Trail Finder – Expanded Elevation Coverage, Tips on Using It

Since we launched the Gaia GPS Trail Finder 3 weeks ago, people have plotted a zillion trails, all over creation. This has given us the chance to talk to users about their experiences, improve the docs, observe log files, and squash bugs.

Elevation Data Improved

When we first launched, there was a bug that prevented most routes from seeing elevation profiles, which we pretty quickly patched up.

Also since launch, we expanded elevation lookups to higher latitudes, to include Alaska and the upper reaches of Canada. The job to expand the elevation coverage is running now, and those orange blocks in the north are going green.

We thought 60N-60S was a good start, but we immediately got some presumably very cold people complaining.

Coverage for elevation lookups for Gaia GPS.

Coverage for elevation lookups for Gaia GPS.


Tips on Using the Trail Finder and OpenStreetMap

If this is your first time hearing about the Trail Finder, you can check it out here. For instructions on creating a route, you can visit this article that includes a quick video tutorial.

Here are some tips for using the Trail Finder more effectively.

  • The Trail Finder works best with OpenStreetMap sources, including OpenHikingMap and OpenCycleMap, because it relies on the same data as these maps. It may not pick up trails on sources like USGS topos.
  • If you see a trail on the map, but it won’t snap to the route, there might be a gap in the trail data.
    • Try to zoom in and find the gap, and then you can go edit a fix in at
    • Email us at if you improve OpenStreetMap – we’ve love to hear what you did.
OpenStreetMap logo

You can improve the Trail Finder and the maps Gaia GPS better by contributing to OpenStreetMap.

Bugs and Limitations

Be aware of these limitations:

  • Walking and biking routes cannot be longer than about 250 miles.
  • Routes must be composed of 9 or fewer points. Make your route sparse, and drag the line as needed.
  • If you sync a Trail Finder route to the Android app, route points show up as waypoints. The fix for this will be out this week.
  • If you get a routing error, also try deleting the last point you created. We automatically log routing errors and investigate them.

User Ideas and the Future of Gaia GPS

Last week I spent more than a day sorting, merging, closing, and clarifying all of the ideas ever posted for Gaia GPS. It now takes about 10 minutes to scan the remaining 200 ideas, and there used to be more than 700:

All the spam is gone, similar ideas are consolidated, and it’s a good time for folks interested in Gaia GPS to add your votes and ideas, and help us set our future directions. This forum factors heavily into what we do, and your comments could end up the topic of a meeting. You can add ideas on the website, or in the app itself.

Here are some notes on what I read, and hints (but not promises) about future work on Gaia GPS.

Gaia GPS user idea forum.

Idea Theme #1 – The Top Ideas

There are two ideas that currently win by a large margin. Each of these ideas has more than twice as many votes as any other, and more votes than the bottom 100 ideas combined.

  • Folders to organize data – This already works on iOS and web, and rolls out to Android this week. So, that one is in the bag.
  • Drawing/calculating capabilities for the map – This idea has been phrased in many ways, but essentially people want to draw lines and shapes on the map, and highlight/download/search/route based on those shapes. This will take us a couple of months to build, test, and get it right. No ETA on this one yet, but probably more of this in the future, and it comes up in discussion frequently.

Idea Theme #2 – Improve the UI

There are several ideas that hit on places in the UI where we could simply improve what’s there. These ideas actually excite me a little more right now than features, because Gaia GPS does so much already, and people do have reasonable critiques to offer.

  • Ability to remove unused map sources – This one is a long-standing gripe, especially among international users who don’t need USGS topos in their menus. This improvement will likely ship before end of August.
  • Keep heads up mode locked – This is actually an idea we didn’t originally agree with, but now do. It’s also likely we’ll fix/improve this in the next few months – there’s not much work to it.
  • Need multi-select – This tends to come up for power-users. They want to do some sort of operation (delete/exports/etc) with a selection of data. I think this is mostly addressed with Folders (perhaps with some tweaks), and we’ll see if the freshly updated idea gets further votes.
  • Translucent/wider GPS tracks – This is one place where we look rough next to the native maps app. This may also be low-hanging fruit we pluck soon.

