Free GIS for map display

Google Earth is a workhorse that we use for many things. All our wilderness visit tracks are available for download as Google Earth kmz files. It is also invaluable for route planning and for displaying kmz files available from other planning aids.

There are 3 versions of Google Earth for online web use, mobile devices, and desktop computers. We prefer the desktop version which still functions as “cloud computing” but allows nice interface for managing files created on Google Earth on the desktop. Online cloud-computing used to be rather annoying because it crashed often, destroying all “unsaved” work (no instantaneous saving like some online computing). However, crashing now occurs much less frequently recently.

To get started with the desktop version, download app (we have no experience with other two versions).

There is much online information on using Google Earth (and for general GIS use). We make no attempt to duplicate such tutorials; but illustrate instead some features of Google Earth below that we use.

Overall, Google Earth is a relatively straight forward GIS with all operating tools on a left side menu. For an example, we illustrate display of our kmz file for White Clouds Wilderness (download, first kmz file under Idaho).

The file opens showing the two wilderness visits (Figure 1) but it is more useful to view one visit at a time.

Figure 1. Google Earth kmz file display for two visits to Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness: 2019 in orange and 2017 in blue.

The 2019 White Clouds visit can be explored in more detail by panning, clicking on features (for pop-up windows) and scrolling in for close-up views. For example, by clicking on GPS track (Figure 2), pop-up window shows our GPS data for track. This info can also be displayed by right-clicking icons in legend and selecting “properties”—which also opens up file for editing (note flashing yellow box around icon on map means that it can now be moved on map).

Figure 2. Google Earth kmz file display for only one visit; 2017 visit in blue unchecked.

Scouting for best cross-country routes is a feature that we often use for connecting trails for loop or long trips. For example, by scrolling into fine detail (Figure 3) for the pass in White Clouds below David O. Lee Peak, we foundgoat routes crossing pass that has no maintained trail.

Figure 3. Finer detail for pass below David O. Lee Peak in White Clouds.

The White Clouds kmz file also has boxes to check for showing recent fire and wilderness area boundaries. Also, more layers can be added to this map by “opening” more files in “File” tab (upper left in top ribbon); likewise, a modified version of file can be saved (by using “Save Place As” under “Save” in File tab).

If this example doesn’t help or you have other questions about using Google Earth, feel free to contact us at .