Topographic maps contain a wealth of knowledge to the trained eye. Bellow is a basic guide to common topographic map symbols that you may encounter on your next outdoor adventure.
Natural Features: This category is comprised of symbols that form the natural features of terrain. Man made structures such as dams, mines, cuts and other symbols are included in this section because they form the overall landscape.
Man-made Features: Are features that are are made by humans. Buildings, roads, transmission lines and rail roads can useful for orienting yourself or finding a quick escape in an emergency.
Navigation Aids: This category is made up of symbols that are used for field reference. Mile markers, grids and some vertical or horizontal controls do not exist in real life but are only on the map to aid in planning or orienting yourself in the field.
This information was adapted from the USGS Topographic Map Symbols handout (ISBN 0-607-96942-3).