Why are there no power lines, pipelines, libraries, trails, etc. on US Topo maps?

The original USGS 7.5-minute (1:24,000 scale) Historical Topographic Maps (produced 1945-1992) included feature classes that are not yet shown on US Topo maps (produced 2009-present). Examples include recreational trails, pipelines, power lines, survey markers, many types of boundaries, and many types of buildings. The USGS no longer does field verification or other primary data collection for these feature classes, and there are no national data sources suitable for general-purpose, 1:24,000-scale maps. For many of these feature classes, USGS is working with other agencies to develop data. Over time, as these data become available and are included in The National Map, that content will be added to the US Topos.

Since US Topo maps are mass produced from GIS databases, some features shown on traditional maps might never be included on US Topo maps. For example, a national database of isolated ranch windmills and water tanks is unlikely to ever be built.

  • Recreational trails -- Trails are problematic due to a lack of national data sources, but federal land management agencies and other organizations are providing data to USGS, and more trails are shown on US Topo each year. To date, major sources include the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the International Mountain Biking Association. We expect the number of recreational trails on the maps to steadily increase in the coming years, particularly on federal lands. 

  • Public Land Survey System (PLSS) -- PLSS has been published on US Topo maps since 2013 for all of the 29 continental PLSS states. PLSS is also included on Alaska maps. 

  • Wetlands -- Wetlands were added as a US Topo layer in late 2015 using data from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory. Wetlands are included on US Topo maps dated 2016 or later, or if the map date is 2015 and the primary state is WI, IA, or KS. Wetlands data are not cartographically integrated with other layers and in some cases might appear inconsistent with other hydrography features.

  • Buildings and structures -- Traditional topographic maps locate and label a variety of public buildings and structures, such as courthouses, libraries, transportation terminals, and bridges. National public domain datasets of these feature classes do not currently exist. Although these kinds of features are not generally within USGS scope, we are working with other government agencies and incorporating crowd-sourced information to develop selected structures data. 

  • Railroads -- In 2012 we began publishing railroad data provided by the Federal Railroad Administration, which is now the source of railroads on all US Topo maps.

  • Powerlines, oil and gas pipelines, other energy infrastructure -- Except for a few unusual instances, such as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, these features are not shown on US Topo maps. National public domain datasets do not exist and there are security reasons for not publishing these data.

  • Landmarks -- Unique landmark features might include buildings, natural features, isolated monuments, and points of interest. No national GIS database of landmark features exists, and constructing one is problematic. Nevertheless, not having such a dataset leads to cartographic oddities, such as not labeling the White House. The US Topo project hopes to eventually address this problem as part of the buildings and structures issue discussed above.

  • Remote roads -- Traditional topographic maps were compiled in part from direct field observations and were a unique source for remote and unimproved roads. Building a national public domain road dataset that can rival the traditional topographic map series for overall completeness and accuracy is a long-term problem that is being discussed by several federal agencies. 

  • Recreational features (campgrounds, boat docks, swimming pools, golf courses, etc) -- Most of these feature types will never be a high priority for USGS mapping. In 2017, US Topo maps began showing selected campgrounds, picnic areas, and cabins provided by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service.

Related Content

Filter Total Items: 6

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

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been the primary civilian mapping agency of the United States since 1879. The best known USGS maps are the 1:24,000-scale topographic maps, also known as 7.5-minute quadrangles. Download all dates and scales of USGS topographic maps free of charge from the following applications or order paper copies of all...

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...

How current are US Topo maps?

US Topo maps are updated on a three-year production cycle (maps covering one third of the country are updated each year). The US Topo production schedule follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) collection schedule. This does not include US Topos for Alaska, which are on a different schedule . The...

How accurate are US Topo maps, and why don't they have an accuracy statement?

US Topo maps are as accurate as the data sources used to make them, but because these sources are many and varied, it is not possible to make a single simple statement that the map as a whole meets a particular level of accuracy. US Topo maps, therefore, do not have a traditional accuracy statement in the map collar. Accuracy information for...

Why don’t the boundaries on US Topo maps match and why are some missing?

Boundaries are an ongoing issue for the US Topo project due to the lack of national GIS datasets suitable for general-purpose, 1:24,000 scale maps. The earliest US Topo maps (2009-2010) showed no boundaries other than the U.S. national boundary. In 2011, state and county boundaries were added using TIGER data from the U.S. Census Bureau . Federal...

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: June 9, 2020

USGS Maps Will Help You Explore the Great Outdoors

Updated USGS digital topographic maps feature more trails to help you explore and navigate the Great Outdoors.

Date published: July 5, 2017

Finding Yourself Outdoors

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

Filter Total Items: 9
NDTc - Trail in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area located in Colorado
August 31, 2018

NDTc - Trail in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area located in Colorado

A scenic view of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area located in Colorado. The hike begins at the Fourth of July trail-head and guides you to Lake Dorothy, the highest named lake in the Wilderness Area at 12,061 ft ( 3676 m).

Dense shrub canopy grows under the powerlines that transect the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge
August 24, 2017

Base of the Powerline

Dense shrub canopy grows under the powerlines that transect the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge

Pipeline in Alaska early Spring
April 26, 2017

Alaskan Pipeline April 2017

USGS scientists are working alongside University researchers in Alaska to understand how groundwater and permafrost conditions change over time due to seasonal variations and climate change. View down the oil pipeline through one April 2017 study area. (April 2017)

Attribution: Water Resources
Silhouette of high-voltage power lines against the sun.
September 12, 2016

High-Voltage Power Lines

Silhouette of high-voltage power lines against the sun. Credit: Dreamstime

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

Wooded Trail Near Blue Ridge Parkway Near Afton, Virginia
December 31, 2015

Trail Near Blue Ridge Parkway Near Afton, Virginia

Trail Near Blue Ridge Parkway Near Afton, Virginia

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: Alaskan Pipeline
June 20, 2007

Alaskan Pipeline

Trans-Alaska Pipeline, northern Brooks Range, Alaska. Rocks in the background produce oil on the North Slope.

Image: Denali Fault: Alaska Pipeline
November 10, 2002

Denali Fault: Alaska Pipeline

View south along the Trans Alaska Pipeline in the zone where it was engineered for the Denali fault. The fault trace passes beneath the pipeline between the 2nd and 3rd slider supports at the far end of the zone. A large arc in the pipe can be seen in the pipe on the right, due to shortening of the zigzag-shaped pipeline trace within the fault zone. (It was snowing when