Hike the United States' most stunning trails from the comfort of home
By C.C. Weiss
March 20, 2012
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.
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.