Mapping Toolbox - GPS Tools

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Freeware or Shareware (SW) GPS utilities recommended but not sold here.

GPS Tools

DNR Garmin Tool



G7toWin and G7toCE

GPS Visualizer


GPS Map Explorer

Cetus GPS


Google™ APRS

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The Minnesota DNR Garmin Tool 5.0 is a must-have GPS utility for those using Garmin GPS receivers. As a standalone program:

Download waypoints, tracks, and routes from Garmin GPS. Save as text files, ESRI shapefiles or dBase IV files. Capture GPS screens as graphics.

Upload waypoints, tracks, and routes to Garmin GPS.

Perform real-time GPS tracking.

Convert point shapefiles to GPS waypoints or convert line and polygon shapefiles to Garmin GPS tracks.

Convert point themes to lines or polygons.

When used as an ArcView® Extension, DNR Garmin Tool does even more with theme attributes, measurements, real time tracking, etc. Note, however, that ArcView® is not required to use most of the features in DNR Garmin Tool. See complete documentation at the Minnesota DNR site.

DNR Garmin Tool can also reproject data between coordinate systems, or it can automatically convert GPS lat/lon data to a projection of your choice. For Wisconsin, the WTM parameters to use in DNR Garmin Tool can be downloaded here (Iron County Forestry site).

TopoFusion delivers a versatile combination of GPS mapping tools for North American users with broadband Internet service. Unquestionably, TopoFusion is the my favorite commercial GPS utility in terms of functions and value. It's also a terrific 3D map browser independent of GPS.

The software connects to Garmin and Magellan receivers to download or upload tracks and waypoints. Aerial photos and topographic maps are retrieved from TerraServer, over which TopoFusion displays GPS tracks in colored hues indicating elevations of the path (see a track map and elevation profile here). Aerial photos and USGS topographic maps may be blended as shown below. Tracks can be averaged, merged or cut apart and trail networks created. You can draw tracks or waypoints on maps and upload them to your GPS receiver. The PhotoFusion™ feature builds interactive pages linking the map and  photographs taken along a path by correlating the time stamps of photos to those of the track points (an outstanding tool for anyone who takes a lot of pictures outdoors). TopoFusion will play back an animation of a trek or ride, displaying trip statistics such as distances traveled, speed and elevation changes. Starting with version 2.76, TopoFusion can also export geo-referenced 2D maps including track and waypoint data for use in GIS mapping programs.

Check the TopoFusion site for a complete list of features and to download the free trial.

OziExplorer® GPS Mapping Software allows you to import any photo or map as a background image for GPS data, including those you make with a flatbed scanner. The program has an easy method of geo-referencing images. You simply provide the latitude and longitude of two or more points.

Ozi works with almost all brands GPS receivers. It exports GPS tracks and waypoints as ESRI shape files, making it possible to use your GPS data in other geospatial mapping programs like fGIS, Global Mapper, Map Maker or ArcExplorer. OziExplorerCE is also available to use with handheld or PDA devices.

OziExplorer automatically positions GeoTIFF files and other geo-referenced maps or aerial photos. The registered version of the program also works directly with MrSID format mapping products and provides more flexibility in specifying map projections and datums.

G7toWin and G7toCE are companion programs that manage GPS waypoint, track and route files on Windows desktop or laptop and Pocket PC computers. The programs work with Garmin, Magellan and Lowrance GPS units. The CE version is useful for storing GPS data on a PDA, especially if you want to save data in the field before resetting a GPS receiver's memory.

Functions include the ability to convert GPS tracks to routes/waypoints and a utility to capture the screen image of your GPS unit (like the Garmin GPSMAP 76S screen to the left) to a desktop or laptop PC. Waypoints and tracks can be saved or converted to various formats used by other mapping programs like OziExplorer®, Delorme Street Atlas USA®, Fugawi®, MapTech® and others.


Would you like to overlay your GPS track, colored for elevations or speed, on a map or aerial image without installing any new mapping software or large image databases on your PC? If so, check out the free, online GPS Visualizer.

After logging on to the GPS Visualizer web site, fill in a form for the type of map you'd like to create. The background image can be aerial photos, Landsat imagery, political maps or a variety of other choices depending where in the world your GPS data is. You browse to GPS data files on your hard drive, which will be uploaded to the GPS Visualizer server where the computing is done. Your GPS track and waypoint files can be of many common formats supported by the application.

After a few seconds, GPS Visualizer will return a map similar to the one on the left (click for a larger view). The example is colored for elevations along the travel route, but the application offers nine choices including speed, slope, and distance. You designate the size of the image and other display parameters, which can be saved as an interactive scalable vector graphic (SVG) or conventional graphic. The utility will also generate an optional elevation profile of a GPS track. See the GPS Visualizer site for details.

Waypoint+ and wayp2shp (Zip file - 3MB) are two free utilities that, together, can be used to download waypoints, tracks and routes from Garmin GPS receivers and then convert the data to shapefiles. The shapefiles can be opened in mapping programs such as fGIS.

Waypoint+ can save GPS data in a number of formats including Waypoint+, comma delimited text, Street Atlas and others. It offers support for over 140 datums.

