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Different map sites have different areas of emphasis. For example, some are made to help you get around town, while others allow you to virtually explore foreign lands and serve educational purposes. We’ve compiled a list of 10 different map sites that meet a variety of needs. If you are looking solely for the best way to navigate from point A to point B, check out our information about GPS systems.

Maps have many purposes; however, buying multiple physical maps costs a lot of money and storing them, especially larger ones, is a hassle. Online maps meet many needs. They are not only useful when traveling to unknown places, but also for planning local trips and getting driving directions. For historians and map collectors, maps are pieces of art and history. In our buying guide, you will learn about online map for research and education, the best map for collectors, and of course, the best map for driving directions. To learn more, check out our articles about online maps.

Best Online Map for Education

When you use MapMaker by National Geographic, you can view details about countries and territories around the world. You can see street and satellite views and customize your experience using the Nat Geo filter. You can also add your own notes, pictures and videos to your maps, and they can be saved, so you can view them again and again. Beyond teaching geography, National Geographic’s maps tell you about the climate, history and culture of each area you explore. It is easy to pull up these details using the Layers feature in MapMaker. In addition to its interactive MapMaker, National Geographic has an impressive collection of other maps. These maps do more than show geographical locations or topography; they reflect current events and visually display information such as where the most shark attacks happen in the U.S. There are also detailed maps of every national park. This online map site and its additional resources make it great for students and curious minds at any age.

NatGeo Maps

NatGeo Maps, formerly known as TOPO Explorer and sometimes still referenced as such on the website, is a subsidiary of the National Geographic Society. It is the product of National Geographic’s acquisition of a company called Trails Unlimited, which provided hiking trail resources for explorers across the U.S. NatGeo Maps is both an online map website and a desktop application with topographical maps and exploration features to help you plan your next outdoor adventure. It specializes in online maps of hiking and bike trails throughout the U.S. as well as artistic topographical map prints.

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Best Online Map for Collectors

If you like to collect maps or navigate new areas and create your own maps, then MyTopo is a good online map site for you. With MyTopo, you can create your own custom maps and view survey maps by the U.S. Forest Service and NRCan in the U.S. and Canada. You also have access to topography maps, aerial photos, satellite prints and maps of public lands.

This online map site’s standout feature is that once you create your customized maps and save them in your account, you can choose to have them printed and sent to your house. Each map you print is waterproof and laminated, so whether you plan to hang it on your wall or take it out trekking, it is durable and long lasting. This online map provider is a great option if you like the flexibility of creating your own maps but also want physical copies.

MyTopo MapServer

MyTopo is an extensive map website offering map software, printed maps and online maps. The site also has a section of historical maps that can be viewed online or purchased as laminated prints. This map site includes topographical maps, nautical charts, aeronautical charts and satellite images.

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Best Online Maps for Driving Directions

Google Maps is the best-known online map on the market. It creates the best maps for driving directions, as well as those for finding your way around on foot or bike. You select your method of transport when you input your beginning location and desired destination. It even provides directions if you travel via public transportation and includes information like bus numbers and schedules.

Google Maps is convenient when you need directions in your hometown or when traveling elsewhere around the world. When you download a map on to your phone or tablet, Google Maps continues to provide directions even after you disconnect from the internet. Of course, you always have the option to print your directions and take them with you, if you prefer to view them that way.

Google Maps

Google Maps uses the power of the Google search engine to enhance the standard online map experience. It allows you to search by keyword for points of interest, and using its mapping service you can refine searches interactively. As a bonus, the site uses images from the popular Google Earth application to provide optional satellite views of locations around the globe. Google Maps is the easiest site to use when searching for well-known locations, such as the Eiffel Tower, by name.

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The Importance of Usability

Because online maps vary so much and have so many different uses, you shouldn’t have trouble finding one to meet your needs. However, when you do find a provider with maps that fit what you are looking for, whether you need them for educational research or just getting directions, it is important to consider how usable its maps are.

There are a few things to consider as you search for the best online map provider for you, including if it requires exact information to find a location or if it has multiple search options. For example, you can’t search some maps without an exact zip code, but others automatically generate an address for you when you click on a location. Also consider whether you can save your searches and marked locations. No matter what you use your maps for, being able to save your searches and pinpoint exact locations is a must. Finally consider, if the online map site offers helpful suggestions and tips for those times when you are stuck or just want to learn how to efficiently use the program.

While your purpose for using an online map may differ from the next person’s, these general ease of use considerations apply to all maps. Keep them in mind as you search for an online map program.