Where can I find a topographic map symbol sheet?

Like topographic maps, topographic map symbols have evolved over time. There is no single document that describes all the symbols used on all USGS topographic maps.  

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How can topographic maps be useful in genealogical research?

Once you've gathered as many facts about family history and customs as possible, turn to maps to uncover more specific information or to solve historical mysteries. In the United States, birth, death, property, and some other kinds of records are normally kept by county governments. If you can name the place where an ancestor lived, new or old...

What does the term UTM mean? Is UTM better or more accurate than latitude/longitude?

UTM is the acronym for Universal Transverse Mercator, a plane coordinate grid system named for the map projection on which it is based (Transverse Mercator). The UTM system consists of 60 zones, each 6-degrees of longitude in width. The zones are numbered 1-60, beginning at 180-degrees longitude and increasing to the east. The military uses their...

Are the trails and/or symbols clearly shown on U.S. Forest Service Maps? Where is the legend?

Trails and symbols are clearly shown on U.S. Forest Service maps. A comprehensive legend appears on each map. Since each map is unique, placement of the legend and symbolization might vary from map to map. Order paper U.S. Forest Service Visitor Maps, Wilderness Maps, and Atlases from the online USGS Store or at some Forest Service offices...

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 Topo 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 28, 2020

Citizen Scientist Appreciates the Opportunity to Contribute to National Mapping

A young citizen science volunteer and avid trail enthusiast enjoys “giving back” by helping to map the Nation.

Date published: May 25, 2016

Updated US Topo maps for Kentucky

Updated US Topo maps for Kentucky available for free download; add Census Bureau road data, wetlands layer and select trails.

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Image: Lithographic Printing Stones for Map-making
March 15, 2016

Lithographic Printing Stones for Map-making

In the past, each USGS topographic map typically required 3 individual lithographic stones for printing, one for each color shown on the map.

AK Denali A-3 SE US Topo (Browse Image for Story Map)
December 31, 2015

AK Denali A-3 SE US Topo (Browse Image for Story Map)

AK Denali A-3 SE US Topo (Browse Image for Story Map)

December 2, 2009

History of USGS Topographic Mapping

On December 3, 2009, more than 300 people gathered at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) headquarters in Reston, Virginia, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of USGS topographic mapping. The ceremony opened with a special production by Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Front page of USGS topographic maps symbol sheet

Front page of USGS topographic maps symbol sheet

Front cover page on the USGS topographic maps symbol sheet covering the years 1947-2009