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Gear Review: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Isle Royale National Park

National Geographic Isle Royale Map - west end

A good map is hard to find.

Even more difficult sometimes than finding an exceptional woman, dog or automobile mechanic.

Luckily, the National Geographic Society is making it a lot easier for backcountry enthusiasts exploring National Parks, National Forests and other popular recreational areas in the United States. Through their Trails Illustrated Maps series, National Geographic publishes trail maps for more than 60 different areas within the National Park system, and over 100 other maps of national forests and recreational areas in the United States. This includes several maps covering the Adirondack Park, in northern New York State, of which regular readers are familiar.

The Isle Royale National Park map (#240 in the series) covers the trails and waterways of the largest island in Lake Superior, plus all of its associated smaller islands. A single map covering the entire island, this map proved invaluable during the planning and implementation of my two-week long trip on Isle Royale during the summer of 2011.

The map is highly attractive, with brilliant colors and an enticing layout. Printed on a tear-resistant, waterproof plastic material, it is vastly superior to most paper maps. Although incredibly durable, take care with insect repellants, sunscreens, alcohol and other solvents, as smearing may occur.

My extended trip put this map’s durability to the test. After 15 days on the trail, my map was still in good condition, with only numerous small dents and some minor fading along the folds. None of the points where the folds intersect developed into holes, as typically occurs on well-used paper maps.

Trails are marked as large dashed lines, making reading the map easier in low light conditions, an important quality for middle-aged hikers. Trail mileages, included along trail segments, are marked in red. Although highly useful while planning the trip, sometimes it is difficult to determine where exactly the trail segments begin and end. The convenience of the trail mileage has a downside too, as sometimes it is best not to know how far it is to the next campground.

Unfortunately, the trail locations do not appear to be entirely accurate. This is clearly visible when viewing the island via Google Earth, which clearly shows the actual tail location on many of the more open ridge crests. Some, but not all, of this discrepancy may be attributed to trail rerouting over the years, but with the advent of GPS technology, the base trail location data obviously needs updating to reflect the trails actual location.

Symbols indicate the location of campgrounds, facilities, mines, mineshafts, and other points of interest. Useful to boaters on the island, the map indicates the location of lighthouses, shipwrecks, docks, bare and sunken rocks, and ferry routes. In addition, the names of many geographic areas appear on the map, particularly those with historical significance.

The entire island, with the many surrounding smaller islands, appears in all its glory, with the east end on one side of the map, and the west end on the other. Significant overlap between the two sides exists, cutting down on any unnecessary flipping between the two sides when near the edge of its coverage. Isle Royale is positioned correctly on the map, running from the lower left corner to the upper right, reflecting its southwest to northeast orientation.

Given the configuration of Isle Royale, much of the map’s outer perimeter displays the cerulean blue of Lake Superior, but rather than just present a blue background, National Geographic has filled the area with all kinds of useful information. The blurb topics include camping tips, fishing regulations, boating information, Leave No Trace ethics and everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about Isle Royale National Park.

Full UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) grids appear over the entire map, with their corresponding coordinates along the map border, making the map fully GPS compatible. In addition, latitude and longitude degrees also appear at regular intervals along the map’s border.

National Geographic Isle Royale Map - east end

For those mapping geeks in the audience, the scale and cartographic data on the map include the scale of 1:50,000, contour intervals of 25 feet, projection of UTM, Zone 16 T U, and the datum NAD 1927. Also, the map’s central meridian is 87 degrees W, while the ellipsoid is Clarke 1866.

Although appropriate for most uses, the lack of enough detail makes this map less useful for the few brave and intrepid bushwhacking adventurers. For those brave, or stupid, enough to trudge through Isle Royale’s often-impenetrable forests, swamps and steep ridges, the detailed USGS topographic maps would prove more useful.

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Isle Royale National Park (#240) is a must for anyone planning a visit to this gem of the National Park system. And, if you get lost in the Isle Royale backcountry while packing this map then it is definitely your own darn fault.

The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Isle Royale suggested retail price is $11.95. It currently is on sale at Amazon.com for $10.75.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links within this blog post may send you to a retailer website. If you chose to purchase any product on that site at that time, this author receives a small commission. These commissions provide compensation for the author’s time and effort necessary to provide the content at the Bushwhacking Fool.

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