National Forest Maps use a system called Range and Township to specify areas on their maps. This is a system that has been used for a century or two, and is used also by realtors, county surveyors and others, so is in quite common usage, all be it by the forestry industries, land sales and municipalities.
The method is based on a presumption that a Township is 36 square miles, a 6 by 6 matrix. In order to give each township has a unique name one must also have a Horizontal and vertical system of indentifying each, hence the terms Range & Township. Range is the vertical identifier and Township is the Horizontal identifier. To identify for example a Range and Township that includes the town of Hayfork, California, we look along the left edge of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest to find that the look out is placed in T. 2 N., looking along the top edge one finds that it is R. 12W. (see the image of the Hayfork township showing the zig-zagging of the numbering system)
As mentioned, Townships are a 6 by 6 matrix with each “Section” (each 1 Sq mile), numbered within the matrix. The methodology is such that the numbering zig-zags back and forth as in the image in the Slideshow. National forest maps also contain Latitude and longitude data around the edge of the maps to further assist in navigation, but one rarely needs it once one has a handle on the Range & Township system of co-ordinates.
To aid the hunter, forester, hiker while in the National Forests one often finds a yellow metal plate attached to a tree or a post. This plate, called a K-tag will have 36 squares on it which signify a township. Carved into the plate is the name of the township. So it would have the T.N2, R.12W for example, if it were in the township that Hayfork is in. Within the plate, one will find a nail, which placed in the “Section” where the plate is located physically. In the example in the slideshow one can see that it is placed on the border of sections 28 and 29 roughly in the middle. To determine where you are, simply look at the K-tag, read the Range and Township identifier info, find the township on the map.
Bingo! you now know where you are!
An advantage of National forest maps is that they contain other data, such as campgrounds, facilities within them, and are more likely closer to being up to date in terms of new logging roads as the National Forest mapping system is on a 12 year cycle as opposed to the at best 50 year cycle of the USGS “Topo” maps. National Forest maps contain additional information not found on a Topo map, such as forest road number/names based on the Range and Township system. A road which will be numbered in the forest as 13N58 for example starts in the 13N township. (see photo) While National Forest maps do not contain topographical information, they do contain the elevation of significant peaks, and names of ranch’s or other significant structures. More information on the Range and Township system can be found here , here and here
For more info: National Forest Service info here, maps can be purchased here
National Forest and National Grassland Visitor Maps are available for $9 each for paper and $10 each for plastic. Each map covers all or a portion of one National Forest or Grassland. The scale is 1/2 inch per mile, although some maps use a scale of 1 inch per mile, and the maps show roads, trails, streams, lakes, recreation sites, land ownership and major points of interest.