How To Create a Trail and Download it to your GPS using Google Earth and a Printed Map

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    (The following instructions will work using a Garmin E-Trex GPS. Other GPS units will probably be similar, but we haven’t tested it. Please let us know if it works with other units, or in other ways. Thanks.)

    1. Download (if you haven’t already) and open Google Earth to your computer. You’ll also need to download Base Camp, available free from the Garmin website.

    2. Have an image file of the trail map you wish to create a path from (anything but .pdf) on your computer, where you can find it : -)

    3. Along the line just above the image of the earth on Google Earth, you’ll see a row of icons. From left to right, the first one is a yellow pushpin, the second one is to create a polygon, the third is to make a path, the fourth is to insert an overlay, the fifth is to record a tour, and so on. For this purpose, to begin, we need to click on the fourth button to insert an overlay.

    4. First, focus in on the approximate area on Google Earth that your map covers. Then click on to the overlay button. A window will pop up. Start by naming your overlay on the top line, then click on to Browse button below that, and find the overlay image from the trail map you want to use. Click on it, and it will appear in Google Earth.

    5. Since you want to be able to see both the trail map and the earth, you’ll want to move the slider below the Browse button, which will adjust the opaqueness of the trail map. Lighten it up so that you can see well enough through the map to match it up to actual landmarks on Google Earth. Now the fun starts!

    6. Using the corners, the sides and the rotation device on the left-side of the green frame that surrounds your trail map, line it up with what actually appears on the planet. This can often be quite challenging, since very few maps are actually that accurate, surprisingly, and while one thing may line up perfectly, it may be out of sync with something else. Do your best. Very often, boundaries of many park areas are already on Google Earth, so that’s a good start. Look for roads, especially intersections, to help you get it focusses properly. It may take some time, but eventually you can usually get it lined up close enough to work.

    7. Once you’ve lined up your map, save the overlay in a file so that it appears in the left pane, and close it, but keep it checked so that you can still see it on your screen. Decide what trail you want to take on your next journey. As far as I’ve been able to figure, you can only download one usable map at a time, though there’s probably a way to do it. Now, click onto the third icon above the screen, the one that says to make a path. Go ahead a name it, and adjust the style and color to your liking so you can see it. I usually make the width 4.0, which lets me see it easily.

    8. Once you’ve tailored your path, move the icon to the trailhead. You’ll notice it has become a square grid. Each point of your map will be created by placing that grid along your path and clicking it once. Start at the trailhead, and follow the trail on your map, clicking as many points along the way as necessary to follow the path. You can move in and out easily by using your PgUp and PgDwn buttons on your computer, as well as your arrows to move NSE and W. To erase a previous point, just right click on your mouse and the last point will disappear. You can add points in the middle, but you need to be careful that you select the nearest point to where you want to add a point, or else a line will be created from the last point you touched. Again, if that happens, just right click your mouse and the last point will disappear.

    9. If you want to know how long the path is, just go back to the Properties box where you named it, and click onto the Measurements tab, and it will show you how long the path you’ve made is. I find this extremely useful for decided which trails I want to do on any given day.

    10. Once you’ve completed placing points along your path, simply save it. Again, it should appear in the left pane of Google Earth, and you can easily click and drag it to any folder you want. I’ve got a folder of Overlays, another for Planned Trips, and another for GPS made trails, when I download completed trails back to Google Earth. Believe me, they never match!! But at least it can help to keep you on track to a great degree.

    11. Time to download your home-made map to your GPS! First, in Google Earth, by either pointing at the actual trail, or pointing at the file name in the left pane, right click your mouse, and a menu will appear. Move down to Save Place As… and click. A window will open, usually to your Documents list, but you can make it anyplace you want (as long as you can find it again!). Save it wherever you want, the name will be the same as you called it before. Now it’s saved where Base Camp can find it!

    12. Open the Base Camp program which you should have downloaded from Garmin. Click on to File for a drop-down menu. Click on “Import into My Collection.” It will open a window with your files. Find the file you just saved and click onto it. It will soon appear in the left pane under the My Collections listing.

    13. Plug your GPS in to your computer using the provided USB cord (the plug is beneath a little rubber flap in the back) and turn it on. Just below the My Collections area, in the same pane at the bottom, your device name should pop up. Now just click and drag the file from My Collection and place it over your device name, dropping it right in there. To confirm it, highlight your device name, and the file name you just saved should appear in the lower pane on the left. That means it is now on your GPS device.

    14. When you’re ready to hit the trail, just turn on your GPS. Sometimes (after it’s gone through it’s initial boot) the track you want to take will immediately appear, other times you may have to go into your track file and tell it to map it. Either way, you now have a reasonably reliable guide for your next ride or hike!

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