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8 Topographic Maps of the World’s Most Stunning National Parks

Maps are great. Everyone loves a map. But there’s only so much a conventional map can achieve.

By: G. John Cole + Save to a List

A map of a national park can help you find your way around at ground level. It can help you plan your route before you go, and to make arrangements in case members of your party should become separated. And of course, a paper map has an aesthetic appeal that even stay-at-home adventurers can admire.

But for those who have not yet chosen the national park that they wish to explore, a two-dimensional map can be somewhat dry. Yeah, there’s a lake. Yeah, those squiggly circles mean it gets steep there. How do you know what it’s really like, though?

The answer is: topographic maps. Or more specifically, this new collection of topographic artist’s impressions that offer a skewed birds-eye-view of some of the most awesome parks in the world.

Side by side with a regular map, these visualizations will let you know what you’re in for before you set out with your backpack. You can practically feel the wind in your hair…

Zion National Park (Utah, USA)

Rock does some pretty mad when you leave it to erode for 270 million years. You can see the results in this topographic poster of Zion National Park. What you can’t yet see, despite the visual similarity, is your favorite Westworld villain hiding around the next corner. But you’ll deal with that when you get there, right?

Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada)

Meanwhile, in Canada…the epic Rocky Mountains offer vertical relief to make the valleys, glaciers, and meadows even more awesome below. And you can almost see the trees waving with the bustle of grizzly bears and caribou through the woodland. Take care out there!

Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park (Jiuzhaigou, Ngawa, Sichuan, China)

As China slowly opens up to the outside world, the opportunity to explore that sleeping giant gets tantalizingly more real. Do the lush valleys of Shuzheng, Rize and Zechawa call to you, or is it a chance encounter with the giant pandas and golden monkeys of the 75,000-acre forest that’s got you reaching for the visa application?

Göreme National Park (Göreme, Turkey)

A sunny beach holiday in Turkey: standard brain. A weekend in chaotic Istanbul: sparkly twinkly brain. A hike through Turkey’s Göreme National Park? Enlightenment brain! From the so-called fairy chimneys to the flamingoes and kestrels of the salt lake ‘Tuz’, you’ll be glad you left the basic tourists behind at the airport.

Torres del Paine National Park (Magallanes Region, Chile)

Perhaps the wildest park on the list, Torres del Paine is known for the granite pillars that rise over the Patagonian steppe – but it's the thrill of the trek, ride, or sail that you’ll remember most clearly when you get home.

Fiordland National Park (Southland, New Zealand)

It may sound like the latest Scandi drama, but Fiordland is actually on the other side of the world – its thousand-meter waterfalls and fantastical Mitre Peak belong to the otherworldly landscape of New Zealand.

Jostedalsbreen National Park (Sogn og Fjordane, Norway)

The real Scandi drama takes place in the shadow of Jostedalsbreen, Europe’s biggest glacier, where the epic Sognefjord and Nordfjord meet near the west coast of Norway. It’s the ever-mutable snow-and-ice landscape that keeps the story moving – this is a park that will astonish you again and again.

Kilimanjaro National Park (Kilimanjaro, Tanzania)

What a tidy topography! Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, defines the unique shape of the eponymous park. The summits of Kibo and Mawenzi seem to drag the meadows and rainforest skywards. Will you join them on their upward haul?

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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