Thursday, March 31, 2011

Colorado Trail Race Navigation

2012 update: I just posted my 2012 CTR track and waypoints file here.

A few people have asked me about maps, waypoints, and GPS tracks. Here's what I did last year. It worked well, so I'm doing it again this year.

  1. I loaded all of the waypoints from Bear Creek Survey (BCS) into Topo! (National Geographic’s mapping software). I also loaded Stefan’s track.
  2. In Topo!, I deleted BCS waypoints that were irrelevant due to detours, etc. I also added some of my own.
  3. Then I converted the Topo! file into something that Mapsource (Garmin’s mapping software) understands, using GPSBabel.
  4. I then used Mapsource to load the tracks and waypoints into my Vista HCx GPS unit.

The net result is that I have an awesome track to follow on my GPS, and all of the waypoints match the Colorado Trail Foundation's Databook. I printed maps out of Topo! at several different levels, so I can also verify waypoints on the maps. I also printed the wilderness bypass instructions directly on the maps.

As an aside, you can probably do the same thing using TopoFusion, but I owned Topo! for about ten years before TopoFusion came out. Maybe someday I’ll buy TopoFusion—it looks like a great program and will obviously save some steps because it seems to have superior GPS connectivity. There’s no doubt that I would have bought TopoFusion, and not Topo!, had it been available!

I rode 95% of the trail using just my GPS and a printed profile. But I figured that the maps might be very helpful if my GPS failed. I did use the maps on the Cataract section, just to find out where I was, and when I was going to get to Silverton (it was night, and raining hard)! I also thought the maps might come in useful if I needed to bail to the nearest highway or hospital, but fortunately I didn't need too.

Here's an example of a printed map (highest detail level). Click to view it larger, and then zoom to see more detail.

Here's another detail level:These maps fit nicely into a handlebar map case, and I threw them out along the way to reduce the weight!


  1. Where is a good place to get these?

  2. Lucas, I'm not sure what you mean. Get what?

  3. Where is a good place to pick up the maps for the CTR? I am getting the updated guidebook as soon as it comes out but i would be interested in getting the maps.

  4. Lucas, you have a couple of options:
    1. Buy the maps from the Colorado Trail Foundation (linked above). These will not include current CTR wilderness bypasses, but otherwise they are fairly current.
    2. Buy Topofusion (linked above)and make your own like I did. You'll need to download the CTR GPX tracks (linked above)
    3. Buy Bear Creek Survey's waypoints (linked above), and add them to your GPS and/or TopoFusion maps along with Stefan's track.
    4. Skip maps, and just use the bypass ques and CT signs on the trail.
    Figuring out navigation for the CTR is a critical, and fun part, of part of the ride. There isn't an official printed map, so you'll need to get creative!

  5. Yes, the adventure is in learning the route and fixing and correcting mistakes (hopefully none)!
    I actually plan to get the guide book and go without a GPS(as you just posted up today on! I just ordered it and can't wait to get it.
    I think having the GPS is a great advantage though because you can see where you're at with pin point accuracy, allowing you to make adjustments to your schedule. However, as a future poor college student, i wish i could get these and a GPS.

  6. Is there one agreed upon route for CTR 2011 somewhere? The above four steps look pretty close to 100% but not quite... hard to tell from 1000s of miles away.

    Topofusion is worth buying. I used Maptech (similar to Topo!) for years and find Topofusion to be a huge improvement.

  7. Hi Groundshine. Stefan has posted the official CTR route at:

  8. is groundshine heading to CTR? i agree - topofusion is super nice... and i haven't yet used it to port to a GPS...

  9. Hey Toby i was wondering if you had any maps detailing the wilderness detours? If so, that would be wonderful.

  10. Hi Lucas,

    Yep, I've got maps with detours. PM me, and I'll send you a copy. Gonna cost you a case of Guinness though. ;)

  11. I would if I could, all the favors and setups you have done for me made this possible. I am only 19 but if we see each other at the first stop which i believe is Bailey, ill buy lunch, dinner or whatever. Definitely appreciated!. PMing you.