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Navigation using GPS or “smartphone” technology

Summary – In recent years, navigation systems, using GPS [global positioning system], and more recently, “smartphone” technology, have emerged as a reliable and inexpensive way for hikers to determine their precise location.  This is particularly useful to people who enjoy outdoor recreation where more conventional navigation, such as street names or building landmarks, would be unavailable.

Description – Up to only a few years ago GPS was the best and only way to determine one’s location.  More recently with the rapid popularizaton of smartphone technology, such as the iPhone and iPad, another form of navigation has emerged that is even easier to use, when it is available.  Both types of navigation presuppose access to their respective service: a GPS device needs to communicate with at least four [of 24] satellites to obtain its positioning data.  Smartphone navigation requires access to a cellphone data service.  Therefore GPS may be more appropriate for remote areas where cellphone data service is not available. 

In more developed areas, with reliable cellphone data service, GPS may be avoided, which is of benefit both to the trail map producer and the hiker.  Where GPS is the only option, coordinates can be provided locating primary facilities, such as trailheads and intersections, significant features, and amenities.  This information should be added to websites, printed materials and trail signage. 

Importance/Purpose – More people are using navigational tools such as GPS or smartphone technology.  These are particularly useful to people with visual impairments.   At remote trails, adding GPS coordinates to the trailhead and significant features or amenities provides users with essential information.

Examples – apply to GPS locations, only

  1. Provide GPS coordinates for beginning and end of a trail.

  2. Provide GPS coordinates for amenities such as restrooms, picnic areas, visitor center, water, etc.

  3. Provide GPS coordinates to indicate where there are significant features of the trail such as surface changes, changes to trail width, stairs, steep grades, etc.


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Graphic 2 and 3

Devices, such as the iPad [upper] and iPhone [lower], receive signals from cellphone data towers and require no coordinates

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Graphic 1

A GPS device, such as this Garmin, receives signals from up to 24 satellites and uses the data to establish a 3-dimensional position on earth

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