Data Doctors: How to measure distance in Google Maps

Q: I know that Google Maps allows you to measure distances, but I can’t figure out where to find this option.

A: There are so many powerful and somewhat hidden features of Google Maps and for those that like the outdoors, being able to measure the distance between two points is one of them.

As an avid paddleboarder, I often use this feature to figure out how far I will have to paddle to reach certain areas along a coastline, shoreline or island in the distance.

It makes planning the day’s events more comforting because there’s a better sense of how long it will take to get to the destination and back.

I’ve also used it to determine how large a body of water such as a lake may be by measuring all the way around it.

For hikers, when you see a large formation in the distance, you can get an approximate distance on your smartphone via the app.

The key to finding this feature is creating a dropped pin instead of using a known place since known places offer driving, commuting, or walking directions instead.

On Your Computer

If you want to measure distance on your computer, start by selecting an unnamed area on the map with a right-click of the mouse.

This will bring up a dialogue box with lots of options including ‘Measure distance’ at the bottom; click it then move the mouse to next point and click again to generate a line and a display of the distance.

If the distance is under a mile, it will display in feet while longer distances are displayed in tenths of miles.

If you want to move the measuring point or the starting point, just click and hold on the associated dot and drag it to the new location for an updated measurement.

If you want to measure multiple points, say to measure the distance around a lake, just click on the next point that you want to add to the measurement as many times as you want.

A small dialogue box will appear at the bottom of the map with the total distance as well as the total area if you circle back to your starting point.

If you need to adjust any leg of your measurement, simply float your mouse over any of the dots to bring up the ‘drag to change’ option or click on any line to add another point to your measurements.

For the most accurate measurements, be sure to zoom in on the area you want to measure and move around the map as you add new points.

On Your Smartphone

Open Google Maps, then touch and hold on the location you want to measure from, which should create a ‘Dropped pin.’

Swipe up on the description section at the bottom and the ‘Measure distance’ will be the first option under the ‘Directions’ button.

Tap it, then start to move the map around, generating your distance in a straight line as you move around. To add additional measuring points, tap the ‘add point’ or plus sign in the bottom right corner.

If you add a point that you want to clear, tap the left-pointing arrow at the top to go back.

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