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Map Types

THERE’S A MAP FOR THAT

Below is a list of common — and some not so common — map types in use, historically and modern-day. I think you’ll find that the more you learn about maps, the more you will see how prevalent they are. Maps, you see, are vital to our everyday life! Plus, I think they’re just a lot of fun to look at!

How many of these map types below are you familiar with? Click on any of the links to view examples and explore more!

  • Aeronautical map — a road map for a pilot flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Commonly called an aeronautical chart. These maps use a complicated array of symbols and colors to identify things such as airports, control towers and obstructions, as well as topographic data.
  • Airport map — orients airline passengers to terminals, gates, shuttles, baggage claim, shops, lounges, restaurants and bars.
  • Ancestral History map — plots the locations (towns, cities, counties, parishes, etc.) and names of distant family relatives and ancestors.
  • Artistic map or Panoramic map — a painterly and realistic approach to render landscapes in a wide-angle fashion, as it might appear from an airplane (mastered by Austrian painter Heinrich Berann,1915-1999)
  • Cadastral map — shows detailed information about property within a specific area, such as boundaries and ownership of land parcels.
  • Campus map — shows the layout of a college or university campus, identifying buildings, walkways, residence halls, roads, green areas, etc. by use of names, colors and numbers. These maps range from simple outlines to overhead planimetric to detailed 3D architectural-style depictions. These maps can apply to shopping malls, business parks and even zoos.
  • Cave map or Caving map — uses specialized icons and names to depict and identify passages and rooms, routes, formations, lakes and rivers, hazards, features, entries, elevations and distances and tours of caving routes. A related map shows the size and shape of a map system based on surveys and collected data.
  • Chloropleth map — a type of thematic map that uses color shading, gradients or patterns in proportion to the measurement of a statistical variable being displayed on the map.
  • Climatic map — shows distribution of climatic conditions based on long-term observations
  • Climbing map — shows establishing routes up rock faces, usually labeling with names, grades and notable hazards.
  • Conservation map — is used to represent a wide range of data concerning the natural world of plants or animals, such as migratory bird routes, species health, populations and distribution, vegetation reductions, wildfires, wetland destruction, etc.
  • Economic map or Resource map — shows the specific types of economic activity or natural resources present in an area
  • Election map or Electoral map — tracks and identifies wins and losses in regional, state and national elections, typically denoted in red (Republican) and blue (Democrat).
  • Fishing map —  shows water depths and features helpful in locating fish and fishing, including structures such as weed beds, channels, submerged timber, even hotspots.
  • Flight map or Route map — depicts the flight path of aircraft between cities and airports, or shipping lanes of maritime sailing and cargo ships between ports
  • Floor map or Floor Plan — sort of a map that outlines the size, shape and location of rooms, stairwells, elevators, entrances, exits, etc. in a home or other structure. Styles range from flat architectural drawings to elaborate 3D exploded views showing multiple floor levels.
  • Geographic map — shows position, scale and shape of landforms using data and cartographic projections
  • Geologic map — shows the distribution of materials at or near the Earth’s surface (ex: soils, bedrock, deposits)
  • Hardiness Zone map — identifies the regions of plant hardiness and growing conditions based on seasonal temperatures
  • Historical map or Antique map — usually drawn in the past, depicting a place or describing an event during a particular historical period. Check out David Rumsey’s online collection here.
  • Itinerary map — depicts the routes, stops, arrival and departure points, ports of call, destinations, etc. to outline a land-based or ocean trip
  • Illustrated map or Pictorial map — an artistic, personalized and often highly stylized (rather than technically accurate) depiction of a place using illustrations, images and text, sometimes with forced perspectives and often not to scale.
  • Journal map — a map, usually quickly sketched or painted, in a journal made while traveling, accompanied by handwritten notes or vignettes.
  • Landscape map or Garden Plan — birds-eye depiction of a garden or yard showing location, names and associations of trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables as well as structures, paths or walkways
  • Literary map or Fantasy map — 1) acknowledges the contributions of authors to a specific state or region and 2) depicts the the geographical settings, locations or worlds, real or imagined, in works of fiction or fantasy, typically printed on the book’s endpages. Well-known examples include 100 Acre WoodTreasure Island, Westeros, and Hogwarts. J.R.R. Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth is perhaps one of the most famous fantasy maps. Many Role Playing Games (RPG) and video games like Skyrim also use maps.
  • Lunar map — a topographic map of the lunar surface that locates features of interest, including Apollo landing sites and specific impact craters
  • Memory map or Personal map — an illustrated map that serves as a personalized visual record of a vacation, trip or similar experience. It is used to recollect a place and time of special meaning, for decorative purposes.
  • Mental map — a first-person perspective of an area and how a person interacts with it (example: the image you have of your neighborhood).
