Hiking and Map Applications
MPG V2.8, January 2013


Twenty years ago, anyone interesed in hiking in Mt. Rainier NP was limited to paperback books and paper maps. In the intervening years digital versions of books are now available for computers, smartphones or tablet, and digital maps and map applications are avaible for the same platforms.

My interest in Mt. Rainier started nearly 40 years ago with my first weekend trip to the Paradise Ice caves and intensified in the 1990's with hiking and photographing in the NP 2-3 weekends every month from spring through fall (not a winter snow person) and eventually working on the photography guide after my retirement from the USGS in December 2005.

That said, being a geographer I love good hiking and map applications, adding a good array of them to my library of books and stacks of maps for Mt. Rainier NP, enough to present the applications I've found which are good for different uses for hiking and understanding the NP.

Mac Computer Applications

I'll begin with desktop computer, which applies equally to laptop computers, but focused on Mac computers as I've only had them after retiring from my first Mac G5 PPC to my current Mac Pro (older version - newer version in the future).

The first application is the National Geographic TOPO! software. Unfortunately, NG discontinued offering the product in 2012 and stopped support for Mac's or PC's in 2013, but the older version (4.2) has worked with every version of OS-X so far. NG offers the software on their download Web page. It's version 4.2, not 4.5.4 as listed because 4.2 is the only one that works.

The downside to this application is two-fold. First, the maps are only current through the 1990's at best, meaning the changes in then in the NP are not reflected in the maps. Second, you need to find a copy of the maps for the software which were only available on CD's from NG. Anyone with a copy could sell or share them as they're no longer of any real value without the software.

The second application is MacGPS Pro, found on their Website. With the app you have to buy the maps, either through download or CD's. The maps are the older style of USGS map with updates and the newer USFS maps. The application isn't very user-friendly and could stand improvements but still very useful when you want to work with larger areas with many topographic maps.

The third application is Garmin's Basecamp. This is free software for their own maps so you still have to buy their maps for the application. This application is more aimed at their GPS devices, but still useful for some applications.

The fourth application is Google Earth/Earth Pro. The Pro version is now free so there's no reason not to download and use it over the other version. It's kinda' cool to use and they keep the photo coverage updated periodically, within the last 1-2 years for Mt. Rainier NP.

The last application isn't so much a map applications as a PDF tool which reads the latest (2014) version of the USGS topo maps which were produced in multi-layer PDF files which Acrobat Pro handles easily, although any computer-based PDF reader will work with these maps which are way cool to use, but the maps won't work on mobile device applications.

In the end, I tend to open the NG application because I know the changes to the NP and the application is very user-friendly, albeit slow to navigate even after I downloaded all the maps off the CD's to the Mac's HD's so they're faster running than from disc.

After that I tend to open the MacGPS Pro application and Google Earth Pro so I can have the variety of sources available to search and view maps on Mt. Rainier NP. I don't use Garmin's much because the maps are a different style than USGS topographic maps.

iPhone/iPad Applications

I have four map and hiking guide applications on my iPad, but none on my iPhone because the screen is too small to be useful. Each offers differences which makes them useful for work on the photo guide, as will be presented below.

The first of the applications is toopmapsapp by Phillip Endecott, available from iTunes. This is an excellent application once you get past the cost (small considering the maps and app), and extremely useful when I work on stuff in cafes or elsewhere.

The key to the application is that you can download two different resolutions of maps (the HD is obviously the better choice, but longer to download and use). The app is easy to use and has lots of tools with the maps. Again the downside is the maps are the older versions for Mt. Rainier NP.

The second application is Avenza's PDF Maps, available from iTunes. This application is more a collection of maps from different sources, some free and some a few dollars each, but they offer an amazing arrary of the latest versions USFS, NPS, NG, etc. maps you have and use with an iPad.

The next two are more hiking guide applications than maps applications, but have maps in the application. The first is National Geographic's National Parks application, available from iTunes. The downside with the app is that you have to purchase each NP separately, but the Mt. Rainier NP one is good for an overview with lots of information and a good, useful map.

The second one TUA Outdoors Hiking Mt Rainier NP. This has less a maps, although the maps in the application are good, but an excellent hiking guide with trails, trailheads, etc. It is an excellent resource for hikes and trails and easily worth the cost.

There are other applications in iTunes for travel guides and hikes in Mt Rainier NP, but most of them are general travel guides, some without recent updates, for the whole area around the NP than focusing on the NP, but offering some common information about the NP you can find on-line.

One I've found is a good general hiking guide is the Washington Trails Association hiking guide to Washington state, which include hikes in Mt. Rainier NP, but you have to use the search tool to find them.


While the following are't applications, I'll list them as resources which you can access via the browser on a smartphone or tablet.

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WSR V2.8, January 2013