Every Single Trail in California, on One Map

Credit: California Hiking Map

Americans love hiking. In 2015, 38.7 million of us spent time hiking and backpacking off the beaten path. And from the Pacific Crest Trail to the John Muir Woods and Yosemite National Park, California is a trail-goers mecca. And until recently, hikers and backpackers in the Golden State had to mix and piecemeal trail information and maps together from multiple resources — such as the U.S. Forest Service, National Parks Service, and Google. But thanks to one man, anyone who wants to explore the trails of California now has access to a single comprehensive map that documents every trail in the state.

Jason Mandly, an air-quality planner who loves hiking with his family, funded the California Hiking Map via Kickstarter and hopes it will serve as a one-stop-shop for hikers — especially those looking to do long-distance hikes that may have never been done before. “It's great for tracking hikes with pins or pen because you can see the larger trail network,” Mandly says. “It's an opportunity to tie together a bunch of trails and plan a new long-distance route." He also hopes the map shows as a visual reminder that no matter where you live or visit in California, nearby trails of all sorts of variety await.   

While creating the map, Mandly quickly found that even with online topographies and graphic design, map-making can still feel as difficult was it was in the days of Lewis and Clark. “I found out during this process that California is huge! I get why this kind of map hasn't been made yet for paper,” he says. “It's difficult getting the detail that you need for it to be useful into so little space. Labeling was especially hard since each label had to be hand-placed so it didn't cover a trail, another label, or an interesting topographical feature.”

Throughout the process, Mandly combined preexisting information to ensure that he assembled not only the popular routes from across the state onto the map, but also lesser-known trails. He used the U.S. Forest Service archives and cleaned up online data to find missing trails, remove snowmobiling routes, OHV trails, and other non-hiking routes. “The majority of the trails came from manually checking each federal, state, county, and local park map with satellite imagery and digitizing (tracing) the trails,” he says.

Mandly isn’t set on keeping his mapping skills exclusively in his home state of California, either. He says that in the future, he would be open to creating more comprehensive maps for other regions of the U.S. “I haven't checked yet to see if other states have a single map available for the entire state, but I imagine most would be a little easier to assemble than California's,” he says. But for the time being, hikers can use the map to plan their next route in the Golden State, from the Rae Lakes Loop, which plunges right into middle of the John Muir Trail, to Mandly’s favorite secret trail — the Thomes Gorge in Tehama County.