You can take technology outdoors and use it wisely. I have found some of the best free outdoor apps that are both free and fun to use when we are out and about. Family friendly outdoor apps are also a great learning experience for kids. Technology as part of STEM is very important. Although I don’t want to encourage playing Minecraft while out on a hike, I do like that we can use our phones as a compass, GPS tracker, geocache finder, map guide, and more. Taking tech outdoors is part of our 31 DAYS OF OUTDOOR STEM series going on all month. Week 3 is all about technology outdoors.


Take technology outdoors with free outdoor apps and ideas to use with your phone

So you want to get outside? It’s no surprise that we are going to carry our smartphones with us wherever we go. We can make our tech outside useful, meaningful, and fun for kids. I do want to say that these apps should not be a substitute for learning how to read maps, use a real compass, and plain old common sense. Your phone battery can die or you can be out of range of service to correctly receive information. Having a physical map and compass with you is very important as well as knowing how to use them!

However, these free outdoor apps will provide interest for your kids while creating a love of the outdoors when paired with maps and a compass. There are so many free and nearly free ways for families to get outside this summer and these free outdoor apps are a great addition to outdoor fun.


Note: The following free outdoor apps are used on my iPhone. There are android versions available but they may be different.

All Trails  has a free app we use all the time for locating different hikes in whatever area sea re in that day. Many of the hikes have been rated, have reviews, have a brief description, distances, and directions. We have found many family friendly hikes all around us by simply opening this app! Plus it does give you several different style maps {you can upgrade for more including topographical ones}. Once you begin hiking the map shows your movement. My son enjoys checking out our route and where we are headed. You can publish your recorded track and leave a review or take a picture for others to see.

Map My Hike  has a free app that allows you to check out your pace, mileage, time, etc. You can store the information to look at later. We enjoy checking in with this app during our hikes and has led to some great discussions about pace, speed, and energy on flat surfaces versus hilly terrain. Compare walking one mile on a track to walking one mile over hills. Whats the difference in time, pace, and energy expended?

Outdoor family activities hiking with kids


Commander Compass Lite is an excellent compass that is quite detailed and great for older kids and my husband! You can upgrade it of course, but this suits us just fine. For simpler compass apps we have tried this Compass app which is very straightforward as well as this compass app. Both are free as well.

As I said before, an app is no substitute for learning how to read an actual compass. This is a great skill but can be a little tricky too. Check out these fun compass games to get started. There are also some great ideas for teaching compass use with kids here. We are excited to practice this more this summer with our son.


Geocaching is always a family favorite activity and we use the free version of this geocaching app but will upgrade as we do more geocaching! Make sure to keep a few fun tokens in your pack to leave in a geocache container if it is one that holds trinkets. We have 2×2 LEGO bricks with my son’s initials!

outdoor family activities geocaching with kids


BigMagnify Free is a pretty cool app that lets you get up close to nature! Though not an exclusive outdoor app, it can be used anywhere. Use it to look more closely at bugs, leaves, and well anything else you want to get really close too.


One of our most favorite tech trail activities is to use the camera feature to take cool pictures of the things we see, trailheads and of each other. Later on we look over them and can research more information on various things like trees and flowers, birds and animals, rocks, and more. I would love to have a book made of our nature travels from our phone pictures!

Scavenger hunt idea: Make a list of textures or items to find like something smooth, something rough, green leaf, etc. Have your kids take a picture of each thing they find to examine more closely later. You can have some great discussions about both nature, the senses, and textures with this one. It will really get kids looking around and exploring nature on the trail or even the backyard. Compare different hikes in different areas. Did you find different things?


Your kids can take their own mini video of their adventure or make up a silly adventure when you have stopped for a break.


It seems silly to mention using the flashlight feature or downloading a flashlight app, but it can be pretty useful even in day light. Take a closer look inside a hollowed out stump for example. Be careful entering caves!

What are your favorite free hiking apps to share with your family?

take technology outdoors

We would love to find more as we start to get outside and hike more with our young son!




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  1. Do you have any outdoor activities that involve fractals or tessalations. I am interested in finding them in nature and hoped that you might suggest an interesting idea or lesson plan.

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