Topographic maps are maps that show contours and other detailed information about an area. Instead of the typical flat map that most of us use, topo maps represent the earth with an almost 3D feel to them. These contours show different land levels and sea levels. With these contours, we are better able to measure heights, depths and steepness. In the United States, the U.S. Geological Survey is responsible for creating topo maps.
Topographic maps, like traditionally used maps, contain keys and symbols. Streets, streams and buildings are among a few items represented on topo maps. Though some symbols change over time, standard mapping keys and symbols are still used on most topo maps.
When you first begin reading a topo map, you should familiarize yourself with the colored lines and symbols. Houses are usually represented by small black squares while buildings are drawn to look like the particular structure. If the map is representing a very dense area such as a large city, buildings and houses may be completely omitted with only landmark areas being shown.
Color shading is also widely used in topographic maps. Green usually represents vegetation and forests, blue represents water and dense areas are shaded in gray or red. Using color methods helps the reader to quickly locate points-of-interest. Contours are represented by brown lines and can help to identify areas that have a higher or lower elevation. These maps are often a good resource for campers and hikers who need to be familiar with the area of their journey.
Topographic maps are detailed and often hand-drawn representations of the earth’s surface. These types of maps are often very large representations of geographic regions. Topo maps were date back to the early 1600’s and have seen a multitude of changes and improvements since their inception. A good resource to buy or learn more about topographic maps is About.com’s geography resource.