Reading a Topographic Map
Whenever you’re in a remote or unfamiliar area, a topographic map and a 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 (gradual slope).
Topographic maps are available at many outdoor stores or may be ordered from the U.S. Geological Survey. National Forest Service Travel Maps show forest road networks and restrictions. They are available from the U.S. Forest Service.