How to Read a Topo

Learn how to discern the markings on your two-dimensional map.
Topo map of the Columbia River Gorge

Map by MyTopo

Contour Lines Each thin, brown line represents a single elevation. Check the bottom corner of your map for the contour interval, which tells you how many vertical feet apart they are from one another (usually 40 feet). Thicker lines, or “index lines,” are labeled with the elevation in feet.

A. Steep terrain
Crowded sections of contour lines

B. Gradual terrain
Spacious sections of contour lines

C. Gully
V-shaped contour lines “point” toward higher elevations.

D. Ridge
V-shaped contour lines “point” to lower elevations.

E. Cliff
Super-concentrated lines

F. Trail
Black, dashed line

G. Switchbacks
Zigzagging trail

H. Dirt road
Black, dashed double-line

I. Railroad tracks
Solid black line with hatch marks

J. Stream
Solid blue line

K. Waterfall
Single blue hatch intersecting a stream

L. Summit
Contour line forms a small circle.

Google Map of the Columbia River Gorge

Google Map of the Columbia River Gorge

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