USA 2015 map reviews: Marco Polo vs Michelin California & USA West

Disclosure: I received a free copy of these maps for this review. I did not receive any payment and was not required to write a positive review.

I admit it, we’re an old-fashioned couple here at Motorhomeplanet HQ, at least we are when it comes to navigation. We still use paper maps for the vast majority of all navigation, at home or abroad.

I won’t try to convince you of the advantages of proper maps, except to say that large maps allow you to understand the geography of the place you are visiting in a way that a small screen never will.

We used three maps to plan and navigate through our 3,500 mile trip around the western USA this year. Our thanks to both Marco Polo and Michelin for providing review copies of the following maps:

  • Marco Polo USA West
  • Marco Polo California
  • Michelin California, Nevada

Here are the details of what each map covers plus our review of each map.

Marco Polo USA West

Marco Polo USA West mapDesigned to cover all the most popular tourist areas in the western USA, including the Pacific Coast, Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains.

Covers all of Arizona, California, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Wyoming.

Covers most of Colorado and New Mexico.

Covers a small part of Mexico, Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and a narrow strip of Canada where it’s adjacent to the states I’ve listed above.

Scale: 1: 2,000,000 (1 inch = 32 miles)

This map covers a large area and so is excellent for route planning and longer journeys. Covers major and regional roads. Obviously it lacks some local detail, but that’s the idea — it covers a very large area.

We used this when we were out of California and for route planning at home before we left. Excellent map with a good level of detail and clear presentation — very easy to read. Information such as distances, altitudes and national park boundaries are all present.

Marco Polo California

Marco Polo California mapOf our two California maps, this was the most detailed, so got very heavily used.

Covers all of California (obviously) plus some adjacent areas of Arizona, Utah, most of Nevada and a little of Oregon.

Scale: 1: 800,000 (1 inch = 12.6 miles)

A good map. We found it to be accurate, easy to use and well presented, in the same style as the larger USA West map discussed above. The coverage of neighbouring states is enough for most purposes — it’s quite generous for a maps that’s sold as a California-only map and is no doubt designed to meet the needs of people doing the sort of route we did.

A couple of comments: areas such as National Parks and off-limits military sites are marked with a cross-hatched border but are not shaded in. This makes them less easy to see than if they were marked with a solid coloured block on the map.

Secondly, if you want to explore back roads and dirt roads in California (or anywhere else in the US) you’ll need a more detailed map than this. Many minor and dirt roads are marked on this map, but mostly only as vague dotted blue lines. You’d be quite brave (or stupid) to use this map for such purposes.

If you do want to explore the many backroads in rural areas of the USA, you’ll probably need to buy a suitable map in the US, or at least source one from an American retailer — we found the choice in the UK to be limited.

Michelin California Nevada

Michelin California Nevada mapWe’ve always been a fan of Michelin maps for European touring and have a fair collection. Did the firm’s US offering live up to our expectations? Very much so.

Covers all of California and Nevada, plus adjacent parts of Arizona, Utah, Idaho and Oregon and a small area of the Mexican border.

Scale: 1: 1,267,200 (1 inch = 20 miles)

Although this map is a smaller scale than the Marco Polo California, this isn’t so relevant in rural areas where there’s only one major road for 200 miles or so

In fact, the Michelin did have some advantages. National Parks and the like were marked in solid coloured blocks (see above). This makes it easier to see where they start and finish and which roads run through them.

The colour scheme used for roads will feel more familiar for European drivers than the Marco Polo. For example, Interstates (the biggest class of motorway) are marked in blue.

Finally, I noticed that while there are fewer minor roads shown on this map than on the Marco Polo, they appear to be marked more precisely. Similarly, popular tourist sites and view points seem more frequent on the Michelin.

Michelin or Marco Polo?

The two California maps are both very good and completely adequate for the job most people will put them to. It’s hard to choose between them: they are both good quality maps with some minor pros and cons.

Ultimately it’s up to you. If we were spending our own money and could only buy one, we’d buy the Marco Polo California, simply because it is more detailed and shows more navigable roads than the Michelin. But for most purposes, either would do — and I do prefer the colour scheme on the Michelin.

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