From selecting your gear to picking your route, there’s a lot that goes into pulling off an overlanding trip. Taking the best maps along for the ride ensures that you stay safe and enjoy optimal freedom and adventure as you explore the backroads. That’s where Gaia GPS comes in—plan ahead on gaiagps.com/map and use the Gaia GPS app for navigating while in the field. Gaia GPS has over 18 map layers useful for offroading and overlanding. Below, learn about the best maps for overlanding, including how and why you should use them.
USFS Roads and Trails
One of the best maps for offroading, the United States Forest Service (USFS) Roads and Trails layer indicates maintained routes, 4×4 trails, backroads, and little-known paths across U.S. national forests and grasslands.
USFS Roads and Trails often displays more roads and trails than any other map. Use this layer to find information on the road surface, maintenance level, and trail width. Click or tap on a road or trail for information on if the passenger vehicle-friendly and if it’s paved, gravel, or made from native material. Additionally, color-coded trails indicate which activities, like hiking, biking, or motorized sports are allowed on each trail. Just tap or click a trail to learn more details.
MVUM – Motor Vehicle Use Maps
The Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) layer uses data from the Forest Service to bring vehicle-accessible roads to maximum visibility on the map. As a supplement to the USFS Roads and Trails layer, MVUM maps indicate which type of vehicles are allowed on a road or trail. It also provides information on seasonality, usage, and the condition of various roads. Just tap or click on the route to learn more.
The MVUM layer typically contains the most up-to-date information on which Forest Service roads are open to motor vehicles, which helps ensure you don’t break any rules or drive where you aren’t supposed to. Not all USFS lands have an MVUM, but this map data serves as the legal standard for trail access. Modeled off of paper maps MVUM makes it easy to compare and switch seamlessly between paper and digital.
The newly updated Gaia Topo is free to use and shows most Forest Service roads and 4WD trails. The efficient download size means entire states can be downloaded for offline use, which is incredibly useful for overlanders who regularly travel long distances over the course of a trip. This layer has selectable POIs (point of interest), land ownership designation, and many more details that make it easy to discover places to stop along your journey.
The Public Lands layer helps you find places to camp on BLM land, and identify land ownership like national parks and forests across the US. Pair the public lands layer with USFS to find free campsites as you travel off the grid.
Seeing a photographic overview of an area provides key details that topo maps leave out. Satellite imagery helps discover potential camping spots and small secondary trails that lead to open areas. This map gives a clear view of the landscape, making it easy to scout out clearings for dispersed, unmarked, and/or hard-to-find campsites.
Cell Phone Use Coverage
The Cell Phone Use Coverage map provides insight into whether you can access internet or send texts while exploring the back roads. Track where you can find cell service anywhere in the United States including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Find out where your network provides 3G and LTE coverage for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Southern Linc carriers.
The USFS 2016 layer contains full, detailed topographic coverage of all 172 national forests and grasslands in the US. Easy-to-read Forest Service road numbers make route planning simple. This up-to-date, rasterized map available from the US Forest Service includes labeled trails, roads, and vegetation shading. Also plan hiking, backpacking, camping, off-roading, hunting, or fishing trips.
USFS Recreation Sites
If you’re not looking for dispersed camping, the USFS Recreation Sites layer provides easily identifiable established campsites, visitor centers, trailheads, and other points of interest on national forests and grasslands throughout the U.S. Tap or click on a site to learn about fees, access restrictions, and more. This layer is particularly useful if you are arriving in a new area late at night and need to quickly find a campsite, or just want to find some things to do during the day near your base camp.
Get an even deeper look at the best maps for overlanding with Lifestyle Overland:
Explore More Maps for Overlanding
View current fire conditions before heading out on the trail by using the current Wildfires layer over any base map. It can be used whenever you have an internet connection and gets updated daily by the USGS. Reference the map before leaving home to check for actively burning wildfires.
National Geographic Trails Illustrated
The National Geographic Trails Illustrated layer displays offroad trails, hiking trails and trailheads, camping locations, picnic areas, and more. It’s especially useful for visiting national parks with off-road trail access like the Death Valley National Park.
The USGS Topo layer includes the official topo maps from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Another detailed topographical map layer, it can be used in conjunction with the Gaia Topo layer to compare trails and points of interest.
Precipitation Forecast – Available in 24, 48, and 72-hour views
Precipitation forecasts help determine general weather patterns. This layer is great for overlanding because the nature of a dirt road can change drastically when it becomes wet; what may have been an easy drive on the way to camp may quickly turn impassable after a storm.
Save Up to 40% on Gaia GPS Memberships
A Gaia Membership or Gaia Premium Membership expands the capabilities of Gaia GPS by giving you access to hundreds of maps with access to them offline, along with the ability to layer maps for a more detailed look at an area. A Premium Membership gives you access to the entire map collection providing you with more granular detail to guide your journey. Save up to 40% on your membership here.