Contiguous United States

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A map showing the contiguous United States and, in insets at the lower left, the two states that are not contiguous National-atlas-blank-state-outlines.png
A map showing the contiguous United States and, in insets at the lower left, the two states that are not contiguous
Map highlighting Alaska and Hawaii's geographical relationship to the contiguous United States Alaska and Hawaii.jpg
Map highlighting Alaska and Hawaii's geographical relationship to the contiguous United States

The contiguous United States (officially the conterminous United States) consists of the 48 adjoining U.S. states and the District of Columbia of the United States of America. [1] [2] The term excludes the only two non-contiguous states, Alaska and Hawaii (they are also the last two states to be admitted to the Union), and all other offshore insular areas, such as American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [3] [4] The colloquial term "Lower 48" [5] is also used, especially in relation to Alaska.


The related but distinct term continental United States includes Alaska, which is also on the continent of North America but separated from the 48 states by British Columbia and Yukon of Canada, but excludes the Hawaiian Islands and all Territories of the United States in the Caribbean and the Pacific. [1] [6]

The greatest distance (on a great-circle route) entirely within the contiguous U.S. is 2,802 miles (4,509 km), between Florida and the State of Washington; [7] the greatest north–south line is 1,650 miles (2,660 km). [8] The contiguous United States occupies an area of 3,119,884.69 square miles (8,080,464.3 km2). Of this area, 2,959,064.44 square miles (7,663,941.7 km2) is actual land, composing 83.65 percent of the country's total land area, and is comparable in size to area of Australia. [9] Officially, 160,820.25 square miles (416,522.5 km2) of the contiguous United States is water area, composing 62.66 percent of the nation's total water area.

The contiguous United States, if it were a country, would be fifth on the list of countries and dependencies by area. However, the total area of the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, ranks third or fourth. In land area only, the country ranks fourth, behind Russia, Canada, and China, but ahead of Brazil and Australia. [10] Brazil is 431,000 square kilometers (166,000 sq mi) larger than the contiguous United States, but smaller than the entire United States, while Russia, Canada, and China are the only countries larger than both. The 2020 U.S. census population of the area was 328,571,074, comprising 99.13 percent of the nation's total population, and a density of 111.04 inhabitants/sq mi (42.872/km2), compared to 93.844/sq mi (36.233/km2) for the nation as a whole. [11]

Other terms

While conterminous U.S. has the precise meaning of contiguous U.S. (both adjectives meaning "sharing a common boundary"), other terms commonly used to describe the 48 contiguous states have a greater degree of ambiguity.

Continental and mainland United States

Because Alaska is also a part of North America, the term continental United States also includes that state, so the term is qualified with the explicit inclusion of Alaska to resolve any ambiguity. [3] [12] [13] [14] On May 14, 1959, the United States Board on Geographic Names issued the following definitions based partially on the reference in the Alaska Omnibus Bill, which defined the continental United States as "the 49 States on the North American Continent and the District of Columbia..." The Board reaffirmed these definitions on May 13, 1999. [1] However, even before Alaska became a state, it was properly included within the continental U.S. due to being an incorporated territory. [15]

The term mainland United States is sometimes used synonymously with continental United States, but technically refers only to those parts of states connected to the landmass of North America, thereby excluding not only Hawaii and overseas insular areas, but also islands which are part of continental states but separated from the mainland, such as the Aleutian Islands (Alaska), San Juan Islands (Washington), the Channel Islands (California), the Keys (Florida), the barrier islands (Gulf and East Coast states), and Long Island (New York). [16]


CONUS, a technical term used by the U.S. Department of Defense, General Services Administration, NOAA/National Weather Service, and others, has been defined both as the continental United States, and as the 48 contiguous states. [17] [18] The District of Columbia is not always specifically mentioned as being part of CONUS. [18]

OCONUS is derived from CONUS with O for outside added, thus referring to Outside of Continental United States (OCONUS). [17] [19]

The lower 48

The term lower 48 is also used to refer to the conterminous United States. The National Geographic style guide recommends the use of contiguous or conterminous United States instead of lower 48 when the 48 states are meant, unless used in the context of Alaska. [5] [20] Almost all of Hawaii is south of the southernmost point of the conterminous United States in Florida.

Zone of the Interior

During World War II, the first four numbered Air Forces of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) were said to be assigned to the Zone of the Interior by the American military organizations of the time—the future states of Alaska and Hawaii, then each only organized incorporated territories of the Union, were respectively covered by the Eleventh Air Force and Seventh Air Force during the war.[ citation needed ]

Terms used in the non-contiguous U.S. jurisdictions

Residents of Alaska, Hawaii and off-shore U.S. territories have unique labels for the contiguous United States because of their own locations relative to them.


