Essential Apps for Your Next Camping Road Trip

Open road in Utah

Whether you’re road tripping for months or heading out for spring break, technology can make your life easier. A purist may insist a tech-free road trip is the way to roll, but I think most of us appreciate traveling with a smartphone.

People are always asking me about my favorite apps for car camping or rolling in a camper rig. (No restaurant or hotel-finder apps here!) Take the ones that seem helpful and skip the rest.

None will drive the car or van for you (yet). Still, most are free or cheap and worth checking out. I’ve linked to the main app page for iPhone/Android download for most of these rather than each one. Happy road tripping!

Finding a place to stay

Ultimate Campground – I tell every traveler about this app, which has saved us hundreds of dollars in camping fees over the years or helped locate paid camping. More importantly, we’ve used it to find beautiful, low-traffic spots to park the van away from the crowds.

US Public Lands – this is similar to the above – with better boundaries shown in most locations – and definitely worth checking out.

Enjoying free camping near the Valley of Fire in Nevada.

Enjoying free camping near the Valley of Fire in Nevada.

Navigation and weather

Google Maps – still my go-to. There are dozens of maps apps out there and I still think Google is the most solid, consistently accurate one. For overview maps to scope out an entire state, I still love a solid road atlas and use our National Geographic physical atlas frequently for trip planning.

GasBuddy – This app saves you money by showing gas station locations and the price of fuel at each. Save $10 by driving a few extra blocks. Fuel may be practically free at ~$2/gallon right now, but it won’t be so low forever!

Storm – look no further than this app. I denied how awesome it was for too long, but have found it’s the most accurate free weather app that I’ve used.

Locating trails

Singletracks – my go-to app for finding mountain bike trails. Find trailheads, scope out trail linkups, and see what people think of various rides. The online version is also good.

AllTrails and TrailLink – these are great for locating hiking and running trails.

Hiking in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Hiking in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Driving entertainment

Spotify – need a driving mix? This is our favorite. Owning music is so 1995! (Pandora just bought Rdio, so they may be rolling out some good stuff too.)

Audible and Overdrive – audiobooks are fantastic. You can buy them via Audible, but I prefer downloading them from our library via Overdrive.

Podcasts – I usually use the basic podcast app on my phone. Stitcher is also a fun way to discover live radio shows and podcasts.

Finding wifi and a cell signal

WiFiMap – It can be a pain to find reliable wifi while you travel. This app points you to it. I usually use my phone as a hotspot, but sometimes you just want solid wifi.

Coverage – Need to catch a mid-week conference call while on the road, but have no idea if you’ll have a signal? The nomadic tech whizzes at Technomadia developed this overlay map to show you reception for various cell phone providers.

No coverage up in the Sierra Nevada!

No coverage up in the Sierra Nevada!

Finding cool places and things to see

WikiTravel – Ever stood in front of a landmark and pondered what happened there? This crowdsourced tool solves that problem.

Oh Ranger! Parkfinder – Wondering which parks are nearby and what they’re all about? This will tell you. I don’t use it often, but occasionally it comes in handy, especially in an area we’ve never visited before.

Badwater, Death Valley: The lowest point in the U.S.

Badwater, Death Valley: The lowest point in the U.S. at 282 feet below sea level.

Photo management

Mylio – this app/desktop software syncs photos from your computer and backs them up online. I use this not just for iPhone shots, but for my entire photo and video database. I haven’t seen a better solution for multi-platform photo management. (Thanks to Brad Feld for writing about this.)

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That’s all I’ve got. What are your favorite road tripping apps? Let people know in the comments or share this post with a road warrior friend!

The rolling hills of Black Butte Lake in N. CA at sunset.

The rolling hills of Black Butte Lake in N. CA at sunset.

10 replies
  1. Jeffrey Fritts
    Jeffrey Fritts says:

    Hay Dakota,
    Jeffrey here, just 55 days and a wake-up from rolling out on The Miss Abby Trans-America Memorial Tour. Your timing could not have been better. I just got my Inter agency pass for federal lands a few days ago and was looking for an app to find these lands as I travel. The US Public Lands app is just what I was looking for. Thanks
    Jeffrey ‘AKJeff’ Fritts
    The Miss Abby Trans-America Memorial Tour

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Just 55 days?! That’s awesome. Did you finalize your route yet? (As final as a cycling trip can be, that is.)

      Reply
  2. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    PDF MAPS on my android (might be on iOS idk) let’s me download USGS topo maps to my phone and fairly accurately puts my position on the GPS. The downside is it can turn into data intensive, best to download from the Mickey d’s parking lot before you set out!

    Reply
  3. Charles Beckert
    Charles Beckert says:

    Dakota,
    Last spring in Moab, seeing your van project inspired me to do the same!
    I look forward to sharing some photos of my project.
    Thanks for app recommendations. I also have had fun exploring Trailforks.
    Charles

    Reply
  4. Frank M. Harvey
    Frank M. Harvey says:

    Hi Dakota thanks for sharing this app list i didn’t know that there is an app such as coverage and gasbuddy. I use waze it’s a great navigation app, other drivers who use waze app share real time traffic and road information and even stations with cheap gas price.

    Reply

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