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How To Read a Topographic Map

U.S. topographic maps, issued by the USGS, all conform to certain standards, making reading them easy.

Difficulty Level: average      Time Required: 10 minutes

Here's How:
  1. Thin brown lines represent contours or points of similar elevation. The closer together they are, the steeper the terrain.
  2. Contour lines form "v" shapes in valleys or along stream beds. The point of the "v" points uphill.
  3. Blue represents water.
  4. Green represents orchards and forested areas.
  5. Purple markings are those that have been "photorevised," or added to the map since the original map was published..
  6. Red areas represent urban areas, although the maps will often indicate special buildings of significance within the urbanized area.
  7. Roads and highways are represented in black and red.
  8. The scale on 1:24,000 topographic maps means that one inch equals 2000 feet

Related Features:

  • Topographic Maps Overview
  • Topographic Map Resources

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