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Printed Maps for Big Sur Hikers

(last update: Sep 25, 2021)

This website provides detailed (48k:1) single-page-printable Trailmap sections for users to print - but hiking a large area can require several sections and often hikers want a single large-scale map covering the entire region.  So I'll describe here the commercially-available printed maps for the Big Sur area.  (But do note that all these maps have a larger scale, i.e. show less detail, than my 48k:1 maps.)  Focusing on maps for hikers, and in particular those with topographic information (contour lines), the choices are (newest first):

Wilderness Press map photo Green Trails map photo National Geographic map photo USFS map logo
•   Wilderness Press:  "Big Sur and Ventana Wilderness"  (2020)  Scale=64k:1
Local purchase:  available at many local stores, such as REI Marina. 
On-line ordering:  Wilderness Press store ($10)   Amazon ($13)   REI ($13)
•   Green Trails Maps:  #1256S "Big Sur / Ventana Wilderness"  (2017)  Scale=63k:1
Local purchase:  currently available locally in Big Sur at Big Sur Station REI Marina does not stock them (I couldn't get a reason why)
On-line ordering:  Green Trails Maps store ($18)  -  Amazon ($18)   REI ($18)
•   National Geographic:  Trails Illustrated #814 "Big Sur / Ventana Wilderness"  (2012)  Scale=80k:1
Local purchase:  available at many local stores, such REI Marina. 
On-line ordering:  NatGeo map store ($15)   Amazon ($12)   REI ($12)
•   U.S. Forest Service:  "A Guide to the Ventana Wilderness & Silver Peak Wilderness"  (2007)  Scale=63k:1
Local purchase:  available at USFS Monterey Ranger District Office (406 S. Mildred Ave, King City)
On-line ordering:  USFS map store has closed - map now available at USGS Store (search for "Ventana") ($20)

Note:  All of these printed maps are more accurate and complete than those in smartphone apps which use USGS or OpenStreetMap maps. 

Summary:

For the average Big Sur hiker, the National Geographic map is "good enough" - its accuracy and completeness for official trails is good and it is widely available.  For higher-resolution. more detailed topography, and a more readable map get the widely available Wilderness Press map.  Hard-core Big Sur hikers, the ones who want to go everywhere in the Big Sur wilderness areas including places reached only by use trails, should get a Green Trails map - it's the most complete and accurate of any of these maps and is what I personally carry in my pack. 

Comparison details:

Format:  different people have different preferences.  Personally I like the cleaner Wilderness Press map format best, considering it the most readable when out on the trail.  Next would be the Green Trails map, which provides additional information yet is still clean and readable.  Then the USFS map which adds surface vegetation information, which might be useful but which makes map reading more difficult.  Last is the even more complex and less readable National Geographic map. 

My ratings, from low to high:

The USFS map is reasonably accurate and complete and has vegetation cover information - but it is not widely available so would be my last choice. 

Next up is the National Geographic map which is largely accurate for what it depicts, after having been pored over by VWA locals for errors (the original version was recalled due to egregious errors, first noticed and reported to National Geographic by myself - they had relied solely on USFS data!).  It has two drawbacks.  First, it's scale is relatively large compared to the other maps, so can be more difficult to read and use in the field if needing detailed information such as local topography.  (Though some might view this as a "feature", since the map then covers a larger area and so includes trails in Pinnacles National Park and on the Monterey peninsula.)  Second it exludes almost all use trails, even though some "use trails" are more utilized and in better condition than some "official" trails.

Higher up the list is the Wilderness Press map, after I worked with them to remove the egregious 2005-version errors and make their trails and camp positions more accurate and add prominent "use trails".  It is widely available, highly readable, and depicts small-scale features than the NatGeo map - so I consider it more useful in the field.  It's biggest drawback is inclusion of stipple showing the 2016 wildfire burn area - which would have been useful, had not a subsequent 2020 wildfire made that information outdated.  [Full disclosure: I was involved in the creation of the 2020 Wilderness Press map and am credited on it - which is why it depicts many locally-known use trails.  But I did not get any remuneration for that, nor do I for maps they sell.] 

My first choice is the Green Trails map.  It's trail and camp placement is the most accurate of all the maps, shows significant local use trails, has small-scale detail, and is very readable.  It's drawbacks?  A personal quibble is its folded size, which is wider than the usual map and does not fit in the hand easily.  Its biggest drawback is its limited availability and difficulty of obtaining one.  Also, the 2017 version added stipple covering the "historic" wildfire area - IMHO not useful since almost all the Ventana wilderness has "historically" burned at one time or another but has since recovered.   [Full disclosure: I was involved in the creation of the 2014 Green Trails map and am credited on its map - which is why it depicts many locally-known use trails.  But I did not get any remuneration for that, nor do I for maps they sell.] 

Jack Glendening
bigsurtrailmap.net
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