Topographic Map Symbols and Legend
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 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.
From Atlas of Canada website: http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/topo/topo_legend.html/
© Department of Natural Resources Canada
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: http://egsc.usgs.gov/isb/pubs/booklets/symbols/
(download usgs topo map symbols pdf file)