Going on a trip or outdoor adventure? Use these free topographic (topo) maps so that you stay on track and don't get lost.
Use the tools in the left part of the map to zoom in/out and pan around.
What is a Topographic Map?
A map is a representation of the Earth, or part of it. The distinctive characteristic of a topographic map is that the shape of the Earth's surface is shown by contour lines. Contours are imaginary lines that join points of equal elevation on the surface of the land above or below a reference surface, such as mean sea level. Contours make it possible to measure the height of mountains, depths of the ocean bottom, and steepness of slopes.
A topographic map shows more than contours. The map includes symbols that represent such features as streets, buildings, streams, and vegetation. These symbols are constantly refined to better relate to the features they represent, improve the appearance or readability of the map, or reduce production cost.
Consequently, within the same series, maps may have slightly different symbols for the same feature. Examples of symbols that have changed include built-up areas, roads, intermittent drainage, and some lettering styles. On one type of large-scale topographic map, called provisional, some symbols and lettering are handdrawn.
Reading Topographic Maps
Interpreting the colored lines, areas, and other symbols is the first step in using topographic maps. Features are shown as points, lines, or areas, depending on their size and extent. For example, individual houses may be shown as small black squares. For larger buildings, the actual shapes are mapped. In densely built-up areas, most individual buildings are omitted and an area tint is shown. On some maps, post offices, churches, city halls, and other landmark buildings are shown within the tinted area.
The first features usually noticed on a topographic map are the area features, such as vegetation (green), water (blue), and densely built-up areas (gray or red).
Many features are shown by lines that may be straight, curved, solid, dashed, dotted, or in any combination. The colors of the lines usually indicate similar classes of information: topographic contours (brown); lakes, streams, irrigation ditches, and other hydrographic features (blue); land grids and important roads (red); and other roads and trails, railroads, boundaries, and other cultural features (black). At one time, purple was used as a revision color to show all feature changes. Currently, purple is not used in our revision program, but purple features are still present on many existing maps.
Various point symbols are used to depict features such as buildings, campgrounds, springs, water tanks, mines, survey control points, and wells. Names of places and features are shown in a color corresponding to the type of feature. Many features are identified by labels, such as "Substation" or "Golf Course."
Topographic contours are shown in brown by lines of different widths. Each contour is a line of equal elevation; therefore, contours never cross. They show the general shape of the terrain. To help the user determine elevations, index contours are wider. Elevation values are printed in several places along these lines. The narrower intermediate and supplementary contours found between the index contours help to show more details of the land surface shape. Contours that are very close together represent steep slopes. Widely spaced contours or an absence of contours means that the ground slope is relatively level. The elevation difference between adjacent contour lines, called the contour interval, is selected to best show the general shape of the terrain. A map of a relatively flat area may have a contour interval of 10 feet or less. Maps in mountainous areas may have contour intervals of 100 feet or more. The contour interval is printed in the margin of each U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) map.
Bathymetric contours are shown in blue or black, depending on their location. They show the shape and slope of the ocean bottom surface. The bathymetric contour interval may vary on each map and is explained in the map margin.
Department of the Interior/USGS