National Geographic partners with the PCTA on new map series

For more than a decade, Lon “Halfmile” Cooper’s free, printable maps of the Pacific Crest Trail have been well-loved by hikers. The Halfmile maps were created using software acquired by National Geographic.

National Geographic Maps has now partnered with Halfmile and the PCTA on the release of a new series of detailed hiking maps for the PCT. Beyond the outstanding new maps, PCTA welcomes National Geographic as a new corporate partner providing financial support for the trail.

The new PCT map series is 11 booklet-style maps printed on waterproof paper (click for a closer look).

Maps Designed for Use on the Trail

The new maps are designed to be used on the trail, and feature extensive information vetted by the PCTA and federal agency partners on campsites, water sources and more. The new series includes 11 maps. Each covers 240-260 miles, provides a 10-mile corridor for the trail, weighs 3 ounces and is printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material. And Lon said using them is easier than printing 400 pages of downloaded Halfmile Maps.

“For me it’s all about PCT users having the best maps available. The National Geographic maps look amazing, and I think this will be great for hikers. They’re a lot more compact yet offer a somewhat wider view of the trail.” —Lon “Halfmile” Cooper

With the introduction of the National Geographic maps, Lon will remove the downloadable Halfmile maps from his website — though the GPS data that contains waypoints along the trail will remain available.

“Working with Lon was one of my favorite projects,” said Dave Jay, vice-president of maps for National Geographic. “His maps were so innovative and creative that they really honored our software used to develop them, and I was thrilled with it.”

Trail Data Vetted by the PCTA and Federal Agencies

The National Geographic team worked closely with the PCTA and federal agency partners to ensure the greatest possible accuracy for the new maps. A first for National Geographic trail maps is incorporating information about campsites along the PCT. The campsites illustrated are shown as either “recommended” or “not recommended” based on how durable or sustainable the sites are. These sites are not officially designated sites but instead encourage people to camp in places that minimize their impact to the environment and other PCT users.

“It’s a step toward helping people understand there are human impacts on the trail,” said Dave. “When you see a campsite that is ‘grayed out,’ a lot of thought and work has gone into establishing it as such; so we hope these maps can play a small role in helping these sites to recover.”

Halfmile Maps: A Legacy Evolves

In 2008, Lon published his first maps online, which covered about half the trail. He thought about selling them but didn’t care to deal with making it a business. Instead, he made them available to anyone at no charge and encouraged trail users to donate to the PCTA. The following year he finished mapping the trail, and “Halfmile Maps” became wildly popular with trail users. (Lon’s trail name, “Halfmile,” came from the waypoint interval of his first trail data.)

Lon “Halfmile” Cooper takes a break while hiking the PCT in Southern California.

In 2012, Lon joined forces with David Lippke to develop a smartphone app that showed a user’s location on the trail with distances to subsequent waypoints in both directions. The app became as popular as the printed maps and was distributed to more than 13,000 trail users.

“The Halfmile maps were more than I ever expected,” Lon said. “I never thought they’d be as popular as they were.”

A Better Format for Trail Maps

At around the same time, National Geographic began experimenting with maps in a booklet format.

“We were interested in creating maps for rivers and discovered that a booklet of maps printed on waterproof paper would be ideal for them,” Dave said.

Before the river map project launched, National Geographic began to wonder if long trails offered a bigger opportunity for booklet-style maps? They decided to test the concept on the John Muir Trail. “When we released that product, it surpassed our goals by a huge number. We were shocked by how well it did,” Dave said. “Once we saw the success of the JMT maps, we knew long trails was an area where we wanted to be.”

An example view of a single 2-page map spread in the new series (click for a closer look).

It’s a changing of the guard for PCT mapping, but one that incorporates the best of Halfmile’s data with the quality, detail and usability of National Geographic maps. While smartphone-based mapping apps have become common on the trail, the new PCT maps will be every bit as useful — offering a wider view of the trail around a given location, and not requiring power banks to remain usable.

National Geographic and Halfmile Give Back to the Trail

“We’re grateful to both Halfmile and the National Geographic for their support of the trail,” said Angie Williamson, PCTA director of philanthropy. “This partnership will benefit the trail in many ways while ensuring that Halfmile’s legacy continues for future generations of hikers.”

National Geographic PCT maps for Washington, Oregon, and California will be available for purchase soon from the PCTA store and from outdoor retailers. They also will be available via TopoMaps+, Gaia GPS, and Avenza Maps mobile apps.

Author: Scott Wilkinson

Scott Wilkinson is the PCTA’s Content Development Director. A former professional musician, Scott has 20+ years of experience in almost every marketing role. Before joining the PCTA he was a marketing/creative director at West Virginia University and the University of Oregon. A serious outdoor addict, Scott is an experienced whitewater paddler, hang glider pilot, flyfisher, mountain biker, and (of course) hiker and backpacker.