Alaska became the 49th state of the United States on January 3, 1959. Alaska is on the northwest end of the North American continent, but separated from the rest of the United States West Coast by the Canadian province of British Columbia. The term Lower 48 has, for many years, been a common Alaskan equivalent for "contiguous United States"; [21] [22] today, many Alaskans use the term "Outside", though a few persons may use "Outside" to refer to any location not within Alaska. [23]


Hawaii (consisting of nearly all the Hawaiian Islands) became the 50th state of the United States on August 21, 1959. It is the southernmost and so far, the latest state to join the Union. Not part of any continent, Hawaii is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,200 miles (3,541 km) from North America and almost halfway to Asia. In Hawaii and overseas American territories, for instance, the terms the Mainland or U.S. Mainland are often used to refer to the 49 states in North America. [24] [25]

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the northeast Caribbean Sea, approximately 1,000 miles (1,609 km) southeast of Miami, Florida. Puerto Ricans born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and are free to move to the mainland United States. The term Stateside Puerto Rican refers to residents of a U.S. state or the District of Columbia, who were born in or trace family ancestry to Puerto Rico. [26]

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands is a U.S. territory located directly to the east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea. [27] The term "stateside" is used to refer to the mainland, in relation to the U.S. Virgin Islands [28] (see Stateside Virgin Islands Americans).

American Samoa

American Samoa is a U.S. territory located in the South Pacific Ocean in Polynesia, south of the equator — it is 2,200 miles (3,500 km) southwest of Hawaii. [29] In American Samoa, the contiguous United States is called the "mainland United States" or "the states"; those not from American Samoa are called palagi (outsiders). [30]

Non-contiguous areas within the contiguous United States

Apart from off-shore U.S. islands, a few continental portions of the contiguous United States are accessible by road only by traveling through Canada. Point Roberts, Washington; Elm Point, Minnesota; and the Northwest Angle in Minnesota are three such places. Alburgh, Vermont, is not directly connected by land, but is accessible by road via bridges from within Vermont and from New York. [31] By contrast, Hyder, Alaska is physically part of contiguous Alaska and its easternmost town, but the only practical access is by road through Canada or by seaplane.

List of contiguous U.S. states

The 48 contiguous states are:

In addition, the District of Columbia is within the contiguous United States.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alaska</span> U.S. state

Alaska is a U.S. state on the northwest extremity of North America. A semi-exclave of the U.S., it borders British Columbia and Yukon in Canada to the east, and it shares a western maritime border in the Bering Strait with the Russian Federation's Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. To the north are the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas of the Arctic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean lies to the south and southwest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geography of the United States</span>

The term "United States," when used in the geographical sense, refers to the contiguous United States, the state of Alaska, the island state of Hawaii, the five insular territories of Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa, and minor outlying possessions. The United States shares land borders with Canada and Mexico and maritime borders with Russia, Cuba, The Bahamas, and other countries, in addition to Canada and Mexico. The northern border of the United States with Canada is the world's longest bi-national land border.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">County (United States)</span> Subdivision used by most states in the United States

In the United States, a county or county equivalent is an administrative or political subdivision of a state that consists of a geographic region with specific boundaries and usually some level of governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 states, while Louisiana and Alaska have functionally equivalent subdivisions called parishes and boroughs, respectively. The specific governmental powers of counties vary widely between the states, with many providing some level of services to civil townships, municipalities, and unincorporated areas. Certain municipalities are in multiple counties; New York City is uniquely partitioned into five counties, referred to at the city government level as boroughs. Some municipalities have consolidated with their county government to form consolidated city-counties, or have been legally separated from counties altogether to form independent cities. Conversely, those counties in Connecticut, Rhode Island, eight of Massachusetts's 14 counties, and Alaska's Unorganized Borough have no government power, existing only as geographic distinctions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">West Coast of the United States</span> Coastline in the United States

The West Coast of the United States – also known as the Pacific Coast, the Pacific Seaboard, and the Western Seaboard – is the coastline along which the Western United States meets the North Pacific Ocean. The term typically refers to the contiguous U.S. states of California, Oregon, and Washington, but sometimes includes Alaska and Hawaii, especially by the United States Census Bureau as a U.S. geographic division.

Mainland is defined as "relating to or forming the main part of a country or continent, not including the islands around it [regardless of status under territorial jurisdiction by an entity]." The term is often politically, economically and/or demographically more significant than politically associated remote territories, such as exclaves or oceanic islands situated outside the continental shelf.

