Hiking or trail running with Google Maps on your phone

Navigation can be tricky when hiking or trail running in nature areas where you haven’t been before. Sometimes there are marked trails but it’s not uncommon that markings are missing and sign post maps at the trail head often lack detail. Fortunately, these days most people have a smart phone with GPS navigation like Google Maps that can be used.

Here are some tips on how to hike or trail run with Google Maps on your phone. (Google Maps is updated frequently so this guide might become outdated at some point).

There are three things I recommend you do with Google Maps:

1. Create a map with your route

Before you go, draw the route you intent to hike or run in Google Maps. Here’s how to do it with their web interface:

  1. Go to Google Maps
  2. Make sure you are signed in with your Google account
  3. Click on the menu (hamburger icon in left upper corner) and select My Maps
  4. Click on CREATE MAP at the bottom
  5. Now you can zoom in on your hiking/running area and draw a line where you want to go.


  • Often it’s best to use Satellite view (look under Base map) in stead of Map view because you see more details.
  • After drawing your line, Google will show its length. When deciding on how long your route should be, keep in mind that hiking and running on nature trails is often slower than in the city. (Say 4 km/h for hiking in stead of 5 km/h in the city).
  • You can share the URL to your map with your hiking/running companions by clicking on Share

2. Save the hiking/running area in your phone’s memory

Often there is bad internet coverage in nature areas, so it’s a good idea to save the Google Maps area of where you are going, in your phone’s memory. That way you don’t need a working internet connection to use Google Maps. This is how you do this:

  1. Open the Google Maps app on your phone (download it first if you don’t have it)
  2. Zoom in to the area where you will hike or run
  3. Type ok maps in the search box and click DOWNLOAD

Now is also a good moment to fully charge your phone’s battery because using Google Maps requires quite some power.

3. Use your map during your hike or run

When you start your hike or run, simple open the map with the route that you created in step 1 on your phone. Here’s how to do this:

  1. Open the Google Maps app on your phone
  2. Click on the menu (hamburger icon in left upper corner) and select Your places
  3. Select the map with your route that you created in step 1. The blue dot indicates your current location.
Google Maps on an iPhone 6


  • Navigation is easiest if you keep your map orientated with the real world (e.g. North on the map always points to North in the real world – this is also called “setting the map”). This way, you don’t have to rotate things in your mind when deciding where to go. Keeping your map orientated isn’t possible however if auto-rotate is active on your phone, so it’s best to switch this off temporarily. (A quick way to do this on an iPhone is by swiping up the Control Center from the bottom of your screen and select the Portrait Orientation Lock in the top-right corner).
  • You also might want to temporarily switch off the Auto-Lock feature of your phone because otherwise you have to keep on unlocking your phone every few minutes to see your map again. (On an iPhone you can do this by going to Settings, General, Auto-Lock and then select Never).

That’s it. You won’t get lost anymore (until you run out of battery)!

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3 thoughts on “Hiking or trail running with Google Maps on your phone”

  1. Should just warn that downloaded google maps (at least the standard ones, not sure about maps with your own route on top of it) expire after 30 days. So don’t prepare to far in advance.

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