Northern map turtles are small- to medium-sized and have a low ridge along the center of the upper shell. The hind edge of the upper shell is strongly serrated. The upper shell normally is brown or olive brown with a netlike pattern of fine yellow lines, giving the shell the appearance of a road map. The lower shell of this species is light yellow; the seams between scutes are dark brown. The head and limbs are brown with thin yellow lines. A small yellow spot is present behind each eye.
Similar species: To identify our 3 map turtles, look at the yellow spots near the eye. Ouachita map turtles have a large yellow marking behind each eye that extends, narrowing, on top of the head. False map turtles have a thick yellow line behind each eye that forms a backward L shape.