Map Obession

Old School

Yeah. I’m a bit old school. I love a good map. I suppose being the daughter of a navigator it was hard to escape learning to read them. Maps are an excellent planning tool. Atlases, paper, waterproof, road, topo, satellite, terrain, OSM … the list goes on and on.

Perhaps my favorite thing about maps is using them to plan my adventures. As a source of inspiration. There is so much potential. The roads leading from my home to trail offer up the means to get there. The trails provide the place to re-connect with myself and nature.


Maps represent possibility to me. Of places to explore, adventure to be experienced. I grew up in a family that loved what maps represented. I know my love of them came from my dad. Maps help you find your way, they tell you all about the geography and what you’ll find along the way as you journey from one place to the next.

When I was young an atlas or globe was fascinating. I liked knowing where someone I loved was when they weren’t with me. Being able to find a point on a piece of paper made the distance seem smaller and like I knew exactly where they were in relation to where I was sitting.

Then there was the year of the puzzle maps. Someone gave my grandmother a puzzle that, once assembled would show our family cabin at the center. It was a bear to put together…lines and lakes everywhere. Of course I wanted one too. Then one for my son and I to have that put us squarely in our home. While putting it together we discovered details about our own small piece of Minneapolis that would have gone unnoticed otherwise.

Each time I go on a trip that includes hiking or backpacking, I try to get a map specific to the place I’m visiting. There’s a great series of maps of the U.S. National parks produced by National Geographic and I own a handful. They all have the trails and routes I used highlighted.

Minnesota State Parks have maps of each park available online as well at the park office or entrance kiosk. I’ve got a huge collection of those marked with the date I hiked, route I took and details about the trail, campsites and wildlife. The same is true of regional park maps. I’ve had to get a storage container for all of them I’ve got so many. Recently I even found a map that an enterprising soul posted that shows the route to do a full Minnesota State Park road trip that would allow you to not have to backtrack at any point. I used that map to help plan my most recent trip to hike in 15 parks within a 7 day period. (Visit the June & July 2019 blog archives to read about it!)

Memories in the Making

The two maps that I’m mean the most to me are my Philmont Scout Ranch North Country map and my Isle Royale National Park map. Both are tied to pivotal moments in my hiking life. Both are tied to my relationship with my son in the best of ways.

If you take a minute to stop on my About Ruth page, you’ll learn that this hiking thing is my son’s fault. I love him for it. We spent nearly a year preparing for amazing experience of hiking with a crew of Scouts at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico in 2015. Over the course of 10 days the seven young men in the crew lead three of us adult “advisors” over nearly 70 miles of backcountry trails in some of the most beautiful terrain I’ve ever experienced. I was along for the ride and to make sure that no one died. I had no navigational skills when I arrived at the ranch and managed to not gain any in the subsequent days. It was only at the end of the week, back in basecamp when I purchased my map. I’d journaled the whole time so I traced our route, after the fact, on the map. Now when I pull that map out, I need little help remembering the sights, sounds and challenges we overcame.

The other map, my Isle Royale map was a gift from my son two years later. He was returning to Philmont, this time with his dad and I’d picked this hard-to-reach park for my first solo backpacking trip. He gave me the map for Christmas, explaining that he thought it would be important for me to have a map to plan my trip. And that it would be important for me to have a WATERPROOF one. He’s a smart one, though I wish his reason had been less accurate (it rained solid for the first two days). I poured over that map. Calculated and recalculated distances. Noted possible ferry points if I needed to bail on my plan. I took it with me when I met with people about their experiences in the park.

To say my map and compass skills had improved would be untrue. I could at least see that I was in for significant elevation changes in short distances, to calculate how long it should take me to get from camp to camp. If I got lost, well that would be a bit more interesting. Thankfully I didn’t need it for more than helping me to see how far I’d gone and what distance was left to cover. When I returned home, I carefully marked the whole journey. Just like my Philmont map, I can picture so many of the moments tied to that map and I’m grateful for them all.

Cartographer Keith Myrmel of Arden Hills created what is likely the coolest map in my collection – a full map of the Superior Hiking Trail. It’s hand drawn. It’s beautiful and very detailed, including items like the 2,000-plus campsites, trailheads, parking, bathrooms and all the towns along the way. Need to resupply or a zero night in town? He’s marked lodging, grocery stores post offices and outfitters. Want to know if you’ll possibly have cell coverage? Large red dots indicate cell towers. And the details about each park you’ll cross through are included. Milage? Yup. It’s marked in five mile increments. All of it bordered with quotes from the likes of John Muir and others about the outdoors.

To get a copy of the Superior Hiking trail map (or his next release, the Boundary Waters) visit:

Map Apps

Since I’ve started hiking I’ve tried a few map apps. I have found that for me All Trails is my go-to app. I like that it works without WiFi or internet access with the paid subscription. There are tons of user loaded apps and you can record your hikes if that’s your jam. It tracks distance, elevation changes, you can mark way points and add pictures, rate trails and suggest additions. Local weather and social media sharing are built in too.

Next Post Preview: I’ll give you my two cents worth about apps that offer maps and gear to fuel your adventures.

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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