Idea Theme #3 – More Maps

Few apps provide access to the depth of maps that Gaia GPS does, and we always look to add more. In updating the Idea Forum, I left the big map ideas separate, and consolidated the less popular ideas to improve their visibility.

  • Tons of ideas for maps – From more regional hunting maps, to vector nautical charts (we have raster), this idea consolidates many of the less popular map requests. It’s a pretty cool list, and we actually will add more of this to our catalog, or to our third-party links.
  • There is a request for USFS Motor Vehicle Maps with a lot of votes. Gaia GPS provides ways to import these and similar maps, but we could do some labor to collect some maps, properly “geo-reference” them, and make them easily available. This hasn’t quite become a priority for us, but not out of the question by any means.
  • Accuterra – Some people like Accuterra’s outdoor maps. I sparked a discussion about about Accuterra for Gaia GPS on our Forum recently too, because I am not a huge fan, but wanted to take another poll. A few things stop us from using these maps – the expense, the integration chores, and also that we believe in a future of open maps. We want to use Gaia GPS as a vehicle to contribute to OpenStreetMap. If the OpenStreetMap topos in the app are worse than Accuterra today… well then that’s the actual problem I want to solve.

Idea Theme #4 – More Features

In considering a new feature, we consider how hard it will be to build, whether it complicates the UI, how many users would use it, and many other factors. Here are some thoughts on some of the top requests by votes.

  • Compass is the top feature request. But it’s obvious people don’t just want any old analog compass – they want a compass or radar like interface, integrated with guidance, personal data, perhaps some geocaching, and other features in the map. This also hasn’t been a priority, because we’d like to do it right, and that’s a lot of effort.
  • Intermittent recording mode. For long range backpacking trips, people would like something lighter than recording a track (in terms of battery usage), but more mappable and shareable than making a bunch of waypoints/photos. This is something we might tinker with eventually.
  • Manage maps between device/PC – This idea is half-deployed, and the other half is in the works – I’d say we’ll mark this as fully resolved this year, or at least by next season. The solution here is basically MBTiles – a file format to bundle up maps. You can already import these on Android if you have GaiaPro, and you’ll soon be able to do the same on iOS. The other part of this we’d want to do before resolving the idea is the ability to also export MBTiles from the app, not just import.
  • More audible alarms – In Gaia GPS today, you can get voice over when you hit mile markers. There is a ton more we can do with voice in both guidance and announcing stats/distance. I’d expect leaps and bounds in this area over the next year. This sort of feature adds to the UI, but doesn’t add clutter, which is great.
  • Export to “Open In…” – You can export GPS data from Gaia GPS a lot of ways, but not open in another app. In hindsight, this would be really easy to add, and not clutter up the UI, so we’ll probably do it quite soon.
  • Track your friends – People have long called for a feature to live track friends, but this just doesn’t work where we intend people to use Gaia GPS – offline, in the woods. Many of our competitors have done this sort of feature over the years, and we’ve never seen it catch on. So, I wouldn’t expect it from us, until iPhones start talking to each other like walkie-talkies, using mesh networking, through a forest full of trees.
  • Stats and notifications on the lock screen – People would like to see stats about their current trip on the lock screen of the iPhone. We set the technical stage for this with our Apple Watch work, so I’d expect some of this on the phone as well.

Other Directions

All of that is to say, we’re listening! We also have a few ideas of our own, though these also come from listening to support requests, and other forms for feedback.

  • Search – We plan to make search work well offline, including auto-completing against trail and park names. We’ll have new search rolling out to website, Android, and iOS probably before year end. Throw in a vote/comment for this one if you’d like to see a stronger search capability. There are not that many votes for search, but maybe because it wasn’t all that well labeled.
  • Details/Sharing - We also consider the Details screen for a trip (on all platforms) to now be one of the weakest points in the UI. We’ll probably design these again from scratch, with lessons learned. Pictures will be bigger, controls will be more iconic, and we’ll look at usage stats to make sure our changes have the desired effect. These have evolved bit-by-bit for years, and now need a fresh look.

Add Your Voice

If you made it this far, we definitely want to hear from you.

