It’s never a good idea to just assume people know how to plan epic adventures. Heck, even with proper planning some adventures just don’t go accordingly. It has taken me a few years of mis-adventures and poor planning to come up with a planning process that I truly enjoy. Cause if I’m being honest, besides buckling in for that epic roadie or waking up to those epic views, the planning process to me- can be just as epic. I still haven’t figured out a way to choose between my two top choices, after said research and planning, so I’ll continue to stick to the good ‘ol flip a coin method and adventure from there.
From accommodations to wilderness permits, trail navagation and weather; I’ve narrowed down 10 favorite websites and apps that help me plan out epic adventures. If you have been following along on my jouney, then you know I like to travel cheap; so you won’t find any hotel reservations or restaruant reviews here!
Below is a list of my favorite apps for adventure planning, if you are specifically looking to plan an epic road trip, check out my guide here.
Free campsites is a great website to find campgrounds. Simply search for the area in which you are interested in traveling and Free Campsites will provide a list of camping options in that area. From free sites to truck stops, this site is constantly being updated since the platform invites people of the public to submit new entires when found. This site not only provides coordinates, but descriptions, cell service availability and submitted photos from the community to get a better feel for the spot before arriving. Please note that a majority of these sites are on a first-come-first-serve basis and no reservations are required. If a site requires a camping fee, it is labeled with a red icon and noted on the website.
When I plan a trip, I like to search the general area and make note of all the possible places to camp, just in case I arrive one night and there are no spots left. Always have a back up plan! Always note your options! I have a folder of my favorite “free campsites” or BLM spots saved on my Google Maps for quick and easy access.
Google Maps has been my go-to since I got my drivers license. Ever since I started hiking and traveling more, I find myself on Google Maps every single day. No joke. There is not a day that goes by that I do not search the map for…whatever. My timeline is turned on, which is a pretty neat tool to go back after a trip and see all of the places I went to and I take full advantage of starring my favorites. (Peep my map above. I know, I need to wander the east coast but I love my sunshine!)
Google Maps is a great planning tool for travel because you can map out your entire trip and save it to your phone. And if you’re like me and like to wander where there is no service, well Google Maps understands and has this awesome feature called Offline Maps. Simply highlight the map area from the Google Maps app and download it to your phone. This can only be done from the Google Maps app. Next time you hit the road and lose service, Google Maps will automatically switch over to your downloaded maps and you’re good to go!
AllTrails is a popular app for finding and learning about trails in your area or any given search. AllTrails can also be used to track and record your hikes. I personally do not use AllTrails to search for new hikes, although I have come across new trails that I have hiked because of the AllTrails app. Instead, I like to use the app to read current descriptions and see recent photos from other hikers, and download GPX files from those who share their recordings. I search out which recording I find most similar to the trail and download the file. This is all done from the AllTrails website, I do not believe you can download GPX files directly from the app, unless you have a paid membership. I then upload the GPX file to my Gaia GPS online account (more on that later) where I will be able to physically follow the downloaded link while on the trail without any service!
National Weather Service
Depending on the type of adventure your planning, time of year, or simply just your mood- information researched from this website may or may not damper your plans; but it is important to know if you’re going to want to pack that rain jacket or not! The National Weather Service website is my favorite site to search for weather conditions before my trip. Simply search for the area in which you’re travelling and basic weather information is provided. For a more detailed forecast, check out the Hourly Weather Forecast listed at the bottom. That link will give you hourly weather information including things like: wind, rain, snow, fog, cloud cover and more!
For my backcountry, mountain climbing, peak bagging wanderers, Mountain-Forecast.com provides current weather conditions for nearly all major mountains and mountain peaks. Get detailed information for specific mountain ranges, peaks, and summits cateorgized by elevations and time of day. This is my go-to site for all backpacking weather. As you can see, everything you need is all in one place, from cloud cover, wind, rain, and snow. Of course, it’s important to note that the weather is always changing. It’s important to keep checking back for updated weather conditions prior to your trip.
Remember those GPX files I downloaded from AllTrails? This is where I upload them. Gaia GPS is probably one of the newest apps I have recently started to use. I use this app mostly to follow trails I haven’t done and to track my hikes. This is a good tool if your into stats and numbers. It can be fun to geek out over once in a while and used as a tool to push yourself harder next time. As shown above, the Gaia GPS app tracks distance, moving time, pace, total time, stopped time, average speed, moving speed and tracks the ascent and descent as well. Choose to share your track by making it public to the Gaia community, or keep it private for your viewing only. You can also discover new trails on the Gaia GPS app, but I haven’t really looked into using that feature yet.
So far, we’ve discussed how to find free campsites, check out current weather conditions, track out our hikes- but we all know that the special places to go require a wilderness permit. This can get messy so I’m going to keep it pretty basic. Wilderness permits are required in most national forests and all national parks for any type of overnight backcountry camping. A percentage of tickets can be reserved online at Recreation.gov six (6) months in advance. The remaining balance will be issued as walk-up permits for same (or next) day trail entry. Once you have narrowed down your destination, it’s time to find an open trail. Simply search for the dates in which you plan to adventure, enter the # of people in your group, choose Overnight permit, and a list of available wilderness permits will appear (or not). Of course, if you’re new to backpacking, don’t pick just any available trail. Know your limits. Reservations made six months in advance do come with a small fee, whereas walk-up permits are free, but limited.
NightSky is a fun app for star gazers! I recently started using this app when I am out during a meteor shower, searching for specific planets, or constellations. I like that you are able to search for specifics and the NightSky app will give you directions to your results. Other neat features include, being able to view the sky from another looation rather than your physical location, current conditions for star gazing, current weather conditions, phases of the moon, position of the sun, and with the premium paid version, even view earth live satellites! I haven’t played around with this app much, as I’m sure there are tons of amazing features.
Ah, yes. Instagram. Not going to lie, it’s probably one of the easiest ways I find my travel inspiration. From hashtags, to geotags, locations and tagged posts- it’s all there. See a pretty picture, get inspired to see it for yourself. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a pretty picture- see something that interests you and get motivated to go do it. I’m sure Pinterest is a better platform for doing this, but I’m not very Pinterest savvy, so I’ll continue to stick to the gram. I have saved folders on my Instagram account, one labeled BRB (Be Right Back!) for those places I hope to soon visit. And not to mention, a majority of the places I have recently explored were all inspired by some of my favorite travel bloggers. So, not only is Instagram good for finding inspiration, but also- community. I’m blessed to say I’ve met a few amazing people from Instagram who continue to bring inspiration and adventure to my life!
Imagine a map that includes it all. Roadtrippers has done a great job creating a map that includes everything needed to plan a epic road trip. From accommodations to theme parks, national landmarks and restruants, when you sign up for a free online account at Roadtrippers.com you are given all the tools to properly plan your epic road trip. Simply enter in your start location and your destination and you have multiple layers to choose from. One feature I really like is being able to adjust your surrounding distance. For example, I am willing to travel only 30 miles outside of my original route to stop somewhere along the way. Roadtrippers will then narrow down your options and provide a list of attractions that are only 30 miles outside of your original route. This helps to keep you on track. I always tend to over distant my routes and end up spending more time traveling in the car from place to place, than wandering around exploring our original destination.