Apps that Help You Connect to Nature

As technology centers our lives, using apps to inspire a deeper involvement with nature may sound counterintuitive. Spending time outside is usually best with no apps. However, does every app have to detract from your nature experience? Here at HIN, we say there are a few exceptions. That is, the apps below may actually augment your time spent outdoors by helping you stay on course- literally, and in the present moment!

Recent Research

Recent research explores the “effect of using mobile technology to enhance our connection to nature through a short-term intervention” (Barrable & Booth, 2020). Two randomized groups of undergraduates; ranging from ages of 20-31, participated in an urban nature short walk and were instructed to “notice the beauty in nature and note three beautiful things” (Barrable & Booth, 2020). Through using mobile technology: photography, audio, or video recording, one member of each group recorded these beautiful nature findings. The “Connection to Nature Scale (CNS) State” reported and analyzed pre- and post-activity measures of the nature connection; results showed that “although the intervention had an overall positive effect on participants’ connection to nature, technology neither enhanced nor hindered it” (Barrable & Booth, 2020).  


Barrable, A., & Booth, D. (2020). Green and Screen: Does Mobile Photography Enhance or Hinder Our Connection to Nature? Digital Culture & Education12(2).

The Apps

HIN approved list of apps that aim to positively add or support your next outdoor adventure. Whether you are trying to #GetOutside and connect to nature, learn more about the outdoor elements near your area, to discovering or enhancing nature experiences during the day and at night, checking out the apps below are a sure way to get you involved and inspired about the outdoors!

Visit apple or the google play store for more information about listed apps: including in-purchase or free download options for iPhone or Android users.

Pronghorns in the grasslands of Wyoming.
Image by WordAtlas, retrieved:

National Forest Explorer– USFS Forests & GrassLands

Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, this app is an essential gateway to exploring forests near you. The app has been developed by Forest Unit Rangers and interpretive staff to include available features and resources like educational audio tours, recreational opportunities, visitor centers, ranger stations, and other essential visitor information to ensure enjoyment of our National Forests and Grasslands. This app includes offline and GPS maps, trails, and easy access to forest facts; natural, cultural, and historic information of destination points of interest. With this app, users can plan their itineraries of sights to see, maps and trails of interest, or access information that regards to their forest activities. Users also have the option to download visited destination points in order to keep track of where your favorite destination points have been. Lastly, this app will keep you up to date with alert notifications of closures or upcoming events, while continuing to update additional forests to the app over time. Check out National Forest Explorer here:

Apple Store:

Google Play Store:

AllTrails– GPS Hiking & Biking Trails

This app is worth considering if you are prone to poor directions. AllTrails has over 200,000 running, hiking, and biking trails- whether nearby in your neighborhood or newer trails in national parks. With this app, users can search to find their favorite trails, discover new ones, or check out reviews and shared photos from other hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners. The app includes in-depth trail directions for users to follow or GPS-enabled maps of the trails themselves; users can look forward to having no worries about getting lost! Additionally, listed trails can be saved for users to organize their favorites trails, or create and add to a new list of trails to check out. Trails are also rated easy, moderate, or hard to gauge users preferences and experience level. Use the AllTrails app to find dog-friendly, kid-friendly, even wheelchair friendly trails. Even better, this app easily gets users to their outdoor destination by providing detailed GPS driving directions directly to the trail. AllTrails offers a free versions that gives access to trailheads, reviews, and online maps. The Pro version is a monthly or annual subscription fee that includes other handy add on like downloading maps for offline use, route notifications so users never miss a turn, and tracking of exact GPS location as users navigate trails. Check out AllTrails here:

Apple Store:

Google Play Store:

Map My Run– GPS Running & Workout Tracker

Named top 10 for runners, this app is similar to the features of AllTrails and geared to get you running outside. If running outside isn’t your cup of tea, Map my Walk provides similar features to Map my Run. You can check out Map my Walk here: The Map My Run app provides running routes that are nearby; allowing you to save paths the you may like, add new ones you may want to try, or share the routes you enjoyed with others. Whether you are just starting out or are a pro runner, this app provides training tools, customized training plans, and personalized coaching tips that will aid in your run and fitness goals. This apps directly tracks your run while providing real-time updates of your progress using audio, haptics’ or visuals. Real-time audio coaching and customizable voice features prompt stats for one’s pace, distance, and elevation. Further upgrading to the MVP Premium feature also enables a safety feature where you can share live tracking of one’s real-time running location with friends or family. Check out Map My Run here:

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Google Play Store:

