Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for cartographers, geographers and GIS professionals. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am looking for the base layers for whole U.S. - roads, hydrological lines etc with flexibilities of changing symbology and labels.

TIGER is a good source but it is at county level. I am running on a short deadline right now, so want a quick fix. Can anyone suggest good source where I can find one layer for whole country? Or merged TIGER Census shapefiles for the whole US?

share|improve this question
Do you specifically want merged TIGER data, or are you just looking for nationwide datasets from any source? – RyanDalton Feb 21 '13 at 22:50
It's not as accurate or up to date as Tiger, but try for nationwide datasets of roads, streams, etc. – Dan C Feb 21 '13 at 22:53
Looking for nationwide accurate datasets. – Deep Feb 22 '13 at 14:42
Please be more specific about what you are looking for. – underdark Feb 22 '13 at 15:46
base layers (cities boundaries, roads, rails, waterbodies and hydrological lines) to display at the background of actual data (points), but with flexible symbology – Deep Feb 22 '13 at 17:32
up vote 2 down vote accepted

What about Esri's Data and Maps for ArcGIS? It is free for licensed ArcGIS users and has national data at many scales.

The data comes with pre-defined symbology for quick use, but the symbols can be changed.

share|improve this answer
Nice for arcgis users, but not a great resource for the rest of us – chrismarx Mar 22 '14 at 22:03

Have you looked at Natural Earth? The large scale data includes boundaries, populated places, urban areas, hydro, roads, rails, etc.

share|improve this answer

I would try RITA, USDOT. They will even send a free DVD of data.

share|improve this answer
If I am not wrong, RITA is providing only PDF and HTML map. I am looking for some ESRI supported format. – Deep Feb 22 '13 at 18:19
Nope, they have the US water, states, roads, sundry in shapefile – lewis Feb 22 '13 at 20:08

The US Census has several files of different resolutions of just the state boundaries, for free here -

share|improve this answer

I would second the suggestion of looking at Natural Earth and seeing if it meets your needs, and if you are using QGIS I would also encourage you to look into the OpenLayers Plugin, which allows to do one-click imports of base maps from a bunch of different map services (OpenStreetMap, Google Maps, Bing Maps, MapQuest, etc) ...

Also it is frequently the case that shapefiles on Census and other government agency pages senselessly force users to download data one state/county at a time rather than just offering a single download link for the full national dataset. In these cases, learning to write web spiders with Python (or some other scripting language) is extremely useful. You can throw together a quick script in about 20-30 minutes that will download all of the data for you, essentially building a national dataset from all of the individual smaller shapefiles and saving you the tedium of clicking through the same form dozens (or hundreds) of times.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.