Photo: Oscar Dominguez/Tandemstock

The Best Apps to Elevate Your Camping Experience

The best camping apps will help you plan and execute your time outside.

With millions of acres of public lands and thousands of campgrounds spread across the U.S., the best camping apps will help you plan and execute your time outside. Pull information to your fingertips that will enhance your camp experience, from critical maps and reservation instructions to interesting area biology and details of the night sky. Choose from a variety of the most resourceful camping apps below to know where to go, how to get there, and what to do once you arrive—though stay wary of app functionality if and when you might lose service.

Campsite Searches and Reservations

Whether you’re planning a trip from the comfort of your couch or doing research from the road, device apps deliver streamlined information about where to find camp for a given night. The best apps will tell you what type of campsites are available (tent sites, RV sites, group sites, dispersed options, etc.) and what amenities to expect: ADA access, picnic tables, showers, electric hookups, phone service, firewood availability, trash cans, local markets, water, and more. Pro tip: Check to see what information in the app is available off-line if you’re heading out of service—be sure to download any maps or make reservations beforehand. Here are some of the best options for finding and reserving campsites:

The Dyrt

With more than 42,000 campgrounds loaded in its directory, The Dyrt provides photos, videos, and hundreds of thousands of user-reviews for you to research the best place to stay, and in many cases (excluding some state and national parks), you can use the app to book your campsite. With the app’s pro version, you can access a “trip planner” that uses your vehicle information, destination, and camping preferences to create a customized route with suggested campgrounds along the way (which you can export to Google Maps for easy navigation). 

Price: Free, or $35.99/year for Pro

Availability: iOS and Android

Recreation.gov

Whether you’re jonesing to hike up Half Dome or the Washington Monument, use this app to book your federal campsites and activities at national parks and monuments across the country. For high-demand campsites, permits, and experiences, you can enter lotteries through the app. Also, book ranger-led tours, historical reenactments, and other special events and experiences offered in scores of National Park Service locations.

Price: Free

Availability: iOS only

Hipcamp

As some consider this app the “AirBnB of camping,” you’ll find hundreds of private landowner-run campsites that offer solitude without the hassle of hiking miles deep into the backcountry. Search locations based on availability, proximity to popular destinations, pet friendliness, and what’s “trending” at a given moment. Whether you’re looking for night-of accommodations or planning a future weekend getaway, easily book your stays inside the app. 

Price: Free

Availability: iOS and Android

Tentrr

If you’re more excited about catered experiences, this app directs you to more than 1,000 campsites with cozy, glamping infrastructure ready when you arrive. Hosted on a mix of private and public lands, use this app to find and reserve the perfect low-key spots adjacent to national parks and crowded campgrounds. If you want to rough it but still beat the crowds, Tentrr’s array of Backcountry Sites also allows you to reserve swaths of private land where you can pitch your own tent. 

Price: Free

Availability: iOS only

Boondocking

This app specializes in places you can park and camp for free. With more than 1,500 locations detailed within the U.S., find a place to get some shut-eye without the hassle of payment. With drive-time estimates, terrain descriptions, photos, and more useful information, you can head into public lands feeling confident. It works without service, as the locations are pinned on maps inside the app, though you can also upload and view the camping locations on the navigation and route-planning topographical map, Caltopo.

Price: $0.99

Availability: iOS only

Photo: Ron Koeberer/Tandemstock

Navigation

One key for an enjoyable trip outdoors: knowing how to get to your campsite, what to expect in terms of road quality, and where to avoid traffic situations. Nailing the good pit-stop attractions and hitting the right gas stations (or electric vehicle charging locations) will also make the ride to your campsite sail by.

Waze

This crowd-sourced traffic map and navigation app helps you check out traffic conditions based on real-time information from other Waze users. It provides reports on road hazards, accidents, speed traps, and more, so you don’t get stuck behind a road closure or surging ski traffic. You can report incidents you encounter to help others, too.

Price: Free

Availability: iOS and Android

Roadtrippers

Especially useful for travelers who have clear start and end points, but aren't quite sure what routes to take, what cities to stop in, and what to see along the way, this app gives you the best route options for getting from Point A to Point B along with recommendations for restaurants, bars, and can't-miss points of interest. 

