Credit: FACEBOOK/PeakFinder

Nowadays, though hiking should really be meant as a time to get away from technology, smart phones almost always accompany people on the trail. A huge part of that is for both trail finding and safety, as trail apps become a necessity for most people to plan hikes and calling for help usually requires some sort of phone, but the technology built into smartphones can work really well to add a bit of extra fun to your day in nature.

Obviously we don’t want anyone glued to their phone while outside. Put the device away and look at the cool views around you. Sometimes you do need a bit of added entertainment when you’re several miles up a mountain, or you have a question about something you see that only a specific app can answer. That’s what this list is meant for. These aren’t hike planning apps and these aren’t safety apps. You should already have those installed on your phone. These are just five fun apps for the trail and absolutely nothing else.

1. Audubon Bird Guide (Free for iPhone and Android)

Ever seen a funky looking bird or heard a funky looking bird call while on a hike and been stuck wondering what it was? Unfortunately, most poeple aren’t able to identify every bird out there with just their memory, and most of us probably don’t have much experience with bird watching. That’s where the free Audubon Bird Guide app created by the National Audubon Society comes in.

Featuring over 800 species of North American birds, the Audubon Bird Guide will hold your hand through identifying birds in the wild. By selecting categories like size, color, activity, habitat, and, of course, voice, the app will narrow down the possible bird as much as possible (it also considers what state you’re in and what time of year it is) allowing you to either find out exactly what bird it is or get darn close to figuring it out. You can also mark bird sightings and explore a map of reported bird sightings, if you’re really trying to get into birding. Plus, the app is 100% free, so it’s definitely a great place to start.

2. PeakFinder ($4.99 on iPhone and Android)

Trying to figure out what mountain peaks you’re looking at can be a bit of a battle with a normal map or map application. Mountains can bled in with one another, you might be tricked by a false peak, or you just might have a terrible sense of direction. PeakFinder helps to eliminate that issue with a convenient and easy to use app for your phone.

Using your location data and your phone’s direction, the app shows you a view of all visible mountains surrounding you, providing a peak name and elevation for every one you can see. Plus, there’s the option to turn on your phone’s camera so you can actually see the mountains with the names overtop. If the outlines don’t line up perfectly, you just need to slightly drag on the screen until it looks good. There’s plenty more included in the app, but it isn’t over complicated. It does cost $4.99, but that’s a one time price for full offline use, no subscription is necessary and there’s no other built in purchases.

3. Night Sky (Free on iPhone, offers a paid subscription)

Night hiking is not usually recommended unless you know what you’re doing, but even if you’re not hiking when you can see the stars, it’s pretty fun to look up and find out what’s above you. Rather than bringing along a personal astronomer on every hike (though it would be pretty cool if you had a personal astronomer), just bring along the Night Sky app.

While there is a fairly pricy subscription available, you really don’t need it unless you’re a hardcore stargazing fanatic. Night Sky does exactly what you’d expect, you point it up at the sky and can see where stars/constellations/planets/satellites/any other astronomical object is. You choose to either look at the apps fake night sky or use your phone’s camera for an AR option, and you change the colors in the app to make it less aggressive on the eyes. Unfortunately, this app is only available on the Apple App Store, but its free version gives you access to a whole boat load of information and features.

4. Seek by iNaturalist (Free on iPhone and Android)

Okay, so you can now identify birds, mountains, and stars. Awesome! But what about plants? What about bugs? What about literally any living thing that you come across on the trail? Seek by iNaturalist has the ability to answer any of those questions, just with your phone’s camera.

It is pretty incredible how well this app works. Using information and observations from the iNaturalist app (which is pretty neat on its own), you just point your camera at a living thing and Seek will do its best to identify it, and there’s a good chance it will succeed. It takes a bit of camera movement and time to get a positive identification, so animals might be pretty difficult, but it works great with plants and fungus. You can also take part in challenges and mark things you’ve already identified. Altogether, it’s just wicked cool app to fulfill your curiosity.

5.  Geocaching (Free version for both iPhone and Android, $6.99/mo subscription near necessary for full use)

Maybe you’ve heard of geocaching before, maybe you haven’t. Essentially, it’s an outdoor activity which asks participants to search for hidden containers (caches) marked by coordinates. The containers usually contain little trinkets (you can take one only if you add one as well) and a way for you to mark that you were there. It’s almost like treasure hunting, and checking to see if there are any along a hiking trail can make the push to the summit so much more fun.

Unfortunately the free version is extremely limited, making the $6.99/mo subscription near necessary to really experience geocaching at its best. There also seems to be a bit of an issue with geocaches being hidden off trail, something that’s not recommended both for your safety and for the health of the ecosystem. Finding an empty peanut butter jar with a few trinkets in it, despite how goofy it might sound, is incredibly fun, and if you’re willing to spend the cash, we highly recommend it.

Credit: FACEBOOK/Geocaching

Featured Image Credit: Austin Ban on Unsplash

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