Picture of GPS Enabled Trail Maps
How to use a handheld GPS unit to create some really nice maps of mountain bike or hiking trails.
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Step 1: Tools you will need

Picture of Tools you will need
Buy or borrow a handheld GPS unit with a data transfer cable. The key features to look for are the ability to add waypoints and to add notations to those waypoints. You will also need software to transfer your tracks and waypoints to your computer. I highly recommend Topofusion, and the following steps are specific to it, although they should be similar in other programs. To layout your maps you will need a layput program, I use Adobe Indesign CS2, you might be able to use a word processor as an alternative.

Step 2: Topofusion software

Picture of Topofusion software
Available from Allows you to download GPS tracks and waypoints. Overlays tracks onto topo maps and satellite images pulled from the web. Gives you mileage, elevation profiles, speed, slope, time, and all kinds of good geeky stuff. Even allows you to create trail networks and run multi-use trail simulations.

Step 3: InDesign

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Good layout software. Available from Adobe, part of CS2 as well. Very useful for creating a master layout and then easily adding images and text. There are other alternatives out there, use whatever you like.

Step 4: Go for a Ride, or a HIke!

Picture of Go for a Ride, or a HIke!
First I like to clear the memory on my GPS so I don't have to do any editing later. Start your GPS at the trailhead and mark it with a waypoint, add a comment "trailhead" to the waypoint. Now go for a ride and mark each intersection or important feature with a waypoint and a comment. I use abbreviations like "TL" for turn left at the tee. Make sure you don't lose the signal or you can get jumps in the track. When you are done turn the unit off ASAP.

Step 5: Download track into computer

Picture of Download track into computer
Use Topofusion, shown here, or your chosen program to download the track of your trail. You can set a number of things like track color and the like to what you prefer.
dlskayak6 years ago
I love the map. I'm working on my eagle scout project mapping our local trails and was wondering if you could send me your master layout and anything that might be helpful. Please e-mail me at Thanks!
IrishBrewer6 years ago
I do something similar but I use OziExplorer CE running on my automotive GPS. I use scanned in maps and calibrate them using coordinates obtained from either Google Earth or USGS quad maps. If you can get a couple of good calibration points at locations near the opposite corners of the map, this is generally good enough. You can do the calibration in a Desktop PC version of Ozi but I have a spreadsheet application that writes the map calibration data in the proper format. OziExplorer is highly configurable so you can create your own screen configurations that contain maps with tracking and nearby waypoints, electronic compasses, distances to next waypoints, etc, etc. As such it is great for hiking or geocaching. Ozi runs on various platforms so if your'e intrested in trying it, you have to check their website to see if your device is supported.
dontno7 years ago
Spent many years in the woods and other unimproved areas of the world. I always take my lensatic compass, a topographical map of where I'm going to be, and a small mini mag light, to find my way around. Best of all they don't run on batteries, (except for the Mini Mag Light), and work under all weather conditions. As a kid I was taught to navigate by old school woodsmen under actual conditions. Nothing against GPS I think they're wonderful tools, and have tried them out a few times. When things go from bad to worst and your miles away from civilization. It's nice to know you can find your way out using tried and true old school navigation techniques.
Nice work! I am a big fan of topofusion myself, the software does not get much better if you are a mountain biker. Did some biking at Jim Thorpe a few years back, great place!

And now for a little self promotion since I run a mountain biking website with a focus on GPS mapping - if you are ever looking to share GPS data, check out

And if you do like to share GPS traces of trails and the like, please upload the trace(s) to Open Street Map as well.
jakv58 years ago
Great idea, I've included it on my blog as a way for backcountry skiers to make personal trail maps. You can find the post here:
DIY Custom Ski Maps of Squaw Valley