NCTA’s Mapping Resources – Summer 2017 Update

by Matt Rowbotham, NCTA’s GIS Coordinator

The NCTA is moving forward in a number of exciting mapping areas. The impetus behind our current efforts is the opportunity to deliver trail users a unified mapping system. Going beyond paper maps, our current system facilitates direct access to the trail data used to create the official North Country Trail maps.

Although traditional paper maps are still the most reliable and fundamental tool for backcountry navigation, the NCTA’s goal is to make our map content available in as many of today’s most popular platforms as is possible. Including desktop/laptop computers, tablets, smartphone, GPS receivers and of course traditional paper maps.

Core Datasets

The NCTA maps are built around three core sets of data.
These are the:

  • NCT centerline
  • NCT point data
  • New mileage index

The first step with this system was getting the NCTA’s data out from behind the organization’s internal network. This came about through our hugely popular ArcGIS Online (AGOL) mapping system. Available at home, on the road or in the field. The AGOL platform allows us to deliver our core data sets to the public with rapid updates.

As we’ve continued to improve this system, there are a number of new features we’ve recently rolled out.

New features in the NCT point data layer

Google Driving Directions

A significant new feature we’ve built into the NCT point data layer is a direct link that will launch Google Maps driving directions directly from any of the points (Parking, Camping, etc) in our system.

Users are now able to click on any point feature along the trail and by clicking the “Google Maps Directions” link Google Maps will launch on your device with point you’ve selected automatically set as the destination.

This is especially useful on mobile devices, simply enter your starting location select your route jump in your car and let your mobile device guide your way. As a somewhat new resident of northern Michigan, this has become my go-to strategy for exploring new parts of the NCT. I personally use it weekly!

We’re now adding photos to many of these point features. Over the coming years we anticipate having a nearly complete photo inventory of the facilities along the trail. Beyond just being interesting to look at, having a photo of things like parking area will be really informative with things like how many cars can fit, remoteness, etc.

Mileage Index


The most consistent complaint we’ve heard about our online mapping system has been how difficult measuring distances along the trail can be.

The “half-mile” waypoints we’ve been adding to our new hiking map series are serving as a great work-around, creating a mileage index we can load on the online map.

This can be used to easily estimate distances along the route of the trail. Currently, we have a mileage index available and online for North Dakota and Michigan…with the rest of the trail in the works.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when using these points:

  1. The points don’t appear on the online map until you zoom into a detailed scale.
  2. The mileage labels currently don’t work on the Explorer for ArcGIS app many of you may be using on your tablets or mobile devices, although the labels work fine on the web version. When using the app, you’ll need to click on the point to see the mileage.
  3. Lastly, and most importantly these mileage markers are not set in stone and they will change regularly and in some cases significantly. It’s important to always check the online map for the latest updates. Stay tuned it’s going to continue to get better from here.

Want to learn more?

Please join us this Wednesday, June 28th at 7:30PM EDT on our Facebook Page for a live question and answer session focused on the NCTA’s mapping resources and how you can best use them: https://www.facebook.com/northcountrytrail

We are currently running the NCT2GO Digital Map Campaign to fund these great advances we are making to our map program.

Your gift will really make a difference – https://northcountrytrail.org/nct2go/

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