Drawing and Measuring Your Walking Route
There are several online tools and apps you can use to map and measure your route. They also make it easy to find and use routes that others have created and saved. Here are three of my longtime favorites.
MapMyWalk Walking Route Planner: Draw a walking route using this free online tool (registration required). You can zoom in on a map of the area and view it as a street map, a satellite map, or a topographic map. As you draw the route, you see the total distance adding up, as well as the elevation lost and gained. You can save and print your maps and download them to your mobile device via the app (iOS or Android). You can't draw a route with the app alone.
WalkJogRun: You can use their free online tool or app for the iPhone or iPad to draw and measure a route, or find routes others have mapped. Registration is required after 10 routes.
G-Map Pedometer: This was one of the first draw-your-route online programs. It's easy to use and you can save or print your routes or export them at .gpx files.
Google Maps with Walking Directions: Google's mapping tool will suggest walking directions when you enter your start and end destinations and intermediate destinations. The caveat is that there may not be sidewalks or pedestrian paths. Zoom in with the satellite view to see if the streets suggested have a sidewalk or other pedestrian safety features. This tool only routes walkers alongside roadways and ignores bike/walk pedestrian trails nearby. The distance between each turn and the total distance is noted. Directions printed alongside the map tell you which way to turn.
How To Use a Walking Route Planner
Satellite View: With an online or mobile walking route planner, use the satellite view to look for street crossings with painted crossings or signals, sidewalks, and pedestrian paths separated from the roadway. You will also be able to see shade tree cover along the walking route.
Terrain or Topo View: The terrain or topo view of an online or mobile walking route planner allows you to see hills, depressions, and other elevation changes. A route that appears walkable may have steep or even hazardous terrain not apparent on a street map or satellite view.
Taking it with You: You can print out a map to have a hard copy, but most of the options above allow you to access your route in a mobile app. You can also track your route as you walk with the apps (and many more) to save and modify for improving it and using it again. I like to have both a hard copy and a route on my mobile phone. You don't want to be out walking when your battery dies or you lose connectivity. Also, you may not have any connectivity in a remote area or while in a canyon or other cellular "dead zone." I am also old-school enough that I like making notes on a printed map to have when I return home.
Planning a Walking Route for a Large Group Walk
If you are planning a walk for your walking club or for a charity walk, you have to consider how many people will be walking at once. You should choose a route that has wide-enough sidewalks or paths for people to walk two-abreast and still allow faster walkers to pass slower walkers. Choose safe street crossings that have crossing signals and painted crosswalks. For group events, you may want to keep turns to a minimum so you have fewer places where people could miss a turn and get lost.
Once you have planned your walking route online, consider also my 14 Points for Planning a Great Walking Route