GPS & Navigation

On this page, you can learn about:


How to use our trail maps on your mobile device in areas WITH DATA COVERAGE

1. Recognize this icon? It's the Google Maps app. Quite simply, the easiest way to use our maps in areas WITH data coverage is to use the Google Maps app, which is available for iPhone (and other iOS devices such as iPad) and Android, so please install it!
  2. Navigate to our page with the trail information you'd like to follow (for example, the Trans Canada Trail in Victoria). Looking at the map on our trail page, you'll see a few icons at the top of the map...
3. This square icon is located at the top right-hand corner of the map. Clicking it will open the map in the Google Maps app (provided you have it installed). Alternatively, you can click the "Open in Google Maps" link below the map. Our trail data should automatically appear in the Google Maps app and you're ready to navigate!
  But wait... let's go back to our map for a moment and check out some other stuff:
4. Back on our trail map page, along the top bar of the map, you'll see a grey star. If you click it, the star will turn yellow. But why?
5. When you "favourite" a map by clicking on the star, Google will save the map into your Google Maps "My Places" (essentially a "favourites" list) so you can easily pull it back up without having to revisit our site. Google may ask you to sign in to your account if you haven't already done so. When you are in your Google Maps app and want to pull up those favourite maps, click the menu button on the search button (3 horizontal lines), click "My Places", and the map you favourited should be listed (maps are listed below places).
6. One more thing! Our maps include features such as alternate routes, highlights, campsites, grocery stores, parking areas, toilets and more! To see them on the map, click the "Map Legend" icon on the left side of the top bar on our maps. It opens the legend, where you can turn our additional features on and off. You can also access these features in the Google Maps app too.
  7. Don't be shy - if you click on items in our map, you might find we've added addtional information that is useful. For example, many of the highlights include great stories and even photos! Clicking on the  campsites will often provide pricing, contact info and even a description about the campground too.


How to use our trail maps on your mobile device in areas OUTSIDE DATA COVERAGE

If you wish to use a smartphone to navigate the Trans Canada Trail or our other trail adventures, please be mindful that the GPS receiver built into most phones may not be very reliable. It also often uses a lot of battery life. Consider using a dedicated GPS device instead, or at the very least bring along a battery pack that can recharge your phone's battery!

In order to use your phone as a GPS device, you need to do two things:

  1. Install a navigation app on your phone
  2. Download our map data


We have identified two ABSOLUTELY necessary features that a proper navigation app must have for our purposes; first, the ability to download/cache map data to use for offline use (in other words, the ability to download and store a map for when you no longer have internet access - such as a topographical map). Second, the ability to import and display our trail/track data - preferably in KMZ format, or if not, at the very least GPX format. We prefer KMZ because this format includes custom colours and icons we use to denote different types of trails and waypoints. For example, we've marked campsites with green tent icons and show parking areas with blue "P" icons. If you download our data as GPX, all these icons look the same and all the tracks will appears as the same colour.

Here are some good apps we recommend:

Map Plus (iPhone only. Free for basic features. A bit complicated but very powerful and feature-rich mapping app. Displays KMZ/GPX formats, including custom colours and icons)

Viewranger (for iPhone and Android. Free trial version, accepts GPX format only so no custom colours or icons)

OruxMaps (Android only. Free. A bit complicated but very powerful and feature-rich mapping app. Displays KMZ/GPX formats, including custom colours and icons)

Guru Maps (formerly known as Galileo. For iPhone or Android. Basic features are free. Very easy to use. Displays KMZ files but does not import custom colours or icons)

If you need help using the apps above, we have created PDF documents with some basic instructions:


  • For Trans Canada Trail users needing the data for ALL OF BC, download our master KMZ file (this file includes all sections of the TCT from Victoria to Alberta, and the Alaska Highway in Northeast BC)
  • Alternatively, you can download each trail area's segment separately, rather than the whole province (eg. Victoria only). Each page offers the area in KMZ and GPX formats.

Please note that it is a very good idea to save your KMZ files in a second area on your phone just in case your map app crashes. Normally on your home computer, you can save files to your computer's desktop, but smartphones don't really have a desktop - so you will need a file storage app instead; they will allow you to save files to your phone for offline use. We recommend cloud file storage apps such as Google DriveDropbox, or Box (yes, these are two different apps)

Also note, it is ideal to install two apps for mapping, just in case one stops working.

How to import our trail maps into your GPS DEVICE (such as a Garmin)

Admittedly, there are quite a few steps that needs to be taken in order to import our trail data onto a GPS device. However, if you're up for it, here's how to do it:

1: Determine the file format you require.

Do you already have GPS software on your computer that your GPS manufacturer provided? Normally software is included with your GPS device (contact the manufacturer). Examples of such software are Garmin Connect and Garmin BaseCamp.

