Using Google Earth Track Files

Help for using Google Earth Track Files (.kml or .kmz files)

I’m happy to publish files that contain our GPS track data from our hikes. Google Earth provides an amazing capability to ‘see’ the terrain, almost in 3D.  Using a mouse, one can zoom in or out, pan left, right, up, or down, rotate the viewing direction, even change the viewing angle as tho’ the viewer is changing the altitude of the ‘camera’.

ADDED Mar 2018:  Jay brought to my attention that one can ‘walk with us’ or seemingly ‘fly along above and behind us’ on the recorded track.  First, I suggest you change settings in Google Earth; I offer these changes that I like, but try your own; if there are other setting that you especially like, please send them to me to update this page.

  1. On the Google Earth menu, choose [Tools], [Options], then the “Touring” tab.
  2. Change settings for “When creating a tour from a line:”
    1. Camera Tilt Angle: 75 degrees
    2. Camera Range: 100 Meters
  3. Change the settings for “When creating a tour from a track:”
    1. Speed to 20x (slower if you wish)

When in the Tour mode, with the mouse pointer over Google Earth, you should see a control box for the Tour in the lower left corner of the image. Among other features, you can speed up the “flight” by clicking on the double-left-arrow.

For those new to Google Earth, the rendition of vertical features is only approximate since it is based on topographic data for which resolution is only 10′ or 20′.  Often features that appear to be sloped terrain are actually vertical cliffs. On the other hand, GE shows so much detail from the overhead imagery, including cow/game paths, trees, rock outcropping, and when the sun angle was ideal when the imagery was captured, shadows show which arroyos are deep with vertical sides (see our hike Cañada de las Milpas Hike).

If you are new to Google Earth, then go to the download site and install it – it is free.  I’m most familiar with it on a PC (download here), but there are versions for OS X (Macintosh computers), and for versions for Mobile Devices –  IOS (iPhones) and Android (Smartphones).  Google Earth works best on desktop computers; it’s features are somewhat limited on Mobile Devices. Here is a great article on using Google Earth: Visualizing Your Route on Google Earth.

For recent hikes (and older ones as I convert the files), I’m providing .kml and .gpx files for download. The .kml files are native for GoogleEarth and some GPS devices (including US Topo). The .gpx files are native for many other GPS devices. I use GPSBabel to convert files between various formats. See my Nifty/Essential Tools page for more information on tools for GPS files.

The .kml files referred to each post are ready to load into Google Earth.  When you click on one of those links, the .kml file will be downloaded to your computer via your web browser.  There are many ways to get the file loaded into Google Earth; here is one:

  • Save the file somewhere, say on your desktop or where you keep your documents.
  •  Then start Google Earth, and either
    • drag the file and drop it on the GoogleEarth window
      • this is an easy way to open a .gpx file in GoogleEarth
    • or use the File menu to Open the file.

Then enjoy exploring our hikes, almost like you are with us. 

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