Mapping & Navigation

family out in the woods with little girl running ahead

Week 1

Understanding maps and navigation is essential for outdoor exploration. When we know our surroundings, we can enjoy them the most and discover beauty in all of the details that make up our environment. Plus, mapping as its own activity is fun for all ages.

Start the week with paper maps. We love digital maps as much as anybody but feel that the best navigation education begins when you unfold and explore a map of your local area (these are easy to find and usually free at your local parks department or chamber of commerce). Gather maps of familiar places and study them to learn about scale, distance, and compass navigation. Find familiar streams, rivers, parks, and trails. Explore different types of maps—road maps, trail maps, contour maps—and become familiar with the symbols and features. Next, use a map of a less-familiar local area to practice using your new map reading skills. When you learn how to read a map, you unlock endless adventure opportunities.

Please share your adventures by emailing photos and reflections to And follow us on social media to stay updated on special Facebook Live events for campers and more!


parents and children exploring a riverbank in the woods

Map Your Own Backyard: A View from Overhead

Little(r)-Kid Approved!

Roll out the butcher block paper or grab your field notebook and start exploring your own backyard! Define clear boundaries (your yard, your entire neighborhood, or a small park nearby) and then explore the entire area with your eyes wide open. Mapmaking requires lots of focus and attention to detail. Draw and label distinctive changes in the landscape, trees and plants, man-made structures, and any waterways. Add to your map throughout the week with as much detail and accuracy as you would like.

image of topographic lines

Make a Topographic Map

Indoor (or Outdoor) Creative Activity

Mapmakers have a brilliant way to map three-dimensional spaces on two-dimensional paper: topography. A topographic map uses contour lines to illustrate changes in elevation across the terrain (a contour line is a line of equal elevation), and contour intervals to show the patterns and variation in the landscape. Using modeling clay or playdough, you can create your own volcano at home, slice it along contour lines, and trace the clay slices on paper to make an accurate topographic map of your own sculpted volcano. How cool is that? Find the details (and playdough recipe!) on the National Park Service website.

National Park Service Website
little girl standing at the side of a river

Go Blue-lining!

Field Trip!

Once you can read a topographic map, you can enjoy the beauty of blue-lining. Blue-lining involves finding little blue lines on the map that mark obscure small streams and then using your mapping and navigation skills to find your way to the stream.

On your topo map, look for thin blue lines that connect higher elevations with known trout waters. In many regions, these are great streams for small trout where there is enough elevation loss to create a waterfall barrier and prevent larger predatorial fish from migrating upstream. Blue-lining is all about exploration and discovery. Once you pick your stream, set out to find it! If you’re lucky, you will catch some fish when you arrive. Good luck!

A note to non-anglers: Stream exploration is great fun for everybody. Blue-lining is an awesome way to discover quiet streams packed full of flora, fauna, and biodiversity to observe and enjoy.

image of topographical lines

Mapping & Navigation Resources

a group of people in multiple canoes on a lake

Connect with Other Campers!

Please share your camp adventures on social media using #orvissummercamp

Send in photos of your maps and photos or reflections of your adventures to If you email us by the end of the day on Thursday, we will share some on our blog on Friday!