November 03, 2021

The Best Adventures Start with the Best Map

*updated 2021

If you found your way here, you probably already know that your Lizard Map map is your key to planning and enjoying the best outdoor adventures.

Here at Purple Lizard , we go out of our way to use industry leading cartography and design to make using your map easy and fun. After well over a thousand hours of careful research, design, selection and ground truthing, each Purple Lizard map is especially curated especially to the outdoor adventurer.  In a world filled with TMI (too much information - much of it wrong or irrelevant), our intensive approach blends the best aspects of old world map making with all the advantages of high tech data and digital design to bring you the best outdoor recreation maps possible.

Why do we do this?  Really two reasons: 1. You 2. The Landscapes. As outdoor adventurers we know that finding a map that really works with and for you adventure is key and we love the art and science of creating that for you.  We also know that every beautiful natural area we map is precious and exceptional so the maps we make reflect the value and the beauty of the landscapes they capture.  Our way of honoring the landscapes we work in is by making the most detailed, accurate and beautifully designed outdoor recreation maps available for each area so you can explore and enjoy your public land.  You can learn more about how we make our maps here.   

So you might even already have one, or maybe 12, Purple Lizard Maps - but you might be wondering how to get the absolute most out of them?  Read on. . .

How to Squeeze Every Last Drop of Adventure from Your Lizard Map

Below we will help you further along on your way to planning a successful adventure with your Lizard Map:

Excellent legends lead to legendary adventures

The first step is to read the legend -   the key to unlocking the full potential of your map.  Why? Because the legend opens up possibilities for new ways and types of areas to explore, and even lets you know a bit about what activities are allowed in an area.  Trust us, learning more about the legend on your favorite Lizard Map may even inspire you to try a new adventure.

Our Lizard legend is titled the"Explanation of Symbols", because, well - that is what it is and we work hard to keep things simple.  

Anyway, here you will find . . . you guessed it, explanations of the symbols that appear on the map.  In the era of the internet, there are tons of poorly designed symbols out there, so we carefully design our own symbols (yeah - we're a bit obsessive about them) so you can usually 'get it' without referencing this explanation of symbols.  

Our maps represent a carefully curated collection of text and symbols that are especially useful for our map users. Be sure to read the fine print as far we know of two Lizard Seekers who actually have Purple Lizard tattoos!


Map Reading: Get Oriented - North Up!

Next you'll want to orient your map. Lucky for you, all Lizard Maps are oriented north. This means that north is at the top of the map as you read it. We do not take into account declination, meaning our maps are oriented slightly off from magnetic north. Check for information boxes on each map for the adjustment needed to find magnetic north, which we've blown up in the image below: 

What is Magnetic North Anyway?

Magnetic North is needed when you use a compass, because the needle will point to magnetic North, not straight North. In the example above, you would need to adjust the compass ring by 10 degrees to allow the compass to match the map. Pilots and orienteering folks understand this, but most others rarely need to account for this global standard.

We oriented your map North because that is the easiest way to read it.

Map Reading: Direction of Travel Orientation

But often times on the trail, or at the trailhead, you will want to orient yourself with the map. This means you will spin the map to match your direction of travel, or your direction of sight. If you are standing at a trailhead, and about to hike the trail, spin your map to match the line on the map with the trail on the ground, and now you'll get a better sense of exactly what you will encounter on your right and on your left. At the summit, spin your map to match your view, and you will be able to identify the ridges, valleys and drainages that may be visible on the horizon! 

Stay Found In The Rain. Pine Creek Canyon PA

Purple Lizard Maps - Ready for Anything 

Now you want to consider what types of conditions your map can handle. All of our almost-indestructible Lizard Maps are printed on a paper-like waterproof synthetic material. Purple Lizard Maps are not completely tear proof or fire proof. You can tear them if you try hard enough. These maps don't make good fire starters at all, they just kind of melt in a slow burn. We hope you never experience this level of desperation when the time has come to burn the map for survival. The maps offer no caloric help at this stage either. 

Lizard Maps are completely waterproof. You can use them as a makeshift umbrella or tent patch, and they do float, but they are not suitable as a floatation device unless you are a grasshopper. Go ahead and test yours out by going on an adventure in the rain or snow sometime soon!

Purple Lizard Maps are big maps, they measure 24 x 36 inches, and include information on both sides of the map. There is a lot of public land to cover, and we want you to get out and enjoy as much as possible. With that said, many of our maps overlap slightly so adventurers don't encounter any gaps of information!

Purple Lizard Maps

What is the map scale and why you should care 

The area shown on each map is set to a unique scale. For instance, one inch is equal to 0.6 mile on the Purple Lizard Rothrock Lizard Map (seen in the image below), 0.8 mile on the Pine Creek Map, and 1 mile on the Bald Eagle Lizard Map. Most of our maps use a scale somewhere between 1:48,000 to 1:60,000; but again, be sure to check each map so you understand how long your chosen route may be.

