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Atlases and Maps

For many years the Rand McNally Road Atlas has been almost universal. It's reasonably good, with clear highway maps, some features of interest, and commendably up to date. But the topography is almost nonexistent and the maps are just not very attractive. There is also a compact edition.

But now there is something better, The National Geographic Road Atlas - Adventure Edition, produced in conjunction with MapQuest. First of all, it is spiral bound, so it won't keep closing up on you, and the back cover flap folds in to keep your place. The maps are attractive, with clearly shown topography. It has an interesting series of climate maps, then a section with 36 scenic drives, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, each with a map and photograph. A gazetteer at the end lists all cities and towns, with population and map reference, but other map features (mountains, parks, lakes) are not included.

As a general purpose reference atlas we have always favored Rand McNally Goode's World Atlas, now in its 21st edition. It has a well thought-out set of basic reference maps and a great number of thematic maps on world environment, resources, and human geography. This is the atlas universally recommended for college world geography classes. It is a reasonable size, and a very reasonable price.


My favorite atlases of western states are the ones by Benchmark (and not just because some of my former students helped produce them).

The maps have beautifully rendered topography, and meticulously researched cultural features such as roads. They show land ownership clearly (very important in many areas, especially the desert) and an intelligent selection of features of interest.

The scale is too small to use for hiking, but they are the all-around best maps to plan driving trips in the west, and to have with you to understand the landscapes as you travel. The series now covers ten states.

Benchmark Arizona Road & Recreation Atlas - 6th edition

Benchmark California Road & Recreation Atlas, Fifth Edition

Benchmark Colorado Road & Recreation Atlas

Benchmark Idaho Road & Recreation Atlas

Benchmark Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas - 2nd Edition

Benchmark New Mexico Road & Recreation Atlas, 10th Anniversary Edition

Benchmark Oregon: Road & Recreation Atlas - Third Edition

Benchmark Utah Road & Recreation Atlas - Third edition

Benchmark Washington Road & Recreation Atlas

Benchmark Wyoming Road and Recreation Atlas

De Lorme Atlases
De Lorme, on the other hand, has an atlas for every state. They are at a larger scale (i.e. features on the map are larger) than the Benchmark series, and they show tremendous detail.
Excellent for back road exploring. Early editions had crudely drawn contours, but now they feature shaded relief and accurate contours. The gazetteer is useful, listing all the place names on the maps, plus points of interest such as parks, boat ramps, and information centers.

Tom Harrison Maps

This is a truly beautiful series of topographic maps of popular recreation areas. The relief is artistically hand shaded, supplemented by contours. Trails are carefully researched, verified on the ground, and measured with a bicycle-wheel odometer. All features of the maps are intelligently thought out and clearly presented. They show both latitude/longitude and UTM, making them ideal for use with gps. Tom Harrison makes all these maps himself, and in my opinion (as a cartography instructor) they are the best available.

The Tom Harrison Maps web site has a full listing (30 maps), with a locator map of California. You can even view pdf versions (for example, see Point Reyes National Seashore).

The only shortcoming of the series is that they may be hard to get hold of - Amazon do not carry them. But you can buy them on-line from Tom's website:. You are also likely to find them at outdoor equipment dealers (such as R.E.I.) and in visitor center bookstores at the parks.

National Geographic / Trails Illustrated Maps
This is a series of maps of national parks and other major recreation areas. They are based on the U.S. Geological Survey topographic series, with contours and other base map features. Some have shaded relief. Most have clearly and accurately marked trails (a shortcoming of the USGS topos) and other features important for travellers. Cartographic quality varies from excellent to mediocre. There is a series specifically of national parks.
Big Bend
Channel Islands
Crater Lake
Death Valley
Glacier/Waterton Lakes
Grand Canyon
Grand Teton
Guadalupe Mountains
Hawaii Volcanoes
Joshua Tree
North Cascades
Organ Pipe Cactus
Point Reyes / Marin / Tahoe (Mountain Bike Map)
Rocky Mountain
Santa Monica Mountains
Sequoia / Kings Canyon

Raven Maps
These are wall maps, large and dramatic. The elevation coloring and topographic shading is beautiful (credit to Allen Cartogaphy of Medford, Oregon). I have seen them framed in people's living rooms - they are that good. My only quibble is that they are all at slightly different scales, so they cannot be mosaicked together to make a huge map of the west. There is however, a map of the 48 states.
To buy Raven maps go to their website:

A few areas of the west have special map series. The best travellers' maps of British Columbia come from the BC Parks department. There is a wonderful series of maps of the Hawaiian islands by James A. Bier, published by the University of Hawaii. See the Atlases and Maps section of the relevant region for details.

Every American national park has a standard brochure with an excellent map. They are not intended to be used for hiking, but for understanding the geography of the parks they can't be beat. Unfortunately they are usually only available from the park itself, at the entrance station when you pay, or at the visitor center. But pdf versions (and editable Adobe Illustrator and jpeg files) are available on-line from the National Park Service Cartographic Resources Home Page.

The U.S. Forest Service produces a standard series of maps, one for each national forest. They are very ugly, with crude symbology and no topography. But they do show every road (many national forests are a veritable maze of logging roads) and land ownership (much land within national forests is privately owned). Campgrounds and other facilities are shown with standard symbols, and there is usually some general information about the forest on the back. There are also forest service maps of certain wilderness areas, with contours, trails, and special use restrictions (on grazing, fishing, campfires). Forest maps are available at some equipment dealers, or directly from the U.S. Geological Survey / USDA Forest Service web site.

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