Continental United States

umbrella term for parts of the United States located on the main landmass of North America (i.e., 49 states excluding Hawaii, plus the District of Columbia)

The continental United States is the area of the United States of America that is located in the continent of North America. It includes 49 of the 50 states (48 of which are located south of Canada and north of Mexico, known as the "lower 48 states", the other being Alaska) and the District of Columbia, which contains the federal capital, Washington, D.C. The only state which is not part of this is Hawaii (as it is islands in the Pacific Ocean and is not part of North America).

This map shows the Continental United States in blue. Alaska is shown in blue, but is separated from the other Continental United States. Hawaii is not shown on this map.

"On May 14, 1959, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names issued the following definitions based partially on the reference in the Alaska Omnibus Bill, which defined the Continental United States as "the 49 States on the North American Continent and the District of Columbia..." The Board reaffirmed these definitions on May 13, 1999."[1]

Some sources incorrectly mix up the continental United States with the contiguous United States (which consists simply of the lower 48 states and the District of Columbia). The contiguous United States (also known as the United States Mainland) does not include Alaska, Hawaii, or any other territories under the control of the United States.[2][3][4]

Alaska is unique among the US states as it is part of the North American continent, meaning it is attached via Canada, and so is part of the "Continental United States". However, Alaska is not part of the "Contiguous United States", because it is not attached directly to the lower 48 states.


  1. "What constitutes the United States, what are the official definitions?". Retrieved 2019-01-30.
  2. 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"
    Merriam-Webster. (2003). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc. ISBN 0877798095.
  3. Random House (1991). Random House Webster's College Dictionary. New York: Random House. ISBN 0679401105.
  4. "The area … is continental United States, by which is meant that part of the United States lying on the continent of North America south of the Canadian boundary. It thus excludes Alaska and the recent insular accessions of Hawaii, …" Abstract of the 1900 Census (1902), p.xi