Indefinitely Wild

Google Wants to Make It Easier to Explore the National Parks

The tech company is launching apps, virtual tours, and online exhibits designed to virtually immerse you in our natural heritage

Bears beg for food at a car in Yellowstone National Park, August 1958. (Photo: Jack E Boucher/National Park Service)

To mark its centennial, the National Park Service is getting a 21st-century upgrade: Google. The search giant is launching a project to make the parks more accessible to more people by bringing as much of their experience online as possible. “The National Parks are full of wonders, but most people don’t get the chance to visit in person,” writes Nick Carbonaro, the project’s creative lead. “We wanted to see if we could use Google’s technology to help share parks with everyone.”

The project is launching with virtual tours of the main attractions in five parks: Alaska’s Kenai Fords, Hawaii Volcanoes, New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns, Utah’s Bryce Canyon, and Florida’s Dry Tortugas. 

“Park Rangers know where to look, where to listen, and where to dive,” the tour opens. Each virtual reality experience is narrated by a local ranger, and includes a video walk-through, as well as 360-degree views of popular scenes, complete with audio recorded on-site. The experience is available through your desktop web browser or on your phone or tablet via a variety of apps. 

This oil painting by Herbert A. Collins has hung in the Devil's Tower National Monument Visitor Center since 1937, and now it's available online. It depicts Kiowa legend of the rock formation's genesis. (Photo: Google)

Supplementing the experience are online collections of exhibits from parks around the country. Curated items are presented in a searchable, shareable environment for the first time. 

Diving deeper, the parks also feature prominently in Google Expeditions, a new virtual reality tool for educators. With it, students can virtually explore everything from coral reefs to the International Space Station using an affordable, phone-and-cardboard headset. Further educational material for classrooms is also provided. 

“We hope that by making it easy for people to get a taste of the wilderness, we can encourage a new generation of parks goers to head out and explore in person,” concludes Carbonaro. 

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