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