The wayp2shp utility works with comma delimited txt files. It can convert any sort of xy or yx data (not necessarily just Garmin GPS data) into shapefiles provided the data fields are arranged in the same order as produced by Waypoint+ text files. (Only the record number and label ― up to 12 characters ― are saved to the shapefile attribute table, but those can be used to join additional data to the points with utilities in programs like fGIS.) Program folders for Waypoint+ (by Brent Hildebrand) and wayp2shp (by James R. Taylor) contain example text files for reference.


GPS Map Explorer (from Steinar Moen of Norway) imports digital images as basemaps, which are easily geo-referenced by identifying lat/lon points on the image or by dragging a GPS track (such as a road) to fit its location on the image. Rather than deform map images to fit a Geographic coordinate system, GPS Map Explorer takes an original approach by fitting GPS data to the image. The free program communicates with Garmin or NMEA format GPS receivers, showing real-time data and uploading or downloading tracks, waypoints or routes. Generate graphs showing speed and altitude. Replay tracks at any speed. An auto-pilot feature can even be configured to guide a boat. (Many of the GIS mapping programs in the Digital Grove Toolbox are good sources of basemaps for GPS Map Explorer.)

Palm PDA users will like Cetus GPS for tracking and field data collection. Although it doesn't display basemaps, Cetus GPS is an excellent freeware navigation assistant, location database manager, track logger and GPS data converter for Palm devices capable of serial communication with a GPS receiver. The developer offers tracklog managers for Mac and Linux PCs.

A companion program, GPS TrackData is suggested for Windows PC users. It will convert Cetus data to a number of formats, with well-designed features for text file parameters.

GeoConv is an advanced, professional-level tool for GPS users who need datum transformation, projected coordinate conversion and volume batch processing. The program runs as a command-line utility, but the seemingly complex task of using GeoConv can be managed by preparing batch files tailor-made for the processes you most frequently invoke. Developer Eino Uikkanen's documentation is complete with many examples for reference.

The GeoConv freeware utility:

  • Converts between different
  • GPS file utility types, e.g. OziExplorer <-> GPX <-> TXT
  • Datums, e.g. NAD27 <-> WGS84
  • Coordinate formats , e.g. Geodetic Lat/Lon <-> UTM <-> User Defined TM
  • Filters coordinates by setting selection criteria for points written to the output-file
  • Reduces track-files to routes by removing desired amount of points from the original track
  • Generates unique waypoint ID's based on waypoint description and/or old ID

...and more.

For simple GPS format conversion through an interactive graphical interface, other utilities on this page might be easier to use. Also see GPSBabel and a complementary free GUI called GPSBabelWrapper if you don't need the reprojection or other sophisticated functions found in GeoConv.

Built with the Google Maps API, Google APRS displays real-time locations of GPS enabled Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) radio transmitters. If a vehicle, person, child, pet, etc. is carrying a small APRS transmitter connected to a GPS unit, then you can visit the Google APRS web site to see where the target is at the moment. The information sent by the unit includes lat/lon, speed, bearing, transmitter model and a short text message (if desired). Each transmitter is identified by a call sign as shown in the following screen shot. The detail in the balloon is called by clicking on an APRS map icon.

APRS will probably be the next big innovation for consumer GPS. Conventional GPS shows where you are, but APRS shows your location to everyone else who knows your call sign. The system was developed by Bob Bruninga in the early 1990's. The "packet radio" transmissions are picked up and repeated by a network of amateur radio stations and made available via the Internet (or you can display location data independent of the web if you have a HAM radio receiver and PC or Mac APRS software).

Bob Bruninga provides an excellent APRS PowerPoint slide show explaining how it all works. If you already have a compatible GPS receiver, the addition of a small APRS transmitter may cost less than $100 to be operational via the web. In addition to Google APRS, Java web applications are available but their base maps are not as refined as those from Google.

You need to be a licensed radio amateur to use an APRS transmitter on the HAM bands. A simpler alternative for hunters or campers who want to keep track of their party's members might be a unit like the Garmin Rhino (models 110 to 530). Rhino units include the ability to transmit GPS locations to other Rhino users. Short-range (<2 miles) transmission using Family Radio Service (FRS) frequencies does not entail the need for a radio license. The Garmin Rhinos also include General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) capability. Garmin claims the GMRS 520/530 Rhinos are good for communicating up to fourteen miles without assistance of a repeater, but using the GMRS frequencies in the U.S. requires a FCC license. A "family" FCC license covering multiple GPRS radios costs $80 per five-year term in the U.S.

Some cellular telephones also offer real-time position tracking capabilities over the Internet, as seen in this example from AccuTracking. For other options, simple type "GPS tracking" into Google search.

USAPhotoMaps retrieves and  displays TerraServer aerial photos, urban photos, topographic maps, elevation data, place names and USGS landmarks. It is one of the fastest tools available for navigating to any location in the United States and collecting TerraServer image tiles for base maps. Assemble images into single, georeferenced base maps that can be opened by other geospatial programs or drawing programs. Use USAPhotoMaps to quickly get latitude, longitude or UTM coordinates for any position. GPS waypoints, routes and tracks can be displayed as map overlays and transferred to or from GPS units.

USAPhotoMaps is available for free download from JDMCox Software.

Digital Grove offers instructions for using USAPhotoMaps here.


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