With winter rapidly approaching, we thought it was an ideal time for another high resolution elevation data import from the USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP). Although we regularly make updates to our elevation dataset as high resolution elevation data becomes increasingly available, the striking difference between the original lower resolution elevation data and the high resolution elevation data never gets old.
Check it out for yourself! Each of the images below are split images of the same location with the new high resolution elevation data on the left and the original lower resolution elevation data on the right. Move the slider to compare these two elevation datasets and see the difference high resolution elevation data makes!
Above: Split image of Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, with the shaded relief layer.
Above: Split image of the Sierras in California with MapBuilder Topo.
Above: Split image of Pyramid Peak near Aspen, CO with MapBuilder Topo and slope angle shading.
In addition to the above areas, other notable areas that were part of the latest high resolution elevation data import include:
- El Dorado National Forest (south of Lake Tahoe), CA
- All of southwest Colorado
- Large portions of Rocky Mountain National Park
- All of southeast New Mexico and large portions of northwest New Mexico
- Northern Idaho
- All of southwest Wyoming
- All of Nebraska
- All of southwest South Dakota
- Large portions of Georgia
To see all the areas that currently have high resolution elevation data, check out this interactive coverage map.
Where can I see high resolution elevation data on CalTopo?
High resolution elevation data is available on the web, mobile, and desktop app. If you have a mobile subscription or higher, you can download it for offline use, allowing you to bring the high resolution elevation data with you into the backcountry.
Please keep in mind that currently 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.
Limitations of high resolution elevation data
While high resolution elevation data is incredibly useful for backcountry travel, it should still not be relied on as a definitive source of truth. As is true of any map (even paper maps!), it is a model of the terrain (albeit a pretty good one!) but not the terrain itself. For a more in depth discussion, check out our blog post Maps and Tracks: Accuracy, Precision, and your Phone GPS (Part 1).
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.