by Meg McIntire

Do you wonder which species of bird it is that you keep seeing on your backyard fence? Are you curious about what butterflies are visiting your garden? Would you like to know more about off the beaten path trails in your area? If you have a smartphone, all of these information is available at your fingertips thanks to some state-of-the-art apps that are currently free in the Google App and iPhone App stores. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites to help you feel more in touch with nature during these trying times.


AllTrails: Explore the outdoors through hiking, biking or backpacking and track your progress at the same time with the AllTrails app. After you log in and click the “trails” button, it automatically populates the map with your local hiking trails and shows you which ones are popular as well as others that are off the beaten path. You can also click on the map and zoom out to see trails that are further away. Difficulty of each trail is indicated by the color and many of the local hiking trails have ratings, reviews, and user photos, which makes choosing a trail much easier. (Check with your local government leaders/nature centers to make sure trails in your area are open). Download the app here.  

Star Walk 2: A truly beautiful app, Sky Walk 2 allows you to simply point your phone up at the night sky and get information about everything shining above you. From planets to satellites to constellations, you’re able to learn facts about the objects you see in the sky and explore their internal structure with 3D models. The app also gives you the option to stay up to date with the latest astronomy events and current space news and get notified about them in time. Learn more here. 

iNaturalist: This app is so much more than an animal and plant identification app. It’s actually a social network for naturalists where individuals can record their observations of plants and animals with photos and notes before adding them to the app’s public database. You can ask the community to help identify something, keep track of everything you’ve encountered during hikes, build your “life list” of what you’ve identified to date, and most importantly, become a citizen scientist. As their website says, “Maybe you’ll rediscover a flower that was thought to be locally extinct, or help a scientist map the range of a little-studied beetle!” Download the app here. 

Merlin Bird ID: A must-have app for any backyard birder. When you see a bird you don’t recognize, just answer five straightforward questions about its color and size, and the Merlin Bird ID app suggests likely species matches. If you were lucky enough to manage to snap a photo, that’s even better. Simply upload it to the app, and Merlin will offer a list of possibilities. You’ll also get plenty of information about the species you’re seeing, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Get the app here. 

Social Media Editor Meg McIntire is also a contributing writer for Action Line. Meg is a news junkie and loves writing about politics, tech trends, rescue stories and pet parenthood.