The Best Free Aerial Maps

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What to Look For

The most important element to look for when selecting an aerial map is how close to the target area you can zoom in. All of the aerial maps allow some degree of zoom. At the furthest distance, the maps show entire continents, and even a full world map version in 3D topographical live format. The closer you zoom to your chosen location, the more detail is evident. Some maps may appear fuzzy at close range, and attention to the sharpness of picture is important.

Common Pitfalls

The only way to access aerial maps is via computers hooked up to the Internet. Therefore, in areas where ISP service is scarce or slow, getting any of the maps to work is difficult. Aerial maps take up a great deal of bandwidth while opening, and will stop or stall on opening if the connection is too slow. Not all map providers are equal and each may have its own unique appeal to a viewer depending on desired outcome. For instance, the USGS site provides a list of participating members that use their maps. These are very detailed and up-to-date images, however, they are USA maps only so won’t help anyone looking for a non-US location. GoogleMaps and Google Earth tend to be a bit on the “aged” side as they only update their picture library once or twice a year. As a general rule, that is often enough to keep up with big changes in areas; however, it can be a pitfall if you need up-to-date information on the appearance of an area.

Where to Buy

The most common aerial maps are affiliated with the top browser Google. There are two Google versions of aerial maps, both free, one is a desktop application available for download called “Google Earth”, the other is a web-based application direct from the browser called “GoogleMaps.” Travel direction companies like MapQuest, BingMaps and Terrafly all have free versions of the satellite view maps, and even the government offers its site USGS for United States specific maps.


There is no cost for using the free online services. Users must select “satellite” as the image of choice from the toggle buttons on the screen to get off of the street map version in most applications.

Comparison Shopping

Another useful feature is the “Street view” as available in the Google versions of aerial maps. While not available in all locations, the most heavily populated areas are likely to have this function. In “street view” the user pulls the cursor indicator to the location of choice and the screen zooms in to see the area as if the viewer were standing in the middle of the street. There is a panoramic view and 360 degree turn radius possible.