We all have different ideas of what’s fun. For some of us, almost everything we need to have fun lie within a few miles of home, and we only occasionally go further than that. For others, little regional trips are where it’s at. There are also people who love cruise ships. For some wealthier people, the whole planet’s their playground.
For me, I’m always thinking about outdoor camping adventures around North America, and I like to travel by EV. I mean, what’s the point of going and enjoying nature if you’re contributing to its demise more than you have to? So, I take my Bolt EAV (I know, it’s really an EUV) and pull a small trailer along, loaded with glamping gear to keep the family happy. But, the trailer is another topic that I’ll be giving everybody some updates on in the next few weeks. In this article, I’m going to share my top app recommendations for the kind of continental EV adventures I get into.
Choosing Places To Go
The top scouting app I use should be no surprise: Google Maps. I make extensive use of the saved places function.
Whenever I hear of a cool new place on social media or in person somewhere, I look it up and put a pin down. The green flags are places I’d like to go, but not necessarily sleep at. The blue spots are cool camping spots I’ve found. The hearts are national parks and seashores I’d like to check out. This makes planning future trips faster, because when I’m going to a certain region, the cool stuff I’ve already come across is all marked.
The next app I use is Natural Atlas. What I love about Natural Atlas is that it’s like having all of the National Forest and BLM recreation apps all in one map. It doesn’t have everything you’d ever need, but it has more detail in rural areas than Google Maps.
But the real strength of the app is all of the layers you can open up. There’s a weather layer, where you can get spot weather predictions instead of having to go to the Weather Channel and hope the nearest city is close enough. You can also get forecasted precipitation, temperature, wildfire smoke, and cloud cover. Another extremely useful feature is seeing where public lands are (this really helps for finding free camping), geology, and more.
When you pick a spot on the map, you can see what life zone it’s in, who owns the land (if public land), and what plants and animals are common in the area. For birdwatchers and wildlife spotters, it’s especially handy to identify some animal you happen across.
Another app I find very useful for e-bike planning is onX Offroad. OnX shows trails in a given area, especially motorized trails. Because most public lands aren’t letting e-bikes onto regular bike trails yet, being able to find a fun trail that’s open to dirtbikes or UTVs is about the best way to find a place to have fun with an e-bike.
Finding Places To Camp
To find a place to camp, the main two apps I use are Campendium and Recreation.gov. Campendium is a good place to find free camping spots, which usually aren’t advertised. These are usually on BLM or National Forest land, and you get absolutely no amenities 90% of the time — but you also don’t have to pay a dime to sleep there in an RV or tent (or in insulated shelters like I do). It also has cheap paid sites and RV parks, so you can get better amenities when it suits your needs.
Many of the best spots have a lot of photos, information, and reviews letting you know what other people experienced.
Recreation.gov isn’t the greatest app around (it’s kind of wonky on my Pixel Fold), but it is the official app to reserve many cheap campsites provided by the federal government. It’s a great way to find nicer campgrounds that don’t cost an arm and a leg, but I usually just use it to reserve or pay for a spot that I found in one of the other apps.
Getting There Takes Planning
Once I find a cool place I want to go, the next step is making sure the Bolt EAV is going to make it. Finding the coolest spots does you no good if the car doesn’t make it there, right?
Probably the most important app for me in that regard is PlugShare. It’s a pretty comprehensive map of charging stations, and it gives you reviews other users have provided, so you can figure out whether you’re likely to actually get a good charge. It can filter out plugs that don’t fit your vehicle, and slow chargers appear as a different color (green) than the fast chargers (orange). There are also other filters to keep problematic places like dealerships from showing up in your map.
If you’re not familiar with the app, the one word of warning I’d give is that the rating system could use some work. A station with a rating of 10 isn’t necessarily going to give you a perfect experience, but it’s very unlikely to strand you. If you’re trying to avoid inconveniences like slow charging rates, waits, and some stalls being down, you’d need to check recent reviews to get that information.
Finally, just knowing where the stations are often isn’t enough, especially if you’re trying to get into the backcountry where there are often no charging stations in 2023. You absolutely can’t take an EV’s EPA-rated range and make sure there’s stations before that number of miles, because everything from temperature to speed to terrain can mean getting less than the rated range.
So, I usually use A Better Route Planner (ABRP) to plan my journeys.
To get the most good out of ABRP, you need to experiment with it, and perhaps search YouTube for some tutorials (there are several great ones that come up first). Not only can you have it give you a plan, but you can add charging stops manually if ABRP doesn’t know about them. You can also connect the app to your vehicle to get a custom energy consumption figure for even better accuracy.
In my case, I get about 3 miles/kWh for an ABRP reference figure (which represents roughly going on flat ground at 65 MPH) for my Bolt EUV with Michelin LTX truck tires. When I hook my little trailer up and pull it, the reference figure is 2.57 miles/kWh. With those numbers captured (via a Bluetooth OBD dongle), I get really accurate trip planning.
With all of these apps, I can find places to go, plan places to sleep, and make sure that I’ll actually get there and back. But, you might have some other apps you love, so be sure to tell us in the comments or wherever we post this to social media what you use to get the job done!
Featured image (and all other images) by Jennifer Sensiba.
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