Free US Maps and Viewer Software

So I was playing around with my maps thinking about a trip for next year and it reminded me of a bunch of things I figured out for viewing maps of North America…

In theory you can download all those nice USGS maps for free because the US tax payer paid for them. But only if you know what you’re doing. With any bureaucracy the trick is knowing how to ask the question.

  1. You can use the National Map Viewer to zoom around Alaska. In the right hand column turn on Topographic Maps > USGS Quadrangles to see the maps and Topographic Maps > Index/Status to get the names of the individual sheets.
  2. Once you have the sheet name goto the Alaska Digital Raster Graphics and download the TIF file for the sheet you want.This comes as a compressed file using GNU Zip.
  3. The built in Windows ZIP program doesn’t seem to handle this (maybe WinZip does). You can get gunzip.exe for Win32 from SourceForge’s GNU utilities for Win32 Project. Download the ZIP. You only need to unpack \usr\local\wbin\gunzip.exe to be able to unzip files.

The end result is a bunch of map sheets you can print out or load into some software like Memory-Map.

USA Photo Maps and NASA’s World Wind programs are also great ways to look at these maps without having to download them. They automatically stitch maps and arial together for you too giving you one big map of the US.

Unfortunately there’s no equivalent for Canada. You can use the BC Base Map Viewer to get maps of BC although they’re fairly basic. I ended up buying maps of the Yukon from Etopo and using the Memory-Map (free/shareware) to view them. This will give you maps for the whole of the Wrangle-Elias Park.