A good GPS for mapping rivers?

I’m going to be canoeing on the Ill river, and I have not been able to find a good map of the area that I am planning on doing. I have a topo map of the area, but it is old and out dated.

So I was thinking that a GPS unit might be the best thing? I want to be able to tell total distance traveled, and maybe ‘make’ maps as I go? Like set specific points along the way that are of interest or of importance.

I’m a novice in the world of GPS, so can anyone give me some suggestions or other ideas to achieve my goal?


maybe Google Earth…

Better yet try a bait/fishing shop…Maps of waterways are sold to boaters…

Heck, even the Wal-Mart nearest the River will have maps of the River in the Sporting Goods Section…Ask the clerk at the desk in Sporting Goods.

Try Terraserver too

– Last Updated: Jan-12-06 9:08 PM EST –

Terraserver has at least two or three sites, and I find that one of the older sites is a lot better for my purposes, since it has a combination of up-to-date 7.5-minute (or any other scale you want) USGS maps, and the capability to instantly trade a map view for an air photo that has the same scale (one of the newer Terraserver sites has the same photos as Google Earth, and these don't show much detail at all. That's based on the Google photos I've seen, anyway).

When I get home from work this evening, I'll post the link to the Terraserver site that I use. It's a free site.

Okay, here's the link:


In very rare cases you may find that you run "off the page" when scrolling across the landscape with air photos or 7.5-minute topo maps. Usually you can continue to scan in the desired direction by zooming way out and skipping to the side a ways, then zooming in again. This puts you on a new "page" which is based on those topo maps which cover a really huge area (and which don't provide much detail). In even rarer cases, there are small gaps in the area covered by air photos.

Overall, I like the site, and have used it to determine whether really small rivers are navigable. There's enough detail on the air photos to see individual strainers if they are big ones, and to see if small channels are clear, blocked, or likely to be partly blocked.

Pretty much all of them
When I had one, it had a ‘breadcrumb’ function. You leave it on and it automatically keeps track. The idea is that you can wander like a drunk and follow your trail back home. The downside is that it won’t tell you when you were stagerring, crawling or rolling.

You can set a waypoint at the start, then compare the actual distance you have paddled vs. the distance as the crow flies. We did this once to decide if we head for the next site or just call it an early day. 1 mile on the map was 5 miles on the river.

You can spend as much as you want. My Garmin eTrex cost $100. Pack extra batteries, I think the life on mine was 6 hours? For wilderness stuff, I would want battery life more than bells & whistles. Every bell is a drain on the batteries.

The Garmin “crumb” feature
is called Tracks. If you reset the track and route at the beginning of a trip you will have the option of looking at the actual trace of where you traveled. You can also download the track onto certain software. The shape of a track once allowed me to figure out where I was when I failed to print Long/Lat ticks on a map.

I have a Garmin Legend (I think). Blue, relatively cheap -$150 or so.


Garmin Etrex Vista + MapSource
I am using:

I have a Magellan Explorist
I used it a few times on the rivers and depending on how you set it up, it can do quite a few things. One way it will track where you travelled and will show any main roads along the way. Forget how I set it up once, but when i finished a 4 hour run it had recorded about 45 or 50 points. Seems anytime the river changed direction it marked a point. Tells how far you have travelled, how fast you are going, average speed, and if you have recorded your end destination, how far straight line to it. If you can go to a map and find the coordinates to your destination they can be entered. Just for fun I figured out from my home to Timbuktu is 6,505 km. Should pack a lunch, I guess

I do this
on most of my trips, just to keep records of where I was and what route was traveled. Most of the time I use a Garmin Etrex Legend and the Garmin Mapsource software. Most GPSr’s have the capability to record a track log as such. Be aware that the units use proprietary mapping software, but in the case of Garmin’s, I have been very happy with it. I use Magellan stuff also, but find the Garmin software to be more useful for my purposes.

Here’s a couple samples-





Garmin Map-76
it keeps the tracks for you automatically, and you just punch in way points along the way and name them whatever you want to call them.

It also gives you distance, speed, and a bunch or other goodies.

The little Etrex will do the same, but the map feature and other readouts are much better on the Map-76.

If you are going on an extended trip, make sure you have a bunch of batteries with you.



Potential favourite GPS unit
I have beenlooking really seriously at the DeLorme Bluelogger for its hat-wearable portability (teeny acquisition unit capable of putting into a couple of Ziplock baggies or other watertight accomodation) with 50000 waypoint internal mem and Bluetooth (wireless)capability for PDA/PC download around the campfire.

Looks like the optionally available TOPO USA software is OK for amateurs or upgradeable to commercial/industrial use. The TOPO USA format also supplies some access to sat photos (?vintage & resolution)

Price is good at c US$150 for the basic & c US$250 or so for the topo equipped version

See/Google Delorme.com and all the links/reviews etc.

Yours truly

Just another Canadian Geologist

I love my Garmin GPS MAP60CS
I have a Etrex Vista, but the antenna is not as good as the new one and had a tendency to loose signal under tree cover, bridges, etc, My new 60CS is better and gets around 12-15hrs on a couple of NmH AA batteries.

What Changed
Why is the topo out dated? Did the river change course? If you need updated maps for some reason and have the money consider National Geaographic maps on CD. Just about any GPS will work with your old topos.

What Changed
Why is the topo out dated? Did the river change course? If you need updated maps for some reason and have the money consider National Geaographic maps on CD. Just about any GPS will work with your old topos.

buy the map
Buy a map. As mentioned the local hunt/fish store will have them - especially for the Illinois. About $12

Then get good at reading it.

A GPSr will keep track for you - which you can do on paper also - and for a couple hundred show you nearby roads depending on the model/price down to secondary roads maybe. The wandering track is always fun to review in your mind when downloaded into software. Mapsource, Topozone, MapTech all work.

But a river map will show some depths, nav markers, channels, inlets and creeks, put-ins,…

Nothing like “paper” in my book. My GPSr is backup.

Dam broke
The maps are from 1982, and the dam of the lake broke in 1987 and is still broken. I don’t have any acre estimates of the lake, but paddling inbetween the sides it must have been massive.

Anyways, the flood changed a lot of the river for several miles.

Thanks for the replies!