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Smartphone Apps to Get You Outdoors

By Tracey Dowdy

I grew up in a rural area on the east coast of Canada way back in the 70’s. Outdoor play was a natural part of my childhood. My mom would shoo us out the door in the morning, we often ate lunch in the backyard, and we’d usually go back outside to play after dinner. Television wasn’t much of a distraction as we had only three channels and one of them was in French. Fast forward to today. With the lure of video games, the Internet, and kid-friendly TV networks 24/7, it can be a challenge to get kids off the couch and outdoors to play.

According to the American Heart Association, one in three children is overweight. In fact, obesity is the number one health concern among parents in the United States. The obvious solution is to simply turn off the TV or take away the Xbox controller and send our kids outside, but that’s easier said than done.

One solution is to set a good example and take more exercise ourselves. Another is to embrace the technology that our kids find so addictive and use it as motivation. To that end, app developers have created some fun and highly entertaining games that can encourage the whole family to venture out into the great outdoors. Here are a few of my favorites:


Geocaching allows you to go treasure hunting on a scale you may not have imagined! Using your smartphone or handheld GPS, players search for hidden containers (geocaches) with small “treasures” tucked inside. Usually, you sign a logbook to show you were there, take a little treasure and leave one behind for the next hunter. Then, you can share your adventure online. According to Geocaching.com, there are 2 million active geocaches and over 5 million geocachers worldwide.

Fun Feature: You can search for a geocache near you by address, zip code, longitude/latitude, area code, GC code, the person who hid it, or the person who last found it.



MyNature has developed several apps that will not only entertain but educate. You can identify animal tracks and trees, calculate the weight of the fish you just caught, or learn how to tie knots. There are also apps specific to National Parks like Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Teton, and the Grand Canyon, which identify animal tracks, trees, and wildflowers unique to each location.

Fun Feature: A Naturewalk Pedometer measures the distance and number of steps you take on your hike.


Star Walk

Star Walk lets you point an iPhone or iPad at the night sky and identifies the stars, constellations, planets and even satellites visible at your location. As you move the device across the sky, the star map updates in real time highlighting the new celestial bodies as they come into view.

Fun Feature: Time Machine lets you move through time to see the night sky tomorrow, two years from now, or 200 hundred years ago.



Bulldash has no educational value but is 100 percent fun! Based on the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, this game has you running through virtual streets trying to avoid being trampled or gored. “We hope the game will encourage people to exercise. One of the complaints is that running is boring. Running for your life? Not so boring.”

Fun Feature:  You don’t have to be staring at the screen of your smart phone to play – just plug in your headphones and audio cues, like the cheers of the crowd or the sound of the bulls approaching, prompt you on where to run.


Obviously, this is just a sample of the many outdoor apps that are available, but hopefully it’s a jumping off point for you and your family. And speaking of jumping, it’s a beautiful day. I’m going outside to play!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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