Elevation & contour lines help you see what you're really signing up for

As any hiker, cyclist, or weekend wanderer knows, elevation change is not a laughing matter - knowing what the elevation change is before you set out can make or break an outdoor adventure -   so here at Purple Lizard we take elevation very seriously.

Lizard Maps use contour lines and shaded relief to show elevation changes throughout the landscape. Contour lines are the squiggly lines, and shaded relief is the shadowy image behind the lines that looks like a soft airbrushed shadows. In combination, these two cartographic elements help you to understand how steep, or flat, an area is.

Most, but not all, Lizard Maps use 50 foot contour lines. What the heck does that mean?

Simply, the space in between every little squiggly contour line indicates an elevation change of 50 feet. The distance between two floors of a dwelling, maybe from your downstairs kitchen to your upstairs bedroom, is roughly 10 feet of elevation change. So, the space between each line on the image that you see below represents 5 stories.  

But how can you tell how far it is on the map?  Again, we do our best to make it as simple as possible for you to calculate on the fly - the thicker contour lines are labelled with an elevation number, so you can use that and add or subtract the unlabelled lines to determine your elevation gain or loss. 

No sweat right? You are becoming a Lizard Map expert!  But as with any Lizard Map there's always a bit more to discover.

Mapspeak: What does "Lat/Lon" mean to me?

Lizard Maps include latitude and longitude as well as Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) numbers and tic marks on the outer edge.

WHAT? Well, Lizard Maps aren't just simplified - they are also the most comprehensive maps you will find of any area we map, so of course we include all the important "map geek" stuff - because after all we are quintessential map geeks ourselves.

Lat/Lon and UTM grids are for the serious map and compass enthusiasts. Without getting too deep into the map weeds, these grids basically work  as a universal location guide to help you know know where you are on the planet.  

For those who know, love and work with these grids for their adventuring - on a Lizard Map the UTM grid data is printed in magenta numbers and lat/lon is shown in black. 

Our maps do not have an internal grid or internal tic marks. For orienteering use or backcountry hikers navigating by compass, one can easily add such a grid or tics using a yardstick and a fine point permanent marker. Since the vast majority of our users don't need this grid, we avoid adding this noisy element. However, if you are attempting an off-trail hike in the backcountry, adding your own grid on the area you are exploring can be a helpful and fun way to reference your location and direction of travel.

What can I do and where?

Congratulations!  You are well on your way to mastering the art of using a Lizard Map to its fullest potential. But the most important element is missing.  Our maps are made for real world adventures and without them they get sad and lonely.  But how to decide what activity you can do on your Lizard Map?  Of course, we do our best to help with that too!

Lots of outdoor enthusiasts want to know what areas allow for activity they are interested in planning.  This is one of the many ways that Purple Lizard Maps really shine.  Your Lizard map will include all the relevant designations for the areas, roads and trails, making planning easy.

Trail Lingo - Hiking Only versus Shared Use


For example Lizard Maps differentiate hiking-only trails from shared-use trails. If you want to hike a foot-use only trail, choose one of the green dashed trails. Of course, you can always hike on a shared use trail - because well "shared" means more than one user group can use it.   We use a different color to designate shared use trails on Lizard Maps (magenta dashed lines, usually).

Keep in mind that hiking only trails are only for hikers - so if you are on a bicycle or horse you aren't allowed to use the foot-only trails, so make your adventure using the shared-use trails.

Off Trail

Explorers looking for off-trail adventures can surely use our maps to have a good time, too. Do be sure to bring your compass (and know how to use it with our maps), double check all of the information described in the beginning of this blog, as well as public land use regulations that may curtail the types of activities you can engage in off trail, before trekking off trail.

Following a stream or ridge top can be great fun, but with no formal trail you will encounter all types of obstacles and difficulties, and you must always be ready to turn back an retrace your steps. 

Bushwhacking in Rothrock State Forest PA


Cyclists may choose to explore paved roads, gravel roads, Rail Trails, or shared use trails.  

If you are looking for a more mellow cycling experience, there are thousands of miles of scenic and beautiful backcountry roads for the road cyclist.


Rail Trail (Photo by Ryan Michelle Scavo)

Rail Trails are fun for the whole family (photo by Ryan Michelle Scavo)

 Rail Trails also present outstanding opportunities to explore on two wheels in beautiful remote places while enjoying a smooth surface.

Gravel Roads

Gravel riding on the untold miles and miles of unpaved mostly gravel forest roads is another great way to experience the forest. You can find unpaved roads on your lizard map using your legend.

Mountain biking is very popular on all the areas we map, but be aware that easy mountain biking trails are a bit like Big Foot - you may hear about them, but spotting them is another thing entirely.  

Most of the Appalachian Mountains offer rough, rocky trails that mountain bikers refer to as 'technical trails'. These are prime challenges for intermediate and advanced riders, but can be hike-a-bike slogs for novice trail riders. The Allegrippis Trails at Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania offer some of the best trail riding in the state, and those are called 'flow trails' because they are smooth and rock-free! 

