There’s an app for that. Have you heard that a million times? Well, the Smokies are no different. It wasn’t that long ago though that there were very few apps for the Smoky Mountains. Even today, there are relatively few compared to many other things. But the one thing that early apps had in common is that most of them stunk. Like many other apps, the ones available for the Smokies are hit and miss.
I tend to be more of a hiking purist and do not like much technology on the trails. That said, most of us carry our iPhones or smartphones everywhere. Some of these apps can be very useful. This review will cover several Smoky Mountains apps that are out there and let you know which are the best to spend your time on, and in some cases, money.
First up is the Cades Cove Driving Tour app from the Blount Partnership. I will say right off the bat, this is my favorite app for the Smoky Mountains. They hit a home run with this one. It is free, and has great and unique features. The app has a list of all of the stops along the Cades Cove Loop, and gives a narration about what you will see and the history of each place. There are also several great pictures of each location. Finally, there is a GPS enabled map to show you where you are on the road and what is coming up. The app can be used with our without being internet/GPS connected, which I find to be a major plus. This is the perfect companion for anyone doing a driving tour of this historic place. It doesn’t try to do too much, but what it does, it does very well. And hey, it’s free, go check it out.
The other app from them that we will review is Hiking and Biking the Smoky Mountains. Like the Cades Cove app, this one is free. However, I don’t have the rave reviews that I did for the other. The app has some basic information about hiking and biking, locations of a few local outfitters and retailers, and several hiking trails and biking trails. There is not a lot of detail about either, and pictures are essentially non-existent. If you are looking for something bare bones, this might suffice for you. There is not a lot of good info out there for biking around the national park area, so if that is your thing, you might enjoy it, but otherwise, I would pass on this one.
The next one is Smokies Hiking Trails. As you might imagine, this one is focused on the trails in the national park, and is pretty darn comprehensive. If there is somewhere you want to hike here, this app has it listed. The details about each hike are somewhat brief and non-descriptive, but they are meant to be short and sweet. You can sort your search by features such as waterfalls or views. This is a good feature. You can find your location in relation to the trail with this app as well, and that is generally pretty useful. There are no pictures or descriptions about trail crossings and junctions, which brings down the app in my opinion. But overall, its a decent resource for trails available in the national park. At just .99 cents, its a good bargain and I would recommend it for an easy, if not very basic, resource.
The Great Smoky Mountains by Notecast may be the worst app out there. Notescast has apps for many places around the country, and in my experience, does none of them well. If you are looking for very basic information about a lot of different things in and around the smokies, you might like this one. There are some hiking trails, lodging info, history, attractions, and much more. In my opinion they try to do too much and don’t put enough into each of the dozens of categories. If you want to see what all is around, this might be a good place to start so you can research items further online, but if you are looking for more, this is not the place for you. If you have been to the Smokies more than a few times, pass on this one altogether. If it will be your first visit, it can serve you well as a large orientation booklet.
Great Smoky Mountains, the Official Guide, is obviously the official app of the Smokies. Like so many official apps, there are many better ones out there. It’s not that the info here is bad, and the app is free, but you get very little content and have to pay for additional content at .99 cents a piece. And there are many, many in-app purchases. There is very little information in this app, the least of any I have looked at, and the interface leaves you searching for information inside of folders that in some ways seem unrelated. The good news on this app is that your purchases do go directly to the Smokies, but I would much rather give them a donation than use this app.
Finally, Great Smoky Mountains National Park 2013 by Equator Maps. This app is different from all the others. There is very little actual written information about trails or areas in this app. What this app does is give trail elevation profiles, allows you to calculate distances on various hikes which can be particularly useful if you are putting several hikes together at once, and you can then see the elevation profiles for that. It also has a GPS feature that can show you where you are on your selected hike. Have you ever wondered if you have finally taken the last switchback on an endless hike (aka the Low Gap Trail? This app can tell you. I can tell you from playing around with the app that it is not the easiest and most user friendly app out there. However, it does have some power once you learn to get around on it. It is supposed to work well even without cell signal. However, everyone knows that GPS drains a cell battery fairly quickly, and if there is no cell signal, it can drain even faster as the phone searches for signal. Again, this app is just 99 cents, so it might be worth a look without much of an investment.
There are a couple of other apps out there including Chimani’s app and Great Smoky Mountains Maps, but these are among the worst out there. I would only review these by saying stay away. There are several other apps out there for lodging, towns, and attractions. You might want to check those out as well. Occasionally you can find deals within the apps for these places and most of them are free.