It’s the best (and easiest to use) trail data that is completely free to use and download. You haven’t heard of it? Well allow me to introduce you.
Disclaimer: All of the screenshots provided are from the Waymarked Trails website and I do not claim ownership of any of their content. I am merely a vessel promoting great mapping utilities.
In my opinion, Waymarked Trails has the easiest to use (and understand) open source trail information available.
Not only are thousands of miles of trails easily displayed on their maps, but the maps are categorized for a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, cycling, and “slopes”.
I use Waymarked Trails for many reasons, but most importantly:
- Open Source: It’s free! And uses base maps from OpenStreetMap (another open source)
- Data Downloads: You can download trail data in KML and GPX formats which allow you to plug the files into a variety of commonly used programs/apps (like Google Earth).
- Simplicity: The Waymarked Trails maps are easy to read as the trails stand out on the map and there are a few minor but useful adjustments you can make to customize how your map is displayed
Waymarked Trails uses OpenStreetMap (OSM) for base maps. Going along with the idea behind OSM, Waymarked Trails is completely free to use. Simply put: there is no BS. Since we now live in the age of apps, the standard business model typically is to offer you a “free” app that is crammed full of advertisements or a paid version (usually in the form of an annual subscription). But here, the information is free.
A lot of the contemporary fitness apps and gadgets (which we now use largely in place of maps) have so much technology crammed into them that you really don’t need to know how to get places. GPS has created a moral hazard of allowing us to get places without knowing how to get there, but I’ll save that for another post.
Waymarked Trails is more of a planning tool for people who do want to know how to get to their destination. It’s not an app and there is no step or calorie counter. It’s just trail location, distance, and elevation change. All of it simply displayed on an OSM base map for free. Currently, you can choose between the OSM standard base map and the OSM Topo Map as the base map. The Topo base map is typically more useful in my opinion.
Sometimes I find it frustrating trying to find trail data to download onto a GPS. I like being able to see the trail lines on my GPS (or app) easily as a reference.
Most major/long-distance trails are available for download from Waymarked Trails. The trail lines are available in KML or GPX format which allows you to use them in almost any digital mapping system (GPS, apps, etc). You can download available trails that are in the map view by using the Routes button on the map. It’s pretty simple.
Helpful Hint: make sure you are viewing the trails for the correct activity (i.e. hiking). If you are looking at the Cycling Trails Map and trying to find Hiking trails, you will probably have a hard time.
Another helpful hint: Zoom in more to see shorter/minor trails. Some areas have more trail data available than others. For example, Yosemite National Park has many of the major trails around the valley available to download, but the trail to Half Dome is not available for download. The Half Dome trail is viewable on the map, but cannot be downloaded (at least when this post was written). Trails that are viewable, but cannot be downloaded are actually part of the base map. Typically existing trails that cannot be downloaded appear as red dotted lines.
I personally like using these files with Backcountry Navigator which allows you to download a base map offline and overlay layers in GPX or KML. I’ll save that for another post too.
Simplicity (and customization)
Waymarked Trails covers most major/long-distance trails in the world. The map display is simple and the trails are easily distinguishable from the base map. But the display also allows for a few minor, but quite useful adjustments to the display:
- Base map: OSM Standard or Topo Map
- Base map Transparency
- Trail route Transparency
- Hill Shading
The map settings can be adjusted by clicking the gear icon at the bottom of the map. The sliders for map transparency make it easy to adjust the map to your liking. Tweaking the map slightly can aid in visualizing elevation gain and planning distances for each leg of a trip.
Hopefully my rambling about one little website will help you in planning your next outdoor exploration.