Cheapest source for Lots of topos? help

Im out of the map loop.

Where can i get the most maps for the money. Im looking for topos of most of n. america, particulally of the waterways.

Is there an online source thats free?

MyTopo seems pricy since it was about $80 just for my state of montana.

Need canada too so there may be a dif source for that place.



look at google maps these days
they’ve got a terrain feature that looks pretty good and it’s free. don’t know how much detail you want but for just birdseyeing a paddle spot, it works pretty good along with google earth.

A company, I think Loren?, sells a book with hardcopies of topos covering all of california. They may also have other state.

But if you go to the USGS yiyu can get more detailed maps

connect to a GPS?
If you are looking a Topos you can upload GPS tracks on, I have been suing a shareware program capped topofusion ( The shareware version is annoying, as they block out about a third of your screen, but usually I was able to readjust the view and get it so that the parts blocked out were not ones I cared about. But in the end, I upgraded to the pro version and haven’t looked back.

Topos is a subscription service - they have downloadable topos but for the amount you are looking for it might be a pain to piece together everything you need and print them out…

$50 / yr for “unlimited topos” … but a lot of printer ink…



Source for Topo’s / DRG’s.
I wrote an article for the Lowcountry Paddlers (Charleston, SC) in December 2007 on sources for Free GIS data.

Just click on December 2007.

Two packages I use that have free topo’s that you will be able to print are NASA’s World Wind and ESRI’s ArcGIS Explorer. Both are FREE sofware programs that you must download and install and then they link up to services for the data.

The World Wind package has multiple scales of the topo’s, so as you zoom in, it switches to a different scaled topo, etc.

The ArcGIS Explorer is probably a bit complex to setup for most non-GIS folks but it is usually the one I turn to first when scoping upcoming paddles. World Wind is easy.


Mt. Pleasant, SC

ArcGIS Explorer
is pretty cool, like a souped up version of Google Earth. Very similar interface for those familiar with GE. Technically, Google Earth (especially the paid version) is a GIS, too.

Most states have a clearinghouse of GIS data available for the state. Topos (also called DRG’s that come in 100k, 24k, 250k, and sometimes 500k varieties) along with DOQQ (digital ortho quarter quadrangles, or aerial photos), satellite imagery (LiDAR, LandSat, etc), DEM (digital elevation models, basically for things like hillshade, 3D, and elevation profiles), and a lot of vector data on roads, water features, political boundaries, and some states even put up a ton of environmental and biological data.

As for the topos, you can occasionally get them with margins or without (cropped collars). Those without margins are good for tiling and overlaying with other files. Those with margins can be printed as-is.

To be honest with you, the traditional USGS topo has become obsolete, however. Printing costs are high enough that it can get super prohibitive really fast. Your best bet is to obtain digital copies, tile them, and print what you need (a good GIS can put coordinates in the margins for compass nav, but you may need to search for how to set up a graticule).

With all this in consideration, probably the best application for the consumer is National Geographic Topo!. Typically $100/state at 24k resolution, you can print exactly the areas you want when you need them, and the software automatically prints coordinates in the margins. It has some limitations when it comes to interfacing with GPS receivers, but if you’re only after printable maps, it’s worth the expense.


Click birdseye view.

NASA Worldwind
NASA Worldwind is very similar to Google Earth and it has a USGS Topo mode that shows topo maps for the entire US. Best part is that this software is completely free.

Make sure the USGS Topo map icon is clicked to see the topo map -there will be a small arrow above the icon when its clicked.

I’ve been using this…

– Last Updated: Aug-20-08 1:45 AM EST –

for a couple of years now and I swear by it:

Excellent for EVERY inland paddle trip. OK for "Big water" but doesn't have the features of true Navigational Charting software (buoys and lights, depths, obstructions, etc.)

Pretty intuitive layout, buttons, etc. Tons of features like GPS waypoints, user routes and labels, headings, bearings, magnetic variation updated and corrected to time of print.

Export to file, printer, GPS, Pocket PC, Palm Pilot. Save changes on device for import back to desktop.

It is the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas and the kitchen sink all in one.

