Topographic maps can not do everything

Versatile and detail packed as topographic maps are, they are not always best for every purpose.

Topographic maps do not name every local street or road. They have no alphabetical index where you can look up the name of a street or town and quickly find it by means of a key. The Map Center carries plenty of up to date, detailed street maps and atlases for convenient reference and finding your way around.

"As much detail as possible" or "Easy to read"... Choose one! You may need a general reference map that presents somewhat limited detail so you can find it faster. Many are printed with large lettering so the map can be read from a distance. In the office, simple outline maps can be best for marking and erasing routes and territories.

The current editions of many quadrangles are decades old. Since the shape of the land, the main concern of topographic maps, changes very slowly, frequent updates are not a priority. This may be a plus if you are historically minded, but if the latest manmade changes to the landscape are important to you, check edition dates before you buy. Commercial street and road maps are updated frequently.

No matter how remote or seldom visited your destination, a USGS topographic map has been published for it. However for National Parks, Forests, major state parks and other popular areas you often have a choice of maps from commercial publishers and outdoor clubs. These may offer advantages over USGS maps such as larger coverage on one map and coverage aligned with park boundaries instead of arbitrary latitude and longitude lines. Trail networks are generally more up to date and better annotated. The Map Center advice is: In places like the White Mountains, for travel along established trails, durable maps from Appalachian Mountain Club or Trails Illustrated are perfect. (All in stock too: Online ordering coming soon, please call to order). However, if you like to bushwhack and explore off the beaten paths, you will appreciate the larger scale and maximum topographic and hydrographic detail of primary series USGS maps.

You will see nautical features like lighthouses, piers, breakwaters, and sometimes water depths on topographic maps. Canoeists and kayakers make good use of the large scale shoreline detail. Conventional boaters however require proper up to date charts before venturing into navigable waters. The Map Center carries official NOAA and many other commercially prepared nautical charts.

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