Written by 6:53 pm Wilderness Navigation Masters

4) How do I get digital and physical hiking maps

Hello and welcome to this article of the online course Wilderness Navigation Masters, where you will see where do I get hiking maps (both digital and physical).

Hiking maps websites

For United States maps, I have four services that I use to get topographic maps, which I will show you in this video.

In this service, they provide recent topographic maps and ones that date from 1884, because they have a large database.

But what matters for the majority of us outdoor enthusiasts, is the ones that are released after just 10 or 5 years ago.

The second free service that you will learn how to use to get topographic maps is Caltopo.

This service is great and is the one that I use a lot now when I’m creating this course. They have a lot of useful tools and settings, but the only thing that I don’t like about it is the user interface that looks like a website from early 2000.

But after I get used to it, I started to like it.

The option that this service has and the first one don’t, is the ability to change between map layers. Because for certain places, I found that the USGS is the clear one, and for other places, I found that the MapBuilder Topo or the FStopo layer is clear.

The third service you will see in this video, and the only paid one is Alltrails.

The subscription to this service costs around 30 USD for a year or 60 USD for 3 years.

There is some useful free stuff to get, like trail ideas, and info that the other outdoor enthusiasts write about, but when you try to save the map, Print it, or download it, you have to pay for the membership.

My preferred way to get physical topographic maps for outdoor activities is what National Geographic calls “Trail illustrated Topographic maps”.

Trail illustrated topographic maps are based on USGS maps, but I like them more because they are updated with more outdoor recreation information like where I can found water, where I can camp or where trails are, etc.

All these trail illustrated topographic maps are printed on waterproof, tear-resistant paper.


How to get maps from those services:

Now that I’ve introduced you to each service, let’s start with how to get a topographic map from the USGS.

  1. The first step is to go to the USGS website, USGS.Gov
  2. Click on Product from the first menu, then USGS Store.
  4. Then, U.S. MAP LOCATOR.
  5. Now, you can use the search bar to go directly to the map that you want
  6. Or to zoom in this map to the location that you want .. then double click on it to get maps of this area like that
  7. Now click on view products to get this window where you can filter by the map year or the scale.
  8. After you get the one that wants, you can download it from here or add it to the cart, then buy it like with any other online store.

This is the digital map that you will get.

It’s the one I’ve used in one of the previous videos to explain the different elements of a topographic map.


For the Caltopo service.

  1. Type caltopo.com in your web browser.
  2. From the first menu bar, click on Print, then Print to PDF or JPG.
  3. This red box is what you can drag on your preferred area.
  4. Now, on your left, you have a list of settings :
  5. For Paper size: leave it at eight and a half by eleven if you will print it on regular paper.
  6. For scale, I prefer 1:25000 over 1:50000 to get an easy to read a map, with more details.
  7. For format, I prefer to get it as a PDF.
  8. You can put here your title if you want.
  9. For Gridlines, if you want to have a UTM grid or Latitude/longitude grid you can check both of them here.
  10. If you will use a GPS with your map, chances are you will leave it at WGS84
  11. And now you can click on generate your PDF. But before that, you still can choose between Portrait or landscape in orientation.
  12. If the red box can’t get all the area that you want in it, you can still add another page like that.
  13. The last option I want you to know about is this base layer that you can change from here. I always check between the Mapbuilder topo and USGS layer to see which one are clear for the area.
  14. Now, all you have to do is to click on Generate Pdf here, and like you see The first page is the overview page and the last two are for our topographic maps, with the UTM zone and the map datum, the scale, and the scale bar and the magnetic declination diagram.


alltrails.com, as I’ve said before, it’s a great community where you can get trip ideas, information, and photos from other like-minded people for free. But print a map is a paid feature.

  1. When you click on it, a new tab opens up.
  2. Here, it’s simple and similar to Caltopo.
  3. You can choose the paper size, the orientation, the Grid that you want, the scale, and the map datum.
  4. After you search for a location, you can zoom in and out, you can change between different map layers from here.
  5. After all that, from the top of this page, you can print it or download it as a PDF.


To get National Geographic Trails illustrated maps, all you have to do is to go to natgeomaps.com.

  1. Pass your mouse cursor on Trail maps then choose Trail illustrated maps.
  2. From this map, you can double click on your preferred region to see the available maps, then click on one of this green boxe.
  3. When you see the map that you prefer, click on it.
  4. A new tab opens up, from this page, you can see more details about this topographic map and click on “buy now” to order it.

That’s all for this lesson, if you get a digital topographic map, don’t forget to let us know which one of these services you did prefer to use.

If it’s a paper topographic map, take a photo with it, and share it with us in the comments section below.

I will upload mines right now with my trail illustrated map of rocky mountain national park.

Thank you for watching and see you in the next video.

Updated on June 28, 2021 by Ben

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