Maps can only get you so far in life — sometimes you need to veer off the beaten path, take the scenic route, or figure out how to get there as the crow flies. Now Google will help you do that. Helicopter View: When Street View and River View just aren’t enough.

Google’s helicopter view provides a 3-D view of your journey, so you can envision all the hillsides and neighborhoods you would otherwise miss by driving on boring streets. And it’s a more realistic portrayal of how we see the world, which for the most part is horizontally, not looking down vertically.

Google uses California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway as an example. A flat top-down view, like from a satellite or something, doesn’t really give you an appreciation for this pretty road, Google explains. But helicopter view lets you see the terrain in all its rugged, Big Sur-y glory.

You fill out Google Maps like you would for any other driving directions, but instead of a 2-D flat map, you get a lovely topographic map with Google Earth-style graphics. It turns on like any other feature of Google Maps, except that you need a Google Earth plugin.

You can fly along the route you’ve mapped out, and if you want to check out the surrounding area, you can pause the “flight” and click and drag the map like you would in Google Earth. Click on a different step in the directions list, and your flight will speed toward that step.

The Street View cars, tricycle and riverboat have all brought us real-perspective views on neighborhoods and remote areas, so could a Google Helicopter View chopper be coming next?

[Google Lat Long Blog via Slashdot]