The National Park Service Released a New App and It’s Awesome!

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In the past, while visiting National Parks or trying to plan trips, I always searched for a good app to be my companion. There were some decent third-party apps available but only some National Parks had an official app. Other sites didn’t have anything at all.

That has now changed. The National Park Service released a new app to fix this problem. The app was released on Google Play on January 30, 2021, and it was a quiet rollout. No big announcements from the National Park Service. I hope I can do my part with this post to share the love for this app. Even so, it just got released in its first version, the app is pretty awesome. to be honest, I didn’t expect that from a government agency, as the usual lack behind in everything from functions to user experience. The app is officially called “National Park Service” but in this post, I will refer to it as “National Park App”

Where to get the National Park App?

The app is available for both Android and iOS and is available in their respective app stores.

National Park Service
National Park Service
  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
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  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
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  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot
  • National Park Service Screenshot

And another credit to the National Park Service for developing the app to be compatible with iPhones as well as iPads.

Features and Functions

After you first launch it, you have to swipe through a few slides, which explain the features better of the app. It’s a great idea to give first-time users a small overview. One thing I noticed, on my Android device, I have to swipe over and over the slides when I open the app after it got completely closed. As long as it runs in the background, I am fine, but once I or the system closes the app, you have to get through the slides again. I am sure they will fix this and I already notified the developers of this issue.

General features and functions of the National Park App

The home screen of the app shows you on the very top some nearby National Parks and Sites.

One of the main features of the app is to actually find a park. When you click on the “Find a Park” button you can search for parks by name or you click one of the smaller buttons below the search field to find parks by specific criteria. Like which parks are nearby, parks in a specific state, or offering a specific activity like scuba diving. Just select one of the buttons and you will get a list view with all the results or you can just swap it over to a map view for better planning.

As you browse the app and the National Parks you can add them to your favorites or pin them to the home screen. Pinning to the home screen will list all the places you pinned at the very top of the app’s home screen, where you normally see the nearby sites.

Adding them to favorites gives you additional search and filter capabilities with the news and events section of the app. Instead of displaying news or events for all the parks and sites the National Park Service manages, you can decide to only display the once you have favorited. Which will be probably parks you go to regularly or want to stay updated about. But don’t worry you can create more custom lists yourself. 

Click on the “Lists” button and you will already see one list there which can’t be deleted, it’s the “Parks I have visited” list. This list also has its own button on the home screen of the app.

Additional lists could be everything from places you plan to visit, places you want to visit on your next trip, and so on. It’s up to you to create your custom lists.

Park related features in the National Park App

Once you “open” a park in the app, you get all the information about that park you need. Everything from things to do, to the best sunrise and sunset spots, locations of the passport stamp, and even guided audio tours. At the very top of each park, there could be a banner displayed if there are alerts for this park. This could be road closures, construction projects, and so on. Just keep an eye out for it.

I really love to collect memorabilia and passport stamps have been one of these great things you could collect while traveling. If you love collecting memorabilia as well, you might want to check out the Airport Trading Cards. The app lets you know where you can find the stamps, as some parks have multiple stamps with different styles. You can even see a preview in the app.

A very important slider is as well at the very top of every park listing. This one will allow you to save all the information about this park offline. This includes everything you see here, including maps and audio tours. You can save all the different locations and activities you want to visit and do as favorites and you can then find them easily in the favorites tab at the bottom of the screen.

Each National Park or Site has its main menu at the very bottom. Consisting of the home screen of the park, a map, your saved favorites, and a postcard feature. 

The postcard feature is pretty cool. Snap a photo with your phone’s camera and then visit the postcard tab to create an Instagram-ready picture that has a resolution of 772×772 px and shows the name of the National Park. You can add up to 4 photos to one postcard.

The image below is a sample of what a postcard would look like. I used one of the photos I took during my visit to the Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

National Park App Postcard Feature

I am sure all of you Instagramers out there will love this feature.

Conclusion

Overall the app is very intuitive. Before you plan a trip to a National Park, use the app and get familiar with the functions in general and all the features the park offers you are planning to visit. Every park has a “Basic Information” section which shows addresses, phone numbers as well as fees and passes to enter the park. However, the National Park Annual Pass is missing. Maybe they just assume we all know about it?

This app is definitely an enrichment of your device and you should download it either way.

Feature suggestion

Below are a few features I would like to see in the app. Copy these ideas and contact the developer so we might have a chance to have these features integrated and rather sooner than later.

One main feature I am desperately missing is the ability to back up my configuration. Meaning that I can back up all the lists I created as I will use the National Park App now as my digital logbook of visited locations. I mentioned this to the developers and I hope they can implement something like this. It would be even better if they would offer a sync service to sync it across devices and platforms. That way I could easily stay updated on my Android smartphone and iPad at the same time. In the beginning, I would be happy if I at least could do it manually.

My second idea would be to really create a digital logbook, where they would offer something like a QR code you could scan at the visitor centers which then creates a digital stamp/token in your logbook with the date and time of your visit. This would also allow collecting your logbook entry after the visitor center is already closed. It happened to me that I was driving for hours but didn’t make it in time to the visitor center to get my physical stamp in my paper logbook.

What do you guys think about the National Park App and my feature suggestions? Do you have any additional ideas they should implement? Heck, I would even pay a premium price for these features.

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