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Hike the United States' most stunning trails from the comfort of home

By

March 20, 2012

Yellowstone's Mt. Washburn

Yellowstone's Mt. Washburn

Image Gallery (7 images)

From the soaring heights of Denali (Mount McKinley) to surreal slot canyons chiseled below the earth's surface, the National Park System comprises some of the most stunning, superlative lands in the United States. To explore all of them would take an incredible amount of time and resources, but the new Nature Valley Trail View website is making it a little easier.

Earlier this month, Nature Valley launched what it calls the first ever street-view-style national parks experience. The granola bar maker has long been instilling a sense of place in the wilderness in its advertising, and the new website appears to serve as a natural extension of that.

The Nature Valley Trail View website provides a step by step tour of 300 miles (482 km) of trails in three of America's most popular, iconic parks - Grand Canyon National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Yellowstone National Park. While other websites - including the National Park Service's site - offer virtual tours of various park highlights, Nature Valley claims its site is the first to capture every step of each trail. It even uses a 360-degree camera, allowing site users to "turn their head" and experience the entire panorama that each trail offers.

Crossing the bridge on the Bright Angel Trail

Nature Valley's team spent more than a year hiking, filming the experience with its 11-lens, 360-degree camera, and producing the actual website. The company received help from McCann Erickson New York, InTheMO, Your Majesty and editors from Backpacker Magazine in putting the final presentation together. Trail information and points of interest are built into the video presentations, providing another layer of depth to the experience.

The site lets you select from the three national parks and then shows a map with the trails that are featured for the park selected. When you click on a trail, you're taken to the video, which begins at the trail head. From there, you're taken on a journey of the entire trail and get to experience the surrounding views. The site also shows your elevation profile and coordinates via Google Maps software. If you'd prefer to get information quickly without hiking each mile, you can switch over to topographic map view and get trail overview and points of interest information.

I tried the site out and found the movement at 2x speed jerky and the images blurry. Whether that was due to the hardware on my rather old computer not keeping up, a poor Internet connection, or a problem with the site itself I don't know - but it's worth noting and would be curious to hear if others have a better experience. When I paused the video, though, I was able to see the terrain clearly and take advantage of the 360-degree rotation. It's a pretty cool tool for both those that plan to visit the national parks featured and those that might not have the opportunity to visit in person but want to see what they're like.

You can tour the trails yourself at NatureValleyTrailView.com.

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work.   All articles by C.C. Weiss
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13 Comments

What a great idea! Now we won't have to go outside EVER AGAIN!

Chuck Anziulewicz
21st March, 2012 @ 06:44 am PDT

Lets get Yosemite on there. The National redwood forests would be great too. Then on to Mt Rainier National Park.

Wade A Patterson
21st March, 2012 @ 09:12 am PDT

ok, I see this being added to a kinect-style device and a good treadmill....maybe add a few speakers (crunch crunch crunch go the leaves) and a smell synthesizer. Oh, and fans to simulate the breeze. And a sun lamp, can't forget the warmth of the sun for the full experience.

Bryan Paschke
21st March, 2012 @ 09:57 am PDT

It'll have the opposite effect of "never going outside again."

It will create a hunger to go visit these places in person. At least, that's what Google Earth has done to me...

Alex Lekander
21st March, 2012 @ 12:39 pm PDT

this is offensive.

Chris Cranmer
21st March, 2012 @ 01:01 pm PDT

Bringing areas like this, within reach of persons who have disabilities or limited income, or might otherwise not be able to experience it is commendable. Worldwide museums and historical sites should consider doing likewise. I complained about the condition of my shoes until I met a child who had no legs.

Thank you for the option.

electric38
21st March, 2012 @ 06:58 pm PDT

North Umpqua River Valley and it's tributaries so I can skip the three hour drive, oh wait, will I be able to pick up rocks and keep them to put in my yard or to polish the smaller ones?,,, I think electric38 has the correct use

Bill Bennett
21st March, 2012 @ 08:08 pm PDT

Stolen my Idea..

Jay Temkar
21st March, 2012 @ 09:34 pm PDT

With such appallingly poor quality when "moving", just as the reviewer noted, it has a very limited appeal. Really only useful when standing still and looking around one location (AFTER it's had time to upload the images)

A brave attempt and worth developing, but it needs a lot of work yet to make it useable. Perhaps they should talk to Google, who's street view works a treat and proves that it can be done with the right technology and software :o)

FrankR
22nd March, 2012 @ 12:44 am PDT

I agree with Frank. The quality is shocking and should not have been introduced as such like this. It's a nice idea but people with a relatively slow connection won't even get the benefit of the whole "illusion". To make this feasable you need HD images with an optical broadband connection.

paulgo
22nd March, 2012 @ 04:32 am PDT

Sponsored by the (couch) potato industry.

FastGuy
28th March, 2012 @ 04:27 am PDT

As a prepper for a real hike, maybe to help make a selection, or for the disabled who will not be going, Sure, it's a great idea. With the right kind of equipment to do it right, it could even inspire fit individuals to try the real thing.

But the couch potatoes will use it INSTEAD of the real thing, as they go "virtually" everywhere.

kellory
24th June, 2012 @ 06:51 am PDT

Well, let's not get all snarly and elitist!

Although obviously still in infancy or crippled by a slow server (I have a fast computer with lots of RAM and disk space for virtual RAM swapouts - the site just has the draggies!) the concept can be useful to the experienced who are scouting possible problems on a trail new to them/others coming with a group, those who need inspiration, those who are unable to take the trip, or just the curious.

Once you can see each trail under different weather conditions (snow storm; bone dry; post-flood, etc.) this can be an amazing tool.

This format will be useful for those planning a first-time trip along one of the trails, if used with a good map. You'll get a much better idea of the terrain in a given area when you stop and do a 360.

Neither couch potato nor serious hiker is likely to actually "walk" any of these trails without getting a bit annoyed or dizzy!

However, I would rather know that an inexperienced hiker/group realized their lack of readiness for a hike before going rather than having to spoil my own trip by helping to save theirs when they get into trouble!

Three Feet
6th August, 2012 @ 07:06 pm PDT
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