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 gaiagps.com/map/

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 gaiagps.com, 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 gaiagps.com/map, 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.

Disclaimer

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