Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Central Pennsylvania offers a wide variety of activities, from hiking and boating to biking and camping. But how can you reach your destination (or explore the wilds) when your cell phone GPS goes off the grid?
We’ve all heard the dreaded, “Please wait. Rerouting. Calculating. Make a U-turn when possible.” It’s frustrating when we need to reach a specific destination and our technology fails us, but it’s even more annoying (and sometimes terrifying) when the cell service bars slowly drop to zero, leaving you lost and confused. Paper maps might seem dated, but they are absolutely invaluable to the intrepid explorer of Pennsylvania woods.
Purple Lizard is a small, locally operated company of cartographers committed to mapping the wilds of Pennsylvania. But this isn’t your average group of people; they’re getting out and putting boots on the ground to make these maps as perfect for the user as possible. “The big difference with Purple Lizard Maps is that we’re there, driving around that forest mapping. We’re on the ground,” says founder and lead cartographer Michael Hermann.
The team is comprised of adventurers and cartographers, and even Karma the Adventure Dog! Their mission is to get people out into nature and create their own adventure. “That’s our whole philosophy; to get people out more. Break free from your device,” says Mike.
The maps are just as quirky and interesting as the people who made them. They’re playful and lighthearted, with fun quotes sprinkled throughout the map and interesting mini-facts about the area. “In the map industry, there weren’t any fun, cool, hip brands. Most of the maps… weren’t that fun.” Seeing the gap in the market, Purple Lizard jumped for the chance to make accessible, well-designed maps for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts.
Another added bonus is that people of all skill levels—even beginners—can enjoy the outdoors in the state. “Pennsylvania has a really approachable topography for backpackers, hiking, and mountain biking. We have a lot of rolling hills that are easy to get into and get out of, and we have a lot of access points.” If you’re thinking about trying a new adventure in the forest, give it a go! “We tried to make a map that showcased the area as a playground to explore,” Mike explains. “Our maps are a pleasant surprise for people even if they don’t know what a good map looks like. A lot of people open it up and just “get it.” They’re very intuitive and make the landscape more inviting. People get one of these maps and learn they can trust it.”
The unique feature about a Purple Lizard map is that they’re not focused solely on one outdoor activity. Instead of buying a map for hiking, one for horseback riding, and another for kayaking, a Purple Lizard map encompasses all activities in one waterproof map. They also aim to showcase all the public land available. Many maps only give National Park land, whereas Purple Lizard shows state lands too, opening up even more topography to explore.
The process to make these maps detailed and accurate takes a lot of time—somewhere in the thousands of hours (though personally, I think they stretch it out just a tad so they can spend more time exploring the outdoors!). They focus on accuracy of the maps and the art; color choices, symbols, and readability are key to the team. “Once a map gets into the final stages, we like to go out for three or four days and just camp in that forest,” Mike says. “A lot of places we map, there’s no cell service. These maps don’t need batteries or signals.”
These maps allow the user to unlock more than the internet can give, too. “The internet is filled with so much information, but it often sends people to just one spot.” It’s frustrating when there’s a line of cars parked to view a scenic overlook, and what should be a beautiful picture of nature ends up with other people milling around in the background. “With our maps, you can drive ten minutes down the road to an equally beautiful overlook without the crowds.” And, to me, there’s something about going off the beaten path and finding your own piece of untouched wilderness instead of using Google. It has a sense of accomplishment that you just can’t get from any website or step-by-step directions from your phone.
Purple Lizard maps are unique, quirky, and definitely your best friend when traversing new land. Next time you’re sitting on the couch flipping through the channels, think about getting outside and trying a new activity in a State Park. Limitless activities, like hiking, camping, biking, and canoeing, can open up when you have a Lizard map in your pocket.