A couple of weeks ago, my family was fortunate enough to take an amazing summer vacation. I learn so much each time I travel with my four kids and I intend to post a detailed travel review one of these days! My kids are still young with one in diapers. Going anywhere is always an adventure.
My mother has always dreamed of going to Yellowstone National Park in Montana/Wyoming (and Idaho!) with all of her grandchildren. This year, her oldest grandchild is 16 and youngest is 2. In a couple of years the older ones will be off to college, summer jobs and other older adolescent pursuits so this seemed like one of the last years that we would all be able to coordinate our schedules. My two brothers, spouses and kids all decided this was the time to pack everyone up and visit Big Sky country – Montana.
The weather was unbelievable, the scenery gorgeous, and Old Faithful was still pretty faithful (not totally faithful as it sometimes erupts shortly before or after scheduled. Someone should get it a better reminder app!). We spent a week in Yellowstone and its vicinity exploring the area including two full days touring the park as one big extended family. My mom arranged a fantastic guided tour for us with Chris of Yellowstone Guidelines. Chris did a great job engaging our family and even found a grizzly bear for us to watch through his telescope!
While this will be covered under my still to come, all encompassing travel post, I need to praise my baby/toddler carrier the BOBA Classic Baby Carrier 3G – Glacier. My little one was a couple weeks shy of two at the time of the trip, weighed around 30 pounds and had not been in a baby carrier since he was an infant. We practiced with this soft (as opposed to hard frame which adds extra weight) carrier before we left and he quickly became comfortable riding in it. We put him in the baby carrier at all of our stops in Yellowstone and were able to tour without worrying about him running into the geyser basin! I had major back issues a year ago and this carrier put absolutely no strain on my back which was pretty unbelievable. The weight was all on my hips and shoulders.
Before I left for Montana, I decided to download a few apps to guide us around Yellowstone for the days we would be on our own: National Parks by National Geographic, Yellowstone Driving Tour, and Yellowstone National Park – the Official Guide. Below are the details on each app. For a brief summary highlighting the strengths of each, please scroll all the way to the bottom of this review.
A free app that includes 20 United States National Parks. However, each park includes limited, though useful information, unless you pay for an in-app purchase for that park at a cost of $1.99. Luckily, one park comes free with the app and I chose Yellowstone. Each free park includes three stunning pictures on their home screen while the park I had the full edition for had 11 pictures. These pictures are everything you would expect from National Geographic with absolute clarity and focus. Both the free and full versions include current weather and stats with park size, local time and number of visitors. Both contain identical map features that pinpoint places of interest, camping and lodging sites and some photos. You can filter the map by activity or by season.
The biggest difference between the paid and free version are in the park details. In the home screen of each park you can pull up a screen that says ‘more information’. The free version has some basic information about visiting the park, how to get there and where to lodge and there is a twitter feed from the National Park Services. The full version has four added features:
- Photo tips – features some stunning pictures and locations along with information about how to take your own incredible pictures in that location
- Park Secrets – interesting tidbits about the park. Yellowstone’s had 9 available.
- What to see – based on the pictures available in the main screen of that park, details about where it shot was taken so you can experience nature in its original setting
- What to do – the most extensive section of the paid for version. This gives 10 sample itineraries and links each location back to the map. You can add these to a custom itinerary accessible from the home page.
National Parks by National Geographic is a fantastically visual app. The pictures are vibrant and perfect for the iPad. This app will inspire you to visit and experience the parks yourself. As this app is not as in depth as the others and does not have the same interactive features, it may not be as useful in planning a trip but due to its library of images I would recommend this to anyone that would like to see and learn about our countries national treasures.
Price: Free, one park included. Additional parks are an in-app purchase of $1.99 each
Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 4.0 or later.
Seller: National Geographic Society
I think I went into this app with unrealistic expectations. From the iTunes description, I assumed that you selected a driving route through the park and using GPS the app would narrate what you are seeing so, for example, as you are driving up to Old Faithful, you would be listening to a lecture about the Geyser Basin.
In terms of information though, this app has detailed and accurate narrated guides of Yellowstone divided into three sections: wildlife, geology and places of interest. Each section is comprehensive with many sites that you will see around the park and information about the parks origins and ecosystems. The guides are perfect to listen to as you drive from place to place so you can absorb what you see at each destination. How do I know the guides are comprehensive? For one example I happened to listen to the guide on Bald Eagles shortly before we saw one with our tour guide, Chris, and he gave us the same exact information the app did! Of course, he was giving us the info while showing us an actual bald eagle and answering our questions – neither of which the app is capable of doing yet! If there is one thing the audio guides are missing is a more visual aspect. Each audio guide includes only one picture and no video. One small technical issue that I found is that on the top of each guide there are arrows to get back and forth to the next guide. However, the arrows do not work and you need to swipe instead.
As this app is named “driving tours” you might be wondering where the driving part comes into the audio guide? This is the part that had me confused when I initially downloaded it. As I mentioned I thought the audio guides would be playing based on your gps location in the park. Instead the main screen has two sections: Driving Tour and Audio Guides.