  • Migration map — visualization of the data collected from the movement of humans, birds, mammals, fish, insects, etc.
  • Military map — a type of topographic map used in wartime to identify ground features, extent of vegetative cover and population centers, locate opposing forces, aid in planning tactical operations, coordinate logistics for troops, tanks and aircraft, identify supply lines, etc.
  • Nautical map — a graphical representation of maritime areas and adjacent coastlines, currents, water depths and tide information, and potential hazards to sailors such as reefs, shoals and shipwrecks. More commonly referred to as a nautical chart.
  • Oceanic map — a type of relief map that depicts the landforms, elevations and plates beneath oceans and seas
  • Park map —  overhead layout showing information and features useful to park visitors, such as park boundaries, entrances, parking, restrooms, picnic areas, building, hiking trails, bodies of water, boat launches, elevation changes and major points of interest. The National Park Service have perhaps the best known (and best designed) examples of park maps, and this site has over 1,700 hi resolution maps available for free viewing or download.
  • Planimetric map or Line map — depicts surface features (such as roads, buildings, parks, bodies of water, bridges, etc), and the accurate distances between them regardless of elevation, as they would appear from overhead. GPS devices or GoogleMaps display data into this type of map.
  • Plat or Property map — shows the divisions and boundaries of a piece of land (such as a lot, subdivision, county or town), drawn to scale.
  • Political map — shows governmental boundaries of countries, states, nations, cities, villages, towns, counties, etc.
  • Physical map — typically shows similar information as a political map but overlays color shading to depict landmasses and bodies of water to depict the local terrain
  • Physiographic map (landforms)
  • Planetary Map — a detailed view, often made from a composite of hundreds or thousands of individual photos, of a planet, moon, the sun. Surface features may be identified and named. This type of map would also include our solar system, a galaxy, a nebula or even the universe.
  • Propaganda map or Persuasive map — created by rulers or leaders of nations with the intent to misinform, deceive or persuade the general populace to believe particular facts or message, to garner support for a cause or advance a specific agenda. Some are satiric in nature. Cornell University Library has a great online collection.
  • Rail map or Railroad map — outlines the network of tracks and routes of passenger and freight lines, canals and roads, stations and depots, and river crossings and mountain passages
  • Relief map or Terrain map — uses color shading to denote elevation, giving the illusion of 3D to a flat surface. Older maps often used hachure marks, short parallel lines drawn to represent slopes, grades or changes in elevation.
  • Resource map — shows the distribution of natural resources in a region, such as soil, forests, water, coal, minerals, etc.
  • Road map or Highway map — shows major and minor roads, highways and interstates, as well as airports, train and subway stations, cities and towns, gas stations and rest stops, and major parks and forests. Originally produced by oil companies and made available for free at filling stations nationwide to encourage people to explore the country by car. Almost always folded to a standard size suitable for storage in a glovebox.
  • Sky map or Celestial map — identifies and charts the location and movement of stars, planets, moons, nebulae, galaxies and other heavenly bodies
  • Story map — an interactive map on the web that combines narrative text with images and video to relate information or tell a story.
  • Thematic map — show a particular theme connected with a specific geographic area. They can portray physical, social, political, cultural, economic, sociological, agricultural, or any other aspects of a city, state, region, etc. A city map is a type of thematic map that enables quick and easy orientation in an urban space.
  • Topographic map — shows land features and elevation changes of a portion of a land surface using contour lines (lines connecting points of equal elevation) to depict position, relation, size, shape, and elevation.
  • Tourist map — shows local and regional businesses — such as restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, parks, municipal buildings — often found in city guides, tourist brochures, rest stops and visitor centers.
  • Trail map — uses color coding and symbols to identify trailheads and routes, land features, elevation changes, distances, campsites, picnic areas, points of interest, etc. A specialized kind of trail map (typically waterproof or laminated) may be used by boaters and paddlers for use on water trails, to locate public launches and entry points, islands and beaches, portages, rest areas and navigate around buoys and hazards. There are also specialized trail maps made specific to bicyclists, skiiers, horseback riders and off-road vehicles.
  • Transit map — often a color-coded schematic diagram to show routes of trams, trollies, trains, subways, ferries, metros, cable cars and buses. Click here to browse a great collection of transit maps.
  • Weather map — uses a set of stylized symbols and lines to identify various meterological events across a particular area at a particular point in time (such as fronts, storms, winds, precipitation, etc.) Weather maps can also plot lightning strikes, wind speeds, ocean currents, day/night cycles and much more.
  • Wedding map — orients family and guests to the location of the church, reception hall, hotels, restaurants and local places of interest for a wedding. Typically printed with or on the wedding invitation.