Route planning in Google Earth

Further to a recent post titled creating a cycle route on Google Earth I'm now well into planning this May's cycle tour of Denmark. It takes a couple of hours or so to draw a whole day's path, then a couple of minutes to convert it to a .gpx track.

Denmark tour planned on Google Earth

The route so far: Esbjerg Ribe Tønder Sønderborg Svendborg Nykøbing Næstved Odense Faaborg Assens

I must say I'm very impressed with this method of planning a cycle route. I can see the convenience of planning cycle routes online with course creation websites such as bikely, but after sussing out how to use the Path Tool in Google Earth I'll do it this way in future.

For one thing it's much more fun. As you draw the route you can zoom in and out and view the track in virtual 3D, and spin it round in the direction of travel. The 3D viewer navigation controls take a little getting used to but once you get the hang of it, it's very intuitive. And Google Earth will get better and better.

Google Earth 3D navigation

Cycle route fly-by 1

Cycle route fly-by 1

Cycle route fly-by 2

Cycle route fly-by 2

Google Earth is very fast compared to the satellite view (or even the Google Maps view) on normal websites, and there's a variety of layers that can be activated in the sidebar – the Geographic Web, for example, which lets you view photographs of the locality. If you haven't already, you'll need to download Google Earth and auto-install it on your hard drive.

You can exit your path and return to it later, and you can choose exactly where to place your trackpoints at road junctions etc, or limit your trackpoints to the minimum on a straight road so that the number of positions is kept within the 500 maximum for a single track in a Garmin GPS. All you do is visualise yourself down on the ground and imagine the trackline as it will be in your GPS on the tour itself. Easy peasy!

On longer more complex routes it helps to begin by placing a few Google Earth Placemarks at strategic places along the way, and which you intend to pass through. Then when drawing the path, you can zoom out from time to time, to check you're on target. The coordinates of those Placemarks can also be used to add Waypoints on the GPS as an alternative method of navigation if you happen to deviate from the track.

We did a cycle tour of Denmark in May 2009, using paper maps only, and we didn't so much deviate as wander, as we had only a general idea of our route. This time we'll be following a pre-planned course on GPS, and the visual nature of Google Earth makes it possible to see the general character of places beforehand and to draw a path through what appears to be the most attractive scenery.

I'm storing the Denmark route on our GPS cycle routes page. Let me know if you'd like to add your own. Of course, once your route is converted to .gpx you can always upload it to a third party course creation website for sharing with others. Tønder-Sønderborg leg (marked in red on map above) uploaded to GPSies

2 comments on “Route planning in Google Earth”

  1. Garry wrote:

    Patrick, that's super. I've recently done one tour with GPS, the CTC Lejog one. I'll have to get cracking to do what you've done.
    I've toured in Denmark once; about four years ago we cycled from Berlin to Copenhagen. Denmark was surprisingly nice with very pleasant slightly rolling countryside and great roads for cycling.
    I've used an aspect of Google Maps for my last trans-Iberian tour. I basically planned the route on Google Maps and for each town, if I entered Hotels, or B&B on the search line I got all of these on the screen, with their location, telephone nos etc. I then did a selective screen shot of all of these.
    When I'd finished I loaded all of these images onto the memory chip of my phone (A Samsung Tocco) and was able to scroll through them at will. This enabled me to have the info on all possible towns in which I could stay in my phone. It was more than useful. Combining this with what you've done would be new dimension for touring!

  2. Patrick wrote:

    It takes a little while to get used to the navigation controls in Google Earth, but after that it's a breeze. There's a useful help page here.

    To draw a path, you click the Add Path button on the top menu. This opens a dialog box where you name your path, choose line colour, etc, and you need to keep the dialog box open to draw the path by clicking with the drawing cursor. When you close the dialog box your path is stored in the Google Earth sidebar.

    To re-open the path and continue drawing, you right click on it's name in the sidebar and open Properties. If required, the last point can be deleted by right clicking on it.

    You will find that when you zoom right in, the ground tilts, which is fine for a 3D view, but when drawing, you can avoid this tilt by zooming in by pressing your 'plus' (+) key on your keyboard and scrolling the mouse wheel. It's also easier to move the map sideways or up and down with the arrow keys on your keyboard.

    A path is saved to your hard drive by File / Save / Save Place As. This will be a Google Earth .kmz file, which then needs converting to .gpx for uploading to your GPS unit – this can be done online with the GPSies route converter but I use this route converter on my desktop.

    It's important to remember that you are creating a GPS track, not a route, nor do you want any waypoints when you transfer the file to the unit. Then on tour, you don't select 'Navigate' but you follow this track visually on screen. This is perfectly adequate, saves on battery, and allows you 500 trackpoint per route instead of the lower 250 routepoint limit if you were using a 'route'.

    I've recently purchased Garmin's City Navigator Europe NT maps on DVD. This is better value than buying the individual twin-country Micro SD cards and means you can use the detailed maps in MapSource as well as transferring the maps to your Garmin. But you will need a blank Micro SD card (2 Gb) for your GPS.

    More on GPS cycle touring setup »

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