Wayside Maps

The wayside map standards are a collection of guidelines established to create consistency with official National Park Service publications maps.

Unlike published maps, wayside maps can only be used on-site and cannot be carried away with the visitor for further reference. Wayside maps work best when they are site-specific and have a clear focus. They should provide only the necessary information to assist a visitor traveling from the sign location (point A) to point B. They should not include all the information you would see in a photograph, on the ground or in other parkwide maps.

The “You Are Here” is almost always the most important feature on a wayside map.

The following information is needed in order to create a well-focused wayside map:


The specific location of the wayside is critical in determining the content of the map.


The intent of the map may be the same as the exhibit, or it may be somewhat different.


If there is a primary user group for the wayside, (Dayhikers? Campers? Tour Groups? Horseback Riders? Backcountry Users? Family Groups? Wheelchair users?) the map can be designed to better address the needs and concerns of the specific audience.

Size and Scale

The size and scale of the map is based on its purpose, the amount of space available in the exhibit layout, and the geographic area and content of the map. A poorly designed map can mislead people if, for example, short distances appear to be very long. Maps should be created at the same size as will be used in the final reproduction. Adding to the map area, or changing the scale of a map can double the cost and time needed to create a map.


The cartographer will need to know what geographic features and labels to include on the map. Only those elements which are relevant to the purpose of the map should be shown. It is helpful to have a written list of all features (park areas, open water areas, drainages, roads, trails etc.) and labels (spelled correctly) listed in the order of importance. A map compilation can be a very helpful tool for conveying the map content to a cartographer. Also, the labels used on a map should reflect signage used in the park and wording used in the exhibit text. Refer to the official publication for consistency among media.


Published maps are generally oriented with north at the top, however wayside maps often work better when oriented in the same direction as the wayside. The following criteria can be used to help determine map orientation.

  • Map that shows a large area (entire park or an area that includes features that cannot be seen from the location of the ways should be oriented north.
  • Map that will be used more than one location with different You Are Here identifiers should be oriented north.
  • Map that will be used on a kiosk should be oriented north.
  • Map on upright for a site-specific trail should be oriented in the direction the trail is going.
  • Map on low profile should always be in the direction the visitor is looking.

Reference Materials

Gather resource maps to be used for base information, keeping in mind that these reference maps were created for different purposes. A map compilation, a hand or computer drawn map showing all content necessary to create the final map, is an excellent reference source. To help with the organization and development of each new map, Harpers Ferry Center offers a Wayside Map Planning Worksheet.

Last updated: October 8, 2019