If you’re a Garmin owner and aren’t aware of all the free maps available for your unit, you’re in for a treat. Detailed 1:24,000 scale topo maps are available for most states in the US, as well as for some foreign countries. We’re also beginning to see transparent trail maps that can layer on top of topos.
Sources for free Garmin GPS topo maps
- GPS File Depot – The best source for US topo maps, this site also includes a limited selection of international maps, forums, and tutorials. If your state isn’t listed, be sure to check out the regional maps before giving up.
Mapcenter – The best repository of international maps, although you’ll see more highway maps than topo maps.UPDATE: This site is no longer available.
Trail maps too
A new trend has community mappers creating transparent trail maps that layer on top of topos. Here are a couple of notable ones:
- Northwest trails – covers Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, British Columbia and Alaska
- Southwest trails – covers Arizona and New Mexico, with plans to expand to Utah and Nevada
I’m hoping this trend expands to the entire US, especially since Garmin seems to put a low priority on trail data.
Searching for maps
Sometimes a map creator posts a map to his own website, and you won’t find it in one of the above repositories. It’s always worth searching for the name of the area you are looking for + Garmin + img (the file extension used by these maps). You can also experiment with adding terms such as map, topo or contour to your search.
Installing free maps to your Garmin GPS
There are a couple of easy ways to install these maps. If you have MapSource, many will self-register. GPS File Depot has installation instructions for PCs and Macs. If you don’t have MapSource, you can get it for free.
Garmin is adding drag and drop capability to their newer handhelds, so you can rename a .img file to WhateverNameYouWant.img and simply drag it into the Garmin folder. This works as of Oregon firmware version 3.10 and Colorado beta version 2.94.
There are other procedures you can use if you don’t have one of these models and just have a .img file. Here’s one using MapSetToolkit.
Pretty cool, huh? Now grab a map and get outside!