By Lukas Saville

Snow is clearing from the low-level trails in many of the national parks, lambs are frolicking in the fields, trees are beginning to blossom. Spring has sprung, and usually, this would be the perfect time for getting out into the fresh air and countryside. But with the world in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, keen hikers have found themselves confined to their homes, often with limited access to natural spaces and walking routes.

Nevertheless, lockdown doesn’t mean that you have to stop dreaming of your next hiking adventure! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there are now many ways to scratch that travel itch by planning future hikes and adventures in the great outdoors. You can explore new trails, visualize hiking routes, and find inspiration from a whole range of online resources, websites and apps.

Here’s our list of digital tools that will help you plan your next hiking trip, and feed your wanderlust during this period of confinement and social distancing. By the time the lockdown is lifted, you’ll have plenty of new hiking routes on your bucket-list!

Visit National Parks From Your Sofa

You might not be able to travel to any national parks right now, but Google Earth offers a range of fantastic resources to allow you to explore them digitally. This featured collection of national parks in the United States allows you to explore every inch of each park from a unique bird’s-eye perspective, zooming out as you navigate, or honing in on small details.

Hiking trails are often specifically labelled, and integrated with Google Street View, so you’ll have everything you need to plan your route and visualize your future trek.


Gaze from the precipice of a canyon in Zion National Park, or get up close to the lush, wooded valleys and gushing waterfalls of Yosemite! From Google Earth, it’s easy to switch to Maps, where you can plot and save your own personalized hiking route, which you can use for navigation later, when you finally get back on the trail.

Go On a Virtual Hike

Google Maps also provides a wonderful selection of virtual hikes, created by an army of volunteers and employees who carried the street view camera equipment along some of the most iconic trails in the world. This will give you a fantastic first-person view of each stage of the hike, a wonderful way to feed your wanderlust during lockdown!

Using this incredible tool, you can explore the fascinating culture of the peoples of the Khumbu Valley in Nepal, stroll past the towering cliffs at Petra, or take a hike through the Grand Canyon.

If you’re planning to visit one of these epic locations when travel restrictions lift after the current crisis, this is an ideal tool to visualize the terrain, scenery and trails you’ll be walking along. If not, this is still a great way to find inspiration for your next trip, wherever it might be.

Research Trekking Routes

If you’re looking for more information about a wider range of hikes, you’ll find routes on a plethora of options all across the globe on tour operator websites, as a starter. Mountain ranges like the Rockies (both in Canada and the US), the Andes, Alps, Dolomites, Himalayas, Altas, Appalachian and more offer, spectacular trekking options even for beginner and average hikers. (You can peruse the Outpost Travel Center for examples of types of trekking trips typically on offer, though most are suspended until the current COVID-19 crisis is over)

Trekkers doing the Tour du Mont Blanc in the Alps. (Robert Brodey)

Some sites offer GPS trail maps, route descriptions, difficulty ratings, elevation charts, fabulous photos and insider hints, and other information, so you’ll have everything you need to assess what a certain trek involves, and whether it’s right for you.

Once you’ve chosen a trail or route, there are many apps and websites out on the market that can help you take your planning to the next level. Caltopo (launched by search and rescue experts) is one of the best resources for backcountry trail mapping, offering custom topographical maps that allow you to plan your hike in unbelievable detail. It’s great for collaborative route planning, as multiple users can contribute to the same trail map, and the free version comes with a bunch of useful features.

See the Trail in HD

If you’re looking for hiking inspiration, why not take a look at some of these epic virtual hiking videos? Although there’s nothing better than experiencing the trail in person, this might be the next best thing.

Load them up on your TV screen, and immerse yourself in a first-person view of some of the most beautiful hiking trails across the globe. You’ll experience the trek in real time, sometimes accompanied by soothing relaxing music. In these times of stress and panic, these hiking videos are the perfect antidote!

The videos are produced in stunning ultra HD quality and have an immersive quality, making you feel as though you’re right there in the middle of the beautiful countryside. Featuring some popular hikes in Canada and the United States, this is also a great way to get a feel for the trail before you get out and start exploring after the lockdown.

Get Up Close to Incredible Wildlife

One of the real joys of backcountry hiking is the opportunity to get up close to some of nature’s most amazing animals and birds. National parks across North America are populated by some incredible, rare animals, and now you can keep up with their day-to-day activities by following the live webcams set up by park authorities.

Bears in Yellowstone National Park (Pixabay)

In the US, the National Park Service offers a fantastic range of webcams, offering a glimpse into Yellowstone, Zion and the Rock Mountain national parks (among others). You’ll find bear cams, underwater cams, and nest cams, where you can see bald eagles raising their young (to name but a few!).

Similarly, Parks Canada has a series of live webcams set up throughout the country, where you’ll sneak a peek at polar bears, bison, young brown bear cubs, otters, and wolves. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of bears emerging from hibernation, or wolves playing in the snow. But if it’s a slow day for wildlife, you can still explore the fantastic archives of the best candid nature footage captured over recent years. This is a great way to get your kids exciting about hitting the national parks for a post-lockdown adventure.

Just because we’re all stuck at home doesn’t mean that we can’t dream about future adventures! Use these top tips to get through lockdown and slake your wanderlust until it’s time to start exploring new trails once again.

One Response

  1. Alec Holden

    That is a fantastic idea- filming wildlife with webcams! It will really help people to connect with the outdoors while they cannot get out and about.


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