AllTrails and National Geographic Team Up to Get Hikers Oriented

The United States is essentially an unpopulated wilderness. If you scattered the citizenry evenly across the country, we’d each have a luxurious eight acres to ourselves. But here’s the weird thing: In a country where the outdoors is so vast, people rarely go there. Even folks who think of themselves as outdoorsy types don’t leave the house much—only 24 percent of outdoor enthusiasts say they get outside two or more times per week, according to a 2010 study by the Outdoor Industry Association.

Why don’t more people hit the trails? The surprising reason, according to many studies, is that they don’t know where to go. And the Internet isn’t much help. Key information about hiking and cycling destinations—the locations of trailheads and the length and difficulty of each route, for example—is either fragmented across thousands of websites run by federal, state, or municipal agencies, or stuck behind paywalls. If you’re looking for a restaurant near a trailhead, Yelp will show you lots of options. But as for the trail itself, good luck.

That’s the gap a San Francisco startup called AllTrails is trying to fill. A 2010 graduate of the AngelPad startup accelerator program, the company offers an exhaustive online database of trails and trail reviews from hikers, as well as GPS-enabled iPhone and Android apps that help users plan, document, and share their outdoor adventures. More than 200,000 people have joined AllTrails so far, and its iPhone app persistently ranks among the iTune’s App Store’s top 100 free travel apps.

The AllTrails team

The company, which is backed by 2020 Ventures, Camp Ventures, and 500 Startups, also sends out a handy e-mail every Thursday with suggestions for weekend hiking or biking trips, customized to each user’s location and past preferences. I’ve followed up on AllTrails’ suggestions several times, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. My favorite AllTrails find: Berry Falls Loop, a 10.4-mile trail along a meandering creekbed adjacent to Big Basin State Park near Santa Cruz, CA.

All of this information is free. But next month, AllTrails plans to introduce a premium, subscription-based version of its service that will give users exclusive access to GPS route information for each trail, as well as topographical and illustrated maps from National Geographic. I visited AllTrails a couple of weeks ago to get the scoop on the new premium services from Russell Cook, the company’s founder.

The alliance with National Geographic, announced in January, is probably the biggest thing to happen to the six-employee startup since it got admitted to AngelPad, Cook says. It’s not just a content-sharing arrangement: the entire AllTrails site is now co-branded with National Geographic, and AllTrails is about to take over management of, a service of National Geographic that sells PDF versions of topographical maps. “If you had asked me back during AngelPad who we wanted to work with, there would be no one else even close to number one,” says Cook. “No one is better known for their spirit of adventure or their quality of information.”

I’ll say more on that partnership in a minute. But why did Cook think there was a need for a new outdoor-recreation site in the first place?

Well, if you’re like me and you spent a lot of time searching online for trail information, you’ve probably run into a site called A product of the first dot-com boom, has built up one of the Web’s largest collections of online trail guides. (The site got sucked into the Demand Media empire in 2006 when Demand bought its parent company, Hillclimb Media.) The site’s pages score highly in Google’s search results, and if you’re looking for a good trail to hike in a given region, will usually have … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “AllTrails and National Geographic Team Up to Get Hikers Oriented”

  1. Jamie W. says:

    There’s really nothing new here. Since 1997, TRAILSOURCE.COM has been providing trail descriptions and printable maps for thousands of trails worldwide. Unlike the poor quality of user submission based websites, TRAILSOURCE.COM has provided only edited and reviewed content to over 40M unique visitors around the planet.

  2. rob says:

    For hikers lucky enough to live in or near Washington State, the Washington Trails Assoc. has provided the goto source for hiking, trails, recommendations, user supplied trail status, deep guide book content via a partnership with The Mountaineers Books.

    All for FREE, while coordinating 100,000+ hours of volunteer labor to help maintain this critical resource. Users are encouraged to become supporting members.