An Atlas of North American Rivers

Around a decade ago, I started making river maps, in a style reminiscent of transit networks. I made a lot of them, and had the idea of compiling them into an atlas. I wrote about them, and even sold prints of them.

And then I stopped. My atlas sat, 99% complete, mostly untouched, for about eight years. But this is a time for finally finishing things, and so I finally buckled down and wrapped up something that has lingered far too long.

I present to you An Atlas of North American Rivers.

Click on that image to download a PDF. It’s designed for print (so there are some spaces in the middle of spreads to account for the gutter), but I’ve rotated some of the pages so that you don’t have to crane your neck when I switch between landscape and portrait layout, and I’ve split up multi-map spreads. So: expect some changes in page dimensions as you scroll through.

I’m making this project free to download; if you enjoy it, you’re welcome to make a donation to support my work.

There are two reasons it took so many years to finalize this project. One is that, the longer it sat, the more I changed as a designer, and the more “outdated” these felt. I still think they’re fine, but I would quite likely the whole project differently now (though I’m not sure how). But, I did not wish to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and so I am letting them go into the wild, as-is.

The second reason is that, after some of the early maps went briefly viral in 2011-ish, I was confronted by many people who were unhappy with my choice to not include certain rivers or towns that were important to them. It was a stressful situation. However, I’m more comfortable ignoring those people now. In truth, though, that experience also offered a valuable lesson. Cartographers are comfortable and familiar with the generalization and abstraction that maps offer. A lot of the public isn’t, though; they don’t take it for granted the way that we do, and that’s useful to remember.

Interested in a hardcover version? I’ve got a form for you to fill out! If I get enough people to make it economically feasible, I’ll look into getting some printed.

Update: demand was extremely low, and though the book was designed for print, I am not able to offer a print option at this time; print-on-demand services were also generally too expensive to meet the cost that people said they’d be willing to pay.

However, you can still purchase prints of most of the individual maps. They vary a bit from the book layout, both in typography, and in some cases in format. For a few river systems, I designed standalone posters, but for the book I split them up.