Heard it from a Scout: 10 apps to help you explore nature

Exploring nature safely and effectively has never been easier with technology at our fingertips. (Photo courtesy Scouts Canada)

Exploring nature safely and effectively has never been easier with technology at our fingertips. (Photo courtesy Scouts Canada)

July 14, 2017 | by Scouts Canada | 0 Comments

Technology is on the rise, and it seems like people are always saying, “There’s an app for that.” This trend also applies to the nature buffs out there who love learning more about the outdoors! As a fellow nature enthusiast and someone who embraces technology in the great outdoors, here are some of my favourite apps that help me explore nature:

1. Learn to Camp

Are you planning your first camping trip and have no idea where to go, what to pack or what to cook? Learn to Camp has your back to make sure you are successful in your camping adventure. Designed by Parks Canada, this free app adds to the experience of exploring landscapes with your Canada 150 Discovery Pass.

Point Campground (Photo courtesy Scouts Canada)

Point Campground (Photo courtesy Scouts Canada)

2. Sky Map

Have you always wanted to learn how to spot constellations in the sky? Sky Map pinpoints the location of constellations in your geographic area and tells you what they are by aligning the app with the stars you are looking at. The app also tells you what you are seeing: a planet, a globular cluster, a constellation or a star. It then connects the dots and draws the constellation for you. The search feature allows you to look for certain objects in space, pointing you in their direction.

3. AllTrails

On the hunt for a new trail to explore? AllTrails is a guide to more than 50,000 trails across North America. The database is ever expanding, so if you find a trail you would like to share with others, simply create an account and add it to the database.

4. Merlin Bird ID

Have you ever seen an amazing bird and wanted to know what species it was? If so, check out the Merlin Bird ID app. There are two ways to use this app, which was designed by bird experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can look up a specific species of bird and learn more about it. Alternatively, you can find out what bird you saw by inputting your current location, the date, the size of the bird, its three general colours and what the bird was doing when you saw it. If you find the corresponding bird on the app, you can click “That’s my bird,” which helps Merlin collect data to use for population surveys. This is a great resource for any aspiring birder!

Geocache (Photo by Solitude, Wikimedia Commons)

Geocache (Photo by Solitude, Wikimedia Commons)

5. Geocaching

Is the sunshine motivating you to head outdoors, but you want to try something different once you're out there? How about a treasure hunt with the Geocaching app? Simply plug in your location, and the app points you to a number of geocaches hidden in your area, just waiting to be found. A geocache is a hidden container with little items inside left behind by other explorers. Included in most geocaches is a log book; be sure to include your name so everyone knows you were there. You can trade items in the geocache and even add more of your own. 

6. Charity Miles

Do you need some motivation to start exercising? With Charity Miles you can start walking, biking or running, while raising money for a charity of your choosing. Pick a charity and one of the app's corporate partners will “sponsor” you. If you bike a mile, you earn 10 cents, and if you are walking or running, you earn 25 cents per mile for the charity. Grab your running shoes and start today!

7. WhatKnotToDo

Ever been in a pickle over what knot to tie while camping, boating or exploring outdoors? Don’t worry: WhatKnotToDo helps you decide which knot does the job and walks you through how to tie it. They’ve got you covered with 70 different knots to choose from in six categories. The app is free and you can use it offline (without service). So, wherever you are, you can get the job done right.

Scouts learning to tie knots (Photo courtesy Scouts Canada)

Scouts learning to tie knots (Photo courtesy Scouts Canada)

8. Leafsnap

Are you excited for your next adventure through the woods and the possibility of discovering a new tree? Columbia University, Maryland University and the Smithsonian Institution have collaborated to bring you the Leafsnap app. With a combination of GPS locating and recognition software, all you have to do is snap a picture of the tree's leaf, and the app identifies the tree type. You can also search their database of more than 200 trees.

9. Topo Maps

Tired of carting around a good old-fashioned map? Does carrying multiple maps for one hike give you a headache? You can download Topo Maps for free to plan hiking trips that are close to home or worldwide. You can even be offline to view your downloads. This app is a must-have for hiking enthusiasts.

10. InsectsAtlas

InsectsAtlas has all the critter facts you could want to know. The free version has five species unlocked, but the paid version features more than 500,000 facts, so you are sure to learn something new about the world’s most popular insects.


As you can see, there truly is an app for everything. Whether you’re interested in outer space, a first-time camper or a hiking enthusiast, the tools for your adventure in nature are only a swipe away.

"Heard it from a Scout" is written by members of Scouts Canada’s Youth Spokesperson program. This post was authored by Quinn McKinney.

About the Author

Scouts Canada is the country's leading co-ed youth organization, offering programming for boys, girls and young adults aged 5-26 in multiple languages, reflecting Canada's multicultural landscape and communities.

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