Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails in Google Earth

Appalachian Trail in Google EarthSometimes while perusing for stories for this blog I get lost exploring new places or researching things that grab my interest. This morning somehow I got caught up in the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail (AT) was first proposed in 1921 to have one connected trail in the US from Georgia to Maine to help protect the environment from industrial growth. The trail was first completed in 1937, but its integrity was lost during World War II. In 1952 it was re-connected and has been maintained ever since. The trail is more than 2000 miles long (2174 miles/ 3498 km). People who complete the trail are called “2000 milers” – “thru-hikers” are hikers who complete the trail all in one year. “section hikers” complete the trail one segment at a time over multiple seasons. More information is available at the official web site of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, or from Wikipedia.
Naturally, I was curious to see what was available to view the trail in Google Earth. A quick search turned up this thread at the Google Earth Community. The first post listed a placemark collection showing all the locations of shelters (about 300) maintained along the AT. Earlier this year, two people took data from the ATC which shows the entire trail in detail (4 MBytes) and converted it to Google Earth and posted it in the same thread.
Most hikers like to get a better feel for the terrain and locations of streams and other information before making a hike. Topographical maps are great for helping with this. With Google Earth, you can quickly get a better grasp of the terrain by simply tilting your view (make sure the Terrain layer is turned on). The 3D terrain is even much better in Google Earth since Google has added much higher resolution terrain this summer. But, you can get the best of both worlds by downloading a tool which will overlay USGS Topographical Maps into Google Earth for your current view (Note, better quality topo maps are loaded as you zoom in closer). Another thing you can do, is turn on the Geographic Web layer which will highlight photos of the regions (and even photos taken by trail hikers), and placemarks to interesting places along the way.
The same thread at the GEC also pointed me to a GE map of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PCT is an even longer trail (2650 miles / 4240 km) which extends from Canada to Mexico on the western mountain ranges of the US. See the PCT trail here (1 MByte). Read more about the PCT at Wikipedia.

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Comments

  1. Hi Frank. There’s a third major trail in the US: the Continental Divide Trail. I’ve found a post in the GEC about it at http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showthreaded.php?Cat=0&Number=21537 (sorry, at work and can’t judge the quality of the post).
    Hiking the AT, PCT, and CDT in the same year is called insane, I mean, called the Triple Crown.

  2. If you’re looking for more GE data on the PCT then have I got a site for you. I hiked it all this year and along the way I carried a data logger by OHararp LLC which recorded my location every 10 seconds. I took loads of photos and sent them and the logs home to my father, who processed them and added them to the network links available here
    http://pct2007.org/wp-map.php
    Once I get settled back into society I’ll be processing my logs to delete all the times I sat down for a break, or wandered off trail. The resulting KML file will be much more accurate than the Forestry Service’s one which is where they planned the trail to be, but not always quite where it ended up.

  3. @Kirk
    Actually doing all three trails at any time is called the Triple Crown, you don’t need to do them all in one year. You’re right about the insane part.

  4. smokeonit says:

    on springer moutain GE shows an apalachian trail that is actually totally wrong???
    the data supplied by the .kmz is super precise… i actually been there 3 years ago…;-_)

  5. Regarding where the AT starts (or ends).
    The AT actually extends into Canada reaching the tip of the Gaspe peninsula in a Federal Park called Forillon National Park of Canada. Here you can start or end your trip with a view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence with seals playing in the surf below. You can also see from a lookout tower the famous Quebec landmark called Perce (pronounced: per-say) Rock which is a large piece of rocky land seperated from the main land and has an arch where sea water has washed away a softer rock over many years of wave action. This rock is about 200 feet or 60 meters high and sheds tons of rock each year. If you boat out when it is quiet you can actually here rock falling off all around the land mass. This rock used to have two arches but one was hit with lightning in the mid 1800′s and collapsed into the sea. There are also some great sea food restaurants to eat at in the area. So all in all, starting or finishing the AT in Canada has some really nice perks.

  6. No, the AT does NOT extend into Canada. The Pacific Crest Trail does but that’s a completely different trail on the west. The AT finishes at the top of Mt Katahdin in Maine. There may very well be a trail that continues on to Canada in that area, but it is not part of the AT.

  7. The official Appalachian Trail does end at the top of Mt Katahdin in Maine and goes no further. The IAT does go into Canada. But I don’t recognize the IAT as an official trail and most don’t. The official Appalachian Trail is from Springer to Katahdin and that is the way it should forever stay.

  8. Beware – the data for the trail and shelters has inaccuracy because the coordinates are NAD27 and Google Earth uses WGS84.
    Specifically, the AT centerline data in file “888578-AppalachianTrailCenterline.kmz”, which is the “entire trail in detail” link above has coordinates in NAD27. Likewise, the file “21124-Appalachian Trail Shelters.kml”, which is the “locations of shelters” link above has coordinates in NAD27.
    How do I know this? Well, I’ve been working extensively with the data in the AT centerline .kmz file in order to get the data into my GPS unit. It’s turned out to be a much bigger job than I bargained for but I’ve learned a lot along the way.
    The easiest way to see the inaccuracy is just load the AT centerline file and the AT shelters file into Google Earth and then observe how the track and the waypoints don’t match features on the ground. Specifically, look at Mt. Washington at 44.27055,-71.30474 and you’ll see the AT centerline track is offset to the west and slightly to the south of the actual trail. Also, look at the Lakes of the Clouds hut at 44.25867,-71.31889 and you’ll see the waypoint for the hut is offset west of the actual hut.
    The data that was used to create the AT centerline .kmz file came from the AT Conservancy website and is available on their “Appalachian Trail GIS and GPS Data” page. It’s clear that this is the source data because, among other things, there is a one-for-one match between the track segments in the AT_Centerline_e00 data and the track segments in the 888578-AppalachianTrailCenterline.kmz file.
    The AT Conservancy website specifically says that the source data is NAD27. I was hopeful that whoever converted the data into the .kmz file had translated the coordinates into WGS84 but I did some tests and apparently they didn’t. One test was to translate the tracks on the top of Mt. Washington into WGS84 and then look at them as described above, they line up perfectly thereby further proving that the .kmz file is erroneously using NAD27 coordinates for Google Earth, which requires WGS84.
    So again, beware, the AT centerline and AT shelters as mapped by these data sets are not accurate and are offset from their actual locations by as many as hundreds of feet.

  9. If you don’t have access to Google Earth, you can use this website to view the centerlines of the AT, PCT, and CDT:
    http://www.fivemillionsteps.com/trailmap.php
    Cheers!

  10. The trail is supposed to begin/end at Amicalola State Park. This file shows it a little noth of that. Maybe that is correct and the state park just added its little bit to the trail?

  11. Hammerdale says:

    Gypsumwolf: For clarification the AT begins at at/near the top of Springer Mountain (there is a bronze AT plaque there – I know because that is where I took the first picture of my hike many years ago). The 8 or so mile trail from Amicola Falls State Park is called an “approach trail” because you CANNOT drive to or park at the top of Springer Mountain (although you can get within about a mile or two of the true beginning if you know the right Forest Service roads to take). PLUS, Amicola offers (semi?) protected long-term parking at very reasonable rates… was something like $5 for 6 months 10 years ago!

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