5 Free Apps for Exploring the Outdoors

A few months ago I finally caved in and got myself a smartphone. I’d been putting it off for as long as possible, happy to be called a Luddite by my techier friends while I kept my cheapie flip phone for occasional calls and texts. But I upgraded phones* for my bike tour, and was grateful for being able to take photos and find my way Google Maps.

Smart phones are amazing! We are so fortunate to have these sophisticated, pocket-sized computers that can tell us just about anything we could possibly want to know in about 4.2 seconds (or faster, since your phone is probably better than mine). Of course, the challenge is to make sure that smartphones enrich life, and don’t become an avenue to wasting away hours on Facebook and computer games.  Luckily there are tons of apps that provide awesome information about our local environment.

The Virginia Tech Tree ID app includes data for 959 woody plants from North America and makes is easy to identify a mysterious tree or shrub based on common characteristics. It’s does a good job providing examples of different leaf shapes and seed types to help narrow down the possibilities.
Virginia Tech’s vTree app for identifying trees, shrubs, woody vines, and even cacti!
Merlin Bird ID
 Similar to the vTree app, Merlin was developed by the folks at Cornell University to help identify birds. It also does  a great job of stepping you through the identifying characteristics while it does the hard work of considering your location and the time of year to tell you which of the possible birds you’re more likely to have seen. It also has great photos.
Cornell University’s Merlin app for identifying birds, even the little brown ones.

ParkFinder marks out all sorts of national, state, and local parks on a map, making it a big time saver compared to finding parks based on the green blotches on Google Maps. You can also search by location or activity.
The ParkFinder apps finds nearby parks that offer the activities you’re interested in.
SoilWeb grabs data from the Web Soil Survey so that you can find out about the soil under your feet. It’s definitely not the most attractive app out there, but it does provide tons of information very quickly.
Soils get even more interesting with this app. Shovel optional.
This app has me smitten lately, so it truly is best for last. Hold your device up to the sky, day or night, and it will show you the stars and constellations that are out there. This app is so cool it could get anyone hooked on learning the stars!
Astrology just got a whole lot more fun! :)
Astrology just got a whole lot more fun! 🙂
Are there any other apps that you use to explore the outdoors? I’d love to hear about them!

* BTW, I love my current cheap smartphone set-up: an outdated Motorola Droid X that I bartered for combined with a $30/month non-contract plan through PagePlus.

3 thoughts on “5 Free Apps for Exploring the Outdoors

  1. I don’t have a smart phone… yet. Posts like this one with practical info make me want to get one. Maybe this autumn I’ll spring for one and when I do I’ll head back here to add a few of your recommended apps.

  2. I put off getting a smartphone for as long as I could. We have to have a land line at our house (poor cell reception and high-speed internet via the phone lines), so I refuse to have a contract or pay a pile of money. But I do like it overall and haven’t gotten addicted to it like some people do. I’d definitely recommend it… when you’re ready!


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