Fascinating Facts About U.S. State Borders

Since the founding of the United States, state lines have been determined by a variety of factors, including natural features such as rivers or mountain ranges, railroad lines, political tensions, and land purchases. This has led to some pretty peculiar aspects of state lines, whether that’s one state quietly jutting into another or part of a state completely separated from the rest. These seven fascinating facts about U.S. state borders showcase just how unique the country’s delineations are.


Missouri and Tennessee Share the Most Borders With Other States

Mississippi River from above ground at dusk over Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Credit: Michael Ventura/ Alamy Stock Photo

Both Missouri and Tennessee share borders with eight other states. Missouri borders Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. For Tennessee, those states are Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri. The Mississippi River divides Tennessee and Missouri — and also creates an enclave of part of Kentucky called the Kentucky Oxbow, which is surrounded by Missouri on three sides and Tennessee on the fourth side.


Nebraska Is the Only Triply Landlocked State

The welcome to Nebraska sign on the side of a U.S. road.
Credit: wellesenterprises/ iStock

To get to this Midwestern state from the nearest gulf, bay, or ocean, you’ll have to travel through three other states (or two states and a province of Canada), regardless of your origination point. All other landlocked states in the country are either singly or doubly landlocked. Nebraska is home to about two million people and is known for its sprawling plains and robust agriculture industry.


Alaska Has the Most Water Borders of Any State

Landscape view in Yukon, Canada of the mountains and lake near the border of Alaska.
Credit: FOTOADICTA/ Shutterstock

Alaska isn’t just the largest state in the country by land area, it also has the most coastline — 33,904 miles of it (including islands). That’s four times more than the next state on the list, Florida, which has 8,436 miles of coast. Alaska is also the only state that shares a border with three different seas. The Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea separate Alaska and Russia, and the Beaufort Sea is along Alaska’s north border. The state’s southern border runs along the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska.


Kansas City Is Split Down the Middle by the Kansas-Missouri State Line

Aerial view of an Amtrak train passing through Kansas City, Missouri.
Credit: Jacob Boomsma/ Shutterstock

Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, are two separately incorporated cities but are part of the same metropolitan area. Why are there two Kansas Cities? Kansas City, Missouri, was founded in 1889 — a combination of settlements named Westport (founded in 1830) and the City of Kansas (founded in 1853). It was named after the Kansas River. By the 1870s, the City of Kansas was popular and growing quickly. Officials across the Missouri River in Kansas (which became a state in 1861) saw that and wanted to capitalize on it, so they formed Kansas City, Kansas, in 1872. The two cities are now divided by the Kansas-Missouri state line.


Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Is Sometimes Missing From Maps

Aerial view of Montreal River on the border between Wisconsin and Michigan.
Credit: Big Joe/ Shutterstock

The state of Michigan is famously shaped like a mitten, but Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a separate landmass that juts out into the Great Lakes, bordered by Lake Superior on the north and Lake Michigan and Lake Huron on the south. The U.P.’s only land border is shared with Wisconsin to the west. (The Mackinac Bridge does cross the Straits of Mackinac to connect the U.P. with the rest of Michigan.)

Because of this, people often mistake the Upper Peninsula as part of Wisconsin, and it’s often missing from maps of Michigan, like those shown on TV news. Even the U.S. Census Bureau has made the mistake. Wondering why the U.P. isn’t just part of Wisconsin? The borders are the result of Congress settling a land dispute in 1837, which gave the Upper Peninsula to the new state of Michigan rather than Wisconsin, which had only become a territory the year before.


Ellis Island Is Part of Both New York and New Jersey — Thanks to the Supreme Court

Aerial view of Ellis Island with New York City in the background.
Credit: felixmizioznikov/ iStock

The watery border between New York and New Jersey cuts right through Ellis Island in New York Harbor — once the country’s largest immigration station, where over 12 million immigrants were processed from 1892 to 1924. The Main Building, where immigrants entered as they arrived in the United States, is located in New York. But the island itself has been significantly expanded since then by land reclamation, and it is now 27.5 acres. New Jersey argued that the expanded portion of the island fell within its existing jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court ruled in its favor in 1998.


The City of Carter Lake, Iowa, Is Actually Surrounded By Nebraska

The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge crossing from Iowa to Nebraska.
Credit: Michael Siluk/ Shutterstock

Carter Lake is the only Iowa city that’s located west of the Missouri River. It’s bordered on three sides by Nebraksa and on one side by the Missouri River. The irregular border is the result of a 1877 flood that changed the flow of the Missouri River, causing an oxbow (a horseshoe-shaped bend) in this spot. Iowa and Nebraska got into a heated battle about who should own the space. The Supreme Court ruled it part of Iowa in 1892. However, Carter Lake didn’t become its own town until 1930, after it seceded from Council Bluffs, Iowa.


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