Google's Street View Trekker being used in the Grand Canyon. (Courtesy Google)

Google takes viewers on local trails, virtually

Distance, physical limitations or weather no longer can keep people from experiencing the beauty of 20 local mountain trails, thanks to a new venture released Tuesday by Google.

Eleven trails in the Flatirons above Boulder as well as seven in Rocky Mountain National Park and two in the town of Estes Park have been captured with Google’s Street View Trekker — the same technology used since 2007 by cameras atop Google cars that provide 360-degree views along streets and highways worldwide, except mounted instead atop a wearable backpack introduced by Google in 2012.

The 40-pound Trekker is worn by an operator and walked along trails or pedestrian walkways. All the while, the camera’s 15 lenses — about two feet above the walker’s shoulders — automatically gather images in all directions, one every 2.5 seconds, powered by a battery that can last about 68 hours on a full charge. The stored images are then stitched together at a Google facility in Mountain View, Calif., to create the 360-degree views.

The Street View images allow users to make virtual visits to many of Colorado’s most iconic and impressive landscapes, and also can enhance marketing for Colorado’s tourism industry, said Brooke Burnham, director of communications and public relations for Visit Estes Park.

“We really see them as a great tool,” she said. “We have a page on our website that highlights all of them. We also can see how it connects to other user-generated content, so viewers can see what other people have experienced during other seasons.”

As part of a loan program formed by Google, Visit Estes Park staffers and interns as well as some volunteers wore the camera-topped backpacks last summer as they hiked the Lake Estes trail and the downtown Riverwalk in Estes Park, as well as the Bear Lake, Sprague Lake, Lily Lake, Knoll Willows, Deer Mountain, Forest Canyon Overlook and Toll Memorial trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

In Boulder’s mountain parklands, meanwhile, staffers from the Google office recorded scenes in the Flatirons along the Vista South, Prairie Vista, Homestead, Shadow Canyon, Mesa, Marshall Mesa, Community Ditch, Marshall Valley, Doudy Draw, Spring Brook Loop South and Towhee trails, said Susan Cadrecha, communications manager for Google Maps.

“It’s kind of a wacky idea,” she said, “but we realized that people really enjoyed going to destinations they might not otherwise get to, or even looking at their childhood home.”

Since 2014, the Trekker loan program has worked with nonprofits and tourist boards, asking them to “collect the places they know and love,” Cadrecha said. “We do need help to do it. But since the release, we’ve worked with about 200 partners all over the world — and this is our moment in Colorado.”

The devices also were loaned to the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau and other groups, allowing virtual viewers on their computers, tablets or Android or iOS cell phones to travel around places such the Denver Botanic Gardens, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Civic Center and Washington parks and the Denver Zoo, as well as the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and the Wild Animal Sanctuary near Keenesburg.

Viewers also can access the images by searching for a destination in Google Maps for mobile and then selecting the Street View option.

First used at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, the Trekker has since traveled to natural wonders and world heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal in India, the Galapagos Islands and the historic pedestrian paths in Venice. It’s also been walked into indoor spaces such as the legendary Berghoff German restaurant in Chicago’s Loop and a First Nations school in Iqaluit, the capital of Canada’s Nunavut territory. It’s been whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, strolling among the Pyramids in Egypt, and climbing Mount Fuji in Japan.

A Web page linking to other places the Trekker has been is online.

Direct links to many of the local trails featured include:

Flatirons, Vista South Trail

Flatirons, Prairie Vista 

Flatirons, Homestead Trail 

Flatirons, Shadow Canyon Trail 

Flatirons, Mesa Trail 

Flatirons, Marshall Mesa 

Flatirons, Community Ditch 

Flatirons, Marshall Valley 

Flatirons, Doudy Draw Trail 

Flatirons, Spring Brook Loop South Trail 

Flatirons, Towhee Trail 

Lake Estes Trail 

Estes Park Riverwalk 

Knoll Willows Trail, Estes Park 

Sprague Lake Trail, Estes Park 

Bear Lake Trail, Estes Park 

Lily Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park 

Deer Mountain Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park 

Forest Canyon Overlook, Rocky Mountain National Park 

Toll Memorial Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park 

Wild Animal Sanctuary