As high resolution elevation data becomes increasingly available through the USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP), we regularly make updates to our elevation dataset so that it reflects the best data out there. We recently added high resolution elevation data for some new areas that we are pretty excited to show off. No matter how many times we’ve done it, we can’t help but admire the new data.
But don’t take our word for it- check it out for yourself!
First up, take a look at the Wind River Range in Wyoming, which was one of the lucky areas that received an update. Below are two images from the Cirque of Towers, both with the MapBuilder Topo and slope angle shading layers. The original lower resolution elevation data is on the left and the new high resolution elevation data is on the right. Notice the increased level of detail in the image on the right. It is much easier to discern subtle changes in the elevation of the terrain, which might affect your route or trip planning decisions.
Above: Split image of the Cirque of Towers, Wind River Range, WY. Move the slider to compare the original lower resolution elevation data (left) with the new high resolution elevation data (right).
This difference is even more pronounced when you check out the shaded relief layer in the same area.
Above: Cirque of Towers again but this time with shaded relief. Compare the original lower resolution elevation data (left) to the high resolution elevation data (right).
Glaciated terrain might be one of the best places to gawk at the increased detail of the high resolution data. Check out Gannett Peak, also in the Wind River Range. The difference in the original and new elevation data on this glaciated peak is astounding- notice how you can spot the location of crevasses when the data was collected in the image on the right, whereas they are largely absent from the image on the left.
Above: High resolution elevation data means more details. Check out the crevasses that are visible in the high resolution image (right) but absent in the lower resolution image (left).
The Wind River Range wasn’t the only place that got an update- Yosemite National Park in California was also a winner this time around! Take a look at Slide Mountain. This one is a particularly neat example because you can see evidence of a rockslide to the east of the peak in the high resolution image on the right but it is missing from the image on the left.
Above: Even rock slides can be captured by the high resolution elevation data (right), as shown in these images from Slide Mountain, CA.
Where available, high resolution elevation data is incorporated into any CalTopo tool or layer that uses our elevation dataset. This includes layers such as MapBuilder Topo, MapBuilder Hybrid, shaded relief, slope angle shading, sun exposure overlay and custom DEM layers, as well as tools like elevation profiles. Just look at the higher level of detail the sun exposure overlay shows with high resolution elevation data in the Elk Mountains in Colorado- that update looks good on you, Elks!
Above: Blinded by the light and the increased level of detail in the sun exposure overlay with high resolution elevation data (right) in the Elk Mountains, CO.
The difference is pretty wild, isn’t it? In addition to the Wind River Range, Yosemite and the Elk Mountains, other notable areas that were part of the most recent high resolution elevation data import include:
- Trinity Alps, California
- California Coast Ranges
- Big Bend National Park, Texas
- Black Canyon National Park, Colorado
- Large portions of Colorado including the Sawatch Range
To see all the areas that currently have high resolution elevation data, check out this interactive coverage map.
Where coverage is available, high resolution elevation data can be accessed from the web, mobile and desktop apps. And if you have the appropriate subscription, you can download it for offline use, allowing you to bring high resolution elevation data with you into the backcountry.
Above: Couldn’t resist one more split image, this time in Black Canyon National Park, CO on the mobile app. Move the slider to compare the original lower resolution elevation data (left) with the new high resolution elevation data (right).
At this time, CalTopo does not automatically update offline downloads when we do a new elevation data update. If you notice discrepancies between the online elevation data and your offline downloads, make sure to delete your old downloaded tiles and re-download the latest ones. More information on managing your offline downloads can be found in the Mobile App- Offline Use or CalTopo Desktop- Download and Sync sections of our user guide.
And as a reminder: while high resolution elevation data is incredibly useful for backcountry travel, it should still not be relied on as a definitive source of truth. There are limitations, including possible errors or accuracy issues with the dataset or our processing of it which can artificially create or omit terrain features. It is also important to note that all elevation data is just a snapshot of the terrain at one point in time; natural and manmade forces can dramatically alter the terrain since that data was gathered.
Always carefully assess and evaluate any terrain that you are traveling in, and confirm your observations instead of relying solely on maps. Seek professional instruction on how to travel safely in the backcountry- our partners at the American Mountain Guide Association and American Avalanche Association have some great resources to get you started.