As even the most casual cartophiles could tell you, the United States isn’t all just polite lines, uncomplicated boundaries and municipalities formed in an unmessy, cookie-cutter fashion.
If you look closer, the U.S. is home to some truly confounding points on the map — head scratching locales that often don’t make immediate sense. Welcome to the world of geographic anomalies: exclaves, irregular borders, extreme points and communities reached by crossing in and out of state lines — or even traveling across an international border or two.
From the Southwest’s one-and-only quadripoint, to a Manhattan neighborhood that isn’t even in Manhattan, to the northernmost spot in the contiguous United States, here’s the scoop on 11 of America’s most peculiar points on the map. And given the remote and obscure locations of many of these spots, we’ve also included coordinates for easier armchair traveling.
Four Corners Monument — Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah
At Four Corners Monument, you can stand in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah at the same time. (Photo: Ken Lund/flickr)
There exists a place in the U.S. where one can stand in Arizona and also be in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah at the same time.
Wait. What? Yes, America is home to a rare quadripoint, a point where four different territories — in this case, states — intersect at a right angle. Maintained as an attraction by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department, the Four Corners Monument — coordinates: 36°59′56.31532″N 109°02′42.62019″W — isn’t quite as mind-blowing and reality-shattering as you might think. No, watches don’t stop and birds don’t mysteriously fall out of the sky and water doesn’t run backwards because, well, there is no running water in this impossibly remote stretch of the Southwest. Mostly, visitors pay $5 per head, park their cars and queue up to take photos of their friends and loved ones straddling (Twister-esque poses are compulsory) a granite and brass monument that marks the celebrated spot.
As past Four Corners Monument visitors could probably tell you, an off-the-beaten path pilgrimage to the southwestern-most point in Colorado/the southeastern-most point in Utah/the northwestern-most point New Mexico/the northeastern point in Arizona isn’t be complete without a generous sampling of the Navajo tacos and fry bread sold by local vendors at the site. For many, the fond memories of inhaling these incredibly tasty delicacies stick around longer than the fleeting experience of standing in four states at once.
The Kentucky Bend doesn’t touch the rest of Kentucky due to its unique position inside of an oxbow loop of the Mississippi. (Photo: Jim Efaw/Creative Commons)
One of America’s most head scratch-inducing locales is a 17-square-mile notch of land shaped like the tab of a jigsaw puzzle piece — a peninsular exclave of the Bluegrass State that juts into the Mississippi River like the tip of an outstretched thumb.
Also referred to as the New Madrid Bend, Bessie’s Ben and Bubbleland, the Kentucky Bend is an itsy-bitsy chunk of Fulton County, Kentucky, that doesn’t touch the rest of Kentucky due to its unique position inside of an oxbow loop of the Mississippi. It’s believed this particularly curvaceous meander of the Big Muddy was formed by a series of powerful earthquakes that rocked the region in the early 1800s. Surrounded on the north, west and east by the Mississippi and on the south by Tennessee, it requires a good 20-minute drive through the latter state for the few proud Kentuckians (about 17 of ‘em according to recent-ish estimates) residing within the Bend to reach the rest of their state. Even then, the closest population center in mainland Kentucky is even further off — about 40 miles away in the town of Hickman. To make things more confusing, residents living in this isolated, southwestern-most stretch of Kentucky have Tennessee mailing addresses.
Something of a bucket list destination for geography nuts and Mark Twain buffs (the Bend plays a prominent role in Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi”), visitors to Bubbleland shouldn’t expect to find much in the way of attractions or amenities. Once a bustling hub of cotton production, today the Kentucky Bend, with only one road in and out, consists of farmland, a few scattered houses and a lone cemetery.
Lake Okeechobee, Florida
A visit to the center of Lake Okeechobee means you're simultaneously existing within five Florida counties. (Photo: B A Bowen Photography/flickr)
In Florida, there exists a magical land where you can be in five different places all at once without spontaneously combusting. And believe it or not, it’s not Epcot.
A visit to the center of Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida and one of the largest in all of the United States, will provide you will the thrill of simultaneously existing within five counties . The counties in question — Glades, Hendry, Martin, Okeechobee and Palm Beach — all intersect near the center of “Big O” forming an incredibly rare quintipoint – that is, the point where five different municipalities meet.
