How are U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps named?

A USGS topographic map is usually named for the most prominent feature within the bounds of the map, which is frequently a community. Most topographic maps are named for the most centrally located, well-known, and/or largest community identified on the map.

If the community for which the map should be named falls on two or more maps, a directional term might be used such as East and West. An example is Washington East and Washington West, D.C. 

If the map contains no communities or is very rural, it can be named for the most prominent and centrally located physical or natural feature within the bounds of the map.

Naming maps for linear features such as streams is generally avoided because such features usually pass through maps or meander on and off the maps. Occasionally, a map area is so devoid of named topography that a directional might be used, as in adding NW or SE to the name of an adjacent map, or even using the map name from a smaller scale series and applying the directional term.

A map's primary state is the state that contains the name feature, which is not always the state that has most of the map area. The primary state is almost always included in the map title. Secondary states are often, but not always, also included in the title. If multiple states are present in the title, the primary state is listed first. 

Learn more: Maps for America

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How do I find, download, or order topographic maps?

Download all dates and scales of USGS topographic maps (both current US Topo maps and Historical topographic maps ) free of charge from the following applications. With the exception of GNIS, each site has an option for toggling on map indices showing an outline of all the maps, though you might need to zoom in to see the outlines: Map Locator on...

Where can I find indexes of USGS topographic maps?

View map indices on these interactive maps (you must zoom in to see the index lines and map names) : Map Locator on the USGS Store - Click the icon on the left that looks like two pieces of paper and select “1:24,000”. TopoView - Click on any of the round map scale indicators on the right side of the map. The National Map Viewer - Click on the...

What do the different north arrows on a USGS topographic map mean?

A diagram at the bottom of most USGS topographic maps shows three north arrows--true north, grid north, and magnetic north--and the angles between them. Some maps, especially very old maps, do not have this diagram. Vertical line with a star at the tip, second angled line with GN at the tip, third angled line with MN at the tip. Example of north arrows from US...

When was the 1:24,000-scale topographic map series for the conterminous 48 States, Hawaii, Alaska and Territories completed?

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was created in 1879 and published it’s first topographic map in 1882. Systematic topographic mapping was authorized by Congress in 1884. Although 1:24,000-scale topographic maps were produced by the USGS as early as 1904, a formal program to provide primary topographic map coverage at that scale for the entire...

Why are some of the historical topographic maps yellowed and why do some have extra stamps or marks?

The goals of the Historical Topographic Map Collection (HTMC) project are to find, catalog, and georeference all USGS topographic quadrangle maps published prior to 2007. The overall purpose is to preserve the map archive for scientists, historians, and the public. Library copies of maps (many of which have library stamps) were therefore scanned "...

Are USGS topographic maps copyrighted?

All topographic maps produced by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are in the public domain and are not copyrighted except for the following three cases that apply only to US Topo maps (produced 2009-present): Most maps in the period 2010-2016 contain commercially licensed road data (see note below). Orthoimages in Alaska are commercially licensed...

Can I still get the older topographic maps?

Yes. Topographic maps originally published as paper documents between 1884-2006 have been scanned and published as the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection . Download our historical topographic maps and our more current US Top o maps (published 2009-present) free of charge using TopoView (GeoPDF, GeoTIFF, JPEG, and KMZ formats) or using the...

How do US Topo maps differ from historical USGS topographic maps?

Historically, USGS topographic maps were made using data from primary sources including direct field observations. Those maps were compiled, drawn, and edited by hand. By today's standards, those traditional methods are very expensive and time-consuming, and the USGS no longer has funding to make maps that way. A new USGS topographic map series...
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Date published: July 19, 2017

Historical Maps at Your Fingertips

Earlier this month, the USGS launched “TopoView 2.1”, an enhancement to the current popular TopoView mapping service that lets users discover, interact, and download historical USGS topographic maps scans.

Date published: July 5, 2017

Finding Yourself Outdoors

Updated USGS digital topographic maps feature more trails and other recreation points of interest

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December 18, 2017

Lesson 9a: Accessing US Topo and Historical USGS Topographic Maps

In this lesson, we will discuss the USGS Store and how it can be used to access the US Topo and historical USGS Topographic maps. Specifically, this lesson will talk about the USGS Store, both where it’s accessed and what’s available at the store, as well as how you can locate and download free topographic maps through the store. 
 

June 1, 2017

TopoView - A look at version 2.1

A tutorial by USGS scientist and topoView developer Chris Garrity demonstrating how to use topoView version 2.1. TopoView let's you access and download maps free of charge from the USGS's Historical Topographic Map Collection, published between 1884 and 2006. 

Resources:
An Introduction to TopoView (version 1.0)

Screen shot of US Topo Story Map
August 18, 2016

US Topo Story Map – Topographic Maps for the Nation

US Topo Story Map – Topographic Maps for the Nation

1914 USGS legacy topographic map of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama
April 25, 2016

1914 USGS legacy topographic map of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama

 

1914 USGS legacy topographic map of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama area.

video thumbnail: US Topo
February 29, 2012

US Topo

US Topo is the next generation of topographic maps from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Arranged in the familiar 7.5-minute quadrangle format, digital US Topo maps are designed to look and feel (and perform) like the traditional paper topographic maps for which the USGS is so well known. In contrast to paper-based maps, US Topo maps provide modern technical advantages

Image of 2017 US Topo Map for Jackson, WY Showing Standard Topo Layers

Image of 2017 US Topo Map for Jackson, WY Showing Standard Topo Layers

Image of 2017 US Topo Map for Jackson, WY Showing Standard Topo Layers