Topo Maps - Are there Any

good programs for the purpose of planning kayak/canoe trips? Are the “free” online programs any better than the subscription ones? Has anyone had success with the likes of ‘TopoZone’, ‘Garmin’, etc? And are there programs that are better suited to trip planning than others?

Thanks for the input

Toporama - Canada
Should you be traveling in the great white north, try the National Atlas of Canada Toporama site.

It is free, and detailed, but a bit awkward to zoom around in and print and such. As such, other software might be better. I use the site for initial planning, and then buy maps usually, as I like paper maps.

I have the Delorme loaded on my laptop with their GPS it works pretty good. Can look at the terrain in 3D to get an ideal of the mountains etc.

I still use Terraserver.
It takes a bit of practice to get useful printouts. The American Whitewater River Info maps use Terraserver, and you can pull yourself around the maps with the little hand. However, I haven’t figured out how to control printing as well as I can with the link below.

Free Programs w/ Topo’s
I wrote an article about this last year for our clubs Newsletter and I might try to find and post the link to the issue later.

The two that I use are ArcGIS Exlorer from ESRI ( And NASA WorldWind. Both are free and, honestly, not the most intuitive to use for novice GIS people. But once you figure out how to use them, they are a piece of cake. Both use stream data but locally cache it. All sorts of data layers besides topo’s, (e.g. imagery, transportation) and print pretty easily to your color printer.

I also use the Delorme TopoZone ($) because I have the Delorme PN-40 GPS. The TopoZone standard Topo’s are decent but you can download (annual fee) the same Topo’s that NASA WorldWind and ArcGIS Exlorer have.

Bill G.

Mt. Pleasant, SC

I Keep Pushing…
National Geographic’s TOPO! software…

All 50 states, easy to use, powerful features, import/export to/from GPS/Pocket PC, save changes/notes/photos of landmarks…

At $50, that’s only $1 a State… At 18 CD’s, that’s only $2.78 a CD-ROM…

I’ve found it invaluable as a trip planning aid. And it’s all on the desktop - no need to be online…

have you tried
Google Earth?

How much detail on google earth?
I downloaded Google Earth Plus and in my area the best resolution is at 18,000 feet, enough to tell where the coastline is but that’s about all.

The National Geographic Topo web page is not very informative…what scale? Will it run on Windows Vista? Yeah, I know, Vista sucks, but I got stuck with it so I’m making the best of it:)

Delorme topo 7
I’ve been using it for general route planning. It will read down to 20 foot contour intervals but doesn’t give a lot of details…for example, I can zoom in on Turkey Point and get contours and elevations which is very useful to see if there’s a potential campsite or is it a high bluff. But, it doesn’t show the Turkey Point Lighthouse which sits on the bluff. If I have the printout hand in hand with the marine chart I can generally figure things out. As it turns out, there is a perfect little campsite tucked in to a ravine, but it doesn’t show up on the topo. For better detail I’ve gone back to buying the USGS maps for the area I’m in. Incredible amount of detail and spots a lot of the same towers, buildings, etc. that the chart shows.

Coastal Explorer + NOAA charts = free
Works great. The Charts are free, the software is free. Some features do not work unless you pay, but for kayaking trip planning I find all I need for my basic needs: has the maps with plenty of detail, can plan routes, waypoints, etc.

How do you get Coastal Explorer without paying $400?

I just downloaded it from their site

– Last Updated: Jan-28-09 12:26 PM EST –

as an evaluation version several months ago. Mine still works fine after several months of use. I use it to research my routes, set my waypoints, calculate distances and times, and print the charts I need. From NOAA I downloaded the electronic charts for all of USA, PR, and Hawaii and imported them in the Coastal Explorer so now I have continuous coverage of just about anywhere I'm likely to be on US territory.

It can also superimpose the rout over an satelite image automatically so this is a nifty feature to recognize some areas from a birds-eye view (much like Google Earth/Maps but less fancy). It also has topo map overlay.

As I said, some of the fancier features needed for perhaps larger vessels or very complex trips (or 100% automated/shrot on time folks) are supposed to be only available if you pay for the full version.

The link below explains what's *not* in the eval copy. I think for most purposes what *is* in the eval copy is plenty good for most kayak trips.

Click Download on the right to get it:

According to their website Support Page TOPO! is compatible with any Windows OS after '98 and Vista is listed specifically as an OS which will run TOPO!

Based on USGS maps at 1:100,000 - but will ‘zoom’ to 1:24,000. Also you may purchase individual States as an add-in which are true 1:24,000 USGS.

the Google Maps “Terrain” view lacks detail of real topo maps, but is useful for trip planning/overview, and easily switch between it and the map and satellite layers. You can use the “My Maps” feature to draw your route path and calculate river mileage, as well as add placemarks for things like putin/takeout points, campgrounds, etc. Also, by searching the “User-Created Content” you may find some useful local knowledge or photos.

Not a true GIS app but easy enough for the novice to use.

This is super duper !!! That’s one of the great things about ‘’; it’s the ton’s of expertise just a chat away. I will look into these and see how they fit my needs.

Getting ready for Spring trips ! YEAH !!

Let us know…
What you pick up and how it works for you. Good luck…

See You On The Water,


Go to Really good topo maps at a reasonable price. VF

free 7.5 minute maps from USGS store
Free 7.5 minute topos can be downloaded from

If you also download the GeoPDF Toolbar(an Adobe Reader plug in) from the same site, You will get lat/long co-ordinates as you move the cursor across the map. You can also measure distances and areas and connect a gps to your computer to see your position on the map. You can also enter specific co-ordinates to find their location on the map.

The maps run about 10MB so patience or a high speed connection is pretty much needed.


Topo (free)
try this one.

detail on google earth
canoedancing posted:

“I downloaded Google Earth Plus and in my area the best resolution is at 18,000 feet, enough to tell where the coastline is but that’s about all.”

Naw, something went wrong somewhere, Google Earth has great detail. It varies with location, but often you can make out individual cars in a parking lot at the greatest resolution. Try it again. Give me a specific location and I’ll tell you what I can see there.

I usually use the free USGS maps at highest detail to plan my trips, then review the area on the free Google Earth photos to pick up additional info not shown on the topo maps. There’s so much free info available that it doesn’t really make sense to me to pay for anything, except getting physical colored map printouts on large paper.