It’s unclear how many — if any — individual boaters regularly venture out to the middle of Florida’s 730-square-mile “inland sea” in order to experience the mind-bending five-county sensation sometimes referred to as the William Scott Vertex. There also don’t appear to be any chartered airboat or pontoon tours of Lake Okeechobee’s quintipoint, which is a shame really as one-of-a-kind geo-oddities and gators galore seems like a winning combination to us. Whatever the case, the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (often referred to by its ominous/unfortunate acronym LOST) provides hikers, bikers and horseback riders the opportunity to pass through all five Lake Okeechobee counties while completely encircling the lake.
Liberty Island, New York
Ah, Lady Liberty. Beacon; icon; Mother of Exiles; torch-bearing champion of friendship and fresh starts; and postcard-dominating, tourist-luring symbol of the Big Apple itself, New York City. Also: total Jersey girl.
That’s right, the Statue of Liberty is as New Jersey as Tony Soprano, Teresa Giudice and Taylor Ham. Well, kind of. Previously known as Bedloe’s Island, the federally owned 15-acre land mass presided over by a colossal neoclassical lady-statue is technically an exclave of the New York City borough of Manhattan located within New Jersey. Translation: Lady Liberty’s perch in Upper New York Bay is completely surrounded by the waters of New Jersey — Jersey City, to be exact. So in order to get to and from Liberty Island by water one must repeatedly cross state lines. Step off the boat, you’re in New York. Step back on it, you’re in New Jersey? Capisci?
The “but where is it really?” question is a complicated and, at times, contentious one as both states have long vied to claim Liberty Island as their own both spiritually and legally. In late 2015, New Jersey’s push to feature the Statue of Liberty and neighboring Ellis Island on a special Garden State-themed quarter to be released by the U.S. Mint in 2017 roused the ire of some New York lawmakers, namely Rep. Peter King of Long Island who had these rather rude words to say: “People identify the Statue of Liberty with New York. It’s part of New York, it’s part of New York history, it’s part of New York folklore. Jersey can find something on their own, maybe a swamp or something.”
Marble Hill, New York City
Marble Hill is a Manhattan neighborhood not located on the island of Manhattan. (Photo: Dwayne Bent/flickr)
Koreatown. Washington Heights. East Harlem. Tribeca. Alphabet City. The borough of Manhattan is jam-packed with dozens upon dozens of vibrant and idiosyncratic neighborhoods. Yet for as diverse as they are, they all share one common denominator: They’re located on the 24-square-mile island that shares the borough’s name. Well, except one.
An outlier to the nth degree, Marble Hill is a Manhattan neighborhood not located on the island of Manhattan. It’s the only Manhattan ‘hood located on the North American mainland — in the Bronx. Once upon a time, Marble Hill was indeed attached to the tippy-top of Manhattan above present day Inwood. In 1895, the construction of the Harlem River Ship Canal effectively severed the neighborhood from Manhattan and turned it into an island. Less than 20 years later in 1914, a section of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek was filled and, as a result, Marble Hill was no longer its own island or the northernmost section of a much larger island — it was part of the mainland.
Today, Marble Hill remains a weird place in the throes of a 100-year-long identity crisis; a Bronx-wrapped neighborhood in which a resident could claim: “I live in Manhattan but not on Manhattan.” Some residents aren’t even aware that they legally reside in Manhattan — they just assume they’re in the Bronx. And for all intents and purposes, they are. And then there are some Marble Hill residents who are very conscious of their neighborhood’s non-Bronx status. Like the valiant but failed 1939 annexation efforts of former Bronx borough president James F. Lyons, these activists are rallying to make the Manhattan neighborhood with an outer borough zip code (and soul) part of the Bronx once and for all. Viva la Marble Hill!
The McFarthest Spot, Nevada
The high desert of far northwest Nevada is 115 miles from the nearest McDonald's. (Photo: Mike Mozart/flickr)
Even if you aren’t lovin’ it, the sight of the Golden Arches looming high over a desolate stretch of highway can be a comforting sight for the weary traveler. You might be far from civilization, but at least you’re near somewhere. At the very least, it’s a place to pee, stretch your legs and pretend you didn’t just scarf a large vanilla milkshake.
