Meet the New and Improved Public Land Survey System (PLSS) Map Layer

Get vastly expanded coverage, new subsection detail, and clearer township and range labels with the updated Public Land Survey System (PLSS) grid layer in Gaia GPS. With more than double the previous coverage, this edition of the map now contains all available PLSS data for the United States.

Earlier versions of the map displayed township and range lines at higher zoom levels, then revealed sections as you zoomed. Now, zoom in even further, and you can see subsections as well. This level of detail makes it easier than ever to find your precise location within a given section.

We’ve also improved the map styling, cleaning up the labels and adjusting the colors to improve visibility across a variety of base maps.

The PLSS grid layer, before and after the update. Coverage in Alaska (not pictured) has also been expanded.

About the Public Land Survey System

The Public Land Survey System, or PLSS for short, is a system of boundary lines used for apportioning and describing land areas in the western United States. It was devised in the 1780s, after the Revolutionary War, as a system for dividing land into plots, which could then be given to war veterans and prospective settlers of the then-wild West.

Today, PLSS boundaries are still used to delineate property boundaries, and natural resource managers, surveyors, and hunters use range and township lines to talk about geographic location. Many boundaries are still labeled with physical markers, like disc-shaped metal “monuments” or wooden posts.

PLSS markings carved into a tree in the Beaverhead Mountains. Photo courtesy of Jesse Crocker.

How to Use Township and Range Boundaries

The vertical lines of the PLSS grid are called range lines, and the horizontals are called township lines. Range lines are measured in 6-mile increments east and west of lines of longitude, called principal meridians. Likewise, township lines are measured in 6-mile increments north and south of lines of latitude, called baselines.

Each resulting 6-by-6-mile square is called a township. Labels include numbers to indicate the township’s distance from the relevant baseline and principle meridian, as well as letters to show its spatial relationship (whether it’s north, east, south, or west) from the central intersection of those two lines.

Each square mile within a township is called a section, which is numbered 1 through 36. And, finally, each section is divided into 16 40-acre subsections. Each subsection is described in terms of its cardinal direction from the center of the section. For example, the far southeast subsection would be called SESE, and the far northwest subsection would be NWNW. (See an example in the screenshots below).

How to use the Public Land Survey System Layer

The updated PLSS grid is available to Gaia GPS users with a Premium Membership. Android users can find it in the Premium Overlays Category. iOS and web users will be able to access it through the Weather & Feature Overlays category of the map manager.

Simply add the layer atop any base map in Gaia GPS, and zoom to view increasing levels of detail. The map styling will adjust as you zoom to preserve readability, regardless of background.

In iOS, you can tap a subsection to learn its exact acreage.