Finding your way with wayfinding maps

You’ve seen them everywhere but may not have noticed them unless you looked – wayfinding signs and maps.

Wayfinding signs give you information about where you are and how to find your destination. Many people use Google Maps, but that often has too much information and requires you to find your own way. Google tries, but doesn’t always succeed, especially for people walking, rolling, or biking. And many features are missing from Google, such as benches, bike parking, toilets, drinking fountains, etc.


The simplest are signposts with names, directions and sometimes distances, like this one for the Trans-Canada Trail in my neighbourhood.

photo of signpost showing directional arrow for Trans-Canada Trail, Conestoga College and Southwest Optimist Park distances and walking and biking time

As I approach rom the direction of Wilson Ave and the wonderful Grand River lookout, this sign tells me to keep left and follow the trail to Conestoga College. It gives distance in kilometres and approximate travel time by foot and bicycle. If I want to go to the Southwest Optimist Park, I head right and it’s a 15-minute walk. I can’t remember now if there’s another wayfinding sign where the multi-use trail crosses Huron Road, but it would make sense to have one there to indicate that the path leads under Homer Watson Blvd to the park.

Route Maps

Some wayfinding maps suggest routes for you to take. This example shows landmarks on a birds-eye map of Charlottetown, with suggested walking routes colour-coded by theme and showing the total distance. If you’re interested in history, take the heritage walk; if you like shopping, follow the yellow path for the boutique shopping walk.

Map of Charlottetown landmarks with suggested walking routes colour-coded by theme

Informational Maps

This map of Brackley Beach in PEI shows some trails, but the focus is on facilities such as parking, campgrounds, playgrounds, toilets, picnic areas, etc.. It uses symbols identified in the legend to show all facilities available at the locations marked. Whenever I see such a map on my travels, I take a photo and use it to find the facilities I need. On this map, I see that there’s a lookout not too far from parking and a restaurant, so might be a nice place for a break.

Wayfinding map of Brackley Beach park in PEI - gives a description of the park, a map showing its location on PEI, and a detailed map showing facilities and trails in the park

Urban Wayfinding

I love it when wayfinding maps show the direction you’re facing. I took these photos of the north and south sides of this wayfinding map in Montréal’s Place Jacques Cartier. Both sides have the same map at the top, but the bottom section shows the view oriented to the direction the map reader is facing.

South side of Place Jacques Cartier wayfinding map looking north. Bottom map is oriented north up.
North side of Place Jacques Cartier wayfinding map looking south. Bottom map is oriented south up.

When walking around San Antonio with my parents, these decorative wayfinding maps on lamp-posts helped us find our way. They show you which cardinal direction you’re facing and use colours to show neighbourhoods.

Two people looking up at a circular wayfinding map of San Antonio affixed on a lamp-post. Shows cardinal direction and neighbourhoods in different colours

Many cities are including wayfinding maps as part of their urban planning strategies, to help both residents and visitors. 

How many wayfinding maps do you have in your neighbourhood?

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