Topographic Map Symbols and Legend

Map symbols

Symbols are used in topographic maps to identify cultural and natural features. Symbols come in different shapes, sizes and colors to uniquely identify such features on the map.

Cultural features include roads, trails, buildings, boundaries, railways, power transmission lines, pipeline, campgrounds, mines, dams, recreation areas, ... . Natural features may include water (rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and swamps, rapids), relief (mountains, valleys, canyons, and other landforms,...), vegetation (forested areas, cleared areas, orchards, ...). Toponomy or feature and place names are added to provide textual information about features. Gridlines and contour lines on the map are represented with different line symbols.

You can create maps using Geokov Map Maker and add a variety of symbols / icons, create custom icons, and add symbols and icons from other web pages as explained here.

Map Legend

Map legend is a key to the symbols. It provides a complete listing of all the symbols used on the map and the corresponding features they represent. The legend can be located along the borders, below the map, or on the back of the map. Although many symbols used in different maps are similar, there is no one standard international legend for topographic maps. Below you can find the Canadian NTS and USGS topographic maps' legends. The margin of the map contains other important information such as map scale, north arrow, declination diagram, datum, publisher, date, etc.

Legend for the Canada National Topographic System (NTS) 1:50000 and 1:250000 scale topographic maps

From Atlas of Canada website:
© Department of Natural Resources Canada
Canadian topographic map legend symbols NTS 1
Canadian topographic map legend symbols NTS 2

Legend for the USGS 1:24,000, 1:63,360, 1:100,000, 1:250,000, 1:500,000, ... scale topographic maps

From U.S. Geological Survey website:
(download usgs topo map symbols pdf file)
USGS topographic map legend symbols
USGS topo map symbols legend 2
USGS topographic map legend symbols 3