The software will allow you to transfer data from your computer to your GPS unit - but the software may require our data to be a certain file format in order for it to be able to open properly, such as KML, KMZ, GPX, GDB, TCX, etc. Find out which GPS data format the software can open; if it includes KMZ, go to step 2. If not, you may need to convert our KMZ data into a file format compatible with your software. We do offer our GPS Download data in GPX format as well, but as a warning - GPX format doesn't include track colours or custom waypoint icons that we use on our maps. So in other words, we hope your GPS software can import KMZ files. If not, GPX will work but you'll be missing out on all the great colours and icons our maps use. If you need a different format other than KMZ or GPX, you can use converter software to convert our:

  • GPS Babel (application that installs on Windows computers)
  • GPS-visualizer (a simple web-based utility - no need to install anything - just upload your file to the web and download the converted version)

2: Download our trail data to your computer

  • For Trans Canada Trail users needing the data for ALL OF BC, download our master KMZ file (this file includes all sections of the TCT from Victoria to Alberta, and the Alaska Highway in Northeast BC)
  • Alternatively, you can download each trail area's segment separately, rather than the whole province (eg. Victoria only). Each page offers the area in KMZ and GPX formats.

3: Open our data using your GPS software

4: Trim unnecessary data that you do not require, or clean up waypoint/track names

  • Our GPS files will ultimately contain far more data than you will need, and often more data than your GPS will be able to store. Research what your GPS device's limits are - some devices have limits on the number of tracks you can upload (often 20-25) and the even the number of points (aka breadcrumbs) that each track can contain (often 500-750). We have tried our best to trim our tracks to less than 500 points each, but you might need to "refine" the desired tracks by removing extra/unnecessary points, though this will ultimately reduce the quality or resolution of the track. Consider splitting tracks instead of reducing their points - but note the earlier warning, some GPS devices can only store a limited number of tracks. GPS units that read external memory cards often do not have this issue.
  • Another issue can be the number of characters in a track or waypoint's name - if your GPS automatically shortens all track or waypoint names (the limit is often 10 characters), you may find not only will the names be hard to decifer (eg, a track called "TCT: Cowichan Valley, Duncan to Shawnigan Lake" could be shortened to "TCT: Cowic") or worse, if two or more tracks or waypoints end up having the same name after being sortened, the GPS will often only keep one of them! You may wish to simply rename the tracks with simple, numerical names (eg. 01, 02, 03, 04, etc) to place them in the order you wish to travel, and write down the full names in a paper notebook as a reference (or export to an Excel document and print). Now that's good planning!
  • If you would like the tracks to appear in a certain order within your GPS, this may be a good time to rename the tracks so they appear numerically/alphabetically.
  • Some data from our files may not be imported into your software properly - particularly on older software that does directly support KML files. Your software may convert all waypoint icons to a default "flag" icon, or change track colours to a default grey. This isn't the end of the world, but you may wish to reassign icons and colours manually. For a big trip on the Trail, it's probably worth a couple of hours of your time to do so.
  • If you are really lost at this point, refer to online blogs (there are plenty), your device's manufacturer, or even contact us!

5: Add map data (not supplied by Trails BC)

  • Most GPS software comes with a basic base map. The base map is not very suitable for navigation, and certainly will not show minor roadways, topographical data, or other useful information. You may consider purchasing additional map data for your GPS software package. Contact your device's manufacturer. If you have purchased one of these packages, select the portions of the maps that you will need and add them to your upload list.

6: Connect your GPS and transfer desired data from your computer to your GPS device

7: Important! Verify all your data was transferred and is complete - before heading out to the Trail!

  • Just because your software says the information was sent to your GPS, doesn't mean you should take its word for it. Examine the data on your GPS device very closely. Did all the tracks transfer? Are they COMPLETE (as in, none were "truncated" - which means shortened in order to fit on the device's memory)? Are any waypoints missing?

8: Verify AGAIN that all data was transferred. Seriously.

9: Pack a paper map too, just in case.

  • We have personally collected the GPS tracks that we offer on our site and travellers have confirmed ther accuracy. However, we cannot assume responsibility for your adventure; trails are sometimes re-routed and signage can disappear. Use our tracks at your own risk!

Paper Maps vs. GPS: Which Is Better?

Hands down, GPS is way better than paper maps.... when it works! But sadly, sometimes our GPS devices don't work as nicely as we want them too and we can get horribly lost.

That said, many trail users have forgone traditional paper maps and now rely exclusively on digital devices to navigate trails. But have you seen the instructions above for how to use a GPS or smartphone? Honestly, it can be a whole lot easier to just take a paper map and compass. But better yet... pack both and learn how to use them.

Within cities and familiar areas, we believe it is sufficient to carry only one type of navigational device, whether a map, guidebook, GPS, or smartphone. When venturing into unfamiliar territory - particularly remote areas when staying on route is vital to safety - we recommend a combination of at least two; one paper, one digital. Specifically, we recommend to use a GPS receiver pre-loaded with map datum and our GPS tracks in addition to a trail guidebook, such as Bruce Obee's "Trans Canada Trail, British Columbia".

Currently, we are unaware of any high quality foldable paper maps that show the Trans Canada Trail route - probably because the exact route of the TCT keeps changing. If you know of any, please let us know. The Mussio series "Backroad Mapbooks" often show the Trans Canada Trail route but are not official guides so the route may not be very accurate or detailed, and the route may have even completely changed.

Please note, however, the data of our digital mapping offered on our site is very accurate and updated weekly. Still, you might want to read our disclaimer.