Skip to Main Content

Great Lakes Essential Resources: Cartographic & Geospatial Resources

Last Updated: Jun 3, 2024 12:23 PM

The Great Lakes and the region surrounding them have been an area of interest for cartographers for centuries. GIS (geographic information systems) data allow scientists, professionals and researchers to create in-depth, dynamic maps of the lakes. 

Please use these pages to explore selected historical and modern maps of the region, as well as locate GIS data for your own research.

Historical map of Lake Huron beach

U.S. Lake Survey. Harbor of Refuge Sand Beach, Lake Huron (1876). Image Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries

Historical map of Lake Erie

U.S. Lake Survey. Lake Erie (1849). Image Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries

Historical map of section of Lake Michigan

U.S. Lake Survey. North end of Lake Michigan including Green Bay and the Straights of Mackinac (1867). Image Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries

Great Lakes Names

Topographic Maps

Topographic maps contain data on the natural features of the land, such as elevations, contours, water bodies, and other features, plus they may also contain man-made features such as roads, railroads, buildings and structures, and other features. The main concept of topographic maps is that they show the way the landscape would appear if viewed from above. A brief history of the USGS topographic map program describes the creation of this valuable series in the United States.

USGS Topoview. Current and historic topographic maps for the United States

Historical Topographic Map Digitization Project (Canada), Ontario Council of University Libraries. 

Horizontal Datums and Tidal Datums

Notable Library Map Collections

A Note on Library Map Collections

Contrary to popular belief, not everything is online... especially maps!  These libraries may have valuable maps that have not yet been digitized. 

We recommend you consult with the librarians at the local map library collections listed in our pages to view maps in-person, when possible.