Get Good Maps

Maps of their area of operation are something that everyone should have.  Now the street maps that you get at gas station or AAA are useful.  But they are not the best.  Get good topo maps of your area.  The amount of detail shown on a map is proportionate to the scale of the map: the larger the map scale, the more detail shown.

Since 1 inch on the map represents 2,000 feet on the 1:24,000-scale maps  (7.5 minute map) this depicts considerable detail. These maps show contour lines, elevations, trails, and features like schools, churches, cemeteries, campgrounds, ski lifts, old mines and even fence lines.  These maps can be purchased from the USGS at  7.5 minute  maps are $15.00 each.

The best-known USGS maps are the 7.5-minute, 1:24,000-scale quadrangle series.  A scale of 1:25,000 is used for maps based on metric units (1 centimeter = 0.25 kilometer). The area portrayed on each sheet ranges from 64 square miles at latitude 30 degrees north to 49 square miles at latitude 49 degrees north.

The 15-minute map series at a scale of 1:62,500 (1 inch = approximately 1 mile) has been abandoned. The USGS 7.5-minute topographic quadrangle map series is the official replacement for the 1:62,500-scales series.  Some 15 minute maps are still available at $8.00 each.

The USGS also has 1:50,000 County maps.  At this scale they correspond closely in content to the 1:24,000-scale (7.5 minute maps)  quadrangle maps. However, some county maps have contours in meters.

Largely all of the United States and Hawaii are covered by 30- x 60-minute quadrangle maps at a scale of 1:100,000.  However they show distances and contour intervals in meters. Contours are at intervals of 5, 10, 20, or 50 meters, depending on terrain relief.

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The USGS also produces the National Park and US Forest Service Maps.  The maps are much like the standard quadrangle maps of the same scale, but they highlight recreational features.  They can often be obtained at the National Parks or from the U.S. Forest Service. the site of the USGS is worth the visit they also have all kinds of specialty maps.

There are many sites on the internet that will let you download and print topo maps for a set fee. is a site that advertises free topo maps, but you have to buy the download software.  For $29.95, you can download and print all the topo maps you want for one year.  There are several sites on the internet that advertise this type of service.  I have not used any of them.  My topo maps have been purchased at a mining supply store.  REI and many other sporting goods stores have topo maps in stock.

After you obtain maps, make sure you spend some time studying them.  Learn what the symbols mean and how to read them.  In a future post we will cover map reading.


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