Any time you are heading on a road trip or just a day hike out in the woods in an unfamiliar area, it is a good idea to have a map on hand to refer to in a time of need. You can find plenty of road map resources online for free but for topographical maps, you usually have to subscribe to a site for a fee or have to purchase books containing the topo maps for specific areas. A few years ago, I stumbled on a free site where you can find topo maps for the entire country which are very high quality and provide many options to customize your map for viewing and printing.
Caltopo.com is a resource I have since used regularly to generate and print maps of areas I hunt, hike, fish. Caltopo provides multiple layers of data from various sources. By default the site displays USGS data where you can then overlay shaded relief, satellite imaging, and latitude/longitude grids with a simple click. By logging in with a Yahoo or Google account you can save your views and share them with others through a generated link.
The print option allows you to create high quality multi-page PDFs (up to 15 pages) of areas you define that are excellent for printing. You have the ability to change the size to match different page sizes and various scales or customize by setting your own size and scale. Whenever you generate a multi-page PDF, the first page generated is a large scale image of your entire area with a breakdown of what data is on which page so in a single file you have your desired scale as well as a larger scale image containing everything for reference. Here is a link to PDF printing information for CalTopo.
There are a number of additional features as well such as importing GPS waypoints and Google Earth integration which I have not yet fully explored. Visit CalTopos about page for a full list of features, also check out the CalTopo Blog for a wealth of “how to” articles to teach you how to use many of the more advanced features of the site.
Once you have your maps printed make sure you know how to read them! Read “Understanding the Topographic Map”