Google Earth

The Pacific Crest Trail around Muir Pass in Google Earth.

Google Earth is a free application that provides a remarkable aerial view of the entire Pacific Crest Trail. You can pan and zoom from campsite to water source, peak to valley. Features such as park and wildfire boundaries, roads, cloud cover and current snow pack totals can be displayed. With a little computer savvy, users can calculate elevation gain and loss, display elevation profiles, see which campsite will receive the first morning sun or what stars will be overhead for an exact time and place.

First steps

  1. Download Google Earth.
  2. Download the PCT layer. There are two: the official U.S. Forest Service PCT .kml and Halfmile’s PCT KML. We recommend both. If they don’t open automatically, double click on the file.
  3. Learn how to use Google Earth and take a feature tour.

Recommended layers

  • The latest snow overlays must be downloaded daily. This is a computer model based off of survey sensors. It’s not very accurate.
  • The MODIS Fire Detections layer shows fires along the PCT. It updates automatically. MODIS is 1 km resolution, so 1 km2 forms a cell.  When a cell is ‘turned on’ (showing heat), there is a 50% chance there is fire within that cell. In other words, it’s also not very accurate.
  • The Protect Areas Database shows land management boundaries, including USFS, NPS, BLM, reservation lands, private parcels and others. They are large files and will bog down your computer. Keep the layer off, zoom in, then open the layer. The previously linked .KMZ files incorporate the data from the official PAD database.

* Don’t trust your life to the information you gather from Google Earth.

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Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton