GPS to Google Earth Overlays Made Easy

After getting back into biking and attaching my GPS to my bike to track my various trips, I was left with one last missing way of viewing the information: seeing the tracks on Google Earth so that I can maintain each route that I’ve taken while biking.

I’ve finally found a solution to this problem: GPS TrackMaker. GPS TrackMaker is a freeware program that allows you to download and manage both waypoints and tracks for just about any GPS currently produced. While I already have a program for managing this information (National Geographic TOPO!), it does not allow you to easily export data to another mapping program. GPS TrackMaker fills that void easily and without much work.

The base program (without maps) is a quick 5MB download from the site and a quicker install. If you want to view the surrounding areas, the maps tend to run just shy of 40MB and are also available to download for free from the site. The GUI is a touch clunker that a few of the other GPS management programs I’ve used, but it’s not too difficult to figure out where things are. My theory is that they try to pack way too much functionality into too small of an area for what the software has to offer; this is both a boon and a hinderance.

After literally 10 minutes from the start of the download to installing to downloading my GPS data, I had exactly what I was looking for: a .kmz file to allow me to view my bike ride today in Google Earth. The program does exactly what I was looking for it to do and will stay installed on my computer to continue serving this function in the future. The only draw-back that I’ve seen is that, thus far, it’s only available on the PC, so, when I eventually switch to an Apple, I’ll have to use my next solution.

As mentioned previously, I use NG TOPO! to manage my waypoints and other data for my GPS. A slightly more cumbersome solution to create an overlay is to create a route with significantly more waypoints than the GPS routes are normally capable of handling. My Garnin eTrex Legend typically can handle 50 waypoints to a route, so I made the number 500 just to get more than really needed for the mapping. Another setting change required to make it work is to change the GPS cords to Degree.Degree format to make it one floating point number. Select the track that you want to export, select to match the curves as best as possible with all 500 waypoints (if that’s not enough, add more to the configuration), and export the data as a comma separated value file.

Once the data file is generated, remove all header information and replace it with one line of more descriptive information about the following data. After emailing the tool’s owner, he suggested that I use the following header:

trkpt,latitude,longitude,altitude (feet),date,time

Once done modifying the file, go to GPSVisulaizer.Com’s Google Earth Tool, fill in the data that you wish to be generated, select the data file that you just modified, and then click on the “Create KML file.” Depending on how many waypoints are in the file, it may take a few seconds to parse the file and generate the kmz google file, but the page will eventually change to give you the option to download the generated kmz file.

Taking this one stop further, if you want to add waypoints AND tracks, simply create one file for the track data with the header shown above and one file for the waypoints that you want to display with the “trkpt” field in the header changed to “name” in the other file’s header and typing out the full name of the waypoint that you want shown in the data portion of the file. An example would be something like this:

name,latitude,longitude,altitude (feet),date,time
The Place, 32.1234, -111.1234, 500, 2/14/2006, 14:39:31

Both methods of generating Google Earth overlays produce a quality result, but the second is a touch more time consuming.



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