Let's talk about maps


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  • Bob Falcone
There are many necessities for hiking: Appropriate footwear, food, water, rain gear, flashlight, an extra layer of clothes, and maps. Want to look for a new trail to hike? Pull out a map and look for trails you haven't done yet. Are you out on a trail and want to know where the next intersection is, or want to know the name of that big mountain in front of you, or even how steep the rest of the hike is? Pull out your map.

There are many maps to choose from. Almost all state, regional and local parks have maps either at a the visitor center or via a website. But these maps are inconsistent from park to park. Some show only the barest of details — they may or may not have distances shown on them — and often do not include much of the surrounding area. These maps work for the park they're made for, but not much else.

If you're looking to hike outside of a park, such as in a national forest or a national park, you'll want a more detailed map, and there are plenty of choices. For easy-to-read maps that cover the Pikes Peak Region with turn by turn directions, the locally produced Pocket Pals maps are hard to beat. I personally carry most of these maps in my car.

The venerable and iconic Pikes Peak Atlas is a map almost everyone has. It's still available in stores, though, it hasn't been updated in a number of years, which means it's not quite as accurate as it was in the past. Trails have been closed, re-routed, or have become overgrown from lack of use, but they're still on the map. Still, The Pikes Peak Atlas is more right than it is wrong. I still carry mine.

Trails Illustrated maps, made by the National Geographic Society, seemingly cover every square mile of Colorado's public lands. The 250 assorted maps cover most of the rest of the U.S., almost all national parks and monuments, and other countries, too. As for their ease of use, they fall between the Pocket Pals maps and the Pikes Peak Atlas. They are also updated regularly, ensuring that they'll stay somewhat accurate. I have lots of these maps, and find them to be quite useful. 

But if you want to get really deep into maps, look for official U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps, the most detailed and presumably accurate topographical maps around. They're not the easiest to get your hands on, but now two websites offer the ability to view, customize and print USGS maps from your home computer. The customization options are many, so you'll want to spend time on the websites www.natgeomaps.com and caltopo.com to get a feel for how they work.

The USGS doesn't update maps very often, so be aware that they may not always have the most up-to-date information. Reading a detailed topographical map isn't very easy, and can be confusing. Take the time to develop your map reading skills, especially when using the USGS maps.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for over 24 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.


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