Which US State Is Farthest North?

Determining the northernmost state in the United States depends on how you classify the country. If you only consider the contiguous states, the answer is different than if you include Alaska and other non-contiguous areas. Let's take a closer look at the northernmost points across various classifications to find out which state can truly claim the title of farthest north.

Looking at the Contiguous United States

The contiguous United States refers to the 48 adjoining states located south of Canada and north of Mexico. This excludes non-contiguous states and territories like Alaska and Hawaii.

If we only examine the lower 48 states, the northernmost point lies in Minnesota. Specifically, it is found at Angle Inlet which sits at a latitude of 49°23′ north.

Angle Inlet is a small protrusion jutting north from the rest of Minnesota. It is located on the southeastern shores of Lake of the Woods, which forms part of the border between Minnesota and Canada. The inlet provides the only land access to the Northwest Angle, a small section of Minnesota separated from the rest of the state by Lake of the Woods.

So in terms of the contiguous states, Minnesota can claim the title of being the farthest north at Angle Inlet. No other point in the lower 48 states exceeds this latitude.

Expanding the Scope to Alaska

However, if we expand our definition of the United States to include Alaska, the answer changes. Alaska is located northwest of Canada and is separated from the contiguous United States by British Columbia, Canada.

The northernmost point in Alaska is Point Barrow which lies at 71°23′ north latitude. This is over 22 degrees farther north than Angle Inlet, Minnesota. Point Barrow is located on the coast of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean.

So when we include Alaska as part of the United States, Point Barrow clearly claims the title of the farthest north point. At over 71° N, it exceeds any other point in the contiguous states by a wide margin.

Looking at Other U.S. Territories

Aside from the 50 states, the United States has several overseas territories and island groups that are also considered part of the country. Do any of these territories contain points farther north than mainland Alaska?

Several islands in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean belong to Alaska:

  • The Pribilof Islands – 57° N
  • St. Lawrence Island – 63° N
  • St. Matthew Island – 60° N
  • Hall Island – 65° N

While the Pribilof Islands fall short, some of the more northerly islands do exceed Angle Inlet. However, none match Point Barrow in their extreme latitude.

The only other U.S. islands with notably high latitudes are the Aleutian Islands which extend west of mainland Alaska. The northernmost, Semisopochnoi Island, reaches 52° N which still falls far short of Point Barrow.

Therefore, no U.S. territories or island groups contain points exceeding the latitude of Point Barrow, Alaska.

The Northernmost State Depends on Classification

In summary, the northernmost state in the United States depends on how you classify the country:

  • Considering only the contiguous 48 states, the northernmost point is Angle Inlet, Minnesota at 49°23′ N.
  • When including Alaska as a state, Point Barrow at 71°23′ N is decidedly the farthest north point.
  • No other U.S. territories or islands exceed the latitude of Point Barrow.

So if we limit the definition to just the lower 48 states, Minnesota takes the title. But when viewing the entire United States including Alaska, Point Barrow in Alaska is clearly the northernmost point, located over 20 degrees farther north than anywhere in the contiguous states.

Examining Possible Disputes Over Northernmost State

The classification of the “northernmost state” may seem straightforward based on latitudes. However, there are some possible disputes that could challenge the status of Point Barrow, Alaska as the northernmost point in the United States. Let's examine some of these disputes:

Classifying Hawaii as Northernmost

The state of Hawaii is located south of the Tropic of Cancer which means it sits north of 23.5° N latitude. This places it farther north than any part of Florida which only reaches approximately 31° N at its northernmost point.

Some may argue that this technicality makes Hawaii the northernmost state. However, given Hawaii's isolation in the central Pacific, most geographers do not consider it “northern” in the same sense as Alaska. Despite crossing the Tropic of Cancer, Hawaii is considered subtropical and is culturally and geographically disconnected from the northern latitudes of mainland North America.

Excluding Alaska as Part of the United States

Another approach is to argue Alaska should not be considered part of the United States when defining the “northernmost” state. This argument relies on the fact that Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867 and was not part of the original contiguous United States.

If Alaska is excluded on this basis, the title again reverts to Minnesota as the farthest north of the lower 48 states. However, since Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, most authoritative sources firmly consider it one of the United States today.

Disputes Over Ownership of Point Barrow

A third dispute involves whether Point Barrow itself should be classified as part of the United States. A small area just northeast of Point Barrow known as the Beaufort Sea Maritime Boundary Area has been disputed between Canada and the U.S.

If Canada controlled Point Barrow, it would lie outside the United States. However, the two countries agreed upon a maritime boundary in 1993 which places Point Barrow firmly within Alaska. Therefore, while ownership has been debated, today Point Barrow undisputedly belongs to the United States.

Why Is Identifying the Northernmost State Significant?

