How to Make a Topographic Map

How to Make a Topographic Map
Topographical maps show changes in elevation. They show the shape of major features like mountains and rivers, and provide invaluable information to hikers, kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts. A topographic map will help you evaluate the strenuousness of an outdoor trip and help you prepare for the adventure ahead.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Maps Paper Pencil
  • Maps
  • Paper
  • Pencil
Step 1
Choose the place you want to map and gather existing maps of it. Municipal and university libraries, hiking guidebooks and online resources such as those linked below are all good sources of topographical maps.
Step 2
Record basic information about the area you want to map. Write down the maximum and minimum elevations, the scale of the map (e.g. 1 inch = 1/2 mile) and the latitude and longitude of the central point in the lower left or right corner of the map. This is called your map key. Next to that, draw a compass rose showing which direction is north.
Step 3
Sketch out the main landmarks of the map. Draw roads, rivers, lakes, mountain peaks and other significant locations. You can give locations a symbol to make them easier to find. For example, you can label mountain peaks with a triangle, roads with a dotted line and so on. Write down the symbols you use in your map key.
Step 4
Draw a contour line for the lowest elevation level. This line should trace the shape of the land at that elevation level. Record the elevation next to the contour line.
Step 5
Begin drawing more contour lines for higher elevation levels. Choose your increments based on the elevation changes in the area you are mapping. If you are drawing a topographical map of a very flat area, you may want to draw contour lines for every 10 or 20 feet rise, whereas if you are graphing an area with more dramatic changes, you may prefer to use a contour line for every 250 feet. Label the elevation at every fifth contour line to make the map easier to interpret.
Step 6
Write in the maximum elevations at mountain tops, plateaus and other high points.

Article Written By Isaiah David

Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.

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