Best Apps for Visiting Yosemite National Park

Using Helpful Apps at Yosemite
••• Adapted from Eduardo Woo//Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 and ©2013 Betsy Malloy Photography.

You'll find quite a few Yosemite National Park apps available for your mobile device. Some of them look good in the app store but don't work out so well when you get them installed.

Here's the problem: Most of the Yosemite apps rely on your mobile device having a stable enough connection (and you having enough data available on your plan) that you can access the data you need to make them work.

Unfortunately, many parts of Yosemite have little or no signal, no matter what carrier you use.

That makes it likely your app will just refuse to work when you need it most.

Having said all that, I have evaluated a few apps for Yosemite and found a few that may be helpful.

Chimani App for Yosemite

If you like to use apps to plan or assist during your trip, there’s a free app that provides a lot of information about Yosemite. It was created by Chimani, who make apps for many of the big national parks, for both iPhone and Android users.

Chimani's strength is that it’s self-contained, downloading a lot of data to your mobile device instead of accessing it on the run. That's the most reliable way to handle an app for a place like Yosemite, where mobile phone signals can be weak or non-existent. The downside is that it makes the app large (so large that you need a WiFi connection just to download it) and in total it added 1.1 GB of data to my iPhone.

You’ll find a lot of information in the Chimani app, with 34 icons on four screens at the top level.

Some parts of it are more useful for advanced planning than use in the park, but unfortunately, they're mixed with sections better used in-park. In fact,  navigating the app may be harder than finding your way around on the ground. Some icons are also hard to decipher.

If you like to use an app while traveling, Chimani has a lot of offer and is the best Yosemite app currently available.

However, if you’re good enough with a map to figure out where you are, you may find the old-fashioned paper map you get at the entrance an easier choice. And if you want to go hiking, Chimani is not designed as a serious trail-finding tool.

REI's National Parks App

Outdoor equipment retailer REI makes an app for national park visitors that is highly rated. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but it gets five stars in the Apple app store. It uses your phone's GPS capabilities to track your position, even when you don't have voice or data service. It also includes lots of hiking and trail data.

Reviewers in the app store praise it for having a family-friendly section. They also like the trail maps and the fact that it includes lots of national parks in the same app.

Other Apps You May Find Useful

Other apps that you may find useful, but which come with a higher price tag:

  • Birders may also enjoy using Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Labs, which is the easiest to use bird ID app I've ever used.

What isn't the most useful thing for going to Yosemite is any map or GPS app. Every one I've used has a tendency to take you to the wrong place, often in the middle of the wilderness with no roads nearby.