Google Maps Doesn’t Understand Forest Service Road

The weekend started out simple enough.

We made a trip to Springer Mountain this weekend and drove up to the trailhead to check out the road conditions and do some hiking in the area. It was raining on Saturday but that was OK; we hiked in the rain and had a good day. Sunday we decided to drive up to the trailhead via  Forest Service Roads 28 and 42, which was how Google directed us to go. As expected is was a dirt road with rocks and potholes but drivable and in better shape than I expected after all the rain lately.

Things Get Interesting

We drive back out the way we came in all the way back to the paved roads.  So we did what most of us do: we asked Google  Maps which way was the fastest way to go home. It started out OK until literally we came to where the pavement ended. We continued to trust Google and headed forward into the unknown. As we went the road got rougher and more narrow but onward we went as now it was too narrow to turn around. In retrospect my first clue should have been the worried looks I was getting from the 4×4 passing me going the other way.

After a few careful miles of rough dirt road we came to a side area in the road where the road crosses the Approach Trail. Just ahead the road looked a little rougher but despite the fact that we had room to turn around and go back the way we came we did not. There comes a time when you make a questionable decision when you realize what you have gotten into but you can’t go back. This is where we soon found ourselves. Every few hundred feet I would have to stop so we could plan out how to cross the next obstacle. There were times I was not sure we were going to make it. All told it took us 1 1/2 hours to come 10 miles!

Moral of the Story

When in the vicinity of Forest Service roads don’t blindly trust Google Maps because it just doesn’t understand that in this case “road” is more like wide trail. I have a decent amount of practice on similar roads but was not in a car that was made for that kind of driving and had I got stuck it would definitely had made for a very bad day. I was so busy trying to drive that didn’t even think to take pictures of the road once it really got bad.

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Comments 9

  • Drew Boswell : Jan 23rd

    Yep, I think I’ve driven that same road under similar conditions and I should know better because I’m from Georgia. A lot of those Forest Service roads are quite easily navigated – and some aren’t. When it rains a lot, all bets are off, even for 4WD. Local knowledge trumps Google Maps, but local knowledge is sometimes hard won. Glad you made it back down the mountain.

    Reply
    • turtle : Jan 24th

      Thanks

      Reply
  • Pete Buak : Jan 23rd

    I may be wrong but the second road sounds like the one up to Blue Ridge Gap. Good thing you turned around because there is a serious river crossing at the end of the road. By the way, that is a county road not FS

    Reply
    • David : Jan 24th

      Pete, I’m going to second your thoughts on the road up to Blue Ridge Gap in the northernmost part of Georgia on the AT. “Charlies Creek Road” is labeled on Googlemaps as a through road and most maps like Trek and on the ATC site show a parking spot where the trail crosses the road, but literally my RT4WD CRV nearly did not make it up the “road”. It was literally a rock covered, ditch laden, “pig path”. Not a state maintained road at all and you must have 4×4 to go up it. I nearly lost an oil pan in my CRV on it. I went up there to see if it was a good spot to start a section hike through North Carolina South to North. Glad I did because my wifes Accord would never make it up there. Never trust Google maps in instances like this, nor should you solely trust GPS/Guthook on trail. Always have a paper back up and a compass!

      Reply
      • Turtle : Jan 24th

        I looked on the map after I got home and I know I will spell this wrong but I believe it was Nimblewood Gap where er crossed the Approach Trail. We were in a Saturn L300 station wagon with about a foot of clearance it was a slow painstaking trip down the far side of the gap.

        Reply
  • Birch : Jan 24th

    The most valuable acronym in National Forests is MVUM – Motor Vehicle Use Map. This tells you the vehicle classification of all forest roads inside USFS land, like 4×4, OHV only, etc.

    Caltopo also has a MVUM layer, as well, which is color coded by vehicle type.

    Reply
    • Turtle : Jan 24th

      Thanks I did not know that.

      Reply
    • Connie Minish : Jan 31st

      Does anyone know how to obtain an accurate FSR map ? Who maintains these roads ? We want to explore with our Tacoma, but get too far in and cannot explore further. Thanks

      Reply
  • Turtle : Jan 24th

    Thanks I did not know that.

    Reply

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