Reckon Mountain Trail System Moshannon State Forest PA 

Take A Drive

One of our favorite ways to learn about the forest and plan future adventures is to take a drive. You can scout trailheads check out campgrounds, and get a general sense of the terrain.  

Explore the Forest Roads

Check out the designated recreation areas, explore the amenities, check out the campgrounds, and think about returning and spending a few days. Look for the lizards on the map and go chase one!

Stay Tuned to Road Surfaces 

If you're doing a driving adventure, or driving to your adventure destination pay attention to the designations of the roads - notice which ones are dirt/gravel roads and those that are High Clearance Roads, so you don't end up on a section of rough road that your vehicle isn't excited about.

Ground Truthing - The Details Matter

Here at the Department of Adventure, we take the time to drive, walk, or ride 95% of the roads that appear on our maps. This attention to detail allows Lizard Maps to delineate major paved roads, local paved roads, gravel/dirt roads, and 4wd roads with an accuracy not found on other maps. Our users range from Amish buggies, to low clearance mini-van and Prius drivers, to high-clearance Overland vehicles. Our job is to make a map that caters to the interests and needs all of these user groups, and we take our job seriously.

The image below highlights a small section of a working copy of our Dolly Sods-Seneca Rocks Map after a day of field work. Notice all of the gate symbols in black marker (the ones that look like dumbbells). 


In addition to delineating the surface conditions of roadways on our maps, we also note every gate that we find on these roads. This is the 'dumbbell' image that you notice in the above image.

Why do we do this? In short - for you. First of all, we usually can't find this information on any other map. Secondly, we do this so you as the driver don't drive yourself into an unexpected dead end. We also do this so our non-motorized user groups can feel confident enjoying these roads without encountering a motorized vehicle. Gated roads are great dog walking roads! Note: we consider any manufactured barricade across a roadway as a gate on our maps. This includes modified trenches, mounds, boulders, and of course gates.

Enjoy the three images below, which highlight our full size Toyota Tundra and lead cartographer and founder Michael Hermann navigating an extremely narrow road up to the top of a mountain in West Virginia. Needless to say, it was a tough turn-around and a long drive back down the mountain...but we learned that the top of this road is gated...and now that you know how to read our maps, you won't be finding yourself in the same situation (or will you?)!

Where Can I go? Private vs. Public Land

Our maps are highly curated, meaning we don't just print every piece of random data that may show up on the internet maps (because accuracy matters and because TMI is a real problem with digital maps). The true beauty of a Lizard Map is that it is a curated map of public land and public trails that are open for everyone to enjoy. So that you know where you are, we always show private land in the lighter color, and we don't include most private roads or trails on private land. Respecting these boundaries helps ensure a safe and fun adventure.

Heard about a public trail in an area we map that isn't shown?  Keep in mind that it may not be a "legal trail." We work closely with the land managers to determine which trails should be included and which should not. For the most part, we map only officially recognized trails that are part of the most recent trail inventory. Yes, most state and public agencies actually have official trail inventory lists of active trails. 

When a trail is decommissioned it comes off the list, and off our maps. In some cases there is a middle ground when the trail remains signed and blazed on the ground, but is removed from the maintenance list. Sometimes we create a different trail symbolization for this situation: Unmaintained Trail. This means the land manager no longer maintains it, but individuals or local trail groups do, and it remains a legal, well used trail, so we include it on our map. If you study local guidebooks and other maps you may find additional, unofficial trails and you can use our map to help find those routes. 

Finding Campsites


Your Lizard Map will show you not just where you can hike, bike and explore, but it will also show you the established campgrounds and campsite systems in each area, so you can easily plan your trip. Note that some forests require reservations in advance for camping, and we do our best to note this on the map and provide you information on how to obtain permits.

You may occasionally come across campsites we do not show.  We oftentimes chose not to include specific backpacking campsites and roadside campsites in primitive locations. Many of these sites are unofficial, meaning they are not maintained by land managers.  Also some knowledge should be earned and coming across a sweet campsite along a trail is still a beautiful part of outdoor experience.

There are many on-line resources that give the locations of peoples favorite or 'best' campsites in these areas. As you explore these areas you quickly realize there are already many campsites out there, so we ask that people please use existing campsites and fire rings. Building new fire rings near existing fire rings erodes the primitive feelings one receives when exploring these outstanding areas.

Last But Certainly Not Least: Purple Lizards

What about those tiny little lizards?

If you are not already hunting Purple Lizards, get ready to become slightly obsessed.

Yes.  It's true.  We left some breadcrumbs for your along the way as we spent our countless hours making your Lizard Map and we just had to give you some hints to some of the cool stuff we found.  So, we put tiny purple lizards at special places. As the Map legend states, these Lizards "could mean anything" but we thought there was something special there to be discovered. Sometimes these are in locations with no trail, but with a little research you should be able to figure out how to get to them. Some are easy to get to, along a roadside or a short hike in, and others  take considerable effort and skill to reach. 

Ralphs Majestic Vista Moshannon State Forest PA


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