It's winter. I daydream of trips in various areas. Using Google/Apple/Bing maps is frustrating. Openstreet has trails if you are near civilization, but names are weak. None of them have coordinate overlays (Lat/Long, UTM)

OpenStreetMap Screen shot. The above is a screenshot of Open street map showing the SW corner of Cree Lake, SK, with the Brustad River running down from the north. This is about a 10-15 km view. Not a useful level of information. No names. No portage trails.

Is there any public server that basically serves up tiled topo maps for the Canadian NTS series.

Alternately is there a desktop application that you can point to a folder of downloaded topo maps and does the Right Thing?

Added: One responder suggested Google Earth:

I have used google earth on the desktop. No water names to speak of. Few feature names. No boundaries. No real contour lines. No trails. Roads are a matter of being long skinny clearings, and vanish in heavy vegetation. Watersheds once you get below about 25 feet wide aren't conclusive. Since it's aerial photos you get situations where it is very difficult to visualize what you are looking at. This is especially true for steep terrain, where the shadows can lie part way up the next mountain.

  • Have you played around with the Google Earth app for the desktop?
    – ahron
    Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 7:21
  • I have used google earth on the desktop. No water names to speak of. No trails. Roads are a matter of being long skinny clearings, and vanish in heavy vegetation. Watersheds once you get below about 25 feet wide aren't conclusive. Since it's aerial photos you get situations where it is very difficult to visualize what you are looking at. This is especially true for steep terrain, where the shadows can lie part way up the next mountain. Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 19:46
  • With Google Earth you can enable mapping detail with layers superimposed on the images. For example political boundaries. If you enable View | Sidebar you'll see "Layers" with expandable lists of map features, for example "Roads." Google Earth will now also project in 3D if you tip the map by wheel-hold-dragging. Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 20:12
  • 1
    This post how do I turn on elevation contour lines says it does not have them but recommends third-party add-ons such as this for a topo overlay. Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 20:25

8 Answers 8


I personally use several WMS layers (Web Map Service) in GIS software. Many are free to use, some are licenced. Here's a short list that might interest you:

  • CalTopo: has USGS and NRCan scanned topo maps, tiled into one layer
  • Quebec 20K topo maps: 20K topographic cover of the Quebec data. Very precise

Not all agencies have gone through the process of scanning paper maps and producing public web services, but if you want good access to CalTopo, I usually access the layer through peakbagger.com (the author has a licence), which I use regularly anyway.

Using Caltopo on their own website or through an intemediary like peakbagger.com doesn't require you to have GIS software and is probably the best course of action for you.

For example, here's what the NRCan maps on CalTopo look like for the area you showed in the question:

enter image description here

  • the author has a license for what? for him to download maps and then pass them on to you, while Caltopo has a yearly fee? seems shady to me, but I could be wrong. +1 for answer though. Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:14
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica He has a licence to use the CalTopo API on his own website. It's the same data from the same servers, but the interface can be slightly different, which is why I like it. Peakbagger can show full-screen map frames with really minimal intrusions, and yo get the bonus of accessing the peaks database as a bonus.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:24
  • so you cant download them, only view them? that sounds more reasonable wrt to fair use. Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:26
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Also, Peakbagger has a location-specific WMS layer list, which means that if you're looking at a certain peak, depending on the country stored in the attribute table, you have a dropdown with country-specific layers.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:27
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Even if you screenshotted then printed, I don't think CalTopo would have any recourse. The paper maps they scanned are public domain. They control access to their server from third party websites or GIS software, but I think that's it.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:31

You don't say what area of the world you are looking for maps of, but I see your profile locates you in Alberta. If you were looking for locations in the USA, mapper.acme.com tiles USGS topo maps across the whole country like this:

USA Topo USA topo tiled mapper.acme.com

There are several options for units etc, which are displayed as you navigate around the map, distances are provided relative to the cross hair location:

mapper.acme.com options mapper.acme.com options2

Maps for the rest of the world (including Canada) are less detailed, using the World Topo option.

World Topo, Canada Monaco mapper.acme.com

  • Take my upvote. Alas I'm in Canada, as you figure. Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 19:40

Canadian topographic maps are available here for viewing: https://atlas.gc.ca/toporama/en/index.html

QGIS- a free and open source GIS software package is available for windows, Apple, and Linux. You may find yourself spending some of your winter hours over at GIS Stack Exchange learning to use QGIS. In QGIS you could add a new layer as a WMS layer and post this into the URL to get a seamless topo.


  • screenshot? You know a coder-heavy website when you see one, they don't have any screenshots, even the user documentation is text-only on the bit that I glanced through. Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:35

For USA:


Incredibly complete, and free. Maps are big PDFs (40mb or so). Not quicky navigated but well organized.