With well over 14,000 McDonald’s locations, there are very few Big Mac-less places in the contiguous United States. Happy Meals can be had in some of the furthest-flung outposts in the Lower 48. Yet there exists a place that’s really far removed from a McNugget dispensary — and that place is the McFarthest Spot, located in the high desert of far northwest Nevada within the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge. From this precise location — coordinates: 41°56'38.0"N 119°32'24.4"W — it is 115 miles, as the crow flies, to McDonald’s outposts in the small Nevada city of Minnemucca, as well as Klamath Falls and Hines, both in Oregon.
The McFarthest Spot hasn’t always been in Nevada. Per scientist and artist Stephen Von Worley of the Data Pointed blog, the title was previously held by a McBarren patch of land — coordinates: 45°27'34.4"N 101°54'48.8"W — in Ziebach County, South Dakota. That spot was 107 miles from the nearest McDonald’s as the crow flies. The shift occurred not because a McDonald’s opened in Ziebach County, bringing joy, happiness and Premium Ranch Bacon Salads to everyone in a 100-mile radius. Rather, a McDonald’s in rural northern California closed, bumping Nevada’s McFarthest spot to the top of the list by a mere 8 miles.
North American continental pole of inaccessibility, South Dakota
South Dakota is home to the point in North America that's furthest from the ocean. (Photo: Creative Commons)
There are several different categories and definitions to consider when discussing poles of inaccessibility. The northern and southern poles of inaccessibility, for example, signify geographical remoteness at its most extreme — the real middle of nowhere.
As for continental poles of inaccessibility, that term represents a specific location on an individual continent that’s furthest from the ocean. For example, the farthest away you can get from the coast on the South American continent is near the municipality of Arenápolis, Brazil. In Australia, it’s near the Indigenous community of Papunya in the Northern Territory. As for North America’s continental pole of inaccessibility, you’ll find it — or perhaps you won’t — 1,024 miles from the nearest coastline in far south-central South Dakota.
The pole itself — coordinates: 43.36°N 101.97°W — is located between two teeny-tiny census-designated places, both on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The community of Kyle is located to the northwest in Oglala Lakota County while Allen in Bennett County (pictured), considered to be the poorest place in the entire United States, is about a 15-minute drive to the southeast. Also in the vicinity is the rough-and-tumble ghost town of Swett, which reentered the real estate market in late 2015 for $250,000 — an entire town for less than a studio apartment in Manhattan! And yes, North America’s continental pole of inaccessibility is pretty darn McFar … the nearest Golden Arches appear to be a good two-hour drive away in either Rapid City or Chadron, Nebraska. But, hey, even in North America’s most inaccessible place, there’s a Subway only 30 minutes down the road.
Northwest Angle, Minnesota
The only way to reach the Northwest Angle in Minnesota by land is a 63-mile drive through southeastern Canada. (Photo: Jacob Norlund/flickr)
As majestic as it is, Alaska can be somewhat of a hike. For those who want to venture as north as possible while staying within the cozy embrace of the Lower 48, there’s always Minnesota’s most famous map-maker’s mistake: the Northwest Angle — the northernmost point in the contiguous United States and the only place in the U.S. (aside from Alaska, of course) located north of the 49 parallel.
Part of Lake of the Woods County (the northernmost county in the U.S. given that Alaska is sans counties), the Northwest Angle’s forest-covered mainland portion is most easily reached by private aircraft — that is, for those who aren’t looking to detour into Canada. Access by boat or ice road are two other Canada-free options albeit seasonally sensitive ones. For those traveling by land, however, the only way to reach the Angle (as the locals call it) from the rest of Minnesota is via a leisurely 63-mile-or-so drive through the southeastern most part of Manitoba.
Considering just over a 100 folks call the Angle’s mainland and a scattered few populated islands in Lake of the Woods home, the Manitoba-Minnesota border crossing is pretty, well, low-key. Those entering or leaving the exclave must pull over at an outhouse-esque structure located on the side of a gravel road. Inside the structure, dubbed Jim’s Corner, visitors and residents are required to have a quick chat with the appropriate customs officials via videophone. So why exactly, you might ask, do Minnesotans go through the trouble of driving through rural Manitoba just to reach another part of Minnesota that’s severed from the rest of the state? Two words: Walleye fishing.
Point Roberts, Washington
Point Roberts is a U.S. town with a Washington zip code that’s inside of British Columbia. (Photo: Pete/flickr)
Despite its status as a geographic anomaly, Point Roberts in Whatcom County, Washington, is simple to describe: Like the Northwest Angle, it’s a part of the U.S. that can only be reached by land by traveling through Canada.
