Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How to Add USGS Topographic Maps to Google Earth

Did you know that you can overlay every available USGS topo map on Google Earth for free? And that you can set it up in a matter of minutes? Here's how:

1) Install Google Earth if you haven't already.

2) Download the Google Earth topo map layer from the ArcGIS Services Directory (it's the NGS Topo US 2D (MapServer) file).

3) When prompted, save the file to your computer.

4) Find and double-click the file. It will open automatically in Google Earth.

5) At this point, you're essentially done and can begin zooming in and out on topo maps for the entire country. You need to take one more step, however, to ensure that this file remains available for future use. When you first open the file, you will see a "NGS_Topo_US_2D" icon under the "Temporary Places" folder in the left-hand "Places" column. To make this a permanent addition, move the icon to the "My Places" folder; just drag it over and drop it into "My Places."

One great feature of this layer is that you can change its opacity. That is, you can fade it in and out so that you either see just the topo map, just the satellite image, or both simultaneously. To do so, simply slide the bar in the opacity adjustment (circled in red in the bottom picture below).

To demonstrate, here are three shots of Tuckerman Ravine as the topo map is faded out.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.


Charles Carrigan said...


Dana said...

Fascinating...A little overload in GE but still nice! :D

X said...

I've tried to get this to work in GE on my Android tablet. I thought it would handy to be able to browse topo maps when I'm away from my PC, or even on the trail. Selecting either the link, or the file itself opens GE, but no topo maps. A search on Google hasn't turned up an answer yet. Has anyone gotten this to work?

Larry Mastin said...

This file is awesome. A couple colleagues and I noticed however that it only works if you open it by double-clicking the kmz file (stored on your computer) or by clicking the link above. If you save it under "my places" in the left sidebar of GE, then close and re-open GE, it doesn't work. Perhaps there's a minor bug fix in order.

Daryl Sawyer said...

Confirmed. Only works when opened as a file. But it appears it is no longer supported, so we're stuck with it.

tribalromp said...

The version here appears to be supported, and worked for me:

Outerspace Visitor said...

Are there other kinds of map overlays available for Google Earth? For example, FEMA flood zone, altitude, property subdivision boundaries, tax zones, etc.?

Smith said...

How about someone remove old, incomplete, bug ridden, contradictory information like this article? It's perfectly apparent this is a time waster for most viewers.

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