National Parks beats paper tourist guides

Spoiler alert! If you want a parks tour guide without having to unfold (and lose) dozens of pamphlets, you might want to spring for National Geographic’s National Parks. The app is free, but the park guides cost $2 each and do a pretty decent job of guiding you through each park. Providing you don’t lose your iPad in a geyser. Five stars.


I was never one for park or tourists’ guides. They seemed like an unnecessary encumbrance and locked me into the soulless vision of a writer for hire spouting the party line of the park management or business establishments. There was nothing in those pages I couldn’t find myself with a little effort.

This may be why I frequently lost my way and ended up telling friends and family how disappointing the park was. Of course, I always preferred a beer and a good meal at the end of the visit. In fact, I remember the restaurants far better than I remember the places.

Take Taos, New Mexico, for instance. I saw pueblos, natives dancing, southwestern art and probably a dozen other things. What do I remember? Sopapillas. I never had them before. Puffy hot tortillas drizzled with butter and honey. Yum, yum.

I’ve been to every part of Wisconsin. Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay. State Parks and tourist traps. What do I remember? Leinenkugel Beer. I could get it only in Wisconsin. I would fill my trunk with cases and take it with me. I discovered stouts and ales later, and never looked back. But Leinenkugel’s was the beer of my college days, far better than Coors and wasn’t brewed by fascists.

Okay, I also drank a lot of Lone Star. The old Lone Star before they sold out to Detroit beer makers, Strohs. The kind you could taste after drinking a six pack.

And so it goes. California Pinot Noir. New York bagels and deli pastrami. Chicago fire dogs and the original deep dish pizza. Mexican barbecued cabrito and the runs. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and pasties. I spent time in Oklahoma, but don’t remember because they had nothing worth eating.

So I’m probably not qualified to review National Geographic’s National Parks, but that’s never stopped me before. And had I travelled with my iPad and the app, I might have actually used a travel guide.

National Geographic does gorgeous. They always have, and National Parks is no exception. The photographs are stunning and the guides fully interactive. Almost every point can be located on the in-app maps.

In fact, National Parks is map driven. You can plan an entire vacation and add activities to an in-app itinerary. You can launch your travel plans by browsing for parks from the home page, or jumping to the map to look for parks on your trip.

The in-app maps can take you from your current location to any national park. You can filter locations by season or available activities to make it easier to plan your trip.

The first park guide is free, the rest are $2 apiece, which is pretty cheap compared to the gift shop price. The guides contain localized maps, photo tips, sights, park histories and even links to list with ratings from visitors. You can also find camping and lodging information with links to reservation services.

Each location and activity contains a relatively detailed description and a link to the park map, complete with GPS coordinates. The only things you need to do yourself are pack the car and stop for gas.

Each park guide highlights popular activities with visitor ratings. You can also follow the map from your current location to the chosen activity.

Each park also contains photos featuring the most popular views. On the retina display the pictures look better than any I’ve seen in print. In fact, the park guides themselves are easier to follow and better organized than most print guides. I found them a lot easier than flipping back and forth between pages.

Jenny Manytoes rates National Parks

Jenny Manytoes would make biscuits all over National Parks. For price and portability, the park guides can’t be beat.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System


Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.
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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 5 Stars - Biscuits, In-App Purchases, Interactive, Vacation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to National Parks beats paper tourist guides

  1. I can’t wait for the iPad 3 to come out so I can make enjoyable of all of the unnecessary points they did to it, all the user functionality they leave out of it, and how much Apple is ripping men and women off for now. OMG it really is gonna be so funny!

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