FDLP

Tricks and Tips for Finding and Using USGS Topographic Maps

 The most frequently asked questions I receive when helping people include, but are not limited to:

  • How do I find USGS Topographic Maps online?
  • How do I view changes in the landscape through time by using the USGS Topographic Maps?
  • Is there a way to markup a map for hiking or presentation purposes?
  • My searches are not working. Do I have the correct name?

Part 1: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Topographic Map Databases

How do I find USGS Topographic Maps online? How do I view changes in the landscape through time by using the USGS Topographic Maps? 

Though there are several access points from USGS online databases to find and use USGS Topographic Maps, one access point has the least amount of navigation clicks: the new USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer (Figure 1, below), a partnership between the USGS and ESRI.

New USGS His Top Map Exp.png – Figure 1: The USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

The following are selected examples used in the USGS Library to help patrons find and use USGS topographic maps.

Example 1: Lafitte, Louisiana:

Visit the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer Web page.

In the “Find a Place” search box, type: Lafitte, Louisiana, and click on the map to view the USGS topographic maps available for that geographic area (Figure 2, top row left). Click on the text on the timeline “Barataria” near the year 1892 (Figure 3a, top row right) and again near the year 1962 (Figure 3b, bottom row). Use the transparency bars to view the before and after, and note the landscape changes.

Example 2: Windermere, Florida:

Visit the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer Web page.

In the “Find a Place” search box, type: Windermere, Florida, and then click on the map to view the USGS topographic maps available for that geographic area. Click on the text on the timeline “Windermere” near the year 1953 (Figure 4A, below left) and again near the year 1980 (Figure 4B, below right). Use the transparency bars to view the before and after, and note the landscape changes.

Example 3: Governors Island, New York:

Visit the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer Web page.

In the “Find a Place” search box, type: Governors Island Nat'l Monument, and then click on the map to view the USGS topographic maps available for that geographic area. Click on the text on the timeline “Passaic” near the year 1900 (Figure 5A, below left) and “Newark” near the year 1985 (Figure 5B, below right). Use the transparency bars to view the before and after, and note the landscape changes.

Example 4: Washington Monument, District of Columbia:

Visit the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer Web page.

In the “Find a Place” search box, type: Washington Monument, and then click on the map to view the USGS topographic maps available for that geographic area. Click on the text on the timeline “Mt Vernon” near the year 1890 (Figure 6A, below left) and “Washington West” near the year 1985 (Figure 6B, below right). Use the transparency bars to view the before and after, and note the landscape changes.

 Additional USGS Topographic Map Databases: 

Part 2: USGS Topographic Maps Tools

Is there a way to markup a map for hiking or presentation purposes?

Yes, make sure to download the TerraGo Toolbar.

Part 3: USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)

My searches are not working. Do I have the correct name?

Yes, the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) is available online.

Select “Search” from the menu on the left.

Disclaimer: The use of trade, product, or firm names in this article is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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