By Jessica Kirby

If you’re taking tech into nature, here are the tops picks for making your learning experience the best it can be.

Outdoors lovers may all agree on the beauty and benefits of nature’s playground, but opinions vary on whether taking tech into nature enhances the experience or is a distraction from the authentic experience. Advocates say the more we know, learn, and share about our natural world, the more connected to it we feel and more likely we are to protect it. Nay-sayers say screens are a distraction from experiencing nature’s full beauty and taking it all in, in the moment.

Take a look at the following list of nature apps we’ve compiled based on reviews from die-hard, committed nature lovers and recommended for their ease of use, accuracy, and robust data.

Whether you are a summit collector, sleeper under the stars, paved trail afficionado, or weekend beach comber, if tech is your thing (or you are tech-curious) there is something here that just may take your observation of nature to a new level.

Birds, Bugs, and Animals

Birdnet: The BirdNET research project uses artificial intelligence and neural networks to train computers to identify the calls of more than 3,000 of the most common species worldwide. Record a file using the microphone of your device to identify its source, or record bird noises in the bush and analyze them when you get into service. For best results, crosscheck with another app, such as Merlin Download the North America pack to access a database of birds, simple facts, and all the different calls they have.

Picture Insect: Just as it sounds, this online insect encyclopedia and insect identifier allows you to snap a photo on your device and access a database of thousands of species in your region.

Seek: (Google Play Store or Apple Apps) Get outside and point your device at any living thing—wildlife, plants, fungi, birds, and more. Drawing from millions of observations on iNaturalist, this is a great all-around app for families or anyone who wants to learn more about the world around them.

Plants, Flowers, and Mushrooms

PlantSnap: This high-tech, comprehensive and accurate plant identification app recognizes 90% of known plant and tree species. To identify a plant, simply snap a photo and the app will tell you what it is in a matter of seconds. PlantSnap works anywhere on Earth and is translated into 37 languages.

Picture Mushroom: This AI mushroom expert in your pocket is a top-rated mushroom identifier with a huge database that includes photos, common and scientific names, and simple facts that include edibility warnings.

Night Sky

Star Walk 2: Experience the world of space and astronomy with visual effects, elaborate graphics, and mesmerizing music. This app offers a real-time, interactive sky map that includes stars, planets, and constellations. Simply point your phone to the sky and learn curious facts, view photos, and see elaborate 3D models.

My Aurora Forecast & Alerts (Google Play Store or Apple Apps) Aurora shows what areas on the globe have the most Northern Lights activity, and it will provide notifications when you might see the Auroras in your area.

Trails and Peaks

Alltrails: Whether out for a casual stroll or a trek to the summit, Alltrails has you covered with a huge database of trails for hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and road biking. Find routes or record your own and add filters for your sport, difficulty, length, suitability (which includes factors like kid friendly, wheelchair accessible, and more) and specific features, like waterfalls, lakes, forests, views, and more. Users can also filter routes by elevation gain, out-and-back versus loop orientations, and even the amount of traffic they are likely to encounter on the trail.

Trailforks Trailforks is dedicated to giving you the best interactive trail maps, custom designed for your selected activity. See routes or record your own, access topographic layers, points of interest, trail popularity, heatmaps, routes, trail conditions, photos, videos, and so much more. It was developed to map mountain biking trails, but has since expanded to include trails for ebike, gravel, adaptive biking, winter fat bike, hiking, trail running, horse, dirt bike/MX, snowshoeing, and downhill/backcountry/Nordic skiing.

PeakLens: Open PeakLens, point your phone at a peak, and learn its name, elevation, and neighbouring features. It uses augmented reality for high accuracy, has photography and sharing capabilities, and downloaded regions can be accessed offline.

PeakVisor: This peak identification app includes 3D maps with hiking trails, making it a precise navigation tool for outdoor adventures. See the peaks reachable with hiking trails around you, make your route, and navigate to the best vistas.

Share the Natural Love

iNaturalist Canada: Become part of a naturalists’ networks with iNaturalist Canada, which works in partnership with Canadian Wildlife Federation. Record your observations in nature, share with fellow naturalists, and discuss your findings. Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. Your findings are shared with scientific data repositories like the NatureServe Canada, Canadensys, and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to help scientists find and use your data. All you have to do is observe.


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