Wallace Stegner called our national parks “the greatest idea America ever had.” And, indeed, 275 million people every year visit these 84 million acres of pristine wilderness around the country. But what if you’re planning a trip and can’t decide between, say, the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone? Well, in this Internet age, you don’t have to take a risk. You can walk the trails beforehand and decide what you like.
That’s the magic of Trail View, a project sponsored by Nature’s Valley and created by McCann New York, that brings technology inspired by Google’s Street View to three of our national parks (Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and the Great Smokies). Curious users–or just really lazy ones–can take a virtual walk down a selection of trails in each park. The slideshow above has some select screenshots from the parks themselves.
To film the 300 miles of trails that you can see online, the project’s hikers wore a high-tech camera-mounted backpack (you can see it in the picture above) as they traversed the parks, stopping at points of interest and recording the 360-degree views that enable the trail view to work. You can read Fast Company‘s article about the genesis of the project here.
Nature’s Valley, a company that has given a lot of money to the chronically underfunded parks system, says that the idea of Trail View is to get people excited about visiting national parks. But is it just letting people get a whiff of nature on their computers without having to make the effort to actually go outside? We may be at the point where you can deliver sharp 360-degree images of the Grand Canyon, but they still pale in comparison to the real thing.
That said, if Trail View gets people excited about partaking in our natural heritage, then more power to the folks at Nature’s Valley. And, if we keep going the way we’re going, 100 years from now the national parks may not look the same. At least we’ll have a complete digital record of what things used to be like.