Extreme Points of the United States (50 States)
The United States of America is an extensive land mass. It covers 3,119,884 square miles in its contiguous form and more still when the outlying territories such as Alaska and Hawaii are considered. It stretches across multiple time zones and borders two different oceans with high mountains and deep canyons. All in all, this means that the extreme points of the USA are incredibly varied and represent the diverse geography of a sprawling nation.
Extreme Points of the U.S.: Contiguous and Territories
The USA is spread across the globe through its multiple territories. The main bulk of the country is in North America, stretching horizontally from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and vertically from Mexico to Canada. Depending on how you classify the USA, the extreme points vary. For example, if you only take the contiguous U.S. into account, the northernmost point is Northwest Angle, Minnesota. However, if you include associated territories, this changes to Point Barrow, Alaska. The article below addresses these complexities and makes clear where every extreme point is.
What Are the 4 Extreme Points?
Considering the U.S. in its entirety, that is including all associated territories such as Alaska, the four main extreme points are as follows.
Northernmost Point: Point Barrow, Alaska
Point Barrow, also known as Nuvuk in the indigenous language, is located at the northernmost extent of Alaska. It borders the Arctic Ocean and has an extremely harsh climate thanks to its northerly position on the planet. It was named after Sir John Barrow, a senior figure in the British Admiralty, in 1826 by an English explorer. The nearest settlement is Utqiaġvik, formerly named Barrow, situated 9 miles southwest and is one of the most northerly inhabited places on Earth
Southernmost Point: Rose Atoll, American Samoa
Rose Atoll is a very small island in the Pacific Ocean. It covers just 0.05 km2 at high tide with much of the partially submerged land creating a central lagoon. It is part of American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the USA which came under their control in 1900. The atoll is known as a key breeding location for the endangered green sea turtle and hawksbill turtle. It is named after a French explorer's wife after the explorer thought he was the first to sight the atoll in 1819.
Easternmost Point: Point Udall, U.S. Virgin Islands
Point Udall is located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a group of overseas islands in the Caribbean Sea. It was named by John F. Kennedy in 1969 after Stewart Udall, a former Secretary of the Interior. A large sundial is present at the location called the Millenium Monument which was built for New Year’s Eve in 2000. Unlike Rose Atoll, Point Udall is regularly visited by tourists due to the popularity and accessibility of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Westernmost Point: Udall Point, Guam
Udall Point lies at the tip of the Orote Peninsula in Guam. Guam is an island in the Pacific Ocean that became part of the U.S. in 1899 and serves as an important outpost for the U.S. Military. It has an alternative name of Orote Point, but it gained an official name in 1987 when it was designated Udall Point by the U.S. Government after congressman Morris Udall. He is the brother of Stewart Udall meaning both the western and eastern extents of the USA are named after the same family.
|Extreme Point (in the entire USA & Territories)
|Northernmost Point: Point Barrow, Alaska
|71° 23' N
|156° 29' W
|Southernmost Point: Rose Atoll, American Samoa
|14° 15' S
|Easternmost Point: Point Udall, U.S. Virgin Islands
|17° 75' N
|64° 56' W
|Westernmost Point: Udall Point, Guam
|13° 44' N
|144° 618' E
What Is the Contiguous U.S.?
The contiguous United States refers to the 48 states that are adjoining one another, unbroken by sea or other land masses. The greatest distance between two extents in the contiguous U.S. is found from Florida to the state of Washington. If it were its own country, it would be the fifth largest in the world by surface area.
Other names for it include the "lower 48" and, in a governmental context, the "Zone of the Interior" It is different from the continental United States which includes Alaska which is separated from the 48 by Canada.
What Are the U.S. Territories?
The U.S. territories include all landmasses overseen by the USA that aren’t directly adjoining the 48 contiguous states. The main ones are the five that are inhabited: American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Alaska and Hawaii also fall into this category but are often separated as they are fully incorporated into the United States Constitution. For geographical purposes, they are included as territories as they do not make up the contiguous United States. The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands are also overseen by the USA but are uninhabited and not included in this list.
Northernmost Point in U.S.
There is a large amount of difference between the northernmost points in the contiguous U.S. and areas inclusive of other territories. The history of the northernmost point has changed as the USA has developed as a country. Alaska was only sold to the USA in 1867 meaning before then, the northernmost point in all of the USA was found in the contiguous zone.
Point Barrow, Alaska — Northernmost in U.S. Territories
Latitude and Longitude: 71°23' N, 156°29' W
Point Barrow is one of the most northerly points on the American continent’s mainland. It borders the Arctic Ocean and serves as a jumping-off point for Arctic expeditions. The nearest inhabited settlement is Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, which is one of the most northern towns in the world. There used to be an Arctic research station located there until it was decommissioned in 1980 and vast oil reserves have been located off the coast. Historically, polar aviation missions flew from Point Barrow which is famous for a plane crash that killed performer Will Rogers in 1935.
