New "Enhanced MVUM" maps


Approved Vendor
I just posed this in the Mapping and Nav/GIS section:

Hey Everyone!

Apologies first for not posting in a while. I have been fairly busy the last few months working on some new maps that I think many of you, at least in the US, will be interested in. In the end, this is a business post, but I want to skirt that issue and actually explain why I have worked on this map series.

This is a fairly long post, so I will thank you in advaced for reading this at work instead of...working :)

I'll link to my website at the end. And I'm not going to do some press release type BS either, but more like tell you what I made, and why.

Some of you who know me, know that I have been a cartographer since about 2004 and my work with maps and GPS extend back into the early 90s. There is my bio.

For the maps: I've been using the MVUM maps for a few years and to be quite honest, I found them lacking in detail and design. The Forest Service, and the USGS as well, do a really great job on the 7.5 minute topo quads many of us use, but the MVUM just was not cutting it for me. The entire map is essentially black & white / greyscale. It is very difficult to discern trail types. In the past, I was actually adding the MVUM to my GIS files and then overlay the trail that I was doing onto it. Sort of time consuming, but was more or less fitting my needs better. I had actually done this for some larger trail rides our local group was doing and drivers were really happy with them. This planted this idea in my head.

The other issue, and one that really drove me nuts, is that the MVUM only shows the MVUM trails. Other roads and trails, water, camp sites, etc are normally not on the map. So you had to have a few different maps with you. This just adds to clutter in the vehicle. I really don't like clutter. I also don't like to have to reference several map sources, which have different scales, different info, and different designs. It's easy to get confused.

So in late 2019, I started to work within the data sets that the FS has and began to arrange them in a way that is more intuitive. I wanted within the maps: 1) MVUM data that is actually colored to its purpose, 2) has other roads and trails, 3) gates, 4) locations of most campsites / campgrounds, 5) a baselayer of most topographic / geographic data, 5) all within an area of each Ranger District of the NF that is mostly contained within one map sheet (size/shape depending).

This actually took much longer than I originally thought it would because of the vast amount of data I had to sort though and then to place on a map in a way that not only looks good, but more importantly, is quick to read. Most of us are used to looking at a GPS of sorts that contains layered maps (like Gaia) and we can use those fairly quickly. We want to look at a map and immediately know what and where we are looking at. One road needs to not look like an adjacent trail. Two campsites can't be stacked on top of each other. Features need names. You get the idea.

The actual data was more or less easy to deal with, but it did have some issues that I needed to work out to make it work for my needs. Lots of duplicates. Some misspellings. Some things completely missed named. In order for a map to represent true conditions, errors like this need to be reduced as much as possible. So yeah, lots and lots of hours hunkered down at my computer.

The last major obstacle was coming out with a scale that would be easy to read and contain as much of a bounded area as possible. In this case, I used the Ranger Districts of each NF as the bounded area. For much of the US, this allowed a scale of 1:100,000. A USGS/NF topo quad is 1:24,000, so the new maps contain as much area as roughly 4 of the 1:24,000 type, but at a smaller scale. Is this an issue? I don't think so. Since most of us are driving, you can drive off the map page of a topo quad fairly quickly. On the 1:100,000 scale, we have about 35x55 miles of range. Most of the Ranger Districts are contained to one or two map sheets.

In early February (2020), the maps started to come together the way I wanted them to look. I had finally got the data sorted and reduced to show the main points of the maps but without looking too busy. The next hurdle was figuring a way to show the designated MVUM routes in a well defined method. I tried a few different ways and never was too satisfied with any of them when I would use the map while bouncing around on the trail. Then I had a “moment” of clarity: Parallel Lines!

The MVUM routes have two pieces of info: 1) what kind of vehicle, 2) when it can be used. So the routes are illustrated in parallel lines with one color corresponding to the type of vehicle that can be used and the other being when the route is open. All Vehicles get the color green, while Highway Legal gets red. Year long route openings get the secondary color of blue, while seasonal openings get orange. Special Designation routes get yellow along with the proper seasonal depiction. This was really the breakthrough that I/we needed in order for the maps to make the most sense in the shortest amount of time.

Now the really fun part (and I mean “for real” fun): compiling the map! I really enjoy this aspect of map design. This took a few weeks and those weeks were normally 10+ hour days. It's easy to get sucked into something when you enjoy it.

So what we have is a “Enhanced MVUM” map that is

  • 1:100,000 scale
  • covers about 1,500 square miles
  • shows all defined MVUM routes
  • shows all defined camp sites (about half are named)
  • shows all defined gates
  • shows all defined closed roads
  • shows all defined NFS, Ranger District, and wilderness area boundaries
  • Water bodies
  • elevation information
  • many USGS labeled points geographic areas (Mtn tops, rivers, etc)

Now, many of you, hopefully, will purchase these maps. And you will travel to a spot and may see something that is not on the map or is on the map and does not exist in real life. Unfortunately, there is very little I can do about this. Just the MVUM data set alone has 1,700,000 + road sections. There are more than 20,000 gates and about 10,000 listed campgrounds. As much as I would love to go and look at all of this in real life, I simply cannot. Maps are models, and as such, you have to make compromises. Scale, shape, features, these are all compromises. Maps, including GPS maps, should be used as references, not absolutes. I can assure you however, that the data from the Forest Service and the USGS is normally really REALLY good! And I have done my best to make this data work for you.

Overall, I am extremely happy with the results and I am optimistic that you will be too. Often, when many of us are immersed into a hobby/life style, we tend to think of how we can add our own personalities into the community. The “Enhanced MVUM” maps are my contribution. As now, I currently have eight National Forests and their Ranger Districts posted and ready to ship. I am adding about 5 National Forests per day (more or less) to the website. There are a little more than 100 of these, so it's going to take about a month to get everything up and running. If you have a trip coming up and you want/need a specific map, that is no problem. Just send me an email and I'll get it arranged for you, normally within a few hours.

At this point, you are probably thinking “why are you charging for something that is typically free?” Excellent point. The MVUM maps are free to download. So are the USGS and FS topo quads. Hell, even the data for all of this is free to download. And you are correct. However, you would still need to finding a printing service to print the maps at full size. You would also need to compile the maps in a way such as I have. And believe me, that is a lot of time! But hopefully you will find the prices in the “not too bad” category. I print to order and the only inventory I keep is the rolls of paper, and a hard drive of my templates. Because of this, I can actually keep the prices fairly low while also managing to make a profit. Besides, you are not just buying a map, you are buying wall art!

Thanks everyone and I look forward to seeing you on the trails!

Because I will be updating the Map Catalogue of offerings each day, I will post the new National Forests each day for you. Just remember, if you don't see a map you want, just email me at and I'll get it set up for you.

Oh yeah, the link!




Expedition Leader
This is super cool! However, I am having a bit of difficulty in buying them. I'd like to buy a full set of laminated Cleveland National Forest maps. Can you add a "buy set" button?


Approved Vendor
This is super cool! However, I am having a bit of difficulty in buying them. I'd like to buy a full set of laminated Cleveland National Forest maps. Can you add a "buy set" button?
Hey, I just saw this.

You need to add them one at a time to your cart. I was going to put on a set button, but after talking with focus group (ok, my friends :) ) I decided against it. Reason is that some people will and have bought maps of the same area that are a mix of paper/laminate and Tyvek for what ever reason. A set button would just make messy. Please let me know if I can help out in any other way though. You can also email me at for a much quicker response. Thanks - James


Active member
That's really cool. I would buy the Lassen National Forest on Tyvek as a gift for my father in law and El Dorado on Tyvek for myself when you have those ready.

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