Finding Yourself Outdoors

Release Date:

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

It’s officially summer, and USGS maps can help you to get outside and explore. Updated US Topo maps and other mapping products now make the planning, plotting and navigation of that next outing easier. Recent partnerships with other Federal, State and non-governmental and commercial organizations have allowed the USGS digital topographic maps to feature additional trails and major recreation points of interest.

Collecting Trail Data From Partners

The USGS has become an aggregator of national level trails and recreational features. The mapping division of the USGS, the National Geospatial Program (NGP) has been seeking and leveraging partnerships with other agencies and organizations by making their data available through USGS mapping products and services. These contributions and collaborative efforts have resulted in the addition of more than 127,455 miles of diverse governmental maintained trails to the Nation’s topographic base maps. The Federal and State input includes:

  • 77,548 miles of trails nationally from the U.S. Forest Service
  • 14, 923 miles of trails nationally from the National Park Service
  • 9,027 miles of trails in the upper and lower parts of Michigan from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
  • 4,567 miles of trails throughout the U.S. from the Fish and Wildlife Service
  • 2,491 trails in West Virginia from the West Virginia Geographic Information System (GIS) Technical Center
  • 716 miles of trails in Alaska from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources
  • 621 miles of trails for the State of Colorado from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources
  • 479 miles of trails, mostly in the Rocky Mountain states, from the Bureau of Land Management

As the collection, formatting and distribution of this data continues, more cooperation with Federal, state and local agencies is expected to increase – and greatly add to a national database.

National Scenic Trails

There are 11 major trail systems that have been designated as a National Scenic Trail. However, there is no national-level coordination of these trails or their map data. The USGS NGP has formed partnerships with many diverse governmental and non-governmental agencies to obtain all relevant data and portray those labeled trail segments on state maps as they are revised.

National Scenic Trails that have been added to USGS map products:

Quadrangles of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with new water and boundary data
Updated 2016 US Topo map section within Great Smoky Mountains National Park showing Park boundary and enhanced water data compared to the same 2013 US Topo map. (1:24,000 scale). Click to enlarge. (Public domain.)

The total of these trail segments placed on US Topo quadrangles is more than 13,100 miles. The remaining NST awaiting productions is the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. The US Topo mapping program is working hard to obtain that data as well as update other trails as new information is provided.

Non-Governmental Trail Collaboration

The USGS has been working with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) and Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) for approximately three years. The supplied trail data is nationally consistent and is reviewed by supporting agencies and checked with local authorities. Through this partnership, the USGS has collected more than 15,000 miles of trails, and don’t display trails that overlap other trails partnerships. For example, the new maps don’t show IMBA/ REI trails over National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service or Fish and Wildlife Service maps to avoid any confusion.

Recreational Points of Interest:

From the various partnerships, the USGS has recently been able to begin to add other recreational points of interest. Starting with a pilot project with the National Park Service, the revised maps for North Carolina included major recreational structures and area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Currently, these recreational points of interest are mainly campgrounds, trailheads, visitor centers, and shelters. The initial mix is scattered throughout the Nation and new information is being loaded to maps in revision on a daily basis. At this time, there are more than 9,000 various recreational points of interest in the mapping database.

Quadrangles of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with new campground data
New US Topo quadrangle within Great Smoky Mountains National Park showing hiking trail and camping data compared to the same 2013 US Topo quad. (1:24,000 scale) Click to enlarge. (Public domain.)

More Than Dirt Trails

The National Geospatial Program has incorporated new technologies and processes that will allow the updated maps to feature not just terra trails but also major recognized water and snow routes.  This new data will be supplied by the NPS and USF

How to View and Download the Trail and Recreational Information:

There are two primary services to view, download and in some cases, manipulate the trail and recreational points of interest information, as well as other base map layers:

US Topo maps: These maps are modeled on the familiar 7.5-minute quadrangle maps of the period 1947-1992, but are mass-produced from national geographic information databases on a repeating cycle. The maps are provided as a digital download from the USGS Store and presented in traditional map form; this benefits non-specialist map users, as well as applications that need traditional maps. The US Topo map improvement program has entered its third, three-year cycle of revising and updating digital US Topo quadrangles.

The National Map Viewer and Download Platform: allows visualization and download of our most current topographic base map data and products. Users can access data from all eight primary data themes of The National Map, and associated products, such as US Topo maps, Historical Topographic Maps, and Map Indices. This viewer is largely meant for experienced GIS users.

If you would like to compare historic maps to current topographic maps, you can download scans of legacy USGS topo maps, some dating back to the late 1800s. These can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection or topoView.

All USGS mapping services and products are available as a free download.

US map of added trails and recreational points of interest
More than 127,455 miles of trail data from various Federal partners has been placed on USGS mapping products. (Public domain.)