Downloaded offline trail maps on Apple Watch make hikers lives easier and safer

How to download offline maps and use on Apple Watch

One of the main complaints of Apple Watch users, especially Apple Watch Ultra users, is that the watch does not have offline maps capability in the Apple Maps app.

With Apple iOS 17 and watchOS 10, this wish finally comes ‘somewhat’ true for many Apple Watch fans who are avid athletes.

In this short article, we explore the various features that Apple has provided to download maps, understand trail conditions, and more.

Related Reading:

About Apple’s offline Maps app capabilities

Apple Watch with top map
With topo maps on Apple Watch, you get incredible details on natural features like mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, trails, contour lines, elevation, and points of interest. You can also get elevation alerts to let you know when you reach a certain elevation

Before we proceed, it’s important to point out that the new map features, especially the topographical maps, are amazing in look and feel but still need work.

Sadly, using the Maps app, you still cannot save an offline map directly on your Apple Watch. Instead, use your iPhone to download the map via the Maps app, and then Apple shares those offline maps between your iPhone and watch.

It’s still a hard sell to most Garmin users (the feature does not allow you to load routes to your Apple Watch like Garmin); however, Apple Watch athletes who may be thinking of jumping into the Garmin world might now have a good reason to pause and explore these new features available in iOS 17 and WatchOS 10.

These features require an Apple Watch Series 4+, SE, or Ultra running watchOS10+. iOS 17, along with an iPhone XS, iPhone XR, or later running iOS 17 or later.

The best way to understand these new features is to get our hands dirty.

Let’s get started….

How to download offline Trail Maps on your iPhone

  1. Open the Maps app on your iPhone, running iOS 17 and higher.
  2. Type in the trail you are interested in exploring in the search box.How to Download Offline Maps on your iPhone with iOS 17
  3. The Maps automatically provides you with a list of trails and trailheads along with trial conditions such as Easy, Moderate, and more if you do not know the specific name.
  4. Tap on the specific trailhead to get started.
  5. Apple Maps opens up the trailhead details. These include:Trial Map Details
    1. Driving time estimates and directions.
    2. Level of difficulty on the trail.
    3. The Trail Type, Length, Elevation, distance, and duration for the trail.
    4. An option to add this trail to your Guide by tapping on the three dots at the right
  6. Next, tap on Download and adjust the Map region that you want Maps to download to your device.How to download offline maps into iPhone
  7. The system downloads the map details automatically.
  8. A confirmation message showing Offline Map Downloaded completes the process.How to download offline trail maps onto your iPhone

As soon as you have downloaded the trail map, the icon for download changes to a checkmark Offline. This confirms that the trail map details are downloaded and available offline for you to use.

Offline map availability on iPhone and Apple Watch

Downloaded maps on your Apple Watch

After downloading the maps to your iPhone, open up your Apple Watch and bring up the Maps app.

  1. Open the Maps app on your Apple Watch.
  2. Scroll down on the screen, and you will see the recent map you saved on your iPhone offline. This is usually found under the RECENTS section.Access Offline Maps on Apple Watch
  3. Tap on it to open up the details.Use downloaded too maps on Apple Watch
  4. When tapping GO, you can follow the turn-by-turn directions right from your Apple Watch.

The first thing you notice on the Apple Watch maps is that now it shows contour lines, elevation details, as shading of the map itself. The shading helps you visualize the terrain.

The points of interest on the Map now show the trailheads and access to the nearest lodging and other facilities.

The Map view on the Apple Watch also shows additional points of interest and a thumbnail of some of the Photos showing the trail.

This appears to be a decent start. For seasoned users who have been using Workoutdoors or a paid subscription to Footpath Elite, the new Apple Maps features may still be lacking some key features.

Apple is rolling out topo maps first to California, then to the US, followed by other regions. 

The Compass app on watchOS 10 

When it comes to the new Compass app on the Apple Watch it can now create two new waypoints. Waypoints for emergencies on Apple Watch

The first waypoint shows the last location where you had a cell phone connection, and a secondary waypoint shows up as ‘SOS,’ indicating a place where you can make an emergency call irrespective of the phone network.

Final thoughts

Apple is headed in the right direction regarding integrating map features into popular activities such as hiking and trail running.

Although Access to the offline maps will require you to have your paired iPhone ON, this is still a great start!!

Please stay tuned to this post as we thoroughly test out the new offline Maps functionality and its intricacies.

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Sudz Niel Kar
I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products, have a BS in Computer Science and an MBA specializing in emerging tech, and owned the popular site AppleToolBox. In my day job, I advise Fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health and fitness-tech evolution and keeping a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships, and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch Ultra or Samsung Galaxy Watch and closely monitor my HRV and other recovery metrics.


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