A wealth of spatial data, suitable for many different applications at various scales, is available on the internet. If you are using ArcGIS 10.x, a good place to start is ArcGIS online:

If you click on the triangle to the right of the Add Data button (the yellow diamond with a black rectangle on top), you are presented with a drop-down menu. Here you may select local data, a basemap from ESRI, or other data layers available on ArcGIS Online. The Add Data… option lets you select files from a local drive or network share.

We hope to offer links to data layers for the region in the near future, but a couple of good places to start to acquire your own GIS layers include:

1) The Michigan Geographic Data Library, at the Michigan Center for Shared Solutions.

The Center for Shared Solutions is the official home of GIS data for Michigan. At the Geographic Data Library you can find layers partitioned by state, watershed, county, and school district. You can also search by theme (layer type, such as aerial imagery or bedrock geology) or search by metadata.  Metadata is “data about data”. A metadata file lists important information about a layer, including who created the layer, how current the information is, the coordinate system and datum used by the layer, details about any attributes (data fields), and contact information for the person or entity that produced the data.

2) The Geospatial Data Gateway, provided by the NRCS, FSA, and RD.

The Geospatial Data Gateway (GDG) has data for more than just Michigan. You can select data by state, county, bounding rectangle (latitude and longitude coordinates that describe a study area’s extent), or by using an interactive map to identify a study area, anywhere in the 50 US states or other US territories.

The GDG has the most recent nationwide aerial imagery available, as well as base geography, watershed data, topographic maps, digital elevation models, land cover data, and climate information.

You will need to provide an email address to use the GDG, as layers are ‘custom packaged’ for each order. The wait time for downloads depends on the amount of data you choose to download, as well as the number of other users on the system.

3) The National Map Viewer, from the USGS National Map

The National Map houses the most up-to-date geospatial data from the USGS. It has an interface similar to the GDG’s, with a smaller set of layers available. The National Map is where all topographic map updates will are now published.

4) Digital Elevation Model (DEM) data from the USGS

DEM files, previously available from, have been moved to the National Map

You may also find data you need at NOAA’s Digital Coast, which houses LIDAR-derived elevation data for (select) coastal counties in the US.

5) A good starting point for satellite imagery for Michigan is MichiganView. This site contains user-contributed images for the region, and is managed by staff at the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI).

6) Pre-formatted 2010 Census data can be downloaded from ESRI’s Census 2010 page.

7) Historical (census) data layers may be found at the National Historical GIS. If it’s historical topi maps you need, see the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer, where you can view or download scanned topo maps.

8) Natural Earth provides public domain base maps at various scales (1:10M, 1:50M, 1:110M). Both raster and vector data are available.