Using a GPS with Your Personal Computer

Using computer software in conjunction with your GPS receiver opens a whole new world to navigation and planning your next cycling trip or other great adventure. Being able to compare the map on the GPS (if your GPS has mapping capability) to a topographic map or a map out of a book is one thing; being able to use your computer to preplan your trip by mapping out trails, marking waypoints, marking points-of-interest, measuring distances and elevation changes is quite another.

There are several mapping software programs available to choose from. They all perform some basic functions such as uploading waypoints, routes and tracks. However, each one does have its differences, and you will have to decide which one’s bells and whistles are best for your needs.

Some of the mapping software is designed for certain brands of GPS receivers. Additionally, many of the programs are not oriented to the outdoorsman. Some are detailed down to the nearest coffee stand however; they do not have anything to navigate on smaller than a surface street, i.e. trails. Garmin’s BlueChart and Magellan’s BlueNav are designed specifically for the off shore boater.

To have a perspective of terrain, trail difficulty or land-use information, the mountain biker and trail user would probably get the best information and detail from a topographic map. Uploading waypoints, routes and other information to your GPS receiver is easier than you may think. After marking your map with waypoints, you will essentially only need to connect your GPS to your computer with either a serial port cable or USB cable and click on one button on the program. All your data will be transferred to your GPS. Below are some excellent mapping software programs available for trails.

Garmin’s U.S. Topo: Designed for Garmin GPS receivers. This program is available in four U.S. regions. You can add waypoints and routes to upload directly to your Garmin GPS. The 24k version includes detailed coverage of U.S. National Parks, National Forests and some State Parks. This software also includes points of interest and park amenities. Its maps are comparable to 1:24,000 scale USGS maps, the most detailed topographical data available.

Magellan MapSend Topo 3D USA: Designed for newer Magellan GPS receivers, this product has topographic maps for the 48 continental United States. You easily can switch between 2D and 3D maps. It has an extensive database of points of interest, including more than 30,000 guidebook outdoor recreation destinations from You can easily upload waypoints, points-of-interest and routes to your GPS receiver. You can maintain a constantly updated view on your GPS by profiling the elevation changes along your route while the topo contours are being drawn on-the-fly, tailored to your changing position.

National Geographic Topo! GPS series: Compatible with Garmin, Lowrance and Magellan GPS receivers. The software in the series includes Topo! State products and Topo! GPS. With Topo! GPS you can easily transfer waypoints, routes and tracks between your GPS and PC. You can draw a route on the map and convert it to a specified number of waypoints then upload it to your GPS.

Delorme Topo USA: Topo USA is available in regional titles. This program gives you five maps in one ‘ a topographic map, a shaded relief map, a 3D shaded relief map, a trail map and a road map. You can add waypoints, routes and tracks and upload them to your GPS receiver. This program will allow you, with minimal effort, to find an area or trail, allow you to mark your route, and look at the elevation profile that can cross-reference your position along the route. Press one button and you can look at a 3D version of the terrain that you can ‘fly’ through by adjusting the pitch of the map. Topo USA also includes ‘Aerial Data Packets’ that include 10-meter satellite images that are up-to-date, in addition to the USGS 7.5-min. topo maps. These satellite images allow you to see new developments, forest density, clear-cuts, radio towers, buildings, trails and roads not included in the map data. You can use a split-screen option to add the new details you find to your topo map automatically by marking it. It will be accurately added to your map before you print it.

Terrain Navigator: Terrain Navigator is available in state and regional titles. In addition to marking waypoints, routes and tracks, the program has the complete topo maps for the area that you purchase on the CD. It includes both 2D and 3D map views. You can create seamless maps where two or more maps’ borders touch. You can then create your own custom maps for printing. You can upload and download waypoints and tracks to and from your GPS receiver. Terrain Navigator is compatible with most popular GPS receivers including Garmin, Magellan and Lowrance. However, Terrain Navigator is not yet able to communicate with GPS receivers that use a USB connection to the PC. They are currently working on a version that will be compatible with USB technology. Terrain Navigator maps can also turn your PC or laptop into a moving map display. Connect your GPS to your laptop, and you will see your position on the screen.

EasyGPS: The best thing about this program is that it is free from TopoGrafix. A quick web search and download, and you’re in business. EasyGPS is designed for Garmin, Magellan and Lowrance GPS receivers. It provides a simple way to create and transfer waypoints and routes between your computer and GPS receiver. You can manage all of your waypoints and routes by sorting them by name, elevation, or distance. This program allows you to connect to mapping software on the Internet, giving you access to street and topographic maps, aerial photos, weather forecasts, and attractions near your route. Data is exchangeable with other EasyGPS and Expert GPS users.

ExpertGPS: A more powerful program than EasyGPS, designed for Garmin, Magellan and Lowrance GPS receivers is ExpertGPS. It displays waypoints, routes, and tracks on USGS topographic maps and aerial photos. You are able to draw your route directly on a map, search for nearby features from millions of waypoints available in the database, then transfer the entire trip directly to your GPS receiver in one click. This program is compatible with Excel, Topo!, and Terrain Navigator for data exchange.

This list is not all-inclusive; of course there are more products out there. This list includes some of the more popular software that is compatible with the most popular GPS receivers. All of these products have web sites that you can download samples to experiment with. Take your time and play with the different programs to ensure you get the system that most suites your needs.

Planning a trip, adventure or hike has never been more fun! With any of these products, whether a short five mile mountain biking morning, or a more inclusive ten day ride, you can use your home computer to plan these trips, store thousands of waypoints and routes, find thousands of points-of-interest, display your position on a moving map on your PC, and finally upload all this data to your GPS receiver.

All of this may seem like a lot of technology for that Saturday morning ride. Using a GPS to plan a trip to the state park you ride in four times a month may not seem all that helpful. However, if you ever plan on checking out a new trail, all this technology might actually be practical. The basic function of a GPS is, of course, to keep you from becoming lost, and it will do that if you use it correctly (backtracking). However, these handheld navigational aides will do much more. With the technology built into a GPS receiver today, and some accompanying software, these products can not only keep track of your average speed, elevation gain and loss and distance traveled, they can assist you in planning your next ride, or even help you find your next ride. When you’re looking for a new area or trail to ride, searchable databases linked to popular data sources such as, will always have current information in a searchable database to find and tailor that next great adventure.