Community Story: Mapillary On A Roadtrip To America's National Parks

The U.S. National Park Service is celebrating 100 years and to support their work we invite you to bring Mapillary to your closest national park and tell your story with the #FindYourPark and #MapYourPark campaign. Some of our community members have already done some mapping and we got the opportunity to talk to Canadarunner who took Mapillary with him on his roadtrip to the national parks.


It looks like you have mapped national parks in the U.S.?

Yes, that’s right. My brother and I did an extended road trip through the West visiting famous parks like Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and some others.

What inspired you to do this trip?

Both my brother and I love to photograph, and we enjoy hiking as well. Our dad has also told us many amazing stories about the U.S. We felt that we had to go and see the spectacular nature and endless flatlands for ourselves. The U.S. was a great country to travel to because it offers many different landscapes all in one country.

We decided to do the trip just after my brother finished high school and I finished my bachelor’s degree in geomatics and planning. From my studies, I’m familiar with mapping and image based information gathering.

How did you plan your trip?

The planning started with searching for must-see places and researching locations we particularly wanted to visit. We searched Google, travel blogs, the National Geographic website, and also Pinterest, the visual bookmarking website, which was very useful. Pintarest was a treasure chest, especially for photographs. To get additional information, I also bought some travel books, including one specifically for hiking.

In the end, I would say it was good to have a plan for where to go, but we also had to be flexible when something didn’t work out as planned.

The second step was to create the “perfect” route. I think this is the hardest part of planning a road trip. Spontaneous traveling is the best way to enjoy exploring a new country, but at the same time, driving around without a plan in such a big place isn’t always practical, because it’s easy to get lost.

Because I wanted to use some of my knowledge in geomatics and planning, I tried to solve our version of the traveling salesman problem. Unfortunately, this problem is not linear, so I got stuck because of too many waypoints. In the end, I used a mixture of handmade and algorithmic methods to plot our route.

Why did you use Mapillary?

Based on my education and interests, I wanted to try documenting my trip with open source software. I’m an active OpenStreetMap user and have used Mapillary since the early days, so it was natural for me to use Mapillary to document this journey, too.

In addition to the original Mapillary features, I also hoped that I could make a small movie (timelapse) with the play option where I could get a smooth 3-D transition. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as hoped, but I haven’t given up. For me, Mapillary is always on!

What was the best experience of your trip?

There were several. One was the first night outdoors in Joshua National Park. We get there so late that it was already too dark to see anything of the surroundings. So we set our tent up near a big rock. In the morning, we woke up to a beautiful landscape with incredible rock formations and the Joshua trees, which were futuristic in a way.

Seeing elk, bison, and a little black bear were also fun experiences, although the bear caused a traffic jam for about five miles.

Another top story was the backcountry hike we did in Arches National Park. In order to leave the path you need a special permit, which we were able to obtain. It’s amazing to get off the beaten path made by tourists and see the real Wild West.

What is your best advice about using Mapillary on your journey?

If you're excited about photo mapping and want to create virtual tours of places you go to, then just do it!

On a more practical note, it is a good idea to take a power bank with you, because mapping requires a lot of battery. If you want to make a extended trip, an external storage device is also a good idea to free up space in your phone.

We did the mapping with my brother’s iPhone, but if possible the GoPro setup would be the best way to do it. Then you could easily map while hiking and driving. You would also get rid of focus problems and reflections of the dashboard in the windows.

A warm thank you to Lorenz for sharing his Mapillary story. If you want to read more about Lorenz' exciting trip check out his travel blog

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