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How to Read a Map

Reading a map is an important skill that may be lost in the internet and GPS era, but it's a skill that everyone should have.


  • Step 1: Find the compass rose Find the compass rose on the map to determine the directions on the map. The compass rose resembles a flower and will usually have the letter N at the top point, representing north.
  • Step 2: Match the compass with the map Align the direction you're facing with a direction on the map by using your compass.
  • Step 3: Locate yourself Find a large landmark or land formation to orient yourself. If you see a mountain range on your map and in front of you, find where you are on the map roughly based on your relation to the mountain range
  • Step 4: Find the scale Find the map's scale. The scale looks like a small ruler, often near the bottom of a map. This will tell you how many miles per inch the map is scaled to.
  • TIP: To determine how far your destination is, use a ruler and the scale to measure how many miles it is from point A to B.
  • Step 5: Learn the symbols Learn the symbols by finding the map key, which is usually near the bottom. The map key tells you what the symbols on the map represent, such as an airplane for an airport or a tree to symbolize a park.
  • TIP: If you're looking at a large area map but want a more detailed look at a city or area, find the inset maps either near the bottom or on the back of the map.
  • Step 6: Learn the latitude and longitude Find your latitude and longitude point on the map. Latitude lines go east and west and longitude lines go north and south, and where they cross at your location is your point of reference.
  • TIP: Latitude and longitude points are often used when there are no landmarks or roads to help determine a location.
  • Step 7: Map your route Use your location to plot a route on the map, and enjoy your trip.
  • FACT: The United States has a land area of 3,537,438.44 square miles.

You Will Need

  • A map
  • A compass
  • A ruler

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