Map Lovers and Fans of National Parks: Meet Your New Favorite Website

A detailed image of the national park map handed out to visitors of Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Victor Maschek/Shutterstock)

Map lovers, you're about to have your compass roses spun out of control. All the iconic maps handed out at national parks across the country will soon be compiled at one place.

The website, National Park Maps, is the brainchild of Matt Holly, a park ranger who works for the National Park Service's (NPS) National Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate, a department that helps the parks manage their natural resources. Holly began uploading the maps onto a website as a side project to keep himself busy during the 2013 government shutdown.

Holly has always loved maps, national park maps in particular. "Nothing compares to unfolding the map, spreading it out on the table and plotting your day’s adventure," Holly said in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine.

One man's collection of National Park Service maps.
One man's collection of National Park Service maps. (Photo: Ken Lund/flickr)

If you've ever been to a national park, you know just what kind of maps Holly is talking about — the distinctive black-and-white bordered maps are routinely given out as souvenirs to national park visitors. But these maps aren't your average handout brochure. The NPS maps were created in the 1970s by acclaimed designer Massimo Vignelli, who is best known for designing the classic maps of New York City's subway lines. Vignelli’s clean NPS map design is so notable it's even in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

With such a following, it's no wonder cartophiles love to browse, compare and collect the famous NPS maps. And that's exactly why Holly created his site — so all of the maps would be available in one location. To date, Holly has uploaded more than 1,000 maps from more than 100 of the national park's 412 units. For each site, he tries to include detail maps and specialty maps like trail maps, topographical maps, shuttle bus maps, campground maps and regional area maps.

Holly keeps an eye on which of his maps get the most attention, too. While the complete map of the parks get the most downloads overall, the most desired parks maps over the past year have been Acadia National Park at the top spot, with Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks following it.

If you're curious about the first few months of 2017, the map for Grand Canyon National Park has received the most downloads so far, with Acadia getting the third most. At the number two spot, however, is the map for Big Bend National Park. Why this particular one? Well, being located in southwest Texas, Big Bend is a place you'd rather visit in the winter and early spring, says Holly, rather than deal with the Texas heat.