Reading Topo Maps: Understanding Map Symbols and Colors

Dotted, dashed, and curvy. Red, blue, and brown. All these colors and styles criss-cross a topo map. Learn what they mean.

RED -Overprinted on primary and secondary roads to highlight them. Also used to denote surveying features that belong to the U.S. Public Land Survey.

BLACK -Manmade or cultural features

BLUE -Water-related features

BROWN -Contour lines and elevation numbers

GREEN -Vegetation features

WHITE -Sparse or no vegetation. Basically, white indicates any landscape feature except for trees or water - including desert, grass, sand, rocks, boulders, and so on.

PURPLE -Denotes revisions that have been made to a map using aerial photos. Such revisions have not been field-checked for accuracy.

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