(Credit: Screenshots: Tom McNamara/Download.com)

While Google Maps has become the biggest turn-by-turn navigation app around, its options for bicyclists and pedestrians have remained limited over the years. After all, mapping bike paths, hiking trails, and walkways isn't nearly as easy, since you can't exactly cram one of the company's map-making vehicles into these spaces. And you can't pile Google's map-making tech onto a person or bicycle.

One thing Google can do, however, is give you elevation data. It's actually been doing this for some time, but the new widget available now is a chart that shows you the ups and downs between your location and your destination. If there isn't much variation here, Google Maps will just say "Mostly Flat" and you won't get the chart.

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And the chart widget doesn't show up if you map a route for cars, public transit, or walking. But if you want to bike up to a mountain peak, Google Maps is happy to provide. We've seen this data visualization before in other travel apps such as AllTrails.

And to be honest, AllTrails' implementation offers more detail; we'd generally still recommend it over Google Maps for hiking and biking off the beaten path, even while Google's app is arguably the best out there for car navigation.

However, Google's elevation chart may still be good enough in a pinch, and we wouldn't blame you if you preferred not to juggle multiple apps when getting around. With Google Maps' "Explore" function, you may also get notifications about interesting stops along the way, a feature that AllTrails isn't optimized to handle.

And to make the most of AllTrails, you need to pay a subscription fee, or a $100 for a lifetime license, while Google Maps is 100 percent free to download and use. However, AllTrails isn't the only hiking and biking app out there. Map My Hike, BackCountry Navigator, and ViewRanger are also worth a look and may be more economical.

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In related news, Google Maps has finally come to Apple CarPlay, which should give it another awareness boost for all types of travel, despite many users already avoiding the default Apple Maps. However, the CarPlay version takes a few detours from the one we're used to on our mobile phones and in Android Auto.

If you haven't used iOS and CarPlay together before, we also have the step-by-step guide.

The takeaways

  • Google Maps now includes an elevation chart for bicyclists, in addition to the basic elevation info that it had before.
  • This chart should be familiar to users of hiking apps -- though Google's version only applies to bikers, not pedestrians or cars.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.