We’re very excited to have this article by Naima Montacer, writer, conservationist, environmental educator, and wildlife biologist. We ran across Naima purely coincidentally – but her belief in technology as an enabler to a richer life in the natural world was one that obviously resonated well with us.

So we asked her if she’d write an activity for kids to get engaged in nature while not taking their beloved technology out of the picture, and she wrote us a fantastic one on tracking animal behaviour which will be published on our club when it goes live.

She also kindly offered for us to post up this article on some apps that “Empower Nature”. Read it and enjoy. You can find out more from Naima on her website, “My environmental adventures”.

By the way, the cartoon is from Randy Glasbergen. We thought it fitted the topic of Apps to Empower Nature perfectly:)

Don't tell her about the Toilet Water

Anyway, over to Naima!

After writing a column about how technology empowers us to enjoy nature for the Dallas Morning News (click here to read it), many people have contacted me asking what are the best apps to find nearby trails and what are some apps to have some fun in the outdoors while maybe learning a little.First, let me preface my recommendations with two important things to think about:

  1. There are a lot of great trail or hiking apps out there that are regional so I highly suggest typing into the google search engine  “best hike or trail apps in your city”.   It would be hard to list all of the different city apps but sometimes the local apps are much better than the nationwide apps.
  2. I don’t like to pay for an app.  There are so many free options out there I like to skate by and save a few bucks instead of paying any cost.  So if I suggest one that costs money, something must be good about it.  But there may also be some great apps that cost a bit that quite frankly I just have not given a shot.

So let’s get to it.  Here are some apps to encourage you to get outside!

  1. AllTrails.  This is the best app for finding out where in a city you can get your walk/hike on.  Users can also rate the trails and write reviews, which a lot of people have so it’s easy to find the exact spot that you are looking for.  This is a nationwide app but is quite encompassing.  It also allows you to filter by dog friendly and biking, etc.
  2. Project Noah and iNaturalist.  These are two different apps but basically have the same premise.  You can start taking pictures of what you find out in nature, upload the pictures, and if you don’t know what it is other naturalists will help you identify it!  It’s like nature’s social network.  Both allow you to join projects or missions which are trying to find certain species or just document all species in the area.  The benefit of doing that on Project Noah, is you can easily click to see what was recently seen on a mission to see if anything rare or something you’ve been wanting to see is currently out.
  3. Peterson Field Guide.  Ok so this one costs $ but fret not, I got it for 99 cents.  It is normally $12.99 but they run a deal every once in a while for the special price.  Jump on it and download.  While your out exploring your area or even just looking out the window at your house or office pull out this app to help you identify birds.  The app is very comprehensive and also has the bird calls so you can play them right there and then to see if they match up to what you are listening to.  Fabulous App!
  4. Skyview Free.  Out at night?  Figure out what constellations you are looking at.  I used to know a lot more constellations and time of year to see which ones but now I have to refer to this quick app to help me along my way.  Fun to look up into the sky and dream.(ed – check out our constellations activity – once your kids are excited by the stars, have them create their own!)

Ok but what do I really end up using most of the time?

  1. Google Maps – It’s amazing how easy it is to type in whatever you need (hike, trail) in the search engine and find it.  There are also probably the most number of people using that app so everything has some reviews so you can see how people are enjoying the location.  The only thing is, I find a lot is not very current reviews so I prefer the other apps if I am looking for real time data.  Usually I find what I want on Google Maps and then head over to another app to read more about the site.
  2. Instagram  and PicsArt– As much as I like documenting what I see, I really just like taking pictures of what I find.  Maybe it’s my creative side but I love taking pictures.  I usually snap a picture and then later on put it on my Instagram or take some time to really edit it on PicsArt.  PicsArt is like having an easy photoshop on your iphone.  Fun to mess around with and opportunities are endless.
  3. Internet Explorer.  Wherever I am headed I usually spend the travel time there googling and searching the internet for where I need to go and what I need to see.  Last time I headed to Austin I was determined to make it a swimming weekend.  I googled Best Swimming Holes in Austin, Texas and read more and more till I routed my plan of attack for the weekend.  The internet at your fingertips is quite frankly, amazing.

Now don’t go crazy.  Pick one app at a time and check it out.  Downloading all of them can be daunting.  Just give it a try and get outside.  There are always more I want to check out: and the current app I want to download but haven’t done so… Charity Miles.  Apparently you can earn money for your chosen charity by walking/hiking/biking.  Hmmm seems pretty cool!

I’m not saying your phone should be your only tool to find some great spots to encourage you to get outside. There are some great stores to check out and fun guidebooks that can’t be found anywhere online.  But where can you find out about these great stores and books?… online and on your phone of course!

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