Sunday, March 18, 2012

Source for U.S. Forest Service topo maps and vector files

USFS topo mapA decade ago, B.G. (before GPS, at least for me), I lived in a part of the Southern Appalachians surrounded by National Forests. I loved exploring the area by mountain bike, and while I wasn’t yet into GPS, my love of maps was already deeply ingrained.

Not yet to the point of filling my hard drive with maps, I instead had a wall full of USGS topo quads, the collars cut from them, detailing a mosaic of the regional landscape. But one day my good friend, fellow biker and map junky, Sparrel, told me about U.S. Forest Service (USFS) maps.

The image above shows a portion of a map near my new neighboorhood, the Mendocino National Forest. Note that the map is brown and white, even though this is a heavily forested region. Unlike USGS quads, these maps don’t show vegetation. What you gain though, are Forest Service road and trail numbers, gate locations, and more legible boundaries. Sometimes these quads are even more up to date than the standard USGS 7.5’ series. Once I discovered these, I was well on my way to acquiring a second set of topo maps for the region!

I recently discovered a great portal for USFS maps and vector data. I stumbled across this via the OziExplorer message forum. They don’t have all the USFS topos, but you might want to check it out to see what they have for your favorite stomping grounds.

Use the link labeled Raster Data Gateway. These files are digital raster graphics (DRGs), and they come in .tif format, so you can view them with most graphics viewers. Better yet, they can easily be used with your GPS with OziExplorer, and the files can be georeferenced upon import, thanks to the accompanying .tfw file.

The site also has vector data, but the vector data gateway is flash-based and did not work well for me, though it did better in Firefox than IE.

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About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.

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