National Geographic Trails Software

National Geographic Trails Illustrated CA Sierra Nevadas

I have been an avid user of USGS and Tom Harrison maps for awhile. At the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow this year, I was introduced to the new National Geographic Trails Illustrated Explorer software. How did the National Geographic maps stack up on my recent trip to Garnet Lake in California’s Sierra Nevadas? I’ll explore that in detail below.

Check out Maps 101: How to Not Get Lost, for a comparison of USGS, Tom Harrison, and National Geographic maps. The quick rundown:

  • USGS maps are produced by the government, are very detailed, but many times are out of date.
  • Tom Harrison maps are hiker friendly, printed on waterproof and tearproof paper, and have clearly labeled trails. However, they are only available for California.
  • National Geographic maps can be printed from their software program, or else bought in stores on waterproof, tearproof paper. They are hiker friendly, are well labeled, and are available for most popular hiking areas in the U.S.

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Explorer: Sierra Nevada Edition

I loaded the software onto my Mac, and found it to be relatively straight foward and user friendly. The software works for both Macs and PCs. I immediately zoomed in on Mt. Ritter, the most prominent mountain near my destination of Garnet Lake. From there I was able to plot out a route, check out the elevation gain and distances, and even pull up an elevation profile chart of the route. I then printed out a copy of the area on my color ink jet printer, and placed it in my map case along with my Tom Harrison map and my USGS maps (I had both the Mammoth and Ritter quads, so it was a lot of paper!).

A great feature of the software program, is the “fly over” simulation, where you can fly over your intended route to get a sense of the elevation change, notable features, and have a sense of what the trip will be like.

National Geographic Topo Fly Over Feature
The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Mapping Software Fly Over Feature - this is a photo of my computer screen with the flyover feature on the left, and the location of my route on the right
Garnet Lake photo
Picture I took from the trail - same spot as flyover map above

On the trail, I found I much preferred the National Geographic and Tom Harrison maps to the USGS maps. They are well labeled and trail distances are clearly marked. The National Geographic map definitely proved to the best.

Here’s why. After we set up camp near Garnet Lake, the next day we decided to take a look around and head to Thousand Island Lake. Using just the USGS and Tom Harrison maps, we plotted a route up to the saddle to take a look at Thousand Island Lake. However, as you can see in the maps below, the National Geographic map has the additional detail that shows that there is a trail from Garnet Lake to Thousand Island Lake!

USGS - Garnet Lake Topo
USGS - Garnet Lake Topo
Tom Harrison Map, Garnet Lake
Tom Harrison Map - nice shaded relief, but no trail!
National Geographic Map - the only one that includes the trail!
National Geographic Map - the only one that includes the trail!

Additionally, the shading on the map gave me a good perspective on elevation, so I didn’t need to spend so much time counting contour lines!

I am quite impressed with the software program. The cost is $49.95 for the entire Sierra Nevada range (10 map regions), so it is definitely more cost effective than buying each map individually. There are also versions for other areas, such as the Colorado Rockies.

Bottom line: The National Geographic Trails Software impressed me, and I will be purchasing it for other region where I hike.

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  1. Rolf says:

    Hiking Lady,
    Thank you for your effort. I’m certain there is SOMETHING out there – its just the finding of it. BTW – I had Nat Geo TOPO on my previous iMac (10.6.8) and it worked great – after some tweaking. Its not like I’m going hiking anytime soon here – Spokane, WA – but one must be prepared. Happy New Year to you also.

  2. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Rolf,
    Happy New Year! Unfortunately I don’t know any off the top of my head that are definitely compatible with Mavericks OS. I’m still running the old Mac OS on my iMac, so I haven’t run into any problems yet. If I figure this out I’ll post another comment. Good luck!

  3. Rolf says:

    I’m looking for replacement software for the state of Washington – Nat Geo – State series outdoor rec mapping software. Unfortunately, the state series is no longer compatible with Mavericks OS 10.9.1 I’ve found that Delorme North America 10 is in the same boat also.
    Are you aware of any software that is equal to Nat Geo State series outdoor rec mapping software AND compatible with Apple iMac Mavericks OS 10.9.1 ?? Thanks much for your assistance and time. Rolf

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