Paper Route Maps vs. Digital Data: What It Means & How to Use It

February 16, 2017 - Jenn Milyko is Adventure Cycling's Routes & Mapping Assistant Director.

Photo courtesy of Jenn Milyko

Adventure Cycling has 52,066 miles of mapped routes in the Adventure Cycling Route Network. And since the spring of 2016, we’ve been producing and selling a new product to supplement our paper route maps, GPX data for devices.

To be clear, the GPX data is NOT a map — it is DATA to be displayed on a map via an app on your Android or iOS device or directly on a Garmin GPS unit. 

For example, the image below is what a map panel (with bi-directional narrative) for the paper Bicycle Route 66 looks like:

Image of Map Panel

For mobile devices and GPS units, map backgrounds will vary, as will the symbology of the data. What will be constant is the presence of track lines and service points. This is a pair of images showing what the GPX data tracks (the orange line) and services (the pushpin symbols) for the same stretch looks like using Easy Trails on an iPhone:

Easy Trails Images

Once you are clear what you are getting with this data purchase, I recommend you check out our various support pages. They will help you get set up and riding in no time with the data. You can even download sample data to try before your buy.

The support pages cover a variety of topics:

The data is available for a dozen routes:

And later this spring, when the Chicago to New York City maps are published, we’ll have that data available as well.

Photo courtesy of Jenn Milyko

I am planning to take this data out for a ride myself later this summer when I take off on a cross-country tour. I’ll report back on how it worked for me. In the meantime, I’d like to hear more about how it’s working for you. Please leave me feedback in the comments below.

Photos courtesy of Jenn Milyko


GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Hamelman, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears once a month, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.


Denis May 12, 2017, 9:46 PM

I would like to offer my computer science experience and to join / start a discussion how to improve the digital maps data, mainly how to make it easier for users of the digital data to provide feedback back to ACA, then how to analyze this data and feed it back into the release. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think ACA has automated this process, similar to how gmaps is gathering data from users of the map and validate it.

Melissa May 15, 2017, 3:50 PM

Thanks Denis. We'll contact you via email.

James Dennis April 23, 2017, 7:55 AM

Thanks for all the hard work that all of you do in the Maps department. I recently completed the survey regarding maps. I use maps and RWGPS. if I could have only one it would be the map every time, please do not diminish in any way the current amount of information you place on your maps!! They are spot on!! If you wish to supplement them via electronic route changes for safety, road work, etc... I'm all for it. If all routes currently available in the RWGPS format; I would still purchase the paper map but also subscribe to the club membership for electronic maps...chiefly RWGPS because it is exact as you route it.

Keep up All the Good Work

Jennifer H Milyko April 25, 2017, 2:35 PM

Thanks, James!

Marty Metcalf March 31, 2017, 11:55 PM

This is the dreams and the real adventures we undertake as the people checking out from the "REAL" world and riding into the sunset at 60 years plus. Keep up the dreams kids. We are with you.... and we are going to ride your routes. Thank you and bless your endevours.

Linda Gryczan March 25, 2017, 5:45 PM

Using Gaia gps on my iPhone saved me from going off route on the GDMBR last summer. I've always used paper maps on road tours but it's a different story with unsigned roads in the back country.

Don March 17, 2017, 6:23 AM

Maps are essential. GPS is luxury, and requires electricity.

Michael Moses March 13, 2017, 11:25 AM

Correct that the Garmin in not completely reliable. That I find now to be irrelevant today anyhow. The routing methodology of Garmin and RWGPS are completely different, and opposite. The Garmin 810 and the other Garmin units calculate the route on the fly, totally unlike the RWGPS program (running either on the iPhone or Android), which calculates the track, and turn by turn cues while you create "the route" on the PC or Mac. With RWGPS, "What you see is what you get". Once you save your route it is written in stone and will never change.

Given that RWGPS is "the only program in the world that gives you verbal turn by turn directions from a downloadable route", and that it is 100 percent reliable makes it the only possible choice for me. For everyone else I see it as the clear choice, given that everyone has a smartphone to run RWGPS, vs paying $800 for a Garmin & yearly map updates. RWGPS costs $60 for a yearly subscription, which winds up being cheaper in the Garmin & replacing it when it is no longer current.

