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national geographic mapsNational Geographic is a non-profit scientific and educational institution. In fact, it is the largest of its kind. In its mission, which reads ‘Inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888‘, the National Geographic Society is reaching out to millions of people worldwide with monthly magazines, TV programmes, public events, and more.

On the National Geographic website, you can browse a variety of informative and interactive maps. There is a lot to explore, discover, and learn. This article shows you 5 ways to make use of the online map material provided through National Geographic Maps.

Explore Atlas Maps

Geopolitical and geophysical atlas maps are a great way to investigate continents and oceans. Some geopolitical maps contain short paragraphs that highlight historical events and other interesting information about a location.

national geographic maps

Objective: To explore foreign terrain and gain a better understanding of its history, which is often based on its geography.


Play Atlas Puzzles

You can choose from 23 different jigsaw puzzles. They cover different continents, oceans, and types of maps. In option you can increase or decrease the difficulty by changing the size of the puzzle pieces and setting the rotation of the pieces to random. To assemble a puzzle, drag and drop the pieces into place, and rotate a selected piece by clicking the Spacebar.

maps on national geographic

Objective: To playfully become familiar with the geography of foreign regions on the planet.

Unfortunately, the puzzle covers are so wide and the resolution of the maps is so low, that it’s almost impossible to read the names of countries or cities. I recommend to first explore the maps.

Browse Interactive Maps

You will find interactive maps across National Geographic. One that I found particularly useful is the America’s Best Adventures Map. A map of the US is covered with blue and red dots. Each dot represents a National Geographic article that documents an outdoor adventure. Red dots represent 2010 and blue dots 2009 selections. Clicking on a dot will launch a box containing a photo, the subject of the article, and a link to read more. If you live in the US it’s a fantastic way to get to know the natural beauty of your country and then go out and explore it yourself. If you’re not, then it may be a great motivation to come visit one day.

maps on national geographic

Objective: To discover and read about outdoor adventures in the USA.

Other interactive maps you may find interesting are The Hudson and Chesapeake Bay.

View Vital Earth Statistics

National Geographic’s EarthPulse is a visual guide to trends. One of the tools provided are Vital Statistics that map out the State of the Earth 2010. Using this interactive map you can select statistics from several categories, such as Population and Migrations, Meat Consumption, Deforestation, and Political Migration. You can select up to two statistics and compare the resulting maps.

For example Population Density can be compared with meat consumption. This is an excellent resource for students.

maps on national geographic

Objective: To learn about concrete challenges our planet is facing, and compare challenges to make a connection of how they are connected.

Create Custom Trail Maps

TOPO! Explorer is National Geographic’s map service for the U.S. that can be enjoyed online or on your desktop. The website features free “topographic maps, aerial imagery, hybrids, and a recreation database filled with updated trails, points-of-interest, photos, videos, trail reports, and descriptions from professional and community sources.” In addition, you can create your own custom maps and share them with the community. In short, it is an invaluable resource to plan your next USA hiking trip.

national geographic maps

Objective: To find, create and share hiking trails, 4WD roads, hunt units, forest roads, and other information to fuel your outdoor activities.

The TOPO! Explorer desktop software is free and comes with atlas maps for the entire US and many additional functionalities. However, the SuperQuads, i.e. “the detailed maps, aerial images, and hybrids” you can view for free on the website must be purchased. The reason is that you can use the application to print these maps.


National Geographic Maps is a conglomerate of different resources and information. If you’re just looking for a plain map to locate a location, directly going to Bing Maps or better yet using Google Maps may be your best bet.

However, National Geographics’ strength is the outdoors and the challenges our planet is facing. This is where you will find fantastic collections of information, condensed into easy to grasp maps, topped off with great pictures and insightful articles. If you’re on this planet to explore the outdoors and learn about its challenges, National Geographic is a great place to start your discovery.

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  1. Aibek
    February 28, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Loved the Atlas Puzzles :-)

    • Tina
      February 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm

      They are quite addicting, aren't they?

      • Aibek
        March 1, 2011 at 10:52 am