Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Explore Every U.S. National Park with Just One App. Here’s How

The U.S. National Parks have been called “America’s best idea.” But it wasn’t until this century that many Americans who’d never visited a National Park realized what they were missing. Visitor numbers, even to the lesser-known and most remote parks, have exploded in the last decade. Still, the overwhelming number of parks to explore — more than 400 in total — can make it difficult to know where to start or which ones are truly worth a visit. This month, the National Park Service (NPS) is looking to change that with the debut of an all-in-one smartphone app that puts the personal experience, naturalist wisdom, and historical knowledge of hundreds of park rangers in your pocket.

The new National Park Service app combines every National Park Service “unit” (that includes everything from National Parks and National Monuments to National Battlefields and National Rivers) into a single app. Beyond vital information like visitor center hours, entrance fees, and parking tips, it features interactive park maps, trail and hiking info, current amenities, virtual guided tours of points of interest, accessibility details, and more. By downloading information for individual parks in advance, the app is also usable offline, so you needn’t worry about being without cell service in the backcountry.

Related Videos
National Park Service Mobile App

The idea of an official National Park Service smartphone app isn’t new. But, until now, accessing the same information meant downloading more than 30 separate apps. Alternatively, outdoor adventure and nature lovers have always had the option of using unofficial third-party apps. Chimani has long been the go-to app for comprehensive mobile guides on every National Park. Hikers can find a dizzying array of information, including vertical profiles, reviews, family tips, and more, for most National Park hiking trails with the National Park Trail Guide app. Campers and RVers can search Allstays for the best camping opportunities. Of course, the best solution is to use more than one of these for the best and most up-to-date info.

The free National Park Service app is available for iOS and Android devices. Although the app is officially available for download, the NPS notes that details may not be complete for every park just yet. It’s building out content for every park unit as quickly as possible, so expect regular updates throughout this year.

Whether your park visit involves light front-country “glamping” or more hardcore backcountry exploration, check out our list of the best websites and apps to help you pack for any outdoor trip.

It’s also worth noting that the U.S. National Park Service offers fee-free national park days to more than 400 sites each year. For 2022, the six days include:

  • January 18: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 16: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4: One-year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday (NPS turns 105 this year!)
  • September 25: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

As far as actually using the app goes, you can search for parks by location, name, activity, and topic. The parks then have descriptions, photos, and information about fees and hours. It’s really a great resource for exploring the parks. Once you’ve found a park you like you can save it to your favorites to easily return to it later. You’ll likely want to download a navigation app, like Gaia or All Trails to use when exploring the parks, as it doesn’t seem like the NPS app is designed for navigating. Though the app does offer self-guided walking tours, which seem fun to check out.

If you’re looking to get more information on parks regarding specific times of year or to read more in-depth descriptions of the parks, we’ve got you covered. We have a post on the 20 (20!) best U.S. National Parks, and a post on the most affordable time to visit.

Editors' Recommendations

The 6 Best Day Hikes in U.S. National Parks
A majestic view of Zion National Park Angels Landing in Utah.

It’s time to dust off your best hiking boots and get them ready for new dirt.

Across rainforests, mountain ranges, sprawling plateaus, rivers, and valleys, the North American continent offers some of the most stunning natural geography in the world. To take in these amazing natural experiences, you can set out on weeks- or months-long journeys, but most of us don’t have the time. No need to worry because The Manual has got your back with six of the best day hikes in U.S. national parks.

Read more
The 10 Best Pieces of Solar Gear for Exploring Off-Grid in 2022
Group of people camping and dining off-grid with solar power.

These days, car camping and overlanding typically involve a ton of gear, including everything from smartphones and tablets to drones and portable refrigerators. Most of it requires power and, if you’re going off-grid for any length of time, you'll need plenty of it. Thankfully, solar gear — including portable power stations and the solar panels that fuel them — has caught up to the needs of tech-savvy off-grid explorers.

Whatever your power needs, there’s an option for you. If you’re a solo backpacker who obsesses over every gram you pack, there’s an ultra-portable solar power solution for you. For overlanders who pack everything and the kitchen sink, there are heavy-duty battery banks designed to run any standard household appliance, including hairdryers, microwaves, and even power tools. Car campers seeking a middle-of-the-road option have the most choice of all. But dialing in the right solution for your on-the-go power needs can be tricky. That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you and rounded up the best solar gear for exploring off-grid in 2022.

Read more
The Best Hiking Snacks To Fuel Your Time on the Trail
best hiking snacks the preparation for tomorrow is doing your today

Warmer weather is on the horizon and it's finally time to dust off the hiking gear that’s been hibernating in the back of your closet all winter, and make some hiking snacks that will get you ready to hit the trails. From getting fresh air and exercise to enjoying scenic vistas, hiking is one of the best ways to get outdoors and enjoy nature. But, whether you're taking on one of the most physically challenging hikes in the United States or embarking on a short and simple day hike, it's important to be prepared with the right equipment -- and that includes the best hiking snacks. 

If you're keeping your hike relatively short, there's no need to reach for the dehydrated meals. What you do want are snacks that won’t spoil, don’t take up a ton of space in your backpack, and help you stay energized and feeling good all day long. That means you'll want a mix of carbohydrates and protein, both of which your body needs to perform at its best during the hike and recover properly once you're done. So, stuff your pack with these nutritious, tasty snacks (plus plenty of water, of course) and you'll be ready to hit the trail. Just remember to pack out any wrappers or other trash you brought with you! 

Read more