In the United States, a territory is any extent of region under the sovereign jurisdiction of the federal government of the United States, including all waters. The United States asserts sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving, and managing its territory. This extent of territory is all the area belonging to, and under the dominion of, the United States federal government for administrative and other purposes. The United States total territory includes a subset of political divisions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mean center of the United States population</span>

The mean center of the United States population is determined by the United States Census Bureau from the results of each national census. The Bureau defines it as follows:

The concept of the center of population as used by the U.S. Census Bureau is that of a balance point. The center of population is the point at which an imaginary, weightless, rigid, and flat surface representation of the 50 states and the District of Columbia would balance if weights of identical size were placed on it so that each weight represented the location on one person. More specifically, this calculation is called the mean center of population.

In 45 of the 50 states of the United States, the county is used for the level of local government immediately below the state itself. Louisiana uses parishes, and Alaska uses boroughs. In Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, some or all counties within states have no governments of their own; the counties continue to exist as legal entities, however, and are used by states for some administrative functions and by the United States Census bureau for statistical analysis. There are 3,242 counties and county equivalent administrative units in total, including the District of Columbia and 100 county-equivalents in the U.S. territories.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Territories of the United States</span>

Territories of the United States are sub-national administrative divisions overseen by the federal government of the United States. The various American territories differ from the U.S. states and Indian reservations as they are not sovereign entities. In contrast, each state has a sovereignty separate from that of the federal government and each federally recognized Native American tribe possesses limited tribal sovereignty as a "dependent sovereign nation". Territories are classified by incorporation and whether they have an "organized" government through an organic act passed by the Congress. American territories are under American sovereignty and, consequently, may be treated as part of the United States proper in some ways and not others. Unincorporated territories in particular are not considered to be integral parts of the United States, and the Constitution of the United States applies only partially in those territories.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Northern America</span> Northernmost subregion of North America

Northern America is the northernmost subregion of North America. The boundaries may be drawn slightly differently. In one definition, it lies directly north of Middle America. Northern America's land frontier with the rest of North America then coincides with the Mexico–United States border. Geopolitically, according to the United Nations' scheme of geographical regions and subregions, Northern America consists of Bermuda, Canada, Greenland, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and the United States.

Space-A travel is a means by which members of United States Uniformed Services, and these groups' family members, are permitted to travel on aircraft of the Air Mobility Command under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Defense when excess capability allows.

Transportation in North America is performed through a varied transportation system, whose quality ranges from being on par with a high-quality European motorway to an unpaved gravelled back road that can extend hundreds of miles. There is also an extensive transcontinental freight rail network, but passenger railway ridership is lower than in Europe and Asia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geography of Alaska</span> Geographical features of Alaska

Alaska occupies the northwestern portion of the North American continent and is bordered only by Canada on the east. It is one of two U.S. states not bordered by another state; Hawaii is the other. Alaska has more ocean coastline than all of the other U.S. states combined. About 500 miles (800 km) of Canadian territory separate Alaska from Washington state. Alaska is thus an exclave of the United States that is part of the continental U.S. and the U.S. West Coast, but is not part of the contiguous U.S. Alaska is also the only state, other than Hawaii, whose capital city is accessible only via ship or air, because no roads connect Juneau to the rest of the continent.

The Outlying Areas Senate Presidents Caucus is an informal legislative body created in 2007, by leaders of the Senates of the U.S. states of Alaska and Hawaii, and the US territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Northern Marianas Islands. The organization's inaugural meeting took place in Hawaii's State Capitol on December 11, 2007. It was attended by Hawaii Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, Alaska Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, Guam Legislature Acting Speaker Eddie Baza Calvo, Senate President Joseph Mendiola of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock, who convened the meeting.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geographic center of the United States</span> Center location of the 48 or 50 states

The geographic center of the United States is a point approximately 20 mi (32 km) north of Belle Fourche, South Dakota at 44°58′2.07622″N103°46′17.60283″W. It has been regarded as such by the U.S. National Geodetic Survey (NGS) since the additions of Alaska and Hawaii to the United States in 1959.

Mainlander may refer to:


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  2. "United Airlines website". Archived from the original on April 2, 2012. Retrieved April 4, 2012. Contiguous United States: The 48 adjoining states and the District of Columbia.
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  4. These maps show the contiguous 48 states and D.C., but not Alaska and Hawaii.
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  18. 1 2 "U.S. Navy Style Guide". Archived from the original on March 11, 2015. Retrieved November 24, 2008. CONUS - "Continental United States." CONUS refers to the 48 contiguous states. It is not synonymous with United States. CONUS is acceptable on first reference. "CONUS" seems to be used primarily by the American military and the Federal government and those doing business with them.
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