Located south of the 49th parallel on the tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, Point Roberts — or “Point Bob” as its fondly known by the locals — differs from the heavily forested, sparsely populated Northwest Angle in one key regard: Quite a few people live there. It must be a schizophrenic experience for the 1,300 or so Washingtonians residing within a nearly five-square-mile suburb of Vancouver that’s not really a suburb of Vancouver at all; a place where attending the nearest high school (not to mention visiting the doctor) requires a total of four border crossings; a place with a Washington zip code that’s inside of British Columbia; a place, popular with both Canadian tourists and Americans enlisted in the Federal Witness Protection Program, that one resident describes as “the safest community because it’s like having a really, really, really strict security guard gate.”
So what’s there to do in sleepy and super-safe Point Roberts that doesn’t involve sitting in border traffic? Not much, really — and residents like it that way. There’s a golf course, marina and several stunning public beaches. And then there’s the Shell service center, a gas station/package depot/grocery store/coffee roastery hybrid that, aside from the local tavern, seems to be the liveliest place in town.
Southwick Jog — Massachusetts, Connecticut
Southwick Jog in Massachusetts pilfers a two-square-mile parcel of land from Connecticut. (Photo: Creative Commons)
For as smooth and straightforward as most state borders are, things can get a bit goofy — a touch irregular, if you will — when rivers (we’re looking at you, Old Mud) and dangling appendages (hello, Missouri Bootheel) are involved.
And then there’s the Southwick Jog, a speck of south-central Massachusetts that deviates from the Bay State’s otherwise straight border between Connecticut by dipping just a teeny bit to the south to form a notch — a notch that pilfers a small but certainly not unnoticed two-square-mile parcel of land from Connecticut. Rude.
How exactly the Southwick Jog — currently located within the Massachusetts town of Southwick, just north of the Connecticut town of Granby — came to be is a somewhat complicated tale involving incompetent (and maybe soused?) 17th century surveyors and long-running spats between the two then-colonies. Border tensions between the two New England states have, thank goodness, largely cooled in modern times. Well, mostly. Still, some area residents have been left feeling just a wee bit confused as to which state exactly they live in. For example, some folks have backyards that extend from Massachusetts into Connecticut or vice versa. In 2001, the New York Times profiled one unfortunate gentleman who in 1962, thought he was building his new home squarely within the confines of Southwick. Turns out, the only part of his dream home to actually fall within Massachusetts state lines was his driveway. “It’s not funny,” the accidental Connecticut taxpayer lamented.
Twelve-Mile Circle — Delaware, Pennsylvania
The cupola of the New Castle courthouse is the center of the Twelve-Mile Circle in Delaware. (Photo: Ken Lund/flickr
Just like the license plates claim, it’s common knowledge Delaware is the First State. But did you know that Delaware is also, from a cartographic standpoint, the least square state as well?
Largely but not entirely situated on the Delmarva Peninsula (technically an island due to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal but that’s a whole other story), Delaware, super flat and only three counties big, is in possession of one of the oddest-shaped boundaries in the Lower 48: a circle. To be more precise, said boundary isn’t quite a perfect circle but a pieced-together circular arc that forms Delaware’s northern border with Pennsylvania. On the east, the arc claims the entire Delaware River, the body of water that forms the boundary between Delaware and New Jersey. This, of course, has been a point of heated contention — a couple of Supreme Court battles, included — between the neighboring states for decades given that river boundaries between states are normally split equally right down the middle and not claimed entirely by one state as is the case here. The so-called Twelve-Mile Circle, named so because the arc extends for a 12-mile radius with the cupola of the New Castle courthouse as its fixed center, even swells slightly into Maryland to form a sliver-sized geographic curiosity called Delaware Wedge.
The Twelve-Mile Circle itself dates back to August 24, 1682, when the Duke of York deeded Delaware to William Penn; it wasn’t until 1750 that the center of the arc was fixed to the New Castle courthouse. In terms of Delaware’s modern-day disputes with New Jersey regarding ownership of sections of the Delaware River that fall within the arc, the Supreme Court has opted to uphold the Duke of York’s original definition of the Twelve-Mile Circle in that it includes “the River Delaware in America and all islands in the same River.” Sorry, Jersey.