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?

  • Do you specifically want merged TIGER data, or are you just looking for nationwide datasets from any source? Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 22:50
  • It's not as accurate or up to date as Tiger, but try nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp.html for nationwide datasets of roads, streams, etc.
    – Dan C
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 22:53
  • Looking for nationwide accurate datasets.
    – Deep
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 14:42
  • Please be more specific about what you are looking for.
    – underdark
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 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
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 17:32

5 Answers 5


Have you looked at Natural Earth? The large scale data includes boundaries, populated places, urban areas, hydro, roads, rails, etc. http://www.naturalearthdata.com/downloads/


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.

  • 2
    Nice for arcgis users, but not a great resource for the rest of us
    – chrismarx
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 22:03

I would try RITA, USDOT. They will even send a free DVD of data. https://1bts.rita.dot.gov/pdc/user/products/src/products.xml?p=33304

  • If I am not wrong, RITA is providing only PDF and HTML map. I am looking for some ESRI supported format.
    – Deep
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 18:19
  • Nope, they have the US water, states, roads, sundry in shapefile
    – lewis
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 20:08

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



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.

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