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Use These Apps to Enhance Your Utah Travel

Devices don’t always detract from a trip — sometimes they make it even better.
A beaver swims onto shore.

A curious beaver swims up onto the shore. Photo: Jeremiah Watt

Have you ever wondered what animal made the track you see along a trail or what bird is making the call you’re hearing? While you don’t want to spend your trip glued to your phone or become too reliant on it, you can sneak a quick peek at an app to answer these questions and enhance your Utah travel experience. Apps can help you do everything from identify wildlife, to learn about the night sky, to plan your trip, or even just recall a favorite campfire song.

Not every area has cell phone service, and devices can be lost, break or simply run out of batteries. Be sure you have ways to safely navigate and find the information you need without relying on an app. But used in moderation, these apps can help make your trip to Utah even more unforgettable. 

This is just a place to get started. You can find a variety of other apps for most of these topics, including an assortment of free and paid versions with an array of options and features.

Enhance Your Outdoor Experience: 

Digital Field Guides

You don’t need to haul 10 nature guides in your backpack when you can use an app to identify elements of the world around you. iTrack Wildlife helps users identify the prints animals leave behind. Serving as a digital field guide, it includes hundreds of track photos, detailed information, and the ability to use it completely offline. With a number of free and paid options, it’s a go-to resource for people who are curious about the critters they share the trail with. In the desert, many animals are nocturnal, so tracks are one of the best ways to know which critters are out there. vTree is a tree identification app from Virginia Tech which contains images, descriptions, and range maps for more than 900 North American species of woody plants. Learning about the plants and animals can help people learn more about the ecosystem, and how each plant or animal contributes to Utah’s wild and natural places.

A crawfish in the creek.

You can use an app to help you identify creatures you spot in the wild. Photo: Jeremiah Watt

Birding Resources

The Audubon Bird Guide app is a free field guide featuring more than 800 North American birds. It helps with bird identification, learning about birds, sharing bird images and keeping a list of birds you’ve seen. It also provides a Bird Alert feature when people near you spot birds you’ve been on the lookout for. The Merlin Bird ID app features more than 4,500 birds from North and South America, Asia, Europe and Australia. By answering three questions about a bird you see, the app will give you a list of possible species and help with identification. It will also help you match photos with species, and includes over 15,000 audio recordings. HawkWatch International’s Raptor ID app helps people identify raptors. 

Citizen Science

Become involved in the world of citizen science with the plethora of apps available. Record data to share with others, exchange knowledge and contribute to the body of scientific information available by recording your findings and observations with these apps. iNaturalist is a favorite naturalist and citizen science app and, as a project of the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic, it’s one of the best known apps of its kind. People can record observations, share them with others and discuss what they find. The data is used by scientists, and provides resources to crowdsource information and learn from others. It also has a feature to keep a life list of the critters you’ve seen. eBird is a very popular birding citizen science app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that allows people to identify birds they see, share their sightings and keep track of their own personal birding lists. It’s free, available in 27 languages, and offers offline data collection. 

Every year, citizen scientists record more than 100 million bird sightings, which scientists can use in their research. These are only two of the many citizen science apps available. Scientists use data from citizen science in their research projects, so you’re doing more than just interacting with a fun app on your phone. You are helping provide real-world data that will enhance the collective knowledge base and help preserve and protect Utah’s cherished places for generations. Check out SciStarter’s website to search for the right project (and app) for you.

Stargazing 

A number of apps help people learn about the sky. The Night Sky app calls itself an “AR personal planetarium” with options to explore different objects, tour the night sky and receive notifications about celestial events. SkyView Lite is the free version of a popular sky viewing app, available for Apple and Android. NASA’s app allows people to explore the world of space from a device, including tracking satellites, looking at images, watching real-time NASA events, and seeing a live High-Definition Earth Viewing experiment showing the earth from the International Space Station.

Campfire Songs and Safety

If you’re looking to brush up on campfire songs, check out the Apple Campfire Songs app with more than 200 songs. Google Play store also has a Scout Campfire Songs app. Be sure to follow Smokey Bear’s campfire safety guidelines.

Knot Tying

Columbia Sportswear’s What Knot To Do app focuses on the art of knot tying. Learn knots for fishing, camping, climbing or just all-around utility. The free app includes more than 90 knots, from a Flemish Bend to a Seaguar Knot. A number of other knot- tying apps are also available for Android and Apple. Being able to tie a few knots can especially useful when camping, sailing, or participating in many different outdoor sports.

A bug in a person's hand.

Educate yourself or your kids about the creatures, big or small, you find on an adventure. Photo: Jeremiah Watt

A group of people gather around a campfire at night.

If you’re looking to find a campground, there’s an app for that. Photo: Jeremiah Watt

Trip Planning Tools: 

Find a campground

If you’re looking to find a campground, there’s an app for that. Actually, there are a whole bunch of apps designed to help you find and book a great campsite, which is important because popular destinations in Utah can fill up fast, especially on weekends. Recreation.gov features a mobile app that allows users to search thousands of sites, compare them, see recommendations, photos, and maps, and book online. Reserve America allows users to search for campsites all around the U.S. and book on the app. It includes federal, state and private campgrounds, as well as cabins, RV sites, yurts and campsites. Another app option is The Dyrt for Apple and Android, which links users with more than 500,000 campsite options (along with reviews), including cabins, RV sites, and campsites, including federal, state, local and private sites.

Weather

Since weather conditions can change so rapidly, be sure to have a good weather app available to stay up-to-date on conditions. A number of apps are available to provide forecasts as well as current conditions and important alerts. A few popular weather apps are available from The Weather Channel, AccuWeather and Weather Underground.

A bird flies across a field.

There's an app to help with bird identification, learning about birds, sharing bird images and keeping a list of birds you’ve seen. Photo: Marc Piscotty

UDOT Traffic

When traveling Utah’s roads, the UDOT Traffic app can keep you apprised of everything from current traffic conditions to accident alerts, hazards and construction, as well as road closures. The app also features images from traffic cameras, the location of snow plows and other information to help get you where you’re going safely. 

Maps

Supplement your paper maps and Utah Travel Guide with an app or two. Of course, be sure to use common sense when you’re driving and know that apps aren’t foolproof. Every once in a while, news reports  will detail someone following a GPS into a lake, getting trapped on a closed road in a blizzard or stranded on a rough dirt road many miles from civilization because they followed a device. If a route looks unsafe or impractical, select a different route. And always be aware of current (and sometimes rapidly changing) road conditions. Many smartphones come with mapping apps built in, and others are available for download. Google Maps is popular and available for Android and Apple. Roadtrippers also provides an app that helps travelers locate interesting stops along the way.

Kristen Pope

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor who writes about outdoor adventure, science, conservation and travel for a variety of publications, including National Geographic, Discover, Smithsonian and many others. See her work at www.kepope.com.