Best free online tools for maps and route planning

I have been collecting tools for planning routes and mapping for couple years now. Some of my favorite projects are already offline (not really a good business I suppose), and a few new were recently published. However, planning travels is not about maps only. It’s also about weather conditions, safety, hazards, satellite images, supplies and environmental issues. Let me share with you selection of the most useful online applications for travelers.

Maps and navigation

Google My Maps

Some may not realize, but there is a dedicated version of Google Maps that lets you plan, import and export  your own routes.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/

https://www.google.com/maps/d/

FreeMapTools

This website offers a few interesting options, although there are various opinions on their accuracy. The functionality I have found useful personally is the elevation finder.

https://www.freemaptools.com

https://www.freemaptools.com

GPS Visualizer

A giant! And a brilliant piece of software that allows you to plot elevation profiles, draw routes, convert KML and GPX files (and others, like Garmin, Timex or TomTom custom formats), export to JPEG, SVG or PNG images, and many others. Usually, when I was not able to find an easy way to exchange data between devices, GPS Visualizer was coming handy.

http://gpsvisualizer.com

http://gpsvisualizer.com

OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap is exceptional when it comes to planning journey in great detail. You won’t find these little gems when browsing Google Maps, since it is community driven (crowdsourced). For example, with the offline version on a mobile phone we were able to locate a shortcut in a small town in Spain that saved us a few kilometres, or it helped us to find a good spot to set up a tent the next day. Paths, bike routes, camping places, shelters and even fresh water sources – extremely helpful!

http://www.openstreetmap.org

http://www.openstreetmap.org

ArcGIS

Although most of the content is paid, there is some very useful data available to the public, like the World Available Water map. Go to http://www.arcgis.com/home/gallery.html and see if there is anything you would helpful in planning your trip.

http://www.arcgis.com

http://www.arcgis.com

GmapGIS

What I love about this application is its straightforward user interface combined with support for KML format.

http://www.gmapgis.com

http://www.gmapgis.com

OpenRouteService

Similar to Google Maps in terms of finding optimal routes, but providing more insight in the terrain and elevation. Great for those who plan their walking carefully.

http://openrouteservice.org

http://openrouteservice.org

Plot a route

Surprisingly, the best online tool I have found to… Plan my trips and exchange data with my Garmin satellite-enabled watch. Adds very nice name tags to all route points.

https://www.plotaroute.com/routeplanner

https://www.plotaroute.com/routeplanner

Weather forecast and hazards

Yr

Probably the most accurate weather data in the Web, extremely useful for long-term planning thanks to statistical data available for almost every place on the planet. http://www.yr.no

Allmetsat

Another useful resource for statistical data, including some of the most remote places, deserts etc. http://en.allmetsat.com

WeatherSpark

When I was not able to find enough statistical data in Yr, this was my second choice. https://weatherspark.com

HealthMap

Really cool resource for health-related information. See on the map if the place you are going to is in danger of an epidemic outbreak. http://www.healthmap.org

TargetMap

Similar to ArcGIS, but free. A lot of information regarding health, economy, population etc. http://www.targetmap.com

Did I miss something important?

If you know of any other resources, please let me know!

  • Ger

    Which site do you use to create a route and import ( or export ) it to your Garmin Fenix 3 ?
    I find it hard to find an easy way to put a GPX route into the Fenix 3. What are your findings about this ?
    Thnx for your info

    • I use https://www.plotaroute.com/routeplanner, still waiting for Garmin to catch up though. The best way I’ve found so far is to export the GPX from the route planner (adds nice waypoint names and snaps to the roads and paths if possible based on OpenStreetMap data), plug the watch via USB and then copy the GPX file to the Garmin/NEWFILES directory (which is hidden by the way). The watch will automatically convert the file to its native format and show in the Navigation/Courses section.