Price: Free, or $6.99/month or $29.99/year for Pro

Availability: iOS and Android

GasBuddy and Plugshare

On long road trips, you’ll be filling up your tank multiple times, so finding economical gas and reliable filling stations is crucial. Use GasBuddy to save money and time—it helps you track down the cheapest and closest gas stations from your present location. And since the pricing info is primarily based on user reports, the app will reward you with points for reporting and updating a station's prices (translation: potential free gas). Electric vehicle drivers can use Plugshare—the app helps you find and review nearby charging stations for your electric car.

GasBuddy availability: iOS and Android

Plugshare availability: iOS and Android

Gaia

Navigate, track your trip, and explore maps with Gaia GPS—an app that shines when traveling to places without cell service. Upload your driving route before you head out, and the app will show your real-time location even when you lose internet or cell connection. With public lands data embedded in the app’s maps, you’ll also be able to see campsites, parks, forests, trails, and weather overlays that allow you to plan and make game-time decisions on-the-go.

Price: Free, or $39.99/year for Premium

Availability: iOS and Android

Weather

Don’t risk thunderstorms or a heatstroke out at camp. Use a weather app to plan what to pack and where to go, but be wary if you’re out of service: You won’t get weather updates unless you have a way to connect to satellites.

Weather Underground

Using NOAA’s NEXUS radar network and a 250,000-plus network of personal weather stations around the globe, this app provides comprehensive forecasting. Get info on precipitation, humidity, visibility, barometric pressure readings, sunrise and sunset times, current moon information, robust radar maps and also push-notifications for severe weather alerts. The premium subscription grants you access to in-depth visual forecasts as far as 15 days out, plus a “smart forecast” tool that can build you a personalized weather forecast for your outdoor hobbies. Example: If you like to hike in mild temps with zero wind, you can build an alert for such conditions and the app will let you know when to head out the door.

Price: Free, $3.99/month or $19.99/year

Availability: iOS and Android

Garmin Earthmate

Seeking the weather with this app while out of service requires more than just a download from the app store (you’ll also need a Garmin satellite communicator device). Once connected, you can employ your Garmin InReach to pull detailed weather forecasts for your current location, a waypoint, or GPS coordinates.

Price: depends on data request

Availability: iOS and Android

Stargazing

No camping trip is complete without a good stargaze. But with a sea of sparkling lights overhead, knowing what’s what can get confusing. That’s where stargazing apps come in: mini planetariums in the palm of your hand.

Star Walk 2

Like an astronomy professor by your side, this app identifies the stars, planets, and constellations twinkling above you. How it works: Point your phone at the sky, and the app will color in the different constellations and label astral bodies for you to easily pick out. The app also provides information on which sky objects are visible according to date and location. 

Price: $2.99

Availability: iOS and Android

Sky Map

This app displays space through the "eyes" of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Digitized Sky Survey. Not only can you point your phone (with the app) toward the sky for instant info on what’s visible, you can also learn more about the solar system, constellations, galaxies and nebulae, plus views of the universe in x-ray, ultraviolet and infrared. Use the search box to find where a given planet is in the sky at a given time. 

Price: Free

Availability: Android only

Biology Identification

Learn what kinds of plants and animals inhabit your campsite and the surrounding trails.

PlantSnap

With more than 500,000 species in the searchable database, with the click of a button, you can identify plants, flowers, cacti, succulents, and mushrooms. The software’s artificial intelligence algorithm requires you take a crisp, clear photo of just a few leaves or a single flower (so no whole trees)—then it scans the photo and helps put a name to your plant while also delivering more information to educate yourself about it. 

Price: Free on Android, $3.99 on iOS, $19.99 for Pro on both platforms

Availability: iOS and Android

Leafsnap

Using visual recognition software, this app not only recognizes and informs you about plants you encounter—it’ll also catalog your photos so you can build your own reference library. Developed by the University of Maryland, Smithsonian Institution and Columbia University, the app currently only serves the East and Northeast U.S.

Price: Free

Availability: iOS and Android

iNaturalist

Identify wildlife with this app by uploading photos and then matching what you see in real life with the augmented reality suggestions the app produces. More than 400,000 scientists and naturalists have contributed data to the app, and you can too: Using this app to identify wildlife helps scientists at the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society collect data about what animals live where in the U.S..

Price: Free

Availability: iOS and Android

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.