Importing Global Positioning Systems (GPS) data in Google Earth

Google Earth can import GPS data in two ways: through a direct connection to your handheld GPS device, or through a GPS file, such as a .gpx file, downloaded to your computer by other third-party software like GPS Babel. This tutorial will guide you how to add GPS data to Google Earth using both of these methods.

In this tutorial, we will import a GPS .gpx file of elephant tracks, kindly contributed by Save the Elephants.

This video demonstrates how to import GPS data into Google Earth (0:59).

Prerequisites

  • Absolutely no programming skills needed!
  • You will need Google Earth installed on your computer. Download the latest version here. (It's free!)

Let's get started!

1. Open Google Earth.

2. If you have data stored on your Garmin or Magellan handheld GPS device, connect your device to your computer using your USB or Serial port connector, and turn on the device. This will be the data you use for the next section.

3. You will also want some GPS data with which to experiment later in the tutorial. Download the sample dataset by right-clicking and saving the file GPS_track_Save-the-Elephants.gpx to your computer. These data have been shared by Save the Elephants, and are for use for this tutorial.

Import GPS data from your handheld GPS device

1. Make sure that your Garmin or Magellan handheld GPS device is connected to your computer using your USB or Serial port connector, and that your GPS device is turned on.

Note: If you are using a USB connection, you may need to first install a driver for your GPS device. Drivers can be found on the CD that came with your device, or downloaded from the device manufacturer's web site.

2. Go to the Tools menu and select GPS.

3. In the GPS Import window, go to the Historical tab and choose your device: Garmin or Magellan.

4. Check the boxes if you want to import Waypoints, Tracks, and/or Routes.

5. Click Import. Your data will be downloaded from your device directly into Google Earth, where you can view and save it as described below.

6. Data imported from a GPS handheld device can be animated because it has time stamps (date and time) of when it was collected by the GPS device. Simply select the GPS data in the Places panel, and click Play on the Time Controls.

7. Save your GPS data to a KML file by right-clicking on your GPS data folder in the Places panel, and selecting Save Place As... or select the GPS device data in the Places panel, go to the File menu, and select Save Place As...

Tips:

  • You can also get data from your GPS device in real time. For example, if you go out in the field with your laptop, you can view your current location live on Google Earth. From the GPS Import dialog box, select the Real Time tab to see options for viewing live data. You'll need to make sure that your GPS device is connected and streaming data using one of the supported protocols (NMEA is the most common).
  • Before you disconnect your laptop from the internet and go out in the field, be sure to use Google Earth to fly to and view the places you'll be visiting so that the relevant imagery is saved in the cache on your hard drive.

Import GPS data from a file

If you have GPS data stored in a GPX or other type of file, you can open it in Google Earth. Also, if you have a GPS device for which Google Earth does not support direct connections, but which can export data to a file, you can still view your GPS data in Google Earth. Read the instructions that came with your GPS device for exporting data from your device to a file on your computer. You can also use third-party software like GPS Babel to download the GPX file to your computer.

1. If you do not have your own file to use (supported file formats are .gpx, .loc, and .mps), you can download and use this sample file provided by Save the Elephants, by right-clicking and saving the file GPS_track_Save-the-Elephants.gpx

2. Go to the File menu, select Open...

3. In the Open window, change the filetype to the GPS file types by using the Files of type list and selecting Gps (*.gpx, *.loc, *.mps).

4. Navigate to the appropriate location on your computer and select the GPS file.

5. Click Open to begin the import process.

6. In the GPS Data Import dialog box that appears, choose to download Waypoints, Tracks, and Routes. Also, choose to Draw lines for tracks and routes, and to Adjust altitudes to ground height.

7. Click OK. The file is imported and can be viewed in Google Earth as described below.

Once you've loaded your GPS data into Google Earth, you can edit the waypoint placemarks and track paths, and add more information about the waypoints and tracks in the balloons.

View and save your GPS data

1. Once you have loaded your GPS data into Google Earth, you can edit the waypoint placemarks and track paths, and add more information about the waypoints and tracks in the balloons. To edit a feature in Google Earth, right-click on the feature in the 3D viewer or the Places panel, and choose Properties (on a PC) or Get Info (on a Mac).

2. Data imported from a GPS handheld device can be animated because it has time stamps (date and time) of when it was collected by the GPS device. Simply select (highlight) the folder of GPS data in the Places panel, and click Play on the Time Controls.

3. To save your GPS data to a KML file on your hard drive, right-click (Ctrl-click on a Mac) on your GPS data folder in the Places panel, and select Save Place As.

The image below shows a final product of Save the Elephant's GPS track of an elephant they monitor.

Discussion & Feedback

Have questions about this tutorial? Want to give us some feedback? Visit the Google Earth Outreach Discussion Group to discuss it with others.

More information on importing GPS data is available in the Google Earth User Guide here.

What's Next?