-sourced hiking app is also great for inspiration. While a lot of the functionality is similar to AllTrails, Hiking Project provides points of interest (labeled as “Gems” in the app). You can search for hikes by region, by point of interest, or by hike features. With hikes mainly in the US and Canada, Hiking Project allows you to see stats by state, including trails ranked by popularity.
For a specific hike, you can view detailed descriptions, wildlife and plants in the area, reviews by users, and trail conditions. Using the Hiking Project app, you can get a feel for the hike before you even step foot on the trail.
If you’re an avid national park camper, you’re probably already familiar with this app. But Recreation.Gov can be used for a lot more than booking campsites. This app is also a platform to book tours, tickets, and permits.
Many US national parks offer ticketed ranger-led tours, like Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park, bookable through the app. Permits to wilderness areas, like Mt. Whitney or the Lost Coast in California, are booked through this app too. Recreation.Gov is the official place to enter lotteries for permits to places like The Wave in Arizona or Half Dome in Yosemite.
You can also buy interagency passes, like the America the Beautiful National Park Pass, through the Recreation.Gov app.
The moral of the story is that Recreation.Gov is one of the best hiking apps for government lands. If you’re trying to book permits or campgrounds, most sites open up around 6 months in advance.
8. National Park Service App
For national park lovers, the National Park Service app is a must! This app has everything you need to know about all 423 national park units, including the 63 US national parks. You’ll find information on the best things to do (including lots of hikes), where to stay, tours, park amenities, and more.
Not sure what park you want to visit? You can explore all the various national parks and create your own favorites, lists, and mark parks as visited.
The app also provides details on each park’s most popular hikes, including distance and time to complete the hike. You’ll also find directions to trailheads and maps available offline for when you’re without cell service.
9. Seek by iNaturalist
Have you ever seen a plant on the trail and wondered, “what kind of plant is that?”. I used to do this all the time and I’d think to myself, wow wouldn’t it be really cool if there was an app that could tell you these things. Well, it turns out there is!
One of the coolest hiking apps is Seek by iNaturalist. It was developed by the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic. Seek uses your camera and GPS location to identify plants and animals you encounter on the trail.
To use, simply take a photo of your subject using the app. Seek uses your location to narrow down possible species and gives you more information about what you’ve found. And because everything is more fun if it’s a game, you can earn badges and achievements based on the species you discover.
10. SkyView Lite
This free hiking app is the only tool you need to identify planets, stars, and constellations in the night sky. The app uses the phone’s built-in compass to locate astronomical objects.
The app overlays graphics of night sky objects based on where you point your phone. Plus, you can read more about the object of interest, such as the International Space Station.
You can even set notifications for upcoming stargazing events, like meteor showers or planet sightings. I’ve found this app to be great for stargazing before sunrise hikes or after sunset hikes.
The free, “lite” version is great for most hikers, but the full, paid version o the app offers an apple watch app, a widget for your phone, and thousands of additional night sky objects! The full Skyview app only costs $1.99 to purchase.
Cairn is the ultimate hiking safety app! All the app’s features are designed to keep you safe on the hiking trail. The most popular features include sharing your route and GPS location with friends and family, downloading offline maps, and real-time location and status updates.
The app tracks your estimated time to complete the hike from your location and helps you track your progress with offline trail maps. You’ll also find information on where other hikers have found cell service along the hike and be notified when you enter an area that has cell service.
The free version of the app lets you use the basic features, like maps, trails, and cell coverage when you have cell service. The paid version allows you to use the app entirely offline, including offline maps and live progress updates to your emergency contacts. All users can get a 30 day free trial of the paid version before purchasing.
Cairn is available for Android or iPhone with a 60-day free trial. $26.99 a year
12. Apple Watch Workout App
The workout app native to Apple Watch is the best hiking app for your Apple Watch! Wearing a fitness tracker is an easy way to keep track of the distance you’ve covered on the trail. If you use other Apple products, then I highly recommend investing in an Apple Watch.
With its custom ‘Hiking’ tracking feature, the app logs your time, active calories, heart rate, distance, and elevation. After your hike, you can see a summary of the exercise and a GPS map of your route with mile times. It’s one of the best ways to track your progress as you train for longer, harder hikes.
- Available on: iOS
- Price: Free (requires an Apple Watch though)
Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Hiking App
What is the best free hiking app?
The best free hiking apps are:
AllTrails (Available on iOS & Android)
Gaia GPS (Available on iOS & Android)
Hiking Project (Available on iOS & Android)
National Park Service App (Available on iOS & Android)
Seek by iNaturalist (Available on iOS & Android)
What is the best hiking app for iPhone?
The best hiking apps for iPhone are:
Apple Watch Workout App
Does Google Maps show hiking trails?
Google Maps does show hiking trails. You’ll see dotted hiking trails on most views of the map. It is an easy way to track your progress on popular trails in busy parks. Google Maps isn’t always reliable for less popular trails, so I recommend AllTrails Pro or Gaia GPS for tracking in more remote places.
Can I use my phone GPS for hiking?
Yes! Using your phone GPS for hiking is a great way to track your progress and stay on the trail. Many hiking apps, like AllTrails and Gaia GPS, work on your smartphone using its GPS to show your location in real time on topographic hiking maps.
What is the best GPS app for hiking?
The best GPS app for hiking is Gaia GPS. With slightly better maps and navigation than AllTrails, this is the best app for navigating. To use the map and features offline, you’ll need to pay for a Gaia GPS subscription of $39.99 per year.
Final Thoughts on the Best Hiking Apps
I hope that by now I’ve convinced you that technology can actually enhance your hiking experience, not detract from it. But it never hurts to silence notifications to escape from the calls, texts, and emails for a little bit.
Looking for most hiking resources? Check out these posts!