Measuring distances with the Google Earth Ruler

The “ruler” tool in Google Earth has always been useful, and it has seen a number of improvements over the years. To get started with it, simply go to [Tools] –> [Ruler] in Google Earth and it’ll open up for you in a small window.
Here are a few things you can do with it:
Measure the length of a field
To measure the length of a field (or driveway, or any other straight line), simply use the “line” feature in the ruler. Choose your unit of measure (inches, meters, miles, etc) and then click the two points on the ground you’d like to measure. That’s it — it’s very easy!


Measure a running/biking route
I have a GPS-enabled watch that can track how far I run, which is quite cool. However, I usually want to know how far my route is before I head out, and the Ruler’s “path” tool is great for that. By choosing the path, and then clicking various points along my route, I can see how far it’ll be. As long as you plot your points carefully, it will be remarkably accurate. I also change the setting to “miles” for this one, since that’s how I typically measure my runs. This would also work well for biking, hiking, or just walking. You could potentially use it to measure driving distance, though the standard “directions” feature would work better in most of those cases.

Save and edit your path
Once you’ve created your path, you might want to save it for future reference. Simply click the “save” button in the Ruler’s window and it will save the path to your “Temporary Places” folder. You can edit the path in the future by right-clicking on the item from within your “places” panel and choosing “properties”.

Get an elevation profile
One of the great new features unveiled in Google Earth 5.2 last year was “Elevation Profiles”. This allows you to quickly see the elevation changes over a particular area. If you save your path in Google Earth, you can view the elevation profile for it very easily. Right-click on the item you saved in your “places” panel and choose “Show Elevation Profile”.
In this example, we’ll hike up Kennesaw mountain, and then follow the service road to get back down. You can see that the elevation profile shows the steep ascent, followed by the more gradual descent on the way back down.

The Ruler tool in Google Earth can be quite useful, so head into [Tools] –> [Ruler] to try it for yourself!

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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. I knew about measuring lines and paths, but had no idea about the elevation profile. It’s great. Thanks for posting.

  2. Mark McGrath says

    The elevation gain measurement using the ‘Right Click’ and then clicking ‘Elevation Profile.’ gives very different results which depend on the Eye Elevation when you start the Elevation Profile.
    Here are the elevation results of an 8 mile bike ride. The Elevation gain should be consistent like the distance and not show such a variation.
    Eye Elevation Distance Elevation gain
    1,000 ft 8.71 1,007
    12 miles 8.71 225
    50 miles 8.70 127

  3. This is an excellent feature. We currently utilize a Delorme program to measure elevation and distance. This will make it much easier for us.

  4. I use this all the time to plan bike routes out. Sometimes it can be tricky to trace routes (or paths) out over large distances and keep them precise. If you are zoomed in you can be precise but you cannot trace the whole route, while if you are zoomed out to see the whole route you can’t be precise.
    The best way to get around this is to zoom in until you can get enough detail and, with mouse navigation off trace the route by clicking and dragging. Then, use the arrow keys on the keyboard to pan your view around. If the arrow keys are not panning the view make sure you have clicked on the map once.

  5. That’s a good tip, Tyler!
    I find this to be a great use of the Space Navigator; you can be panning/zooming with your left hand, while drawing the route with your right. It works quite well.

  6. I have noticed recently that the elevation profile feature has become less accurate and shows only a very poor representation of a path across a continent (I am a 6th grade geography teacher that uses Google Earth daily in my class) I have noticed this for the past 2 months and am wondering if anyone else is noticing this or maybe if I have somehow missed something….

  7. How much are measured distances on Google Earth off? Look at the Google Earth profile of the hike or path you are plotting. Imagine the profile line as a string on you dining room table with the base line as one long side of the table. Google Earth says the Distance (table edge) is this base line. Now pull this string (profile) straight and measure it. This new length is the actual distance you are hiking!!! Google Earth should explain this or just add a feature that will tell you the length of the profile.

  8. Great feature! I have a star named after me and I’d like to see how far it is, i think the next step would for the ruler to be able to measure into space.. if thats possible?

  9. This is so great. Thanks so much for taking the time to share this. HUGE help 🙂

  10. I’d love to see and option with the ruler tool to have a tab or option to view elevation profile with that. Making a path isn’t much extra work but it would be great for wireless installers to do quick temporary checks of elevation differences

  11. Lakshmikant says

    Pl help! what is the difference between map lenth and ground lenth when we are using ruler to measure line distance between two points on Google earth?

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      Map length is a straight line ignoring elevation. Ground length takes elevation into consideration and measures the length along the surface of the earth. Ground length is only as accurate as the elevation data which is not very high resolution.

  12. Joseph Slaughter says

    I understand how to use the measuring tool but how do you show the square footage on the map?

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      Are you asking about merely measuring square footage? If so, you need Google Earth Pro (which is free). If you are asking about displaying it on the map as a placemark once measured, there is no built in feature to do that. You can of course manually create a placemark named with the result you get from the measuring tool.

  13. I use Google Earth every day and love the ruler. Hiwever when I try to use it, my computer freezes then shuts down. Are there any settings I should be using. It worked up to a couple of months ago then for some reason just stoped.

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      I have not come across that before. My first guess is that it is graphics card related. Try updating your graphics card driver and also try starting Google Earth in OpenGL mode (assuming you are on Windows).

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.