Northwest Angle, Minnesota — Northernmost in the 48 Contiguous States
Latitude and Longitude: 49° 20' N, 95° 4' W
Northwest Angle is an area of land in northern Minnesota making up the only place in the contiguous states north of the 49th parallel. It is not a specific location like a town or mountain peak, but rather a diverse area including a township, lakefronts, and vast forests. It has a land border with Canada but is separated from the rest of Minnesota by Lake of the Woods and the Angle Inlet. 70% of the land is held by the Ojibwa indigenous people but 99% of the permanent population is White and are residents of Angle Township.
Southernmost Point in U.S.
The southernmost point in the USA has a unique complexity to it. As it is situated in Florida, which is a particularly low-lying part of the USA, the southernmost point is subject to change depending on the height of the seas. Before 1900, Hawaii held the most southern point across the U.S. for a period of two years, however, after the incorporation of American Samoa, this changed. The southernmost points are much different from those in the north as they both have more temperate to tropical climates thanks to their geographies.
Rose Atoll, American Samoa — Southernmost Point in U.S. Territories
Latitude and Longitude: 14° 15' S, 170° 41' W
Out of all the points listed here, Rose Atoll is the furthest away from the contiguous United States. It is situated in the South Pacific Ocean and is part of American Samoa. It is very small, owing to the fact that most of its landmass is submerged below shallow waters. At high tide, only 0.05 km2of land appears above the ocean’s surface. It has a tropical climate and is home to an unusually large amount of carnivorous fish. Its main importance lies in animal conservation as it is a major breeding ground for both green and hawksbill turtles which are endangered species.
Ballast Key, Florida — Southernmost in the Contiguous States
Latitude and Longitude: 24° 31' N, 81° 57' W
Ballast Key is the southernmost point in the contiguous states and is an island in the Florida Keys. There are points of land further south that are parts of Florida but these are intermittently submerged beneath the sea level and so are generally discounted. The island used to be privately owned but was donated to the Key West National Wildlife Refuge in 2019. Whilst it is the southernmost location outright, Cape Sable is the southernmost point on the U.S. mainland which is also in Florida.
Easternmost Point in U.S.
Similarly to the southernmost point, the easternmost point in the contiguous states is variable depending on the ocean tides. The easternmost point in the U.S. territories changed drastically when the U.S. Virgin Islands were bought from Denmark for $25 million in 1917. The USA has more distance between its eastern and western extents than its northern and southern counterparts.
Point Udall, U.S. Virgin Islands — Easternmost Point in the U.S. Territories
Latitude and Longitude: 17° 75' N, 64° 56' W
Point Udall is in the U.S. Virgin Islands which are situated in the Caribbean. More specifically, it is located on the island of St Croix and is marked by a large sundial called the Millenium Monument. This was built in anticipation of New Year’s Eve in 2000 and it remains the first place to welcome the new year in the USA. It is named after the former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall by John F. Kennedy. Point Udall is a popular destination for tourists wishing to observe the first place to start the day in the whole of the USA.
West Quoddy Head, Maine — Easternmost Point in the Contiguous States
Latitude and Longitude: 44° 48' N, 66° 57' W
West Quoddy Head sits along a peninsula in Lubec which is located in northeastern Maine. The Head overlooks a strait between Lubec and Campobello Island in Canada which can be treacherous to navigate. For this reason, a lighthouse was constructed there in 1808 to guide ships through safely and it still operates to this day. There is a small island called Sail Rock just off the coast of West Quoddy Head that is further east but it is intermittently underwater and therefore not recognized.
Westernmost Point in U.S.
The westernmost point in the contiguous U.S., which is the place furthest to the west of the prime meridian, is defined by a very close margin. Multiple locations along the western coast of America are within degrees of latitude of being classed as the most western. When Guam was incorporated as a U.S. territory in 1899, it became home to by far the westernmost place in the USA.
Udall Point, Guam — Westernmost Point in the U.S. Territories
Latitude and Longitude: 13° 44' N, 144° 618' E
Udall Point (also called Point Udall and Orote Point) is often confused with the easternmost point of Point Udall. This is because both are named after separate brothers from the same family: Udall Point in Guam is named after a former congressman Morris Udall, a sibling of Stewart. Udall Point is situated at the mouth of Apra Harbor along the Orote Peninsula, the original name of the area until the 1987 official renaming.
