In the United Kingdom, we have very detailed mapping available via the government-run Ordnance Survey. Their maps, while not best suited for long distance navigation are invaluable for outdoor activities, due to the level of detail and landmarks available, especially on the 1:25000 Explorer series. See below for an example.

sample of the explorer map near Bampton

I can see that the US equivalent agency, USGS, produces detailed topographic maps (and available to download for free) of much, if not all of the country. However these seem to be lacking in detail in terms of paths, landmarks, facilities, vegetation etc. Are there any US maps better suited to outdoor pursuits than the USGS topo maps?

It occurs to me that the US may not have a single national answer to the question. If it helps, I'm interested especially in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and surrounding areas, and areas close to Idaho Falls.

Paying for the maps is not a particular concern (although cheaper is always better). It would be useful to know what the availability (local stores, book stores, gas stations, internet/ etc) of suggested maps is.

  • 2
    Hiking trails in these areas are well marked and it's somewhat difficult to get lost. Unless you really want to know how high that mountain is you're climbing, you may find you don't need maps at all. Jun 19, 2015 at 13:36
  • Might this question be better served in Geographic Information Systems?
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 19, 2015 at 13:37
  • 3
    I was thinking The Great Outdoors. But it probably works here as well. Jun 19, 2015 at 13:39
  • 5
    @CGCampbell - probably not. I'm after (probably paper) maps I can use for finding my way around, not digital maps I can use for data analysis. Great Outdoors SE might cover it though.
    – CMaster
    Jun 19, 2015 at 13:39

5 Answers 5


US Topo maps don't presently include these features, mainly because USGS doesn't collect the data. USGS is working on incorporating data from non-governmental organizations into the US Topo maps, however that work is expected to take a while, and some types of data are considered low priority. A FAQ entry addresses these issues in some depth: Why are there no trails, powerlines, libraries, PLSS lines, etc. on US Topo maps?

There are a wide variety of privately produced maps for almost any area of the US where you might seriously consider outdoor pursuits, though of course these will cost you money. National Geographic maps are well known, for instance.

Though for many commonly visited areas you may find that a map produced specifically for that area by a group dedicated to that area works better. For instance, if you want to hike the Appalachian Trail, the National Geographic maps aren't very useful because they'll cost too much money and contain too much irrelevant stuff (not to mention weigh down your pack). Maps from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, on the other hand, are specially designed for Trail hikers and provide virtually any information you might want.

For the specific national parks you mentioned, I would think a National Geographic map, combined with local information you can obtain from a ranger station in the national park and information on the park's web site (see AbraCadaver's excellent answer about this), would be sufficient. If you didn't plan ahead and buy a map in advance, gift shops in the park do carry maps, but they will be overpriced just like everything else in these shops. I'm not aware of any other good third party maps for these areas. Remember to bring your compass.

  • As implied by your comment, depending on the anticipated activities, a compass may be entirely unnecessary.
    – phoog
    Apr 28, 2019 at 16:04
  • 2
    @phoog It's true that if you're on well marked, popular trails, then it's unlikely you'd ever need a compass or a map. I would still bring a compass, even so, because it's frequent enough that you need to get off the trail itself for one reason or another (e.g. taking a dump in the woods) and it is possible to get lost even a few yards from the trail. That's what happened to Geraldine Largay. Apr 28, 2019 at 16:09

Since you mention Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, there is a National Park Service, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior that provides simple and detailed maps of all of the national parks.

There are simple maps showing roads, buildings, park attractions etc. as well as topographical maps that include trails, landmarks, and most everything else.

State park information can be found on the individual state's website or the state parks website. For example from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is TPWD: State Park Maps and Big Bend Ranch State Park Map.

Any other land area is likely privately owned and thus you may not be able to enter and there won't be a map showing paths etc.

  • Yes, this is probably the best source for National Parks, specifically.
    – reirab
    Jun 19, 2015 at 20:30

The USGS maps are indeed not very useful for outdoor people. They are better than nothing, but lacking a lot of detail.

National Geographic Maps are available for popular recreation areas such as national parks. They are much more detailed than the USGS maps. Sometimes also local organisations/companies produce their own maps (e.g. this one for the Wasatch in Utah.)


The most significant differences between the UK Ordnance Survey maps and any comparable US maps come from several basic issues.

The UK (England and Wales, but not Scotland so much) has a huge number (more than 140,000 miles) of footpaths that have a historically and legally protected right of pedestrian walking access for the public.
Other paths are also protected (such as bridleways for horseriding, canal towpaths, etc), and there is also public right of access to some other areas as well as National Park areas. Although there are nationally recognized trails (such as the Appalachian Trail and North Country Trail) there is nothing in the USA that is comparable in mileage or complexity.

The UK has the Ordnance Survey that for more than 150 years has been responsible for mapping the entire country at scales of up to 25 inches to 1 mile. Maps - paper and electronic - are now readily available at scales of up to 2½ inches to 1 mile. They have a level of detail that includes not only footpaths and such but also things like public toilets, power lines, springs, archaeological sites and contour lines up to 5 meter intervals. Some products are freely available.

There is no equivalent organization in the USA.

Finally, whether or not you might be able to walk a path without compass or map, it is certainly true that without a map and arguably a compass you might be completely unaware of what is around you that you'd wish to avoid or go to take a closer look. If walking is nothing more than a trip from A to C via B, though, feel free to dispense with them.


Benchmark Maps are highly-detailed, colorful recreation maps of western US states. Periodically updated. Back of map contains printed info. Available through Amazon.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .