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Research Guides

Maps & Cartographic Information: Topographic Maps

Search tips for finding maps, atlases, aerial photos, GIS, and other cartographic materials.

How Do I Find Topographic Maps?

In-Person

The best way to find a topographic map for your area of interest is to come in to the Map Collection.

  1. Decide which topographic series you would like to use. Our list of Topographic Map Sets will direct you to one or several series that cover your country of interest.
  2. Ask Map Collection staff to direct you to the index map for the series you want.
  3. Use the index map to discover the names of the sheets you need.
  4. Find those sheets in our map cases.

Online

If you are not able to come in to the collection but know the names of the sheets you need, search the catalog. If those sheets are available, you may be able to borrow them through Interlibrary Loan.

If you are not able to come in to the collection and do not know the names of the sheets you need, a few series have online versions of index maps -- see Frequently Used Resources below.

Catalog Search Tips: Topographic Maps (Topos)

United States

  1. If you know the name of the map sheet you are looking for, proceed to the next step. If not, you must first consult an index map. Index maps are available in the first drawer of each series. Ask Map Collection staff where the series you want is filed.
  2. Use a Title search.
  3. In the text box:
    • For topographic maps at the 1:24,000 scale, enter
      [state name] 7.5 minute series
    • For topographic maps at the 1:100,000 scale, enter
      30 x 60 minute series planimetric and topographic
    • For topographic maps at the 1:250,000 scale, enter
      United States 1:250,000
    • For Alaska topographic maps at the 1:63,360 scale, enter
      Alaska 15 minute series
    • For historic Washington state topographic maps at the 1:62,500 scale, enter
      Washington 15 minute series
    • For historic Washington state topographic maps at the 1:125,000 scale, enter
      Washington 30 minute series
    Some of these phrases may seem strange, but trust us—they do work!
  4. If the series is very large, your search result may show you several titles that match your phrase. These are all part of the same topo series, but because there are so many individual sheets they have been subdivided alphabetically into smaller groups by sheet name. Just click on the title with the alphabetic range that contains the sheet name you are looking for (which you identified in step one using the index map).
  5. Notice that some series have several locations, such as Maps Historic Map Cases, Maps U.S. Topographic, and Tacoma Reference. The sheets are listed by location first and then alphabetically by sheet name (call number).
  6. If you know the name of the quadrangle you can avoid scrolling through the list by entering it in the text box and clicking on the  button to display only those that match.
  7. After finding your call number and sheet name, ask Map Collection staff where the series you want is filed.

Some topos are not in the catalog, particularly historic topos for other states. Please ask Map Collection staff for assistance if you cannot find what you are looking for.

International

Our list of Topographic Map Sets will direct you to one or several series that cover your country of interest.

Frequently Used Resources

Related Terms & Definitions

Topographic maps (informally known as "topos") render the three-dimensional ups and downs of the terrain on a two-dimensional surface, through the use of contour lines to portray the shape and elevation of the land. Topographic maps usually portray both natural features (such as mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, rivers, and vegetation) and manmade features (such as roads, boundaries, transmission lines, and major buildings). (Adapted from the USGS Topographic Mapping page, "What is a topographic map?")

Topographic Maps & the Collection

Topographic maps form a large part of the Map Collection, because they generally offer the most detailed and accurate mapping available for most nations and regions of the world.

The Map Collection's goal is to cover the whole world at 1:200,000 or 1:250,000. Within the United States, coverage is available at scales of:

  • 1:24,000 (aka 7.5 minutes)
  • 1:63,360 for Alaska and 1:62,500 for historic Washington (aka 15 minutes)
  • 1:100,000 (aka 30 x 60 planimetric and topographic series)
  • 1:250,000

The Map Collection has the most recent topos available for the United States, and keeps all superceded (older) topos of Washington State as well. Superseded Washington State topos, including historic 15 and 30 minute topos, are filed with the historic maps. We do have some older topos of other states as well, which are also filed with the historic maps.

Where Can I Buy Topographic Maps?