Cape Alava, Washington — Westernmost Point in the Contiguous States
Latitude and Longitude: 48° 9' N, 124° 43' W
In Clallam County, Washington lies Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the contiguous states. It is situated within the Olympic Peninsula National Park and the Makah Indian Reservation. It is named after a Spanish commissioner, José Manuel de Álava, who oversaw the administration of the area during a land dispute. Other points further north such as Cape Flattery and Cape Blanco in Oregon are only a few degrees of latitude short of being the westernmost point. Cape Alava is only accessible by a 3-mile hike from a nearby ranger station.
Highest Point in U.S.
The USA has various mountain ranges with many high-reaching peaks such as the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada. They are all well-known for various reasons whether it be for activities like skiing, histories of war, or simply as parts of different states’ identities. However, only two ranges hold the title for having the highest point in the USA.
Mount McKinley, Alaska — Highest Point in the U.S. Territories
Latitude and Longitude: 63° 4' N, 151° 0' W
Mount McKinley’s peak is 20,310 ft above sea level, making it the 22nd highest mountain above sea level in the world. It is one of the tallest northerly mountains in the world and one of the most isolated, third only to Mount Everest and Aconcagua. Its native name is Denali, meaning "tall", but was renamed by a gold prospector in 1896 as a show of support for presidential candidate William Mckinley. This was officially recognized as the name by the government in 1917 but was overruled in 2015 by President Obama in favor of its indigenous name. The mountain is also home to the third-highest weather station in the world.
Mount Whitney, California — Highest Point in Contiguous States
Latitude and Longitude: 36° 34' N, 118° 17' W
At 14,505 ft, Mount Whitney is the highest elevation in the Sierra Nevada range and the entire contiguous United States. This may surprise some as Colorado is often thought of as having the highest mountains in the country. It was named after the California State Geologist Josiah Whitney in 1864 and was briefly threatened by a failed attempt to rename it after Winston Churchill following World War II. It is a popular climbing challenge and was first summited in 1873 by the trio of Charles Begole, A. H. Johnson, and John Lucas. It has an alpine tundra climate and is therefore devoid of almost all forms of natural life.
Lowest Point in U.S.
The lowest point in the USA is unique to the other classifications as it is the same across the entirety of the country, including its overseas territories. By lowest, we mean the place that falls rests furthest below sea level. This is excluding all underwater areas owned by the USA and focuses only on those places found on dry land.
Badwater Basin, California — Lowest Point across the Whole USA
Latitude and Longitude: 36° 13' N, 116° 46' W
Badwater Basin is located in the notoriously hot Death Valley, California, close to the Arizona border, and lays 282 ft below sea level. The Basin derives its name from the small pool of water located there, which is made undrinkable by the high concentrations of salt collected from the surrounding landscape. When dry, much of Badwater Basin turns into a salt flat which can be extremely treacherous. Few animals or plants live there, but there is the endemic Badwater Snail. Interestingly, Mount Whitney, the highest elevation in the contiguous U.S., is only 86 miles to the northwest.
Center of the United States
This point changed with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii as fully integrated U.S. states in 1959. Before then, the geographic center only existed in one place, whereas there are now two separate ones. To add to this, measurements of the center can never be truly accurate due to the constant eroding and growing of the continents' shorelines.
Geographic Center of the United States: Belle Fourche, South Dakota
Latitude and Longitude: 44°58′ N, 103°46′ W
If you take into account the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, then the geographic center of the U.S. is located 20 miles north of the town of Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Due to the anticipated popularity of tourists on a road trip to visit, the official marker was placed half a mile away so that the private landowner of the real location was protected. Of the two recognized centers, this is the least well-known and is visited by fewer people.
Geographic Center of the Contiguous States: Smith County, Kansas
Latitude and Longitude: 39°50′ N, 98°35′ W
The actual point is located 2 miles north of Lebanon, a city in Kansas that is 12 miles south of Nebraska’s border. On a map, this looks the most central of the two locations because it ignores both Alaska and Hawaii. Interestingly, nearby is the geodetic center: the reference for all land surveys done within the U.S. At the center point is a memorial marker, including an American flag, and a small wooden chapel.
Points of Conclusion (& Contention)
The above list demonstrates the complex nature of defining the extreme points within the USA and is illustrative of the diverse geography of the country.
It is not exhaustive, because if you leave out overseas territories and include just the 50 states, other places like Cape Wrangell on Attu Island and Ka Lae in Hawaii become the westernmost and southernmost places respectively. After reading all about these places, you should have an excellent overview of all the different parts that make up the USA’s broad history, culture, and society.
Not finished with extremes? Then head over to our article that dives into the highest mountains in the world.