Free Paddling and Trail Guides for Your Smartphone

Just a short time ago we were using USGS maps and a handheld compass to find our way around the backcountry. A smartphone was something you would only see in science fiction movies as in, ¨Beam me up, Scotty!¨

My, how times have changed. Today you can find instant trail information at your fingertips using your smartphone.

When I first heard about the Go Paddling app available from

I was amazed that such a resource could be free. Surely they would want to charge good money for such a valuable service.

I remember very well the good old days when we drove to the outfitters store and bought all the USGS maps that covered our intended route. Then we spent the evening literally cutting and pasting the guide pages that fit, being very careful not to clip off valuable information.

Now you can call it all up in an instant and scroll through a smorgasbord of useful data for:

Access points with latitude and longitude

Driving directions and parking

Nearby services and attractions


Self-guided trips


Comments from past visitors

And its all free. Simply download to your iPhone or Android phone and start searching, its that simple.

Of course the app won't include every place in the world you might want to paddle, but with 22,000 locations so far, and a community of paddlers continually making updates, surely you can find a good route to travel for your next outing.

Many of us are hikers as well as paddlers, especially those of us who travel in the backcountry in the off-season when our favorite paddle routes are frozen. Often our paddle route will intersect a good hiking trail and we want more information.

For example, the Appalachian Trail travels through 14 Eastern states from Georgia to Maine and crosses at least a hundred rivers. Suppose you are circumnavigating a lake or paddling down one of those rivers and suddenly realize the AT is there.

What about a side hike? Anything worth seeing? There's an app for that, too!

So far the trail app is only available for iPhone, but the Android version is coming soon.

Go to to get the link to download your free version from the Apple store or sign up for the Android version when it is released. Then start looking up your routes now.

Free download for iPhone at or sign up for the Android version coming soon!

These snazzy modern-day trail guides are great for planning and they are invaluable on the trail. But don't let them lull you into a false sense of security. You still need a map and compass in the event your smartphone battery dies or you drop it in the river or leave it at your last campsite. Not saying I've ever done that, but it could happen.

Learn map and compass navigation, not only for your own sake but for the sake of the others in your party, or for the stranded person you find wandering forlornly who has not a clue where they are and they need your help.

A good place to start learning navigation is with the National Outdoor Leadership Schools book NOLS Wilderness Navigation, available as a Kindle download so you can carry it with you....on your smartphone.

This is the official NOLS guide to finding your way in the outdoors. ¨Being able to rely on your navigational skills can mean the difference between a successful day hiking or paddling and an unplanned overnight in the wilderness. This new edition focuses on navigational principles and techniques so you can build skills and confidence and not have to rely on your smartphone every time¨.

Learning how to use a compass to stay alive in the outdoors is easier when you have good equipment to study and learn with. The one I have used for many years is the Suunto MC-2 with the sighting mirror. I also use the mirror for shaving and for tick checks in places where I cannot see.

Most paddling clubs and hiking clubs sponsor wilderness navigation courses for their members. In just an hour or so you can become confident in your wilderness navigation skills. What you learn in one of these classes may well save you or someone else someday.

Andy Lee is the author of Five Hundred Miles to the Sea; Adventure Canoe and Kayak Camping Book 1. He is the administrator of the Facebook Groups Adventure Canoe and Kayak Camping and Virginia Paddlers.

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