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The term contiguous United States refers to the 48 U.S. states located on the North American continent south of the U.S. border with Canada, plus the District of Columbiamarker.The term excludes the states of Alaskamarker and Hawaiimarker, and all off-shore U.S. territories and possessions, such as Puerto Rico. continental, adj., "being the part of the United States on the North American continent; also : being the part of the United States comprising the lower 48 states"

Together, the 48 contiguous states and D.C. have an area of 3,119,884.69 square miles (8,080,464.25 km²). Of this, 2,959,064.44 sq mi (7,663,941.71 km²) is land, comprising 83.65% of U.S. land area. Officially, 160,820.25 sq mi (416,522.38 km²) is water area, comprising 62.66% of the nation's water area. Its 2000 census population was 279,583,437, comprising 99.35% of the nation's population. Its population density was 94.484 inhabitants/sq mi (36.480/km²), compared to 79.555/sq mi (30.716/km²) for the nation as a whole.

The map below shows the contiguous United States and, in an inset box in the lower left, the two states that are not contiguous.

Other terms

While coterminous U.S. and conterminous U.S. have the same precise meaning as contiguous U.S., some other terms are commonly used to describe the 48 contiguous states, but each may have some degree of ambiguity.

Continental United States

Because Alaska is also on the North American continent, the term continental United States, if interpreted literally, should also include that state,so the term is sometimes qualified with the explicit inclusion or exclusion of Alaska to resolve any ambiguity.The term was in use prior to the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states of the United States, and at that time usually excluded outlying territories of the U.S.However, even before Alaska became a state, it was sometimes included within the "Continental US".

The lower 48

The term lower 48 may or may not include the District of Columbia (which is not part of any of the 48 states), and may or may not exclude Hawaii (which is the southern-most U.S. state). Also, although "lower" is often used to mean "more southerly," in geographic use, it often means downhill or downstream. The National Geographicmarker 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.


CONUS is a technical term used by the U.S. Military which is specifically defined as the 48 contiguous states but is silent on the District of Columbia.

Terms used in the non-contiguous states

Both Alaska and Hawaii, because of their own location relative to the contiguous United States, have their own unique labels for it.


In Hawaii and overseas American territoriesmarker, for instance, the terms "the Mainland" or "U.S. Mainland" are used to refer to the continental United States.


In Alaska, given the ambiguity surrounding the usage of continental, the term "continental United States" is almost unheard of when referring to the contiguous 48 states. Several other terms have been used over the years. Most Americans are familiar with the term "Lower 48", which for many years was the most common Alaskan equivalent for "contiguous United States". However, since the 1980s Alaskans have increasingly adopted the term Outside to refer to the rest of the United States. Alaskans will speak of going Outside to vacation or will refer to being born Outside."

See also


  1. These maps show the contiguous 48 states and D.C., but not Alaska and Hawaii. * "Continental United States Population Map" * Military Bases in the Continental United States * Indian Reservations in the Continental United States * Railroads of the Continental United States
  2. "CONUS" seems to be used primarily by the American military and the Federal government and those doing business with them. *'CONUS - "Continental United States." CONUS refers to the 48 contiguous states.' U.S. Navy Style Guide
  3. *"The continental United States comprises the 48 plus Alaska." National Geographic Style Manual *"Continental United States: The 48 adjoining states, Alaska and District of Columbia." UnitedCargo glossary
  4. * * * * *
  5. *'… the term "United States mainland" means the continental United States (not including Alaska).' Internal Revenue Code (2007) *'Such subsection is further amended by striking out "continental United States (including Alaska)" …' United States Code Annotated (1927) *"… for the states and territories Outside of the Continental United States. (Includes Alaska, …) …" National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster *"OCONUS: Abbreviation for Outside the Continental United States. Includes Alaska and Hawaii." Glossary of Army Terms *"… outside the continental United States (includes Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Canada and all foreign countries) …" Equimax candidate listing
  6. "… merchandise to foreign countries from continental United states, Puerto Rico, and the territories of Alaska and Hawaii." United States Foreign Trade (1950-1953)
  7. "In the absence of any such statement, Alaska probably would be regarded as a part of the continental United States." Inland Marine and Transportation Insurance (1949)
  8. [ Alaska Answers weblog
  9. Speak Alaskan
  10. About Alaska

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