Monthly Archives: March 2016

Google Earth Topographic Layers

I have been using Google Earth for 10+ years now. Having access to a software to visualize the world in 3D offers a lot of useful possibilities such as checking-out/planning/reviewing a GPS route.

Below is an example of how I use Google Earth where I compare my GPS track with a correct one to study where my friend and I missed the summit of North Sister.

In Blue: The track of Karl Helser who summited North Sister. In Red : our track. This is looking South East. We can see that we should have gone over the ridge towards the Bowling Alley.

While Google Earth offers a lot of nice features, it only gives by default a satellite map view. For outdoor activities such as running/hiking, it can be quickly limited, especially when trying to create a route in an area where the satellite view won’t help much to navigate through the trails system.


The example below shows that the satellite view is not helping much as most of the view is trees!

Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge (Washington).

Within the last years, I have searched and found several layers that will integrate within Google Earth to offer additional maps such as Terrain or USGS quads.

I have compiled them into one kmz file that you can open in Google Earth. This file contains the following map layers:

–        Google Terrain maps

–        NGS Topographic 2D maps (While some users complain that it doesn’t work, I have found that unzooming as much as possible and zooming in back slowly appears to work for me)

–        USGS Topographic maps

–        OpenStreetMap maps (Mapnik, CycleMap, HikeBikeMap & Komoot)


The Dog Mountain route now with the 4 additional layers.


To use those maps, download my file here and follow the below instructions :

–        Open it in Google Earth (File-> Open)

–        To display a layer, check off the desired one and wait that Google Earth downloads and displays the map.

–        Move the different layers from the Temporary places to “My Places” so that you can reuse the maps next time you open Google Earth

*For the USGS Topo Maps, you will have to click on the “View Map” button to make the tile appear in Google Earth


Note: As far as I know, it is only possible to use those layers with an internet connection as Google Earth does not have the ability to cache the downloaded maps. I suppose for copyright reasons ?


Bonus: By the way, do you know that Google Earth Pro is now free (since January 2015) ? Download it here, use your email address and the key GEPFREE to sign in.

To know if you will benefit from using Google Earth pro, you can look at the main differences between Google Earth and Google Earth Pro here