All of the United States in detail down to 1:15,325.

The ONLY drawback. Insert disk for each area as needed. But I got around that. I have a program named Pinnacle which creates a "virtual CD/DVD drive" on my desktop. Then I copied all the disks as "virtual disks" into a folder. Double click the virtual disk and it plays in the virtual drive. I keep my originals from getting scratched and I have immediate access to every disk.

At $50 dollars you can't loose. Best Trip Planner Ever...

That covers the US, wish I could help you with Canada

See You On The Water,

old technology
I’m a heavy user of the maps and aerial photos for exploring waterways around the mid-south. The USGS/Microsoft “terraserver” site is about 10-15 years old, but it’s still the main source I’m using for maps, and the best value out there IMHO.

Part of the reason is that, because it’s been around so long, various software writers have developed tools and various other geeks have figured out tricks to help get the most out of it.

For aerials, Google Earth seems to have better quality (higher resolution) maps for some of the areas near me, so I use that a lot. However, there are still a lot of areas where I can’t find aerials with high enough resolution to be helpful, so I’m always on the lookout for better sources there.

For maps, however, terraserver is great. My current set-up is based on a shareware program called Back Country Navigator, which lets me download 4 60-mile-by-50-mile rectangles of 25K, 100K and 250K USGS maps onto a PDA and carry it with me on trips. The PDA has a built-in GPS and the software has a standard tracking feature, which keeps me centered on the appropriate map and records the path I travel.

The software also has a desktop version that runs on my home PC and allows me to print out maps on paper ahead of time, for backup on difficult trips and also because I’m still kind of addicted to big paper maps for planning trips. On return, I can upload my GPS track and print out maps showing where I went.

One catch - the software is true shareware, programmed and supported mainly by one guy who has a day job and a family, so there are still a few flaws in the software and he doesn’t have the resources to handle unlimited volume. On the other hand, the price is very reasonable - $50 for both PDA and desktop versions.

(Note: terraserver also offers aerial images, and in about a dozen “experimental” areas of the country, the resolution is very good. Unfortunately, few of those areas are near me.)

Also, if you don’t care about the in-field PDA access and GPS tracking, but just want to be able to custom-design and print maps, you can use an advanced word-processing program like MS Word to manage images copied from the website. It involves a little bit of manual work, but it beats the stew out of paying $80 per state. This takes a bit longer to explain, so drop me an email if you’re interested in this option.

You can even use these maps as a base for publications of your own (like guidebooks). There is no copyright infringement because USGS itself is partner to the site and declares on the home pages its commitment to free distribution of its maps.

based on 100K maps
I agree that this is a great package, but the maps here are based on the USGS 100K series, not the most detailed 24K series. The poster says they are scaled at 15,325, but that is just an enlargement of the 100K data - they will not show the extra detail which is displayed on the 24K series maps.

For simple navigation on many mid-size or large rivers and almost all lakes, this is no problem. However, the 24K series shows a wealth of extra detail for any size body of water, big or small.

Here’s a way to see the difference - pick a stream or lake that you know well and go to it using

Then click on the sizing buttons at left and compare the level of detail - the button 2 squares away from the “+” sign is the 24K series, while the button 4 squares away is the 100K series.

Toporama - Canada

Wow, great maps, thanks. I didn’t know this existed for Canada. Detail down to 20K with very extensive features legend at the high resolution levels, seems to operate much like terraserver as far as navigation goes.

topos for Canada
Hey Norm,

I got your email the other day and will write you a proper response later today on the route you asked about.

As for topos for Canada, hold tight for now. I think I can come up with something for you that will cover Canada at least. I’ll fire you off an email in a bit.

Cheers…Joe O’

NRS has tropos
but I’m not sure if you can buy it in quantity just like that

good advice
so many maps so few ink cartriges.

thanks for the map comments. i didnt realize how may options were out there.


Cheap topos
With topo maps you get what you pay for. The best source for cheap topos would be someone who already bought them or already has the program and is willing to loan or give it to you. has both topos and arial photos. I have used this site for my real estate appraisals. It is a good image but is is a bare bones image. they are USGS