“Keep close to nature’s heart,” said John Muir, “and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
Even though the whole point of getting outside is to get your nose away from a screen, your phone can actually help you “break clear away” — if you use it the right way. Here are our top dozen apps to help you get out and appreciate the natural world.
Set boundaries for yourself
The first step in getting away is to examine your relationship with technology and bring some intentionality to your habits. It does no good to go camping and then spend just as much time on Instagram in the woods as you would sitting in your apartment. So take a moment and make an intentional decision about how you want to spend your time — then take action to enforce those boundaries.
ClearSpace is an app that can help you manage your time on your phone — it allows you to set limits on how you use your phone based on time or platform, and even can give you a pre-set mindfulness reminder when you approach those limits. For example, if you want to use Twitter less, ClearSpace will display a prompt that you write for yourself when you tap on the blue bird.
If you’ve ever looked up with glazed eyes realizing you’ve just spent an hour and a half on TikTok, you might need some help setting goals and limits around your use of technology. With those limits in mind, you can use the time you free up for other pursuits that actually nourish you — like getting outside. Here are 12 apps that can help you “keep close to nature’s heart.”
If you’re an athlete, Strava is a popular app to plan and track your workout, whether it’s running, biking, or swimming. It also offers options for discovering new routes if you’re getting tired of the same scenery.
If you’re a cyclist, but would rather not ride alone, check out Bunchrides to connect with other riders. Trailfork can help you stay on top of mountain bike trail conditions and find new areas to explore.
If you’re a swimmer, Swim Guide will help you find the perfect beach — it offers information on weather and water quality for more than 7,000 freshwater and marine swimming sites.
If you’re a hiker, AllTrails (iOS, Android) is a proven resource for finding your way over the river and through the woods. It has a database full of trails near you and a GPS function so you won’t get lost. The Hiking Project (iOS, Android) works in a similar fashion.
If you’re curious about biology: While you’re on the trail, keep your ears open for bird calls — and open an app if what you hear sounds unfamiliar. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology created Merlin Bird ID — an app that can identify birds based solely on their call. And if you notice other wildlife or vegetation that makes you wonder what you’re looking at, Seek (iOS, Android) allows you to simply point your phone at it to search and learn.
If you’re curious about geography while you’re in the mountains, PeakFinder has a built-in camera that will display a topographical map over whatever you’re looking at. Wonder what peaks are on the horizon? Just point the camera and the app will orient you.
If you’re looking for a driving adventure, Roadtrippers can help you plan your route, and even identify curiosities or landmarks along the way. And you can rely on the Recreation.gov app as your guide to public lands.
More information on getting out of town and finding adventure on the road:
- 4 Tips for Planning the Perfect Road Trip
- Summer Road Trips You Can Do in a Weekend
- Why Road Trips of All Types Are Good for the Soul
If you’re into stargazing, StarWalk2 (iOS, Android) is a well-rated astronomy app that stands out from the crowd (though there are a lot of options in this category). As you look up into the night sky, just point your camera and the screen will literally connect the dots of the constellations you’re looking at. It can tell you if that blinking point of light up there is a satellite, planet, star, or something else entirely.