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Using Surfer to Create Custom Trail Maps

I love to hike, backpack, and camp. To me, there is nothing more refreshing than a couple days out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Recently, I spent my Labor Day weekend hiking in an area new to me. My husband and I did some research and decided on Crater Lakes Trail, near Nederland, CO. According to, the out-and-back trail is approximately 2.7 miles one way, and it climbs in elevation the entire time, giving it a rating of hard. We were up for the challenge!

AllTrails provides nice contour maps for planning your hike, but as someone who was unfamiliar with the area, I wanted to see just a bit more about my upcoming trek. I downloaded the GPX data for the trail we were going to hike and the surrounding trails. In Surfer 13, I used the Grid | Mosaic command to extract my area of interest from the Surfer sample file Colorado.grd. Using the methods outlined in this article, I converted my paths and grid file from latitude and longitude to feet. I created a profile from the grid file and the path and assembled my maps. I overlaid base maps, a post map, and a contour map for a 2D view, and I also created a 3D surface map to get a better idea of the topography. You can see the results below.

Maps prepared in Surfer 13 before hiking.

Maps prepared in Surfer 13 before hiking.

I printed my 2D map, grabbed my compass, and I was all set! We arrived at the trailhead in the early afternoon. The trail was moderately populated and pretty well marked in most places. Most places is the key here. I knew we needed to take a turn to reach our destination around 1.6 miles into the hike. Of course, just before this turn, we lost the trail! I learned a valuable lesson about checking the map more frequently to be sure I knew where I was on the path. We stopped, looked around, and found the trail. Well, we found a trail. Excited to be back on our way, I put the map back in my pocket. After about an hour of walking, I realized we should have been at our destination. I referred to the map, again, later than I should have, and I realized we were, in fact, not on Crater Lakes Trail. We were on Heart Lake Trail, a longer walk and a higher climb. We weren't discouraged, so onward we trekked!

Eventually, we did get tired, and dusk began to fall. We didn't make it quite to the lake, but we found a cozy spot near a stream to camp for the night. The next morning, we packed up, cleaned up camp, and headed onward toward the lake. We were relieved to walk on some flatter ground for a bit. We didn't quite make it to Heart Lake before we needed to head back out, but we spent a lovely, quiet morning at what I believe is Roger's Pass Lake.

Roger's Pass Lake

Roger's Pass Lake

When we returned, I was eager to see how far we had walked and how high we had climbed compared to what we had planned. This wasn't my longest hike, but it was one of the most challenging I have done, and I wanted some statistics. I used the AllTrails app to record much of our hike to Roger's Pass Lake. In order to conserve my phone's battery, I did not record past our camping spot, so I'm missing the last bit of our hike. I modified my original 2D map and added our actual path, camping spot, and destination. I also used the Grid | Slice command to create a cross section of the profiles of our intended hike and our actual hike. It turns out we climbed about an extra 400-500 feet and walked more than an extra mile to reach the lake where we stopped. My comparison map and cross section are below.

Maps prepared in Surfer 13 before hiking.

Intended path compared to the actual path hiked.

With the help of Surfer, I was prepared for my hike into new territory. Though I wandered off the trail and ended up on another, I knew where I was heading, even if it was not my intended destination. Had I not prepared the maps ahead of time, I would not have known where I was going. I likely would have been lost. Next time, I'll prepare my maps in Surfer again, and pay more attention to them while hiking.


Comments 1

Guest - parag on Tuesday, 20 September 2016 00:43

Thanks for sharing the information. It is very useful for my future.keep sharing.Wow! thanks for writing about this topic

Thanks for sharing the information. It is very useful for my future.keep sharing.Wow! thanks for writing about this topic
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