Read the 160 ideas for iOS, and the 40 ideas for Android – and add some ideas or comments of your own.

Free Data Sync in Gaia GPS

About half of the people who use Gaia GPS enable the free data sync in the app. We used to call this service “GaiaCloud,” but now we just say the app lets you “sync with” This blog post will tell you why and how to sync.

You should sync, because syncing lets you:

  • Automatically back up your data
  • Use your data on multiple devices, and on
  • Publish and share your trips
  • Archive data to save space

Automatically Back Up Your Data

When you get a new device, upgrade, (or drop your phone in a river), it’s great to know you can simply log in to Gaia GPS on your new phone, and sync back all of your data.

And when we say backup, we mean it. Your data exists on your devices, in our live database, and in up-to-the-minute snapshots that we archive. Our backups work, and we’ve had events where our servers go nuts, but we don’t suffer data loss of any kind.


After using the sync option, you can view your data on the web

Sync your Data on Multiple Devices

Many people use a combination of iPhones, iPads, Androids, and Syncing data makes sharing data between devices simple and pleasant, and it’s really great to be able to plan trips on a big screen (iPad or computer), and then just take the phone or small tablet on the trip.

sync from the ipad

Plot a route on your tablet and sync to your mobile device

Publish and share your trips

When you publish a track, others will be able to view your track page and download the GPX file or choose to add it to their online tracks. You can also share your tracks with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

You can do this one track at a time, or even auto-publish all of your tracks as you create them. Tracks you share get a nice webpage with pictures, stats, graphs, comments, and more.

sync and view track pages

View the tracks you sync on the web and share them with friends

Archive Data to Save Space

Some power users find they have too many maps and and too much data to keep it all on device conveniently.

But when you sync, you can keep a digital copy of all of your tracks, waypoints and maps online, and sync them to your device only when you need them.

If you delete any data from your device, it will automatically archive online, instead of deleting. You can manually toggle the archive settings for each track from your online account. Deleting data from will also permanently delete it across all devices.

archive data you sync online

Archive data online so that it does not sync back to your device

Free to Use

You can create your account from the iOS or Android app, or on This is totally free, and separate from GaiaPro, a service that gives additional features and maps for the app and website.

At no cost, you can sync and back up all the data you use in Gaia GPS – trips, routes, imports, photos, maps, waypoints, and even your map source list. You can also use a bunch of great features on, with or without the app, including the new Trail Finder.

If you don’t use the service, we’re curious why. Send us a note at

Plot a Precise Trail with the Gaia GPS Trail Finder

Welcome to the future of hiking folks. We’re delighted to introduce the Gaia GPS Trail Finder on

Trail Finder Snaps to Real Trails, with Elevation Profile

Jesse showed off his Trail Finder demo one recent morning, and seeing it in action astounded our whole team. You simply click where you start, and click the points you want to visit, and the tool will map out the trail for you. Check out this demo video, plotting a trail in Yosemite.

I used this to mark a trail for a recent hike, and it takes no time at all. You get an instantaneous elevation profile graph and other stats as well – very useful to find a trail that matches how strenuous you want the hike to be. Here is the route I make in the video below.

Automatically Sync with Gaia GPS

When you use the Trail Finder on, it will sync to your Gaia GPS app automatically. In the backwoods, you can select these routes for guidance, and Gaia GPS will highlight the trail for you, tell you how far off trail you are, and other stats. You can share the trail with your companions as well, and they can sync easily to their Gaia GPS, or download data for any app they use.

Also, the Trail Finder works well with the Download Maps For Track feature in Gaia GPS. Find a trail on, then press Download Maps For Track in the app, and go. You can do this for multiple map sources as well, such as topos and imagery.

Here you can see the route in the app, the route details on the left, and the route overlaid on a USGS topo on the right.

A route showing inside the Gaia GPS iOS app, made with the Gaia GPS Trail Finder

A route showing inside the Gaia GPS iOS app.

Open Data and Software

The Gaia GPS Trail Finder uses open data and open software.

The data comes from OpenStreetMap, which many of our maps are based on – when you plot a trail, you see trails on the map get highlighted by overlaid vectors.

