Topographic maps have distinct markings the make them technically useful ~ above the trail. Colors and symbols include the information unique to a topographic map. These details might not be discovered in gazetteers or take trip guides. Map detail consists of important information about elevation, water, structures, trails, floor cover and roads; and much more.

You are watching: What does the color black on a map illustrate?

Colors stand the end from the map and administer identification to plenty of features such as vegetation and water. Colors represent natural and man-made functions of the earth.

Coupled v contour lines, colors include fabric come the features and terrain.

Several the the rule colors include:

– Blue – water (streams, lakes, long-term snow fields and glaciers, etc.)

– green – forest and vegetation

– White – a basic lack of vegetation

– Brown – contour lines (elevation information)

– black color – man-made/cultural attributes (buildings, ar names, boundary lines, roads, etc.)

– Red – Highways and significant roads, Township/Range/Section information

– Pink – metropolitan areas

– violet – reflect revisions to a map yet is no much longer used ~ above maps in production


In the map above, eco-friendly identifies that the terrain approximately Elk Lake is heavily forested (vegetation). Notice the white area roughly the summit that Elk mountain (next come the left border) indicates an area without vegetation such together rock outcroppings. Black represents artificial features favor the roads and also recreation facilities along the northwest coast of the lake.

“The mapmaker has actually been compelled to use icons to represent the natural and also man-made functions of the earth’s surface. These symbols resemble, as very closely as possible, the actual attributes themselves as viewed from above.”

– U.S. Military Field hand-operated FM 21-28, Map Reading and also Land Navigation, 1993

Specific to a location, symbols identify features such as buildings, springs, bench marks, mines and bridges. The United says Geologic Survey’s (USGS) guide Topographic Map Symbols is 4 pages long and lists dozens the symbols. The USGS’s finish listing are easily accessible online.

The following graphic is a sample native Topographic Map Symbols. The symbols listed below are those offered for rivers, lakes and also canals. Keep in mind the different colors used.


The graphic below illustrates symbols regarded buildings and also other fabricated features.


Note that the shade of these symbols is mainly black.


Let’s highlight a few symbols that the backcountry hiker will find valuable (the symbol will certainly be listed to the left.)

Bench Marks are survey monuments. Location and also elevation data is accurate. Bench note will be stood for by the letter BM and next to it will be published the elevation data; check out map above. In the backcountry, Bench point out will have a brass/bronze plate in ~ the location to indentify the mark and its place data. Please do not tamper through a Bench Mark.

A trail is emphasize in the map above. Trails space black dashed lines.

Useful come the hiker are 4 wheel drive roads (4WD) and also unimproved roads. These are frequently called jeep roads and also may it is in usable top top foot, horseback or hill bike. Several of these roads may not it is in passable by vehicle.

Thin, powder-blue lines stand for streams. What looks like a dashed blue line (right half) represents an intermittent stream; a circulation that may disappear in dry weather.

I introduce spending part time searching through the USGS’ publishing Topographic Map Symbols and also to become familiar v the various colors and symbols listed.

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If this to be a breeze, you’re probably ready come learn around orienting a map and also contours the a map.

Author: Blake Miller