Reading a Topographic Map
Whenever you’re in a remote or unfamiliar area, a topographic map and compass are a must.
Topographic maps are created from aerial photographs and reveal the contours of the land, including hills, ridges, and valleys, as well as lakes, rivers, creeks, trails, and roads.
- Contour lines show the elevation of the ground.
- Contour intervals reveal how much vertical distance there is between each contour line—closely spaced contour lines indicate very steep slopes.
- Contour lines that are sharply tapered indicate an uphill direction.
- Rounded contour lines typically indicate a downhill direction.
Topographic maps are available at many outdoor stores or may be obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey website. Or contact the USGS by calling toll-free 1-888-ASK-USGS (1-888-275-8747).
National Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) show forest road networks and restrictions. They are available from the U.S. Forest Service website.