A common conversation among backpackers is where and how to find the correct USGS Map for an upcoming trip.  Not many people are aware that the US Government makes all USGS maps available on line for free.  While the information is available, it is not advertised very well and is not in the least bit user friendly.  With that in mind we have provided a short tutorial that will help you access it and use the free online maps.


The United States Geological Survey maps are available in Topographic Map form from the USGS.gov Store for free.  Once downloaded you can enlarge the maps to get a better view of the topography and decide if you want to purchase the hard copy .  As of now no instructions are available on the USGS store website so the following should be helpful.

http://store.usgs.gov.  (site to obtain USGS maps).

Click in the space as shown in the picture below:

Continue to double-click on the map, in the state of Washington, zeroing in (zooming in on) on the general area that you wish to see the map.

At the top of the map, click on the tab called TOPO.  This will present a topographic view of the area that you have zoomed in on.  Continue to zoom in on in a specific area.  When you are sufficiently sure that you are in the general area, click on the MARK POINTS button as shown below:

The screen will refresh one more time.   Next, you will eventually see a screen that identifies the USGS geographic maps marked out by title and corresponding grid spacings.

Click once in a general area and you will be presented with a “place-holder” in the immediate region that you selected.  An example is shown below:

Click on the placeholder and you will be presented a window to download the map.  See below:

Click on the download button and you will be presented an option to OPEN or SAVE the file.  Opening the file will open a PDF file of the map which you can then download to your computer.  SAVING the file directly will save a copy of the file in a ZIP file that is downloaded onto your computer.

We’d love your ideas on how to update this tutorial with new information. Please provide tricks or ideas on how too improve usability of the USGS free maps.

Leave a Reply