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Promoting Trail Systems With Print and Online Maps

IMBA Wants to Showcase Your Maps!

Does your club produce maps, or does it have plans to start a mapmaking program? IMBA hopes to showcase your work in our mapping resource pages. Send info and updates to IMBA Mapping Specialist leslie [dot] kehmeier [at] imba [dot] com (Leslie Kehmeier).


The summer 2009 edition of IMBA Trail News provided tips on building maps.

IMBA's mapping program receives generous support from Shimano.

You'll find a variety materials to support your mapmaking efforts in this online guide:

  • Anatomy of a Trail Map
  • Dealing With Data
  • Building a Basemap
  • Collecting and Sharing GPS Data
  • Map Production and Distribution
  • Success Story: Mapping the Black Canyon Trail
  • Example Map: The Black Canyon Trail (PDF)

Good maps do much more than point out where the trail goes. Through the use of text, logos and other visual symbols, they can offer guidance about trail etiquette and user relations, showcase your club’s commitment to sustainable design or even strengthening advocacy efforts.

For example, a map might be designed to highlight trails that would be lost if a pending Wilderness bill is not influenced by mountain bikers. Or, you could build a map that helps Forest Service staff identify valuable mountain bike trails that have not been adequately documented on official travel plans. Another option is to employ a map in fundraising appeals and membership drives -- as IMBA does with its Trailbuilding Fund map. There is no better way to display the scope of your club’s efforts than a visually appealing and informative map.

Planning and Design

While advances in technology have made mapmaking easier, producing a quality map still requires substantial planning and a hefty amount of effort. Professional assistance with graphic design and the sophisticated use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software will greatly enhance a project. The hard work will pay off when you proudly display an interactive map with information about signature trail projects on the club website, or distribute beautiful printed maps to local shops and place them at trailhead kiosks.

By blending the traditional concepts of cartography with the specifics of trail riding, you can create a simple, useful and beautiful resource. Important design principles to keep in mind include:

  • Arrange graphic elements so that the important information stands out from non-essential details.
  • Elements like route descriptions, elevation profiles and climate information will enrich the project.
  • Don’t obstruct important elements by labeling every feature on the map.
  • Use colors that focus the map user’s attention and are easy to understand. Also, consider colors that will be easy to print and reproduce.
  • Essential data (route, trailhead, obstacles, etc.) should command the map user’s attention while the supporting data (topography, rivers/streams, etc.) should add subtle enhancements.