AllTrails and National Geographic Team Up to Get Hikers Oriented

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plenty of options. The problem is that if you want to see the trail on a decent map—i.e. one with enough resolution to be readable and printable—you have to sign up for a $49.95 yearly subscription.

In other words, has left a lot of room for competitors to sneak in with cheaper and more accessible trail information. Still, Cook says he respects the older business. “Ten years ago, when they launched the company, there was all this great book content on the outdoors, and they did a fantastic job signing partnerships with a lot of book publishers and offering a pretty affordable subscription,” he says. “If you bought a couple of map books it would equal the $50 per year they’re charging. The difficulty we saw with their model was that it doesn’t lend itself to making the information available in mobile apps. And it makes it difficult to build any type of community.”

A quick look at the economic data on outdoor recreation convinced Cook there were ways to make money that didn’t necessarily involve costly subscriptions. “In the U.S. alone, people spend $243 billion a year on outdoor trips, plus an additional $46 billion on gear,” he says. “So we knew the fundamentals were there. There are a lot of advertisers and businesses around these outdoor destinations that are looking for a way to reach this audience.”

The AllTrails iPhone app lets users track their paths and snap photos along the way, which are attached to the appropriate locations on the map.

But to reach outdoors enthusiasts, AllTrails first had to come up with a compelling offering of its own. So back in 2010, Cook and his team set out to build their own database of trail information, some of it based on the Creative Commons-licensed OpenCycleMap project, some on free (until recently) Google Maps data, and some on first-hand information collected by hikers carrying GPS tracking devices. The site now lists 45,000 trails in the U.S. and Canada. For most destinations, AllTrails offers directions to the trailhead and an estimate of the trail’s length. For some trails, there’s also data on difficulty, whether dogs are allowed, and the like. Once users have completed a trail, they’re encouraged to post their own notes, so AllTrails also has a growing collection of Yelp-style reviews.

What AllTrails doesn’t offer yet is an actual map of each trail—unless that information happens to be part of the Google or Bing map data that you can browse on the AllTrails site or access through iPhone and Android apps. That’s where the National Geographic partnership will come in handy. Subscription members of AllTrails will have access to the exhaustive collection of digital topographic maps at, as well as full GPS data on the route and elevation of each trail. On top of that, AllTrails is working with National Geographic to digitize its “Trails Illustrated” map series—a collection of 165 gorgeously crafted maps of popular U.S. outdoor destinations, previously available only on paper.

As a final benefit, subscribers will be offered discounts at outdoor retailers. Cook says AllTrails is in conversations with companies like REI and the Sports Basement, a sporting-goods retailer with four locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Don’t ask me how much I’ve spent at the Sports Basement—let’s just say I could have used a discount a lot earlier.)

Cook hasn’t said yet how much a premium AllTrails subscription will cost, but he says it will be worth it. “Between the premium map content, the route information that’s impossible to find on an aggregate basis anywhere else, and the retail discounts, it should be a really compelling offering.”

To help pay for the free version of AllTrails, the company is recruiting both large national brands and local businesses to advertise on the site and within the apps. Already, there’s an ad for The Clymb, a flash-sale site for premium outdoor gear, that pops up as a splash page in the iPhone app before you get to your profile page. But future ads will be less obtrusive, Cook promises. “What we don’t want to do is hit people over the head with a bunch of display advertising that pops up the minute you hit the trails,” he says. “We are trying to find more normal integration points. When you’re done hiking you may want to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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  • 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.

  • rob

    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.