The Driving Tour section gives you a map of the park with all the entrances and the figure eight loop road that transverses Yellowstone. At each junction there is a location. When you select that location the app will give you a choice on selecting one other location with direct access to your starting point. So to use a familiar landmark, if you select old faithful, you can only create a driving tour to one of two locations that are closest to Old Faithful – either Madison or West Thumb. You cannot skip and create a tour that goes from say Old Faithful to Canyon and would encompass multiple junctions along the way.
Once you have selected your starting and ending location the guide starts with the average driving time playing on the bottom. If you run into park traffic (happens any and every time wildlife are in the vicinity) you are supposed to pause the tour. Along the way, based on the driving time and not your location, the app will play music (you can select your own by tapping “audio” at the top of the driving tour) until it gets to a location it assumes you will be near at which point you will get a guide of the local area attraction or wildlife that may or not be visible from the road. It will give you hiking lengths if necessary. The beauty of this is that it allows you to focus outside instead of reading your device. These are the same audio guides that are accessible in the main menu but are arranged here in the order you will be driving.
I thought the audio guides in this app were great introductions to each area and subject. For the information in the guides themselves I would recommend this app. However, the driving tours were not as impressive to me. There were some things that were in the wrong location, for example, the Roosevelt arch was in the North entrance tour but it was also in the Northeast entrance tour (which is incorrect). Also, given the impossibility of really timing the drive because of park traffic patterns, the timing of the guided tours is usually somewhat inaccurate. I found it easier to scroll forward manually to get to the right place. It would be great to have a map option on the home screen with pins that you could select to access the audio tours so that if you choose not to do a driving tour you are able to access the proper audio guide for your current location.
Overall, I would recommend this app for the audio guides which provide a great explanation of what you will see and experience in Yellowstone.
Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Seller: Makemi Software LLC
As you can tell from the title, this is the official app for Yellowstone National Park from Yellowstone Association. According to iTunes, the official guidebook is $9.95 verus the app at $3.99.
This app combines features from National Geographic and Yellowstone Driving Tours. It is so full of features that I will not be able to focus on all of them in this review. The home page is divided into three sections: A box of six icons including Do, See, Know, Dining, Lodging and Services that take you to a detailed table of contents. To give just one example if you tap “do”, scroll down to “hiking & walking” and tap you are taken to an index with 57 options. The first one is “artist paint pots” which has the subtitle “1 mile trail, hot springs, mudpots” so you can very easily see length and category. When you tap on this you are given a summary of the area and other areas of interest. You can save this hike to your favorites, share it, ask a question, view it on an offline map (in case you’re in park cell coverage is spotty)or view it on your devices map to access real time directions. Speaking of cell coverage, we found that at all the major areas in the park (the junctions of the figure eight loop road), there is cell service, but driving between these locations service was quite spotty. And we did not hike into the back country at all!
Going back to the home page, underneath the icons are six highlighted areas: Yellowstone Essentials, Upper Geyser Basin Tour, Touring Yellowstone, Favorite Walks and Hikes, History & Geology, and Yellowstone Field Guide. The guide is laid out in an intuitive manor to make using it very simple. To plan your trip, begin with Yellowstone Essentials which will take you through the basics of park hours, seasons, fees, weather etc.
I’ll walk you through a tour on this app to give you an idea of how it differs from others. If you tap on Touring Yellowstone in the home screen there are three options: Introduction, The Entrance Roads and The Grand Loop. Tapping Grand Loop will bring up a Grand Loop intro and then 8 segments of the loop to choose from. Tap “Old Faithful to West Thumb” shows you that route on a map, the driving time and distance and then the route split into several sections or stops. In this case there are 5 recommended stops along the way from Old Faithful to West Thumb. I like to view these stops in the offline park map mode which can be tapped on the bottom. This brings up the complete park map and focuses in on the route you have chosen along with icons for the recommended stops. Tapping on the number on the map will give you a brief overview of the location and if you tap again it will bring you to a summary page of that attraction and any connected hikes which are also viewable on a map.
This is a very comprehensive guide with more details than you will be able to take in on one trip to Yellowstone! Yellowstone Driving tour’s audio guides go into more details than the written summaries that this app provides (though the video guide of the upper geyser basin does a great job) and the pictures on National Geographic are more visually engaging, however this is an all encompassing tour guide app that has any information you need on planning and vacationing in Yellowstone. It includes dozens of hikes and self-guided trails to choose from, activities and lodging, along with summaries of Yellowstone’s history and geology. If I had to recommend only one guide to use to plan a trip and introduce you to Yellowstone it would be this, Yellowstone National Park – Official Guide.
Price: $2.99 if you purchase the full version, however if you download the free version the in-app upgrade to full is $3.99
Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later (while this works on the iPad, it did not display full screen)
Seller: Nomad Mobile Guides, Inc.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this app for review purposes.
National Parks by National Geographic: Fantastic visual guide, useful tips for taking pictures, great for the ‘armchair’ explorer.
Yellowstone Driving Tours: Very informative audio guides that will allow you to look out the window while listening during the drive around the park, rather than reading off your device.
Yellowstone National Park – the Official Guide: The most comprehensive Yellowstone guide that will take you from planning stages to actively enjoying your trip.