Google Earth has to be one of my favorite computer programs. Almost all of my favorite camping, fishing, and hunting spots have been found with a little exploring in Google Earth. Nothing replaces putting boots on the ground and actually visiting a place, but by using Google Earth you can get a pretty good idea of how land is structured, where the access points are, and other notable features. However, there are several things that Google Earth can’t always show you, but that topographic maps often will help you see.
I can’t tell you how many times I have flipped back and forth between satellite imagery from Google Earth and topographic maps. The challenge in doing this back-and-forth comparison is when you try and plot very specific points. Lining up the two map sources can be very difficult. These problems are easily solved by using topographic maps directly within Google Earth. There are many ways to do this, but surprisingly there isn’t an easy “out of the box” topographic map view in Google Earth.
After experimenting with several methods of bringing topographic maps into Google Earth, I have found the following method to be the easiest and most effective. There are a few steps to this process, and at first it may seems a little bit tedious, but after doing it just a couple of times I am sure that you will find it very convenient.
(Click images for a larger view)
Step 1: Open Google Earth and zoom into the location that you want to add your map to. Select the “Add Image Overlay” button.
Step 2: In the “New Image Overlay” window, select the “Refresh” tab, and then select the “WMS Parameters” button.
Step 3: In the “Web Mapping Service Parameters” windows, select the WMS Server that is shown below, circled in red. After selecting the WMS Server, a list of items will appear in the left box. Select one of the USGS Raster Graphics items from the left, and then click the “Add”, which will send that item to the right box. Once you have an item in the box to the right, select the “OK” button.
Step 4: You should now be back at the “New Image Overlay” window. You can name your new overlay if you would like, and then select the “OK” button.
Step 5: All done! You should now have a topographic map in Google Earth! Your topographic map will be on its own “layer”, which will be named according to the name entered into Step 4. In my example I kept the “Untitled Image Overlay” name, and you can see my layer in the “Places” box on the screen shot below. When you select your layer, you can toggle its level of transparency by sliding the visibility slider (circled red below).