In which direction do contour lines point

Learn to read contour lines

Contour lines connect points of the same height. Such a (of course not really existing) line runs around a hill or mountain like a flat circular path.

Contour lines on a map always have the same height distance from one another (this is also called an "equidistance"). If you were to cut open the real landscape along the contour lines, you would always get panes of the same thickness.
For maps with a scale of 1: 50,000, the contour lines are usually 10 meters apart, i.e. the points on the closest contour lines are 10 meters higher or lower.

The labeling of the contour lines on a map is placed in such a way that it can be read in the direction of the rising terrain.

The contour lines make the shape and gradient visible in a terrain. The closer the lines are together, the steeper the terrain, the further apart they are, the flatter it is.

If the contour lines are closed, ie form a tight, winding "circle line", this indicates a knoll or a mountain peak. Often the highest point is also marked with a point and an associated height.
In rare cases, a closed circular line also indicates a depression, a "dent" in the landscape. Then a contour line colored arrow points to the point with the altitude information.

If there are some uniformly curved contour lines one behind the other (with or without a stream), this indicates a valley.

All right? -> on to the knowledge check!

Images and text idea (with kind permission):
Tips for reading maps © State Office for Surveying and Geoinformation Bavaria (

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