Map Symbol Legend for topographic maps

Map Symbols

Since a map is a reduced representation of the real world, map symbols are used to represent real objects. Without symbols, we wouldn't have maps.

Both shapes and colors can be used for symbols on maps. A small circle may mean a point of interest, with a brown circle meaning recreation, red circle meaning services, and green circle meaning rest stop. Colors may cover larger areas of a map, such as green representing forested land and blue representing waterways.

To ensure that a person can correctly read a map, a Map Legend is a key to all the symbols used on a map. It is like a dictionary so you can understand the meaning of what the map represents.

Here are some common symbols:

 
TOPOGRAPHIC CONTOURS

 (land elevation)
Index
number written on line
map symbol key
Intermediate
between Index lines
topographic map symbol
Supplementary
added to flat areas to show measurements
legend map symbol
Depression
such as volcano top or crater
(little dashes are called hachures)
map symbol
Cut; Fill
roadway leveling terrain
 

VEGETATION

Woodland
trees at least 6feet tall
Scrub
low brush
Orchard
planted vegetation
Vineyard
cultivated vines
Mangrove
dense, tropical trees
 

SURFACE FEATURES

Levee
Sand or mud area, dunes or shifting sand
Intricate surface area
Gravel beach or glacial moraine
Tailings pond
 

MINES AND CAVES

Quarry or open pit mine
Gravel, sand, clay, or borrow pit
Mine tunnel or cave entrance
Prospect; mine shaft
Mine dump
Mine tailings
 

GLACIERS AND PERMANENT SNOWFIELDS

Limit
blue denotes coverage
Form lines
Show shape, not elevation
 

BUILDINGS AND RELATED FEATURES

Building
School; church
Built-up Area
Racetrack
Airport
Landing strip
Well (other than water); windmill
Tanks
Covered reservoir
Gaging station
Landmark object (feature as labeled)
Campground; picnic area
Cemetery: small; large
 

ROADS AND RELATED FEATURES

Primary highway
Secondary highway
Light duty road
Unimproved road
Trail
Dual highway
Dual highway with median strip
Road under construction
Underpass; overpass
Bridge
Drawbridge
Tunnel
 

RAILROADS AND RELATED FEATURES

Standard gauge single track; station
Standard gauge multiple track
Abandoned
Under construction
Narrow gauge single track
Narrow gauge multiple track
Railroad in street
Juxtaposition
Roundhouse and turntable
 

TRANSMISSION LINES AND PIPELINES

Power transmission line: pole; tower
Telephone line
Aboveground oil or gas pipeline
Underground oil or gas pipeline
 

BOUNDARIES

National
State or territorial
County
Civil township
Incorporated city
Park, reservation, or monument
Small Park
 

LAND SURVEY SYSTEMS

U.S. Public Land Survey System
Township or range line
Section Line
Found section corner; found closing corner
Witness corner; meander corner
Other land surveys
Township or range line
Section line
Land grant or mining claim; monument
Fence line
 

CONTROL DATA AND MONUMENTS

Horizontal control
Third order or better, permanent mark
With third order or better elevation
Check spot elevation
Coincident with section corner
Unmonumented*
Vertical control
Third order or better, with tablet
Third order or better, recoverable mark
Bench mark found at section corner
Spot elevation
Boundary monument
With tablet
Without tablet
With number and elevation
U.S. mineral or location monument
 

RIVERS, LAKES, AND CANALS

Intermittent stream
Intermittent river
Disappearing stream
Perennial stream
Perennial river
Small falls; small rapids
Large falls; large rapids
Masonry dam
Dam with rock
Dam carrying road
Perennial lake; Intermittent lake or pond
Dry lake
Narrow wash
Wide wash
Canal, flume, or aquaduct with lock
Elevated aquaduct, flume or conduit
Aquaduct tunnel
Well or spring; spring or seep
 

SUBMERGED AREAS AND BOGS

Marsh or swamp
Submerged marsh or swamp
Wooded marsh or swamp
Submerged wooded marsh or swamp
Rice field
Land subject to inundation
 

MARINE SHORELINE

Approximate mean high water
Indefinite or unsurveyed
 

BATHYMETRIC FEATURES

(water depth)
Area exposed at mean low tide; sounding datum
Channel
Offshore oil or gas: well; platform
Sunken rock
 

BATHYMETRIC CONTOURS

Index
Intermediate
Supplementary

See USGS Brochure for complete topographic map symbol list.

Next: How to Read Topographic Maps

map symbols What do Paul Bunyan and a map symbol key have in common?
 
They are both legends!


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