“[low baritone] Swing low … [kid’s voice] Happy feet” – okay it doesn’t quite work. It’s all downhill from the highpoint to the lowpoint – so to speak.
While visiting a state for its highpoint, you might consider visiting other geographic extremities like its lowpoint. The USGS publishes the “Elevations and Distances in the United States” which is nicely summarized in Wikipedia’s “List of U.S. states by elevation“.
You will see many lowpoints are defined by water (river, ocean, lake). Where do you define the lowest point for North Carolina when its the Atlantic Ocean? This guide arbitrary chooses the closest point (as the crow flies) to the respective highpoint. In some cases it also lists an alternate closer equivalent point (eg, Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean for Washington state).
Before we get to the table, here are some trivia questions (answers at the bottom):
Q1: How many states do not have their lowpoint defined by water (river, lake, ocean)?
Q2: How many states have their lowpoint below sea level?
Q3: Which state has the highest lowpoint?
Q4: Which state has the shortest distance between its highpoint and lowpoint?
Q5: Which state has the longest distance between its highpoing and lowpoint?
Q6: [Extra Credit] Which states have the lowest and highest mean elevations?
/ – Highpoints : – Lowpoints
[You may re-sort this table by clicking the small arrows found in the column headers.]
|State||Location||Low Elev||High Elev||Hi-Low Span||Hi-Low Distance (miles)|
|Alabama||Gulf of Mexico||0||2407||2407||244|
|Alabama *||Tensaw River||0||2407||2407||216|
|Alaska *||Nunavakanuk Lake||-4||20320||20324||436|
|Arizona||Colorado River at Sonora border||70||12633||12563||267|
|Arkansas||Ouachita River at Louisiana border||55||2753||2698||174|
|California||Badwater Basin in Death Valley||-282||14494||14776||84.9|
|Colorado||Arikaree River at Kansas border||3315||14433||11118||242|
|Connecticut||Long Island Sound||0||2380||2380||59.8|
|Delaware *||Delaware River||0||448||448||4.41|
|Idaho||Confluence of Snake River and Clearwater River||710||12662||11952||224|
|Illinois||Confluence of Mississippi River and Ohio River||279||1235||956||386|
|Indiana||Confluence of Ohio River and Wabash River||320||1257||937||229|
|Iowa||Confluence of Mississippi River and Des Moines River||480||1670||1190||307|
|Kansas||Verdigris River at Oklahoma border||679||4039||3360||378|
|Kentucky||Mississippi River at Kentucky Bend||257||4139||3882||362|
|Maine *||Penobscot Bay||0||5268||5268||96.7|
|Maryland *||Potomac River||0||3360||3360||147|
|Massachusetts *||Charles River||0||3491||3491||107|
|Mississippi||Gulf of Mexico||0||806||806||303|
|Missouri||Saint Francis River at southern Arkansas border||230||1772||1542||111|
|Montana||Kootenai River at Idaho border||1800||12799||10999||379|
|Nebraska||Missouri River at Kansas border||840||5424||4584||464|
|Nevada||Colorado River at California border||479||13140||12661||285|
|New Hampshire||Atlantic Ocean||0||6288||6288||89.1|
|New Hampshire *||Salmon Falls River||0||6288||6288||76.3|
|New Jersey||Atlantic Ocean||0||1803||1803||67.5|
|New Jersey *||Hudson River||0||1803||1803||45.4|
|New Mexico||Red Bluff Reservoir on Texas border||2842||13161||10319||326|
|New York||Atlantic Ocean||0||5344||5344||244|
|New York *||Hudson River||0||5344||5344||109|
|North Carolina||Atlantic Ocean||0||6684||6684||250|
|North Dakota||Red River of the North at Manitoba border||750||3506||2756||335|
|Ohio||Ohio River at Indiana border||455||1550||1095||105|
|Oklahoma||Little River at Arkansas border||289||4973||4684||523|
|Pennslyvania||Delaware River at Delaware border||0||3213||3213||199|
|Rhode Island||Atlantic Ocean||0||812||812||33.1|
|Rhode Island *||Providence River||0||812||812||19.6|
|South Carolina||Atlantic Ocean||0||3560||3560||231|
|South Carolina *||Cooper River||0||3560||3560||220|
|South Dakota||Big Stone Lake on Minnesota border||966||7242||6276||351|
|Tennessee||Mississippi River at Mississippi border||178||6643||6465||386|
|Texas||Gulf of Mexico||0||8749||8749||546|
|Utah||Beaverdam Wash at Arizona border||2000||13528||11528||326|
|Virginia *||James River||0||5729||5729||239|
|Washington *||Puget Sound||0||14411||14411||42.7|
|West Virginia||Potomac River at Virginia border||240||4863||4623||107|
|Wyoming||Bell Forche River at South Dakota border||3099||13804||10705||299|
|District of Columbia||Potomac River at eastern Maryland border||1||410||409||10.7|
|District of Columbia *||Potomac River||1||410||409||2.59|
|American Samoa||Pacific Ocean||0||3160||3160||1.03|
|Northern Marianas||Pacific Ocean||0||3166||3166||1.78|
|Puerto Rico||Atlantic Ocean||0||4390||4390||13.4|
|US Virgin Is||Atlantic Ocean||0||1556||1556||0.87|
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The answers to the trivia questions are:
A1: 2.5 – California, Louisiana and seasonally Utah
A2: 2-3 – California (-282 ft) and Louisiana (-8 ft) and Alaska* (-4 ft)
A3: Colorado at 3315 feet
A4: Minnesota at 12.8 miles (US Virgin Islands at 0.87 miles if you include the territories)
A5: Texas at 546 miles
A6: Delaware has the lowest mean elevation (60 ft) while Colorado has the highest mean elevation (6800 ft)
Back in 2003 you may remember that some scientists determined that Kansas is flatter than a pancake. But is Kansas the flattest state? Looking at the span (highpoint elevation – lowpoint elevation) we see that Florida is the flattest state at 345 feet (with Alaska the least flat at 20320 feet). Alternatively, we could look at the slope between the highpoint and lowpoint. In this case Illinois is the flattest with a slope of 0.027 degrees (with Hawaii the least flat at a whopping 8.54 degrees – although American Samoa blows the competition away at 30.16 degrees). In 2014, University of Kansas researchers did a far more rigorous analysis and confirmed that Florida is the flattest state, while Kansas was only the seventh flattest state.