Photo: Dimitri Tyan
Image retrieved at

Seek by iNaturalist- Identify plants and animals

A kid-safe app that is great for families that want to spend more time outdoors exploring in nature together. The Seek app uses recognition technology to identify plants and animals. Once outside, use the seek camera and point your phone toward living things: including plants, birds, amphibians, bugs, fungi and more.  Then, a list of commonly recorded insects, birds, plants etc., in your area will derive including information about the living organism that was scanned. This app awards badges for observing different types of species, prompts species that have been observed nearby, and includes challenges to observes new species. Get outside with this app and start exploring! Check out more regarding Seek by iNaturalist here:

Apple Store:

Google Play Store:

SkyView -Explore the Universe/Stargazing

SkyView is an augmented reality app for night time stargazing! For the SkyView app to function, Wifi, GPS, or a data signal is not required. Users can use this app anywhere; when camping, boating, even when your flying. Simply point your devices camera to the sky and SkyView will identify galaxies, stars, constellations and passing satellites like the ISS and Hubble. The SkyView app can also guide users to locations to find stars and where to identity constellations in the sky. Using your camera, users may scan across the sky to witness constellations fade in and out, while discovering distant galaxies, flybys of satellites, to locating the Moon or different planets. Reminders for celestial events, spotting satellites, or planning an evening of stargazing can all be set using the SkyView app. Additionally, on any date or time users can also follow sky paths. Sky paths is a feature for daily tracking of the Sun and the Moon, by showing you their exact locations in the sky during the day or night; user may also use this app during the day to identify and precisely spot celestial objects. Lastly, a cool feature this app allows is Time Travel. Users have the ability to jump to the past or future and see the sky on different dates and times! There is a free version of this app called SkyView Lite, which includes the same features as SkyView expect the added feature of Night Mode. The SkyView app can be a fun tool to teach yourself, children, students, and friends about the universe.

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Google Play Store:

Smart Bird ID Logo retrieved at:

Smart Bird ID– Instant Bird Identifier

 This app is like Shazam but for bird songs! Smart Bird ID includes over 1000 bird species based from the United States (USA), Canada, as well many others from around the world. With this app, users can identify birds by using their camera or microphone. Other features include fun quizzes to improve your bird identification skills, sharing identified birds with others, or learning more about birds through photos, videos, and included birds’ songs (birds by sound) that Smart Bird ID provides. Users can also add their observations and findings to a journal this app provides-which can be synced across other devices! This app is simple to use, works offline, and helps users track identified birds using easy-to-maintain lists. The Smart Bird ID Pro version offers every feature as Smart Bird ID, while including no adds, cloud backup of videos, photos, and audio of saved identified birds, to creating a birding profile and more. Check out Smart Bird ID here:

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Google Play Store:

Merlin Bird ID- Identify Every Bird You See

Learn more about birds wherever you are, during any time of the year, with an app that is similar to the features of SmartBird ID. The Merlin Bird ID app uses learning algorithms to derive bird matches and includes bird ID tips from experts at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This app provides features like bird songs and calls for users to listen to, customized location and date tools to generate best fit matches when identifying birds, and assists users to discover what birds to look out for near their area. Users can answer a few simple questions, and the Merlin Bird ID app will provide a list of birds that match your description. Additionally, users may snap new photos of birds and a list of matched or suggested birds will be provided using this app. Users can also choose pre-existing photos of birds from their camera roll and the Merlin Bird ID app can identify birds by uploading photos this way as well. Identified birds can then be saved using the build-a-life list feature, which keeps track of the birds users have seen. With this app, the bird pack features provides identification help for many regions around the world, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, The Middle East, Asia, and Australia. With over 40,000 photos of birds, Merlin Bird ID users are certain to find and learn more about birds. Check out Merlin Bird ID here:

Apple Store:

Google Play Store:

Additional consideration- Useful Website: NatureFind

The mobile online version is great for families who want a source that references places for exploration. Some examples include nature centers, natural history museums, directions and descriptions for botanical gardens and wildlife refuges. Finding outdoor activities for your family can be made easy by visiting:

App References

  • Toby Bloom. (2021). National Forest Explorer USFS Forests & Grasslands (2.3) [Mobile App]. App Store.
  • AllTrails, Inc. (2021). AllTrails: Hike, Bike, & Run (13.0.2) [Mobile App]. App Store.
  • Under Armour, Inc. (2021). Map My Run by Under Armour (21.7.0) [Mobile App]. App Store.
  • iNatrualist, LLC. (2021). Seek by iNaturalist identify plants & animals (2.12.3) [Mobile App]. App store.
  • Terminal Eleven LLC. (2020). SkyView Lite (3.6.1) [Mobile App]. App Store.
  • Yellow Cardinal Inc. (2021). Smart Bird ID Instant Bird Identifier (3.45.4) [Mobile App]. App Store
  • Cornell University. (2021). Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab (1.8.2) [Mobile App]. App Store.

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