Google's VR National Park Tours Cover America's Stunning Sights

Witness some of the most gorgeous scenery the United States has to offer.


On the 100th anniversary of the United States’ National Park Service (NPS), Google blessed all of us stuck behind a desk with 360-degree interactive tours of some of the most beautiful landscapes the country has to offer. The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks takes viewers on a guided tour, with a local ranger explaining the sights along the way.

The tours are accessible online and through Google’s arts and culture apps on both iOS and Android. Google has designed a further set of tours for virtual reality compatibility through the Expeditions app. Using Google Cardboard, teachers can send students on VR adventures to visit distant landmarks.

Keen travellers who want to learn more about what they see can visit Google’s virtual museum, designed to host a number of National Park artifacts online.

Google’s offering is cool, but it doesn’t quite compare to experiencing the sights for yourself. Researcher Randy Olsen earlier this month released an optimized road map for visiting all 47 national parks in the 48 contiguous states. Using a Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP) solver, Olsen calculated the fastest route for hitting every spot, with the resultant journey spanning 14,498 miles over the course of around two months.

Mikah Meyer and Adam Larsen took this one step further, though, creating a map that visits all 375 NPS-administered locations in the lower 48. The map covers such landmarks as George Washington’s birthplace and the Statue of Liberty, essential road trip stops that would’ve been otherwise neglected with Olsen’s trip.

Both journeys miss out some of the beautiful scenery Hawaii and Alaska have to offer, like the Kenai Fjords or the Hawai’i Volcanoes. Fortunately, Google’s virtual tours can pick up the slack if the journey’s not feasible.

“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,” said Nick Carbonaro, Google creative lead, in a statement. “Get ready for an adventure!”

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