Best Topo Map Interface for Google Earth

Longs Peak Topographic map in Google EarthI believe it started today with this blog entry at The Map Room, but suddenly there is a resurgence of interest in generating topographical maps in Google Earth. I’ve spoken about techniques for doing this in the past (here and here). However, let me share the easiest way to view US Topographical maps in Google Earth. This is a portion of a network link created by a company called 3D Solar which does USGS Topographical Overlays automatically. You just zoom in to an area of interest, wait for five seconds, and suddenly you have an overlay of a topo map. Just turn off the “USGSO topo maps” network link when you are finished using it. I recommend saving this one in your “My Places” for future use. For the full 3D Solar collection of network links (which also includes weather, NASA MODIS satellite images, and Landsat overlays as well), check out this GEC forum post.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. Steven McQ says

    Use at your own risk. It crashes GE Plus repeatedly, even when used according to instructions. Needs work.

  2. The topo maps are loading for me quite well, no problems here in GE beta 4 (I do get an error message, but just OK out of it and the maps load).

  3. This crashed GE Free for me, but I found another link that works quite well:
    Has topos for Canada, US, and New Zealand. Give it a shot if this method doesn’t work for you.

  4. I don’t understand why the GE team doesn’t take this uncopyrighted “free” data and make it a Layer? Now in ArcGIS software…

  5. Jonathan says

    I agree that it would be HUGE if GE would just make the USGS topo maps (7.5 minute series) a layer. What’s the difference between that and a photo image? This is all open-source/public data… someone just has to scan it all in. In fact, if Google would just buy somebody like, they’d have it done already.

  6. Daniel shalev says

    I wish to propose the Google disegners to introduce a new layer set, that I call The History/Ecology Layer.
    The Idea is to add some features that show Earth political borders and other features over the years. Besides the possibility to see how the political borders changed, I am looking for Historical features linked to human life in general: some topics I am proposing: the spread if Black Death in Europe (1347-1351), the Great discoveries, and so on.
    And the ecological changes too, wich might be more important for educational purposes of the young generations: How the rain forest extention changed over the years, the spread of deserts, etc.
    I foresee also a Time-Google Earth showing the future extrapolation of the polar cap melting and so on.
    The idea is skeched in the following chapter, I wrote (in bad English) in my ignored webpage, even before Google Earth was on the web. TIME (Tridimensional Interactive Model of Earth), in fact, may be the next release of Google Earth.
    see: “A letter to grand-grand-pa” at URL:

  7. I use the 3D Solar topo link all the time. In fact, I’ve got 3 of them so that I can get 3 maps displayed at once. There’s a trick to it:
    1. Save off the placemark from 3D Solar, giving each a different name on disk.
    2. edit each one to change the internal name to something unique for each
    3. Bring the edited placemarks back into GE. With different names, they won’t try to replace the existing placemark.
    4. In the properties for each, change the View-Based Refresh, under the Refresh tab, from “after camera stops” to “on request.
    Now, when I want to get a topo map, I position myself in GE, check one of my topo placemarks, right-click/Refresh, and I get a map. I get as close to the ground as I can, around 2000ft up, and I’ll get a failed load ’cause I’m too close to the ground. I then back out until I get a successful load. That gives me the most detail possible. I can now pan and zoom without losing the topo map.

  8. Is there a way to transfer the excellent terrain maps and associated topography found in Google Maps to Google Earth?

  9. this is amazing, I have a Mac and it integrates flawlessly. No complaints from me. It puts the topo map right where you are looking and it is perfectly aligned. BRILLIANT

  10. I’m no GPS geek but I’m having a helluva time trying to view topo maps in Goggle Earth. USCG Topomaps pops up in the “Places” section of GE, but the area I want topo on turns black with white border. What’s the problem?!?

  11. It works perfectly for me on XP. I turn it on, plot some points, turn it off, save the points as a KML, covert to GPX with GPSBabel and then upload to my Garmin.

  12. I’m guessing google doesn’t have a standard topo layer like this b/c GE is rarely used for serious spatial analysis, but usually presentation or fun.

  13. I’m in the process of importing over 50,000 USGS 7.5-minute topos into Google Earth.

  14. I’ve been using the free USGS topo maps from Digital Data Services for years. They work well.

  15. I can get to the topo of my trail for a short while but then I get a big red X over the area I want to look at. How do I just print a topo with my trail on it?

  16. I can get to my trail and see the topo but then a big red X comes up over the area. How do I print a topo with my trail on it?

  17. Robert Carter says

    I get a big red X in the middle of the area of interest.
    What to do?

  18. I’m getting the red X as well. I haven’t been on in a while. Did 3D Solar discontinue this product? I can’t find information on it on their web site

  19. Digital Data Services offers a great utility called MapFinder that is very user friendly.
    Also, as a GIS Firm they offer related services including having the capability to print and scan large formats.

  20. This is an exciting news! It’s great to know that there is a new Google Map interface. This Topo Map Interface could make map exploring easier.

  21. I Used to love these topos…..however, I dont anymore.
    I used to be able to show boundary lines I had drawn up overtop of the topo layer. It really helped me with looking at property.
    However, I am no longer able to see the boundary lines over top of this topo layer. And that makes me sad.

  22. Has anyone found topo map layers for South America? I am looking specifically for Argentina topo maps….
    El Gringo

  23. The overlay appears to be broken right now. When you tyr to add the layer, it just appears as a big red X. This happened once before last year for a month or two, then it corrected itself. Is there something wrong with the source program or code?

  24. Helen Russo says

    I am having some problems with the overlay as well-tries to load but no USGS map at all, just a red x, the circling arrows or white. Anyone else having this issue? It’s a real pain, I use them all the time for site placement. Any ideas besides updating Java? (I have the most recent version of Google Earth). Thanks.

  25. Pat Dolan says

    I’ve the same problem, but it has changed since May. I’ve used the topos for over a year. They are great! But in May it was the big red X. Then a week ago a pop up appeared asking me to log into Right, like I’m going to do that. On my latest attempt it just does nothing. It would be nice if there was somebody to contact. These topo overlays are a wonderful additon to Google Earth.

  26. Hi,
    Could Please update this blog has the KML has been updated:!topic/gec-dynamic-data-layers/spApcsugU4g
    Thank you

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.