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June is Great Outdoors Month, a celebration of encouraging everyone to go outdoors and embrace the natural world. 

Let’s say that you’ve obtained your backcountry camping permits and are preparing to hike the Arizona Scenic Trail selected from the collection of designated National Scenic Trails. 


The Arizona Trail as it is also known runs the entire length of the state, from the U.S.-Mexico border north to the Arizona-Utah border. The trail stretches over 800 miles across the center of Arizona through deserts, mountains, canyons, forests and communities. The hike typically takes an experienced hiker an average of eight weeks to complete. 


As an outdoor adventurer, consider the importance of planning your route carefully: thinking about details like distance, elevation, water availability, terrain difficulty, weather, and potential camping spots along the way. 


Most likely you’re going to need the aid of a topographic or topo map to help plan your trip. Not only do these maps show contour lines to illustrate changes in elevation, rivers, trails, and other handy details to know along the hike. The maps also serve as a great resource for identifying potential obstacles and helping to plan alternative routes for safety. 


Outdoor enthusiasts will find a valuable tool for planning with USGS topoBuilder, a free application powered by the latest National Map data. This app allows anyone to make their own on demand topographic map or OnDemand Topo as they are also known. The maps are available by request as digital downloads and can be printed if a hardcopy is needed along the trail. 


Creating a custom OnDemand Topo is quick and easy to do in a few simple steps regardless of the users mapping expertise.  


The maps are created at the time the user requests them and can made of anywhere within the continental United States, Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. Territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands). An OnDemand Topo is centered based on the user’s area of interest and can be generated in either PDF or TIFF formats.  


Head over to topoBuilder to get started on a creating a map. 


1) Once in the topoBuilder web application, simply select the “map type” as either a 100K Topo or 7.5-Minute Topo.  

The main difference in “map type” is the scale size. 


A 7.5-Minute Topo or 1:24,000 scale, highlights a smaller area, but provides a more detailed view. 


In contrast, the 100K Topo or 1:100,000 scale is ideal for providing a broad topographic overview of landscapes across a larger area.

topoBuilder select a map screen.
Screenshot of selecting a map type  in topoBuilder.


2) Next, select your area of interest for the map either by zooming in to the map to custom select a desired area or by using the search bar at the top right of the screen. Once the area of interest has been selected, you can customize your desired export format type, National Map data, and other customization options depending on map type selected. 

Using topoBuilder screenshot, customize map.
Screenshot of customizing a map in topoBuilder.

3)The selected map(s) are added to the cart, then add the request(s) to the topoBuilder queue by entering your email address.  

Using topoBuilder screenshot, edit cart screen.
Screenshot of maps in cart before checkout.

The resulting map(s) are typically delivered by email in less than five days. 


Users are welcome to request an unlimited number of maps, regardless of scale type and most importantly they are always available for free. Happy Mapping! 

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