The software uses the Valhalla routing engine to generate routes, and the Pelias geocoder to lookup names for points. Valhalla and Pelias were both developed by Mapzen, an open-source mapping lab dedicated to building open mapping tools that run on open data.

All routes between 60°S and 60°N include elevation profiles that are generated from SRTM digital elevation models. The digital elevation models were obtained from the Open Terrain project, who provides easy access to terrain data that is freely available from US government sites, but hard to access.

Open Beta, Later GaiaPro

This summer, we’re making the Trail Finder available to everyone as an “open beta,” but this feature will eventually only be available to GaiaPro users. We have made a few website features GaiaPro (such as printing), which gives us good incentive to keep building and improving the online tools, since the website is otherwise free (and ad-free).

Future Directions

With some additional work, we’ll be able to get this working in the Gaia GPS app on iOS and Android. We can also add voice guidance features, like warning you of impending trail splits, and that will be cool indeed.


You should not trust these routing directions with your life, nor should you 100% trust any map source in Gaia GPS. Gaia GPS is just one tool to help stay safe in the woods, and you should also:

  • research the area you are visiting, and talk to the local park or forest ranger
  • carry and know how to use a paper map and compass
  • bring a friend, especially when visiting unknown territory
  • review and download multiple map sources and aerial imagery
  • bring the right gear and supplies

Improved Automatic Syncing in Gaia GPS 10.1 for iOS

We just released a new version of Gaia GPS for iOS (10.1). You can see the release notes here (and in the app).

Perhaps the most important change is that Gaia GPS will now sync data when it connects to a wifi network. Before, syncing would only occur when you saved things online, so a lot of people got in a state where they had to manually force a sync when they made tracks and photos offline. This change should mean your device will stay in sync with without manual action.

If you are curious, you can also see a lot of past release notes for our apps here.


Gaia GPS now syncs data automatically when connecting to the network.

iOS 8.4 Fixes Issue with Bluetooth GPS Devices

In the latest version of iOS (8.4), Apple fixed an issue that caused many external bluetooth GPS devices not to function properly with most apps on the iPhone and iPad.

This affected most bluetooth GPS devices from all brands, including Bad Elf, Garmin GLO, and Dual XGPS. To read more about this issue, check out the ‘cleared to upgrade‘ blog post from Bad Elf. If you rely on one of these devices, you might want to follow their new program, where they will test all new iOS releases on most devices and post if it is safe to upgrade.

Many of you have emailed us about this problem, and we are glad to say iOS 8.4 should fix it entirely.

To update to iOS 8.4, use the Settings app:

  • Open the Settings app on your device
  • Tap General
  • Tap Software Update
  • Tap Download and install

Picture above, a Bad Elf GPS. People use devices like the Bad Elf or Dual XGPS150, with iPads that don’t have an internal GPS. They are also used in aircraft where the iPhone/iPad GPS doesn’t work well, and for high-precision applications.


Drafting the App Store Preview Video for Gaia GPS

Apple recently started letting developers include 15-30 second “Preview” videos on the App Store.

Check out the latest drafts of our video for Gaia GPS. Email us at and let us know what you think! We’re polishing this a bit more, and also putting together an iPad variant.

You can also view an even earlier version of the video. We simplified this original concept, to fit nicely into the 15-30 second time requirement for App Store Previews.

For further reading, check out this well-done example we referenced from the Pedometter++ app, as well as the Apple documentation for how to make these videos. Our production takes advantage of a capability we built for internal testing and development, the ability to replay GPS tracks in the app.

Use Gaia GPS in Airplane Mode in iOS 8.3+

In the latest versions of iOS (8.3+), Apple will now allow GPS to function in Airplane Mode. This means you can save battery life in Gaia GPS, by turning on Airplane Mode on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod.

Note that Gaia GPS also provides an internal “Offline Mode,” which you may prefer. Offline Mode saves less battery, but lets you make phone calls and use the internet outside of Gaia GPS.

