Visiting a waterfall in a forest or watching a sunrise from a mountaintop are great ways to heed the siren-like calls of wanderlust, and these hiking apps make it easy to find nearby (and faraway) trails worth exploring.
While these apps are dedicated to hiking, they aren’t the only apps capable of helping you explore the breathtaking wonders of nature. Most workout apps count hiking as a great form of exercise (and can sync with your fitness tracker). Map apps, like Google Maps, often show basic trail details for well-known trails and let you download maps for offline use and are less bulky than carrying a physical GPS on a hike. Or perhaps you enjoy treasure hunts and want to search for a geocache while hiking. Whatever your reason is for hiking, just make sure you bring the right accessories along with you so you’re prepared for a fun safe hike.
Update, 9/15/21: Checked content for accuracy.
Some people might only use a hiking app to find a new trail or figure out where a trailhead starts, but these apps are packed with tons of information worth digging into. Here are the features you should look for in your GPS hiking app and why each is important:
- Quantity of Trails: The best hiking apps have a huge database of trails. They’ll show you trails near your current location as well as ones further away, which is great if you’re planning a lengthier hike or a future vacation centering around hiking. They should also have filters or tags for hike intensity, length, kid-friendliness, and other elements as needed. Bonus points if the app allows those in its community to review a trail and vouch for its awesomeness (or warn you of issues).
- Helpful Trail Information: Good hiking apps make it easy for you to find trailheads and see the overall path of the trail including endpoints and divergent trails. They should also show you relevant trail information like trail length, incline, difficulty, starting and ending altitudes, path direction arrows, hazards, or even hikes with a good view, so that you are properly informed and prepared to head out onto a trail before doing so. Some even show your GPS location overlaid on the map for precision guidance.
- Offline Functionality: Many good hikes are well off the beaten path, so to speak, so ensure that the hiking app you choose works offline. For some apps, this just means being able to download a map of the trail you’re planning on hiking, while for others this may include a more detailed map, a larger map of your hike that includes the surrounding area, or other additional GPS functionality.
- Nearby Points of Interest: The beauty of a hike is often in the journey itself, rather than making it to the destination. Some hikes offer breathtaking Instagram-worthy vistas, while others are conveniently located near campgrounds, lodges, or national parks and offer a simple scenic walk. If you’re looking to find a hike with a particular kind of view or plan out a series of hikes on your vacation, get a hiking app that lets you filter or search for those kinds of details.
- Fun Extras: Some apps offer a few neat extras that can enhance your hiking experience, like the ability to track and record your hike, plot points of interest, see your live hike stats, share your favorite paths with your friends, or submit your current location in case of an emergency.
AllTrails (Free) is the granddaddy of hiking apps, with over 100,000 trails in its database. Users within the AllTrails community can review the trails they’ve hiked, and beam about how lovely it was or if there is a hazard to watch out for. Searching for trails on the app is easy, and it has excellent filters for things like length, difficulty, and views (think wildflowers, lakes, or a historic site). AllTrails includes trail options for off-road driving, mountain biking, horseback riding, or snowshoeing, and you can even see dog-friendly and wheelchair-friendly options, along with those recommended for kids.
The app keeps track of your hiking stats—like your total distance hiked and recent activity—and you can review or share them on social media. It even lets you create custom maps with waypoints, save your favorite trails, and get driving directions to trailheads. Upgrading to the Pro plan ($2.50 per month billed annually) gets you all of that plus downloadable maps for offline use, off-route navigation notifications, printable maps, and other bonuses.
Whether you’re into hiking or all types of outdoor activities like hunting, skiing, and camping, Gaia GPS (Free, with paid options) is the perfect companion app for all your trail-finding needs. The app is first and foremost a backpacking app, and its topographical maps and routing tools are great for plotting out custom hikes, as it lets you mark distance, elevation changes, and waypoints. The app has maps of public and private land, making it great for hunting, mountain biking, camping, mountaineering, and other similar activities. Included weather forecasts keep you in the know for the best days to hike.
