Roads and Trails

I went for a walk today and, as I was walking on one of the local ATV trails, I thought that I would do a post on where I get all my information, as far as roads and trails goes.  Of course, some of it is just look and see, but I usually will do a lot of research using all kinds of maps first.

I have to say that there is no one mapping source that gives all the details that I look for when I’m doing research on any particular area.  Having said that, if it’s free you’re after, I mean legally free, if that means something to you, then the best source of topographical mapping here in Canada would be Ibycus.  I’m sure that a lot of people have never even heard of Ibycus, but take it from me, I’ve done tons and tons of research regarding maps for recreational purposes, and Ibycus does give quite a realistic idea of what you can expect to see when you get there, in regards to roads or trails.

Here is the link to get Ibycus;

If you are not sure how to download a torrent, basically, all you need is a little program called utorrent, which you can download here;

Once you install this, then just click on the link for Ibycus Topo Maps, and the torrent page will come up.  You will see a big green button, which reads “Download”, this is not the button to click on.  Just below it there is a smaller green line which reads “download this torrent”.  Click on this and a small box will open up.  If not already selected, then select Open With, and the drop down menu next to that should read utorrent, if not, then you may have to select the program manually.  Click OK, and utorrent will open automatically, and start downloading the file.  You can minimize this window to the task bar, because it is a large file, and it will take a long time to download, but it’s worth the wait.

As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of the maps I use do not differentiate very well between roads that you can drive your car on, and trails that are not suitable for cars.  So, I will usually consult a number of maps to see what each one shows, in order to get a better idea of what type of vehicle access there actually is.  Here’s an example;

Many of the maps I have will call something like this a road, when in fact, it is an ATV trail, and is unsuitable for larger vehicles.  There are literally hundreds of miles of these ATV trails around the Elliot Lake area, and they do make good hiking trails, but if you look at many maps, they will either not show them at all, or they will show them as roads.  This can be very misleading, so don’t depend on everything you see on a map.

Some of the other mapping programs I use are Garmin Topo Canada v4, City Navigator North America, and MetroGuide, including BaseCamp and Mapsource, Delorme Street Atlas and Delorme Topo, which are only USA, but do show a surprising amount of Canadian information on them, MicroSoft Streets and Trips, which is pretty useless for Topographical information, but is great for any other purposes.  All of these are programs that you can buy, and some even include a GPS in the package with them.

Now, all of the above mapping sources are stored on your computer, so you don’t need an internet connection to access them.  This can be important if you happen to spend a lot of time with no internet connection.  However, there are also online sources that can be very useful when it comes to researching areas that you are interested in.  First, and foremost would be Google Maps.  I prefer Google Maps to Google Earth because, to me, it’s just an easier to use interface.  You can’t beat an actual satellite image, which will give you a pretty good idea of what is in the area you select.  Even so, it’s not always easy to see if that’s a trail you are looking at, or a road, and some remote areas do not have a high enough resolution to be able to see much of anything.  Google Maps is just another source to cross-reference with, and it’s a good one.

Also, believe it or not, our own government has a pretty good website for topographic maps called Toporama, which is here;

This is an online source, but you can print out the maps if you want to, or you could save them to your hard drive for offline reference.

One thing that I’m always interested in, when I’m deciding where I want to go, is what’s called ‘Crown Land’ here in Canada.  In the US it’s referred to as ‘BLM’ land, or Bureau of Land Management.  These areas are owned by the government, and are supposed to be freely accessible to the public, although there could be some restrictions in certain cases.  Here in Ontario, I’ve found that “freely accessible” is not always as easy as it sounds.  It seems that there are resistant forces at work regarding access to said public lands, and making them not so easy to find, or not so easy to get into, seems to be a game being played by these resistant forces.  I’m not going to name any particular entity here, but suffice it to say that it’s not hard to figure out if you follow the money trail.

Crown Land in Ontario is broken up into different uses, and there is a very useful government mapping site that shows these areas, and colour-codes the different uses. You can find it here;

For the most part, Crown Land can be used, free of charge, for many recreational purposes, providing you can find it, and providing you can access it.  This is not always an easy task because the areas in which Crown Land exists are usually pretty remote, and well forested, if not very rocky and rugged.  This is why most people will resort to paying the ridiculous fees encountered for camping, or even hiking, in a provincial park.  If you wanted to stay in a provincial park for one complete month, which you can’t do according to rules and regulations, you would probably end up paying more than you pay for your mortgage or rent for one month where you live.  Does that make sense, or what?  And that’s only if you can find a campsite to book, since reservation of campsites starts in early spring, and most of the better campsites are taken well ahead of the camping season.

I prefer the wide-open spaces, where I won’t have a park ranger, or the yappy little dog at the next campsite, bothering me, when all I really wanted was some peace and quiet in a natural setting.  This is why I search for areas with accessible Crown Land, and I am having some success here in the Elliot Lake area.

For those interested in government-owned lands in the US, known as BLM lands, you might want to check out this website;

It’s similar to the Ontario Crown Lands map, and these lands are also, in most cases, free to use for recreational purposes, although lately I’ve heard that the US government is starting to put the squeeze on the rules and regulations for these areas.  One thing governments like to have is control over the people they govern.  If people start living in these areas, it’s very hard to control them, since they won’t have an official address, or residence.  But, this is exactly what’s happening, especially in warmer areas of the US, where it is easier to stay in National Forests, or BLM areas all year-long.  This is not so easy to do here in Canada, unless you are an Inuit, in which case the government has already taken everything from you, so you now have nothing to lose.

There’s one other source that I’ve just discovered, for those that have an ipod or iphone.  It’s an app called Topo Maps and, after you have downloaded and installed the app on your device, you can then access all the topo maps for Canada, and download each map tile, for any particular area of interest.  Each map tile is somewhere between 10 – 50 mb, and you can choose only the ones you want, from a total of about 70, 000 available for all of Canada, and parts of the US.  This is the information page for the Topo Maps app;

Now, the ipod does not have GPS capability, so you will need to get yourself a bluetooth GPS like I did.  It works great, and only cost me 20 bucks on ebay.  Mine is a Copilot that I got from a UK seller.  You can find it here;

You will also need a little app called BTstack GPS, which is available online from Cydia at minimal cost.  My pod is jailbroken, so I don’t know if this will work with non-jailbroken devices.

This is really handy, since I can carry it around with me on the trails, and have a functional GPS, with topographical maps, as well as all the other amazing things an ipod can do.  I would also suggest getting the portable battery/charger, for the ipod, to make certain that you don’t run out of battery power.  It only costs 10 bucks on ebay.  I won’t be using my ipod for tracking purposes, so it will not be on all the time.  I will only turn it on to get a spot reading, or to mark a certain spot on the map, that will keep the power requirement pretty low.

Ok, so there ya go, that’s what I do with my time when I’m not out on the trail, or just walking in the great outdoors.  I do also want to do some driving on roads that go well into remote areas, and I have located a number of possibilities not too far from here.  There are some 200 km loops that could be very interesting, and very remote.  Not a place you would want to break down.  I’m sure CAA would not take too kindly to sending a tow truck into some of these places, but I do carry a good selection of tools with me, and I know how to use them, so that might help out in some cases.  Anyway, you can’t take all the adventure out of exploring, otherwise what kind of fun would it be?


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