What should be of interest to Adventure Cycling is that they can purchase a club membership for $250 per year, and then all of their members could access all of their RWGPS routes and automatically receive the privileges of a paid user while riding the route, the full RWGPS navigation feature including verbal turn by turn cues. What more could you ask for. This is a great deal.

Jennifer H Milyko March 28, 2017, 9:09 AM

Thanks for the suggestion, Michael. As it turns out, our Tours department is experimenting with using the Club membership feature for sharing routes on some tours with participants.

Ken Scovill March 9, 2017, 2:02 PM

I suppose the majority of people who ride the great divide use gps, what about just the aca maps and good odometer? Doable?

Jennifer H Milyko March 14, 2017, 9:24 AM

Our map and a reliable odometer are sufficient for riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. People did it for years without GPS data available.


Whitney gonsoulin February 17, 2017, 4:38 AM

I rode the transamerica last summer with just the paper maps and never needed or wanted a gps device .

Chip McMillan February 21, 2017, 10:50 PM

Good for you, Whitney. That's exactly what I wanted to hear.

Mark Luffman February 16, 2017, 2:20 PM

Great idea Rich! Ride with GPS is my go to for everything GPS! Wishing and Hoping.....

Jennifer H Milyko February 17, 2017, 10:46 AM

Rich and Mark,

The data is a gpx file and as such can be uploaded to the RideWithGPS site. I don't know that we will ever distribute it directly as a link. It is something we may look into.

I hope you both have great adventures lined up for this year!


Rich Knox February 16, 2017, 10:51 AM

I haven't found the ACA GPX files very useful. I use a Garmin 810 for navigation. I prefer to load routes as TCX files, which give me turn by turn cues. I rely on the map more than the cues, but having them allows me to easily find out things like how far it is to the next turn. I purchase the paper maps and transcribe the routes to Ride with GPS. Then I can export the route as a TCX file. This exercise also gets me really familiar with the route, I use my Garmin as primary navigation. I carry the paper maps as backup and for reference to all the other useful information on the paper maps.

Jennifer H Milyko February 16, 2017, 1:28 PM


When we started down the digital data road in 2003 and again when we revisited the process via beta testing in 2014, we opted to go with gpx files for distribution. We found it to be the most versatile file format. In testing, no unit could not read a gpx file.

And, as you've noted, program/sites such as RideWithGPS can export them as txc files for use in a Garmin Edge series device.

We advise caution when using the turn prompts. From the guide to using our data on Garmin 800 units:

"Many users like the GPS device to give turn prompts. This is reliable most of the time, but not all of the time, depending on how the device map matches the one used to generate the track. Since they are unlikely to be identical, turn prompts may occasionally give incorrect information or attempt to calculate different routes."

There is no one right way to prepare your route for a tour, to each his or her own.


Rich Knox February 16, 2017, 2:15 PM


Thanks for your reply. I don't rely on the turn by turn cues. Mostly I ride the map or occasionally the elevation profile. I like to check the cue list on my Garmin to see how far it is to the next turn. If I could have digital data from ACA in any form I wished, I'd want a link to the route on Ride with GPS. I've actually gotten this for a few rides where there isn't an official paper map (e.g., Big Island Hawaii, Puerto Rico). It would be awesome if there were a link to a Ride with GPS route for each printed map. I'm not sure how this would fit into ACA's business model of selling paper maps, but it's the solution that would give me the most value as a user.

Mark February 16, 2017, 10:55 AM

Great ideas Rich. I do something similar using RidewithGPS and tweak the route data that I import and then export to a tcx for my Garmin. I also share the tcx with the other riders who join on the route.

Mark February 16, 2017, 10:05 AM

Surprise, the map data that I received as a paying member is now going to cost me for each route section and as a bonus, I can pay extra if I purchase an entire route as a group. Why is there not a discount for purchasing the entire group? Hopefully the digital data will be more up to date than it has been in the past when the map data was free for paid members!

Jennifer H Milyko February 16, 2017, 1:17 PM

Hi Mark,

When you purchase the digital data for an entire route (the set), the price is discounted from $3.75/section to $3.50/section.

I also want to clarify that the data we offer(ed) for free is limited to waypoints and is at a lower resolution. The newer version of digital data is a high resolution track and the service points contain the same information found on our printed route maps.

We will be implementing interim data updates mostly limited to route changes due to safety.


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