Gaia GPS offers one-year and five-year paid plans, in addition to a free option. The free plan lets you discover hikes, plan trips, navigate, and record your hike data, with topographical maps; this option is recommended for day hikers only. The next tier, Membership ($17 per year) gets you all that plus the ability to download maps and choose your map type; this tier is recommended for backcountry trips without cell service. Lastly, the Premium tier ($36 per year) makes the full map catalog available to you (including custom National Geographic, U.S. Geological survey, and Forest Service maps), shows you motor vehicle restrictions and land management boundaries, lets you customize maps with specialty data just for your activity, and is worth upgrading to if you regularly partake in or are at a professional level of serious outdoor activities like skiing, off-roading, camping, hunting, or backpacking.
The Outdooractive app (Free, formerly ViewRanger) is a terrific app that has every feature you’d expect a hiking app to have. The app has over 150,000 routes you can look through, with the information for each available at a glance, like their distance and intensity, along with photos. ViewRanger makes it easy to get prepared for all kinds of hikes. It is partnered with the official mapping agencies of 24 countries and offers a USA map bundle with additional map types for all 50 states, including topographical maps from the U.S. Geological Service. And should you feel like walking into the wild, rest assured that the app’s GPS technology continues to work without mobile or data service and allows you to save maps and route guides to your phone.
ViewRanger also has a cool augmented reality feature that lets you view the names of points near you, like mountain peaks and lakes just by holding your phone up. The app records your hiking stats and logs them in real time—including your elevation, speed, and distance traveled—and it even works on your Apple Watch and on Wear OS, so you can discover and follow routes and navigate with offline maps without burning through your smartphone’s battery. A few of the app’s features are only made available if you upgrade to a premium plan (starting at $4.99 per year), however, but the free version is remarkably solid for general use.
Sometimes, it’s not enough to simply drive through a national park; sometimes you gotta get out of the car and explore it yourself, and National Park Trail Guide (Free) can help you with that. Choose what national park you’ll be visiting within the app, then it will show you all available hikes, from featured hikes and family-friendly picks to those with hidden gems for you to discover along the way. As you browse, you can tap on a hike to see photos and learn important stats like its distance, difficulty, and ascent and descent ranges.
As you hike, you’ll see your real-time location displayed as a blue dot on the map, which will continue to work offline thanks to GPS. The app also provides a thorough list of tips regarding nearby lodging, permits, shops, food, activities, and more, so you can continue to stay busy and have fun after a long day of hiking. It’s also packed with a few cool extras that make your experience more exciting, like the ability to create a hiking to-do list, upload photos from your hike, record your GPS track, and even share your location to help if you get stuck in an emergency situation while on your hike.
Guthook Guides (Free) has pretty much every tool you could want for planning long hikes and thru-hikes, and it’s popular with and trusted by seasoned long-distance hikers from around the world. While the app itself is free and includes a few free trail guides, you have to pay for most of the guides (starting at $4.99) individually as you go, but they’re yours to keep for life, as are any updates that may be applied to them in the future. Despite their potential costliness, the guides are highly detailed and designed to be easy to use. Each map is rich with features like GPS positioning, detailed routes, elevation profiles, and waypoints. You can even create custom routes for your trip and add a variety of waypoints, like water sources, viewpoints, side trails, historical points, laundry, food, and other accommodations.
Guthook has maps for seven U.S. national trails (including the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail), 15 regional trails (including John Muir trail and Eagle Rock Loop), the Great Divide Trail for Canada, four trails for New Zealand, 6 for Australia, eight for the United Kingdom and Europe, and two for the Middle East and Asia.
If you’re looking for a new place to explore, Hiking Project (Free) is a great app that can help you explore over 230,000 miles of hiking trails across the globe. Hiking Project has a detailed database with over 70,000 hikes in the United States and over 4,000 international hikes in over 110 countries, with more being added all the time. You can browse through-hike options and review their descriptions and pertinent information (like elevation and distance), put a hike on your to-do list, check in to a hike so friendly and family know where you are, and even share your favorite hikes with friends.
The aim of the Hiking Project app is to provide informative hiking information exceeding even what you’d find on a paper map. You can download trail info to use offline, track your exact spot on the map with GPS, and peruse high-resolution photos and detailed topographical maps of trails you’re interested in. GPS usage tracks your location and your vertical profile.