Airplane Mode vs. Offline Mode

Airplane Mode turns off all internet functions, phone calls, and texts. Prior to iOS 8.3, Airplane Mode also disabled the GPS in your iPhone/iPad, which crippled most of Gaia GPS. Now, with the latest iOS updates, you can use Airplane Mode, and Gaia GPS will be able to plot you on the map, and record your trip.

Alternatively, if you do prefer to get texts and phone calls, you can use Offline Mode within Gaia GPS. Offline Mode will narrowly prevent Gaia GPS from using the internet, and your device will otherwise function normally.

Both Modes extend battery life, stop the app from downloading maps and data and allow the use of GPS.

Enabling Airplane Mode

Swipe up from the bottom of your home screen, to open the menu to enable Airplane Mode.

Airplane Mode 2 Skitched

You can also toggle Airplane Mode in the main Settings app.

Airplane Mode Skitched and Cropped

Rescue your EveryTrail Tracks and Photos

You can now import your tracks and photos from EveryTrail using a feature that rckclmbr built. Rescue your trips, and remember your adventures, on

Years ago, was the best site to find trail data and photos of natural places. We used to have a popular feature in Gaia GPS to upload your tracks to EveryTrail too. These days though, it’s tumbleweeds over at EveryTrail – the site hasn’t been updated in years, and users tell us it’s getting slower and failing to work at all some days.

EveryTrail to Gaia GPS Importer

For further historical context, in 2011 EveryTrail was purchased by Trip Advisor, and Trip Advisor integrated EveryTrail user content into the main Trip Advisor product. The site and mobile apps have stagnated since then, and I expect will forever.

So, if you would like to rescue your data, you can now use the EveryTrail to Gaia GPS importer. I wrote a blog post last year about how EveryTrail still has good data, but the cobwebs seem to be getting thick, and now you have options.

Gaia GPS 10.0 – Apple Watch, Folders, and More

Each winter, as the high season dies down, we do our most ambitious work on Gaia GPS. There are less distractions for everyone at the company, less support to tend to, and it’s a time for creativity and building.

Folks, I’ve said it before, and it’s true again – this is our best release, and a huge leap forward. It’s a personal delight to announce Gaia GPS 10.0.

You can view the summary release notes here.

Apple Watch Support

Our last blog post detailed our work for Gaia GPS on the Apple Watch.

If you ordered an Apple Watch, Gaia GPS 10.0 will light it up with topo maps, and let you control recording without pulling out your phone at all.



We’ve talked about it for years, and now we’ve been working on it for many months. Gaia GPS 10.0 adds the ability to group your tracks, photos, other data into folders. This works on iOS,, and will soon work on Android too.

Folders make it easier to organize, share, import, and work with your data.

  • get organized – you can have folders like “Yosemite Maps” or “Winter Hikes” – group your data in whatever way you need, toggle visibility for collections, and share collections with others
  • easily access imports – when you do imports, Gaia automatically groups the data sets into folders
  • keep less data on your phone – delete folders from your devices, and restore them on when you want them again


Saved Data – Timeline, Search, and Thumbnails

In doing the Folders project, we took the opportunity to do everything we wanted to improve the Saved data screen. This includes several useful changes:

  • timeline – view all of your data on one screen, grouped by age. Many of you will find this to be the du jour way to access your trips and maps
  • search – search any of your data by typing or dictating text
  • thumbnails for tracks, waypoints and maps – all data types (not just tracks) display thumbnails in the Saved lists
  • grid/table – view any list of Saved Data as a grid now too, as well as the existing vertical table


Reduced Power Usage When Recording Tracks

Company founder Anna got on a kick about battery usage this winter too, and she did a big project to improve how Gaia GPS burns battery while recording.

We’re excited to see users report on results they actually get out on the field. Improvements will vary depending on which model and the age of the battery, but everyone should get a boost.

Lock Screen Notifications

Get voice announcements and notifications on your Home Screen when recording a trip with Gaia GPS now too. You can enable this via Settings in the app, and it’s likely we’ll start defaulting all the voice functionality to On in an upcoming release.

Feedback Welcome

Beyond that, there are many other improvements throughout the app, from icons and design, to how the GPS activates. We hope Gaia GPS 10.0 serves you well this summer, and please send us your thoughts at