The Maps Project

Updated March 30th, 2024

We now have several maps available for the thru-hike. Those include:

Map software

I am using QGIS. It’s free and robust enough for professional use. There are plenty of other mapping tools available – I’ve tried ArcGIS and MapPublisher and liked both of them, but they’re too expensive, even with the nonprofit discounts. I do like CalTopo, and am using that, but it is limited, at least compared to what QGIS can do.

I have Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and access to the entire Adobe Creative Suite through the monthly subscription I have for my business. I am fairly well acquainted with those Adobe programs, and I’m starting to feel reasonably comfortable with QGIS. Still a long way to go, but I can generally get it to do what I want.

What the maps will be used for

So here’s what I need in terms of maps:

  • Summary map that will fit on a 6″ x 2″ bookmark. DONE
  • Summary map for the 11 x 17 mailer I want to get out asap. DONE
  • Summary map for the 13 x 19 map sets (want this to also be usable as a small poster). DONE
  • A full set of all six section maps on both sides of 13 x 19 paper. I want these to give to Forest Service people and other potentially helpful people so they can know exactly where the thru-hike goes. DONE, but in 11 x 17 because they fit into the information packets better.
  • Maps for a thru-hike guide book. This means a summary map, all six section maps, and then probably about 10 smaller maps for each section. NOT DONE.

The most immediate need for these maps is to use them as a communication tool to build partnerships with officials. As I slowly progress towards making this thru-hike an official thing, I will need support from land managers and other state, county, and municipal officials. I have found that showing people an actual map of the thru-hike gets my point across far more effectively than me just talking at them about it.

I also want the maps so I can make short videos about the thru-hike overall, and a 10-minute video walk-through of each section. I can do this with the Gaia maps, but they’re not quite as clear as if I have my own maps.

Of course, at some point I would love to have printed full-size (like 36 x 48), proper maps printed on water-resistant, proper map paper. Folded and everything. But that will be an investment. Here’s a quote I got from one map printer. It came in about the same as other printers.

Here’s the per map price based on that quote:

Quantity: 250, Price: $3,597.15, $14.39 per map
Quantity: 500, Price: $3,857.15, $7.71 per map
Quantity: 750, Price: $4428.60, $5.90 per map
Quantity: 1000, Price: $5000.00, $5.00 per map

I got a quote for a different kind of map – a “pocket map” – which you may have seen for tourist or city or event maps. They’re cute little maps, no doubt, but the hiking maps are needed more.

What the maps will be printed on

I am currently printing my maps on a Epson Workforce 7840. I can print up to 13 x 19 double-sided on up to 270 gsm paper (so about 12-14 pt cardstock). The printer was on sale for $200. Ideally, I’d have my dream printer, an Epson p900 (~$1400 with the paper roll add-on) or my ultimate-dream printer, an Epson 5370 ($2,100, basically the same as the p900, but built to run as basically a mini-printshop). For now, the Epson WorkForce will have to do. With that printer, and water resistant paper, I can get from A to B for the next phase of maps. I can report that it’s decent on ink usage, and I found a fantastic deal on knock-off ink cartridges on Amazon. I can print about 50 sets of summary map plus the six section maps from one set of cartridges. As those cartridges cost $31 right now, that’s about 62 cents per map set in ink.

Not being able to blow $3,000 on National Park-quality maps right now isn’t such a bad thing. Doing my in-office short-run map printing right now works because the details of the thru-hike route are bound to change. I also don’t need 1,000 maps right now; I need to get maybe 250 information packets out this year. Each information packet as a map set.

How I am creating the map

All the recorded tracks I’ve done are in Gaia.

What’s in the “Santa Fe to Taos OFFICIAL” folder in Gaia are the organized and somewhat well-labeled tracks that I have converted into routes. Routes can be exported from Gaia as GPX, KML, or GeoJSON files, and then imported into QGIS, or pretty much any other mapping tool, like CalTopo.

Here’s the SF2T map in CalTopo.

Here’s a screenshot of that just to have it on this page:

If you click on that image (or any of the map images on this site), you’ll get a full-screen view of that image.

