A Step by Step Guide for Newbies

Follow these steps to learn how to create a basic route plan in Google Earth that you can easily load in to the GPS of your choice.  If I can do it, you can do it!  Click any image to open a larger version in a new tab.

author : Mel Makepeace, ACMG Ski Guide

Sky Pilot Route Plan


In this example, I will create a route to ascend Sky Pilot, a popular, technically demanding scramble, located close to Squamish BC.

This tutorial assumes that you have downloaded Google Earth and that you have a basic understanding of how to navigate the program.

Disclaimer:  I typically work on skis, not a computer.

Additionally, Sky Pilot is an advanced route and requires technical climbing, rappelling, and route finding.  I am in no way advocating that you use my sample route plan to attempt this scramble.  Hire an ACMG Mountain or Alpine Guide! Visit my website, www.mountainaddicts.ca or email info@mountainaddicts.ca to book a guide today!

Route hazards, although present, are not addressed.  This post solely addresses computer topics.

Step 1 :

Open Google Earth and locate the general area where you wish to make your route plan.

How to: Route Plan with Google Earth

How To Google Earth Route Plan


Step 2 :

Zoom in on the location where you would like your route to start.  I have chosen the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola, as I plan on riding the gondola to the start of my scramble.

Click the path icon to “Add Path”.

As you move your mouse around on the Google Earth satellite image, you can view the corresponding coordinate in the bottom right area of the screen!  An excellent feature for finding a specified trail head, or any route requiring careful route finding.

Step 3 :

In the window that pops up, create a name for your route. DO NOT HIT “OK”!  Sorry for yelling, but it will save you the following step:

If you do hit “OK”, simply find the new path in the panel on the left side of the screen, right click, (for mac, two finger tap the track pad) on the path name, and select “Get Info”. The window will pop up again.

How to google earth route plan

How to Google earth route plan

Step 4 :

This step is a bonus for picky people like myself.  In the window, select “Style, Color”.  Pick a nice bright colour for your route line.  I also like to increase the “Width” to 2.0.

This ensures I can clearly see the route I am creating on the screen.  Also, when you start building your route collection, it makes visualizing multiple routes on the screen easier.

Step 5 :

Once again, I apologize in advance, DO NOT HIT “OK”!  If you do, follow the instructions in step 3 to right this wrong.

In order to edit the route, you will need to have this window open.  Simply move the window off to the side of the screen as shown in the picture.

Google Earth Route Plan

How to google earth route plan

Step 6 :

Now the fun part.  Click on the Google Earth image in the place where you would like to start your route, and continue to click in the intended direction of your route.

At this point, you can not navigate by clicking on the image, as you will put a path point at every location you click.  Navigate with the controls on the right side of the screen, indicated by the arrow in the image above.

Step 7 :  Bonus Info!

If you accidentally click on the Google Earth image, instead of using the navigation controls (as shown in the image), right click (mac double finger tap) on the path point that you want to delete, and it will go away.  Phew!

How to google earth route plan

How to google earth route plan

Step 8 :

When you have finished drawing your route, drag the new path window back to the centre of the screen.

Step 9 :

Finally!  You can hit “OK”!

How to google earth route plan

How to google earth route plan

Step 10 :

Your new route path can now be found in the “My Places” panel on the left side of the screen.

Step 11 :

Right click (or double finger tap) your new path.  From here, you can  “Show Elevation Profile” and “Email” a .kmz file to yourself to load into your GPS.

How to google earth route plan

How to google earth route plan

Step 12 : Bonus Info!

From the “Show Elevation Profile” selection, you can view other route information, such as:

  • Total Ascent
  • Total Distance
  • Max Elevation
  • Min Elevation
  • Slope Percent


Step 13 :

After you right click on your new path, select “Email”.  A compose window, preloaded with the .kmz file, will appear on the screen.  Fill in your own email address, and hit “send”.  You can now load the file into your GPS!

How to google earth route plan

How to google earth route plan

Step 14 :

I use an iPhone 5s as my go-to GPS unit.  In airplane mode, and not recording my route, I can use the unit for 3 days before I need to charge it.  Typically I leave the app open, and locate my position several times a day to make sure I’m on route.

The GPS app I use is Gaia.  This app is widely used by members of the ACMG.  You can get multiple map overlays, it’s easy to use, and has surprisingly detailed maps for international destinations.  It is well worth the money.

Open the email from yourself, and for the iPhone, hold your thumb on the .kmz file until the options screen appears.  Select your GPS app and the file will download directly into the program!

Step 15 :

Hooray!  Your Google Earth route plan is now displayed on your gps unit.  You can see my route in dark purple in this image.  You can see how the route “plan” has a nice, curvy line.  The red line is a track that I recorded in real time, which is obviously a lot more detailed.

Accurate route planning takes time and experience.  Practice making route plans for easy walks, and build on that experience.  In the beginning, I would build route plans for ski tours that I had done many times.  The next time I did the ski tour, I would record my track to evaluate the accuracy and see where I needed to improve.

MORE BONUS INFO!  Experiment adding place marks to mark hazards, trail junctions, and other important route information!

How to google earth route plan