Canada's topographic maps are now available for download, free of charge, from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Since April 1, 2007 high resolution scans of many different cartographical datasets can be found at  Geogratis, the distribution portal operated by NRCan. Of particular interest to outdoor recreation enthusiasts will be the 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 topographic series.

Unfortunately, the Canadian Hydrographic Service's (CHS) nautical charts are not yet available. Though not as detailed as the CHS charts from a maritime perspective, the Geogratis topo maps should still be quite adequate for most of the kayaking routes described in BC Car-Free. Use charts from the main branch of the Vancouver public library to add in critical details like tidal rapids, campable beaches and so on.

Since the Geogratis portal is not particularly easy to navigate follow a direct link here. Maps are organized according to NRCan map codes. So for example to find the trailhead for the Mid-Coast Trail you will need map 92 E/10. Choose a format then navigate to folder "92". From there choose folder "E" and then move on to the appropriate downloadable zip file.

Detail showing the trailhead of the Mid-Coast Trail.

Personally I prefer the raw scans in TIF format as these retain the highest quality for further editing in a program like GIMP, Inkscape, Photoshop or Illustrator. These can be rather large, often on the order of 30 MB or more.

Frequently a route will skirt the edges of several such maps. The Mid-Coast Trail is a case in point, requiring both 1:50,000 sheets 92 E/8 and 92 E/10. Using editing software these can be ganged up with extraneous details cropped out. Annotations like planned route, known hazards, water sources, safety information and so on can be added, then the whole thing can be printed tabloid-sized [11x17] for ease of use in the field. Of course, always carry paper maps in a waterproof mapcase. Finished maps can be carried in digital format as well, of course, but unless you are packing a solar charger for your device, you may find yourself mapless in the middle of a trip.

Another option is to print a wider view in the 1:250,000 topographic series on the reverse to give a greater sense of the lay of the land.

Whenever resizing any of these maps be sure to copy and paste in an image of the scale at the same resolution so that this can be accurately resized along with the rest of the map. Also include the magnetic declination if available.

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