Where does the Data Come From?

To gather distance and elevation gain data for all trails I have utilized my Gaia GPS Pro account. I start with topographic maps available through the Gaia account that show the trails being described. The maps I typically use are some combination of the following:

  • Open Hiking Map (Open Street Map contributors)
  • Gaia Topo (feet) (Gaia GPS, Open Street Map)
  • USGS Topo (CalTopo)
  • US Topo (USGS, Gaia GPS)
  • NPS Visitor (CalTopo)
  • USFS Visitor (CalTopo)

In a few exceptional cases, a trail is too new, and is not indicated on the maps available through Gaia GPS Pro (and I have checked every map available). In these cases I have used data from other sources (usually Arizona TrailDex, which means that an individual has recorded their own hiking of the trail on their GPS device).

What’s your Process?

Having found a specific trail or trails on a topographic map, I then create a “route,” using the Gaia GPS tool, and note the distance and cumulative elevation gain over the entire route calculated by the tool. I provide trailhead and peak elevations in the blog in the “Trail Statistics and GPS” table so that you can calculate net elevation gain if you wish.

I download the GPS data file from this exercise in three formats: GPX, KML, and GeoJSON. Finally, for trails for which I have written a blog post, I plug the GPS data into a mapping tool that I use for display of this data on the blog post site page, overlaid onto a google topographic map. All three GPS files for each hike are also placed on the site for use by readers of this blog.

In the few cases in which I have had to use external data,  I plug it into the Gaia GPS Pro tool to overlay the route onto the same topographic maps I use for all the hikes to obtain distance and elevation data, and export the GPS files as above. You see the results in a similar way on the related blog post, as the data is also plugged into this site’s mapping display tool.

Why not just Google the Trail Stats?

The reason for using the Gaia Pro Tool in all cases is to ensure internal consistency with the distance and elevation data I am presenting on hikes. The data may not be entirely consistent with all other sources, and in fact I cannot make any guarantees as to its accuracy. However, I have used the Gaia GPS tool for years to guide my own hikes all over the world, and have been satisfied with the results. Haven’t been lost yet!

How Much do you Really Know about all these Hikes?

If I have written a blog post on a hike, I have hiked the trail at least once. In the case of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, I’ve hiked many of the trails actually more than a 100 times. (Can you imagine the state of my hiking boots?) Note that the reverse is not necessarily true – a blog post on a particular hike may be on its way! The upshot of this is that any trail descriptions come from my personal experience. I love to hike, and I have the great fortune to be able to get out and hike almost every day.