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Import data from GPS devices

If you have a GPS (Global Positioning System) device, you can connect it to your computer to import your waypoint and track data in Google Earth. This will allow you to view your GPS data inside of Google Earth.

Click any of these topics for more information:

Supported GPS Devices

Google Earth currently supports most GPS devices from Garmin and Magellan, in addition to the Wintec WBT - 201.

The GPSBabel web site lists the devices officially supported by the Google Earth GPS import feature. You can try using other devices not included on this list, but they may or may not work correctly.

If you're using a device that is not supported, you can try importing GPS data to your computer from the device as a .gpx or .loc file and then opening it in Google Earth. See Importing Existing GPS Data Files.

Required Connectors

You will need either a serial cable or USB cable to connect the GPS device to your computer. Most GPS devices are sold with one of these cables. If your GPS device didn’t come with a cable, you can visit the manufacturer's website to purchase the correct one for your model.

About GPS Points

You can choose how your GPS data is imported into Google Earth. When your GPS data is imported into Google Earth, a dialogue will appear asking if you would like to import Tracks, Waypoints, Routes, or all of the above.

  • Tracks - Tracks (or trackpoints) are points that are automatically recorded by the GPS device as you travel.
  • Waypoints - Waypoints are points entered by the user. Waypoints are typically marked with a name, such as "home" or "turnaround point."
  • Routes - Route points are used by the GPS device to create a route from one recorded point to another recorded point. Route points can contain multiple sets of directions and can be imported into Google Earth as paths.

Importing GPS Data

There are two ways to import your GPS data into Google Earth:

  • Import an existing GPS data file
  • Import data directly from your GPS device
After importing, to save your GPS data, move it into the "My Places" folder before closing Google Earth.

Importing Existing GPS Data Files

You can import an existing GPS data file of any supported type (including GPX, Garmin GDB, NMEA log files, etc.) in one of the following ways:

  • Go to File > Open, choose your data file, and press “Open.”
  • To import any of the file types listed above, just drag and drop it into Google Earth.
  • Go to Tools > GPS, click the "Import from file" button. Browse to find your file, and press "Open."

When you import existing GPS data, select how you’d like to display the data from the options in this dialog box:

"Create KML Tracks" and "Adjust altitudes to ground height" are selected by default.

  • Create KML Tracks

    Select “Create KML Tracks” to view your GPS data as a track. A track is a line of GPS data that includes a time element. If available in the source data, tracks can also store additional sensor data such as heart rate, cadence, temperature, and power. Plus, the tracks option will allow you to customize your icon.

    The tracks option is highly recommended if you are planning to view your data in Google Earth 5.2 or later, and is the best option to be used with the elevation profile feature in 5.2. Learn more about GPS tracks.

  • Create KML LineStrings

    Select “Create KML LineStrings” to view your GPS data as a LineString. The LineStrings option is best for people who wish to import their data into Google Maps or other KML viewers. A LineString is a line of GPS data that doesn't have a time element associated with it. This option lets you see the individual points that make up your track. The points, however, do hold time information.

    While this option does include elevation and location information, you must access it from within the balloon associated with each point rather than from the line.

  • Adjust Altitudes to Ground Height

    Select “Adjust altitudes to ground height” to adjust all recorded points to ground level, such as when importing a track taken on foot, car, or bike. However, if your GPS track was recorded while traveling by air, such as hang gliding or flying on a plane, make sure this option is not selected so that your points appear as above-ground points.

Importing Data From Your GPS Device

Importing the data from your GPS device to Google Earth is simple:

  1. Make sure the necessary drivers, if any, are installed on your computer. If you are using a Windows computer and a Garmin USB device that requires USB drivers, install the USB driver from the CD included with your GPS device, or download the driver from the the Garmin website.
  2. Connect your GPS device to the computer running Google Earth with the serial cable or USB cable that came with your device. Make sure your GPS is turned off when connecting.
  3. Turn on the GPS device. Once your device is on and activated, it is not necessary to wait until it connects to satellites.
  4. From the 'Tools' menu, select GPS. The “GPS Import” window appears.

  5. Under Device, select the correct manufacturer type for your GPS device. If you are importing a file, select “Import from file.” For more information, see Importing Existing GPS Data Files.
  6. Under Import, select the types of data you want to import. We recommend using the default option to have all three types selected. This will allow for all types of GPS data to be transferred.
  7. Under Output, select KML Tracks" or “KML LineStrings to choose how you would like your GPS tracks to be displayed. Learn more about KML Tracks and KML LineStrings.
  8. Check the Adjust altitude to ground height option to adjust all recorded points to ground level, such as when importing a track taken on foot, car, or bike. However, if your GPS track was recorded while traveling by air, such as hang gliding or flying on a plane, make sure this option is not selected so that your points appear as above-ground points.
  9. Click Import. When your GPS data is finished loading into Google Earth, a confirmation dialog box appears.
TIp: If your GPS data is taking much longer than expected to import, we recommend you decrease the sampling rate when collecting your GPS data. Most GPS receivers allow you to set the track sampling rate. By decreasing the sampling rate you are collecting fewer points over the same amount of time.

Your data appears in the Places panel with the label GPS Device. If you expand the GPS Device folder, you can see your GPS data sorted into separate folders depending upon the type of data, as illustrated in the example below.

You can expand those folders to explore the information further, in addition to organizing, editing, sharing, and saving the data. If you selected both the “KML Tracks” and “KML LineString” output options when importing your data, you’ll find your data in both the Track and LineString formats within your Tracks folder.

Note: If you receive a connection error when importing your data, turn off the GPS device and turn it on again, then return to Step 4.

Real Time GPS Tracking

If you have connected your portable computer to a GPS device, you can view GPS information in real time. For example, if you have your GPS device connected to your laptop while you are traveling, you can capture your location and track your progress in Google Earth. To do this:

  1. Connect your GPS device and portable computer as described in steps 1-4 of the Importing Data From Your GPS Devicesection.
  2. In the GPS dialog box, click the 'Realtime' tab.
  3. Select the appropriate options:
    • Select protocol: If you're not sure what to use, choose “NMEA”.
    • Track point import limit: The track point import limit option defines the number of positions that are saved and drawn on the screen. A smaller number can result in faster data, but a less accurate depiction of your journey, while a larger number can mean the opposite.
    • Polling interval (seconds): The polling interval is how often Google Earth collects data from the GPS device.
    • Automatically follow the path: Check this option to turn on the 3D viewer center and follow the current real-time GPS track.
  1. Click Start to begin realtime GPS tracking.