The good news is that if you own a Garmin GPS device, there's a way to get free Garmin GPS maps. And in most cases, the free maps are much better than the expensive Garmin maps. I'm a big fan of Garmin GPS devices, but I always found it disappointing that they charged extra for maps. Garmin doesn't publicize it, but their GPS units are setup to take any maps in the correct format. Here's how to get and install these free hiking maps in an easy, step-by-step process.
So many folks ask me about free hiking maps for their Garmin GPS, so I hope this article helps. If you do better with video, I have a step-by-step video outlining the process at the end of the post.
In retrospect, I think the price for Garmin maps is too high. There are some as good, or better, alternatives available at no cost online. This product is overpriced for what it is. I would recommend other software. – Garmin Map Review on Amazon
Why These Free Maps?
So let me start by saying there are a lot of ways to get free Garmin GPS maps, and a lot of different methods to install them. You could create whole websites devoted to the subject, and people have (see below). This article focuses on installing my favorite free Garmin GPS maps for hiking in the USA, using OpenStreetMaps. If these don’t work for you, try exploring the other map services that I have listed below.
OpenStreetMaps are the Wikipedia of maps. The public contributes to, confirms, and edits the data on the map. This curation goes for hiking trails too. The maps are regularly updated, and over the last few years have seemed the most accurate in my experience. You can even become a contributor if you like.
The free hiking maps that I’m recommending are great because:
They are good topographic maps with elevation contours.
They have a large number of hiking trails on them.
They are “routable,” which means that you can use free tools like Garmin Basecamp to automatically create routes and tracks that you can follow (without having to plot each point of the trail yourself).
The colors and detail work well for me. That is, they look good on the device.
USA regions are packaged together.
Which Garmin GPS devices do the maps work with?
First off, the Garmin unit you have might have maps already. You probably know this, but if you’re shopping for a GPS, go to the Garmin website page for the unit. If it maps come with the unit, it will say it has “preloaded topo maps.”
If you already have a unit and want to find out if these free maps work, go to the unit’s page on the Garmin website, and then check out the “specs” section. There is a line for “ability to add maps,” if you have a check there, you’re good to go.
Or use the maps at garmin.openstreetmap.nl, Download your map first. This will create a single “img” file for each map you download. Then copy that map file to your Garmin (the drive if you have a micro SD card, not the device) in the “Garmin” folder (which you must create first if it doesn’t already exist).
If These Free Garmin GPS Maps Don’t Work For You
There are other free maps for your Garmin GPS, and again, they might have different instructions for installation. Check the website where the maps are offered for directions on how to install them.
GPSFileDepot is a great resource that’s frequently updated. I recommend trying this site before any others.
And I could use your help. I don’t download these maps every day, so if these directions don’t seem up to date, please contact me and let me know. I’ll update the directions here accordingly.
Lastly, a note if you’re having tech issues. Unfortunately, I can’t help everyone who emails me. I recommend posting your question online in the Garmin Reddit, the Garmin Forums, or in a Garmin group on Facebook. That’s probably you’re quickest path to success.