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A promising guide to national parks

Spring is here and you're probably yearning to be outdoors. If you're planning a trip to one of the country's 59 national parks, check out REI's national parks app. The outdoor retailer has produced a beautiful, comprehensive guide to our most treasured lands, just in time for the centenary of the National Park Service.

The REI National Parks Guide & Maps app offers details about lodging accommodations, transportation, trails and scenic spots you just have to visit, all presented in a visually pleasing, intuitive format.

Most helpful are details on the best hikes in each park, directions to trailheads and colored area graphs that show the trail's elevation gain.

The app has information on 3,043 trails, including details on campgrounds, water sources and available toilets, which would have been helpful some years ago when I felt ill halfway down the Grand Canyon and had to skedaddle up endless switchbacks to the last toilet I'd seen, unaware there was a latrine just down trail.

I used the app during a recent hike along the Dickey Ridge Trail in Shenandoah National Park. Its directions guided me straight to the trailhead from Front Royal, Va., and its GPS locator showed me where I was on the trail on a helpful topographic map. At the trailhead, I used the app's check-in button, which date-stamped my journey and allowed me to add notes. But once a check-in is saved, the notes can't be edited. So: I made no mention of the downy, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers I'd seen along the way.

For those traveling with children, the app includes family-friendly gems. At Shenandoah, it suggests families visit the Whiteoak Canyon swimming hole, the trail to Betty's Rock and Mary's Rock viewpoint, where one might see bald eagles and hawks.

The app allows users to upload and post photos, provided they have an account with HikingProject.com, a partner in the app's creation.

The guide, which depends on users to contribute information, is a work in progress. At press time, the only complete park profiles were for Arches, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Point Reyes, Rocky Mountain and Zion. One wonders why emphasis wasn't placed on Great Smoky Mountains, the most visited park in the system, or Yosemite and Yellowstone, the third and fourth most visited parks, respectively.

A grumble: Only one Alaska park was included (though others will eventually be added). While I may never visit Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark or Gates of the Arctic (did you even know they existed?), it would be fun to explore them in this app. A bigger grumble: My editor denied my request to expense a trip to the Alaska parks to improve the app with my own photos and trail suggestions.

Once more parks are added, it will become the indispensable guide for anyone's national park journey.

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NAME: REI National Parks Guide & Maps

COST: Free

OPERATING SYSTEM: iOS and Android

CREATOR: REI

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