Determining the northernmost state in the U.S. serves several geographic and political purposes:

  • Understanding national geography – Identifying the northernmost extent helps establish the geographic scope and reach of the country. It provides insight into territorial boundaries.
  • Sovereignty claims – Northernmost points help stake claims over Arctic regions and demonstrate national sovereignty in the far north.
  • Economic resources – Knowing the northernmost areas highlights regions that may contain valuable resources like oil, gas, and minerals as climate change opens access to northern lands and waters.
  • Navigation and transportation – Delineating the northern points provides reference for navigation, transportation, and orienting maps and charts, especially in polar regions.
  • Tourism appeal – “Northernmost point” sites attract tourism for their geographic superlative status. Visitors can experience the novelty of standing at the farthest north spot in the country.

So in summary, clearly identifying the northernmost U.S. state carries significance beyond just geographic trivia, providing economic and political value.

The History Behind the Northernmost Point in the U.S.

To better understand why Point Barrow lays claim as the northernmost point, let's look at some key history:

Early Exploration of Alaska

Point Barrow was named in 1825 by British explorer Frederick William Beechey. He named it after Sir John Barrow, a statesman and geographer who was heavily involved in Arctic exploration.

The remote region drew interest from early explorers seeking the fabled Northwest Passage – a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along the northern coast of North America. Finding this passage could greatly reduce travel times between Europe and Asia.

Many expeditions set out to find the Northwest Passage but were foiled by the thick ice conditions along Alaska's north coast. The extreme latitude of Point Barrow made navigation beyond it treacherous.

Alaska Purchase Places Point Barrow Within U.S. Borders

Alaska originally belonged to Russia, which established fur trading settlements there in the 1700s. In 1867, the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia through a treaty for $7.2 million. This acquisition, known as Seward's Folly, dramatically expanded the northern reach of the United States.

With the Alaska Purchase, Point Barrow suddenly shifted from being Russia's northernmost point to becoming the farthest north spot in the United States. This thrust it to prominence after decades of obscurity following its early exploration.

Oil Discoveries Draw Attention

In 1924, the first major oil deposits in Alaska were discovered at Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 on the Arctic coast not far south of Point Barrow. This drew new economic interest to Alaska's North Slope region.

More oil was found around Prudhoe Bay in 1968, sparking construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to transport these resources southward. These oil discoveries highlighted Alaska's strategic value and cemented U.S. interest in its northernmost regions.

The Extreme Environment at Point Barrow

What's life like at America's northernmost point? Point Barrow experiences an extremely harsh arctic environment due to its high latitude location. Here are some of the defining features:


  • The ground is permanently frozen (permafrost) year-round just below the surface
  • Only the top few feet thaw briefly in summer
  • Permafrost restricts agriculture and makes construction challenging

Polar Climate

  • Extremely long, dark winters with no daylight from November-January
  • Short cool summers with round-the-clock daylight
  • Average winter temperatures around -20°F with wind chills down to -50°F
  • Summers only warm to 35-45°F on average

Isolated Location

  • Point Barrow is over 1,300 miles from Anchorage and Fairbanks
  • No roads lead to Point Barrow which can only be reached by small aircraft, boats in summer, and snowmobiles or sled dogs during winter

Coastal Erosion

  • Point Barrow sits on a low spit of land protruding into the Arctic Ocean
  • Severe coastal erosion eats away over 70 feet per year on average
  • Threatens homes, facilities, archaeological sites, and forces relocations

So in summary, the title of northernmost point comes with an exceptionally remote and hostile environment characterized by frigid temperatures, permafrost, isolation, and rapid coastal erosion. But this Arctic harshness is exactly what sets Point Barrow apart at the top of the United States.

Tourism at the Northernmost Point

Despite its remote Arctic location, Point Barrow has become a popular tourism destination. Visitors are drawn by the novelty of standing at the northernmost point in the United States. Some key tourist activities include:

Visiting the Point Barrow Signpost

  • A signpost demarcates the exact latitude 71°23'05″N
  • Photos at the iconic sign are a must for any visitor

Viewing Arctic Ocean Marine Life

  • Whale watching for migrating bowhead, beluga, and gray whales
  • Spotting seals, walruses, and polar bears along the coast

Experiencing Native Inupiat Culture

  • Point Barrow is home to the Inupiat village of Utqiaġvik
  • Visit archaeological sites and learn about whaling traditions

Touring the Point Barrow Refuge Station

  • Former naval Arctic research outpost active from 1944-1972
  • Offers insights into early Arctic exploration

Snowmobile or Dog Sled Excursions

  • Explore the tundra and look for arctic wildlife
  • Experience traditional modes of winter travel

Thanks to jet service and package tours, Point Barrow has shed some of its inaccessibility. Standing at the top of the nation offers a true bucket-list experience. Just be sure to pack your parka!


In conclusion, answering the question “Which U.S. state is farthest north?” requires looking at varying classifications of the United States. Considering only the lower 48 states, the northernmost point lies in Minnesota. But when including Alaska as a state, Point Barrow is undisputedly the farthest north at over 71°N latitude.

This remote Arctic spot has a rich history tied to early exploration, oil discovery, and changing sovereignty over Alaska. While an extremely harsh climate makes permanent habitation challenging, Point Barrow has emerged as a popular tourist destination for visitors seeking to travel to the northernmost point of the United States. Whether viewed as a geographic superlative or an important marker of national territory, Pin Barrow certainly deserves its reputation as the farthest north spot in the country


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