Using Google Earth to create elevation profiles

To create a printable, nice looking trail elevation profile, I use Google Earth to generate the path profile, and the Gimp + Inkscape to design it, but you can use any bitmap and vector image editing software you like.

Google Earth

Open the desired trail in Google Earth. Right-click and select Show Elevation Profile.

GE view-path-profile.png

Depending on trail distance, and how wide you want the elevation profile to be, resize the Google Earth window to be wider. Turning off the Sidebar (View > Sidebar) is also helpful. If you have a dual-monitor setup, it’s easier to get a wider profile, but even with a single monitor, you can resize the window, drag it partially off the screen, resize it again, etc., until you have the desired size.

GE - window stretch.jpg

Next, create screenshots of each part of the profile. You’ll need at least a couple to get rid of the vertical marker. Put your mouse on a different area of the profile during each screenshot so that when they are combined, you will have a clean section to cover up with.

GE - path profile cutout1.png

GE - path profile cutout2.png


Then, open them in the Gimp to crop and combine them. Export a jpg or png image.

GE - path profile cutout - final.png


Open the image in Inkscape. Right-click the image and select Trace Bitmap. This converts the bitmap to a vector image that can be scaled without losing quality, providing nice clear printouts even at large sizes.

Inkscape - Trace bitmap.png

There are a number of options for tracing the bitmap. For this project, Brightness Cutoff worked well with the Threshold around 0.450, leaving only the path profile line.

Inkscape - Trace bitmap options

Click OK to trace the bitmap. Delete the image if you’re happy with the trace.

Inkscape - bare profile.png

From there, you can use Inkscape to create the rest of the path profile however you like. Add an outline, fill the inside with a color or gradient.

Inkscape - profile filled.png

Start adding trails and various features along the trail. I refer back to Google Earth for placement along the profile. You can move your mouse along the path profile to determine the approximate spot where a particular point of interest should be placed in Inkscape.

GE - path profile reference spot.jpg

Inkscape - add camp.png

Continue adding camps and other items of interest. Some you might consider are an elevation grid, water sources, side trails, etc. When you’re all finished, you can export a PDF for printing, or a PNG for viewing online or using elsewhere.

View some completed elevation profiles here.


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