Getting all my tracks and routes organized in Gaia took a while. I had a lot of training tracks, exploring trails tracks, various overnights, planned routes – so much stuff accumulated over the years. I had to work between my phone and desktop to get everything sorted. Gaia’s desktop capabilities seem to be less than what the app can do (like copying tracks and routes) so I had to keep working back and forth between the two devices.

No complaints, though. I am super-grateful for Gaia. Especially the app. Love that it works and records tracks without cell service. Some people have reported issues with Gaia, though. And there are concerns about what will happen to it now that Outside owns it. Even on this page, I had to use a screenshot of my Gaia summary map because when I used the HTML embed for the map it cut off all the content under the embed. Still liking Gaia though, despite its quirks.

Public domain map data sets

Here’s what’s been most helpful:

  • Forest Service FSTopo Map Products
  • Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers & Wilderness Study Areas
  • Natural Earth has excellent global maps
  • This Reddit thread has good resources for shapefiles for hiking maps
  • The National Map.
    The National Map is THE BOMB. I am still discovering cool ways to use its data. I was especially in love with it when I found one of the most questionable parts of the route of the thru-hike – which is about one mile long and barely looks like more than a logging trek – on the National Map. Even if that little trail doesn’t have a name, if it’s on the National Map, it’s legit.
  • has a slew of resources
    Especially the tile map packages and the web map service files
  • This was extremely helpful, but also incredible:
  • The USFWS National Wetlands shapefile here was included:
  • Getting water information ended up being harder than expected, but then I found this:
  • and his YouTube videos

QGIS resources

  • SpatialThoughts has both a beginner and advanced online course:
    They also offer QGIS certification if you do the paid version of their courses. The both courses are free and self-guided and can be started at anytime. (Thank you!)
  • is in Albuquerque, but is internationally recognized as a great source for QGIS training.
  • QGIS tutorials is also good and searchable if you want a fix for a specific problem.
  • QGIS’s documentation

CalTopo resources

  • This is a CalTopo help page I want to get back to:

This the summary map I had of the thru-hike after about one day’s worth of QGIS study:

This is what it looked like the next day, with labels, after some Photoshop adjustments:

That’s from an 11 x 17 300 dpi photoshop file. It prints nicely, but really I need to go back into QGIS and export the map again at 600 or even 1200 dpi. As soon as I get it right, I’ll post it here so you can download and print it. I’ll make it in a few different sizes and resolutions.

This is pretty exciting, because I now have the basics of a mailer. With this folded in thirds, on the inside I have this map, then on the other side I have 1) an address panel 2) a panel for a personalized letter to whomever I’m mailing it to and 3) a panel for information about the thru-hike. Fold it up in thirds, get myself some stamps, and voila – it’s time to start sending these to people.

Some old notes from early February, when I was making the first iteration of the section maps:

I did also make a set of six section maps. Here’s the one vertical one, of section 2:

This is also at 11 x 17, but these needed to be at 600 dpi – or even better – 1200 dpi. It makes a significant difference in how legible the labels on trails and creeks and other items are.

I had also planned to make these into two-sided 13 x 19 maps. So what you see above would be split in two, with approximately ten miles on one side of a 13 x 19 sheet of paper, and the other ten miles on the opposite side. This will make everything larger, and thus (duh) all the tiny labels will be twice as big.

These maps need work, though. Here are my current priorities:

  • Add a mile measurement (yes, I should know the term for this…)
  • Add a basic legend
  • Get the red grid lines out. These baselayers are from the Forest Service’s FSTopo Map Products in the FSGeodata Clearinghouse. At first I thought I couldnt edit different elements in these baselayers, but I figured out how to do it. Now the problem is importing all 75 of the files into QGIS. I tried doing them all at once and GQIS froze. Will try doing it one at a time.
  • Make the labels larger.
  • Add icons for where there are good camping sites
  • Do something with the river and water info so it’s just a bit more evident where water is.
  • Print these on water resistant paper. (And do printing tests to see which papers I have show these off best and are reasonably affordable paper).
  • Offer these for sale on this site, and offer these as part of the Santa Fe to Taos membership.
  • Print a bunch of sets of these maps (and purchase more ink) so I can start distributing sets of these maps to interested parties, and to all the nice people I’m going to have to talk about about getting official authorization to establish a through hike. People like land managers.

Long way to go, clearly. But it’s so exciting to have these.

Now just need to get the bookmarks updated…