  • 1
    And that's the issue. I want to be able to wander on the scale I do with Google Earth. I did a canoe trip a couple decades ago that took 33 1:50,000 Canadian NTS maps. Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 19:42



Screenshot Norgeskart


Kartsök och Ortsnamn

NB: does not provide same view as paper maps.





screenshot swisstopo


Carte topographique IGN


Visor Iberpix

screenshot Visor Iberpix


Many options (see [this question on GIS.SE]( https://gis.stackexchange.com/q/21534/4904)), I like to use https://nakarte.me/

screenshot nakarte

Incidentally, those are the only maps I've ever seen to indicate the width, depth, and bottom condition of rivers (see also this question).

  • Not that I'd downvote an answer that targeted the unclear title, but the question's body specificly asked for Canada. So I think it still misses the mark.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 17:23
  • @GabrielC. Most of the other answers are also interpreting the question more broadly.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 17:40

iOS - PocketEarth.

About 8-10$, IIRC. It uses OpenStreetMap, and downloads, no charge.

Relevant to your question is that you can pay another 8-10$ and unlock the download topo maps for areas that have them. More exactly, I think it downloads contours, and some things, like say trails, might still be coming from OpenStreetMap, rather than a full-on hiking-type, high-detail, topo map. It's vector based, so it zooms in and out very well.

Used on an iPad, it's quite good. Even a small phone is quite acceptable (I have an SE). Note that iPads come in wifi-only and cellular flavors. Only the cellular (about $150 more) has on-board GPS, which works even if you don't put in a SIM for it.

It also downloads landmark descriptions off Wikipedia and you can put annotated markers on the maps. One drawback is its zoom in/out hiding of features - if you're talking about a really small trail or road, Pocket will hide it until you zoom in enough, even if the general area is featureless and has no other roads. That does make it hard to plan a big picture trip (you can add your own markers to let you where to zoom, but...).

enter image description here

and a zoom on the lake in the lower left

enter image description here

I have no affiliation with them, but I love this app, for camping and for traveling as well.

Edit: for some reason, their contours only download for the lower half of SK, your lake is in the twilight zone, apparently. This is odd, I have seen contour data for everywhere else, including in Peru.

Here's a point about 300km due south of your lake, which is in the topo coverage area.

enter image description here

iOS - "Topo" app

Topo, free IIRC, is in many ways much more rudimentary than PocketEarth, but it does acquire general topo maps for Canada (3 different types). It does not show grid lines, and worse, does not display your GPS location, but it does stitch topo tiles (of the same type) together.

Here's a location near your lake, with 2-3 tiles stitched together. I've added the lines and flag, which provide very basic annotation capability. You can apparently also add GPX maps. It has gotten better since I first used it, and stopped doing so, now it looks more optimized in terms of zoom and lag time.

note: zooming in does not show all that much more (this is a raster, not vector, map), except that labels for place names, like the Brustadt river here, become apparent.

enter image description here

Government Canada

Also, Government Canada provides freely downloadable topo maps (not always recent), once you figure out their very confusing website. I've done it before, and gotten my maps, but it's painful. Here's an entry point for it.

  • Open Street Map isn't useful in remote wilderness areas. Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 18:27
  • @SherwoodBotsford fair remark, but I am unsure how little/much extra the topo download brings in - around Vancouver, there is a fair bit of detail on OSM for trails, but you're probably right it falls off in less frequented areas. Still, I took a look at a remote BC location NW of Prince George and it seemed OK-ish. Give us a sample set of coordinates, remote, but one you are familiar with, I'll paste in a screenshot for it. To be honest I'd be interested in what others suggest too. Mind you, in Canada, I believe government topo maps are now freely available in PDF through their server. Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 21:30
  • Yes they are freely available. That's why one tool I mentioned as a possible solution is a local one that you can point at a folder of maps, and it handles the tiling. I've used Open street maps on my phone on the Sunshine coast to good effect. Retracing a route from my notes for doing a write up right now either means getting out a stack of paper and covering the dining room floor, or finding an online way that at MINIIMUM has the degree of information that the NTS topo series does. Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 14:25
  • On the zoom in, notice the terrible inconsistency between lake boundary and the 500m contour line!
    – Martin F
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 23:21
  • 1
    @SherwoodBotsford If you find a trail in a remote wilderness area and it's not on Openstreetmap, please add it! Same with mountain summits, ruins, wilderness cabins, caves, natural rock shelters, streams, lakes, etc. Openstreetmap will never replace a topo map, but in areas where topo maps are incomplete, can be very useful as a complementary source of information. See also Open camping map.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 17:04

I'm not sure if it covers Canada or not but have you checked out the GaiaGPS app? It's phone rather than desktop but it can serve up topos at a variable scale, I just don't know how much of the world is covered.

If you pay the subscription fee you can actually download the maps onto your phone to carry into the backcountry. Without payment it will only work where it has internet service.

  • GaiaGPS's Canada topographic layer is the WMS from CalTopo I mentioned in my answer.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 16:02

Semi-selfcontained desktop solution:

Ozi-Explorer. https://www.oziexplorer4.com

This program allows you to have a folder of maps images.

You then can download a program called 'map merge' (same outfit) which can use the calibration to create a merged map.

This is a bit kludgy.

This program also allows you to import and export waypoints and routes to your GPS.

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