Map Challenge II

Asked and Answered 12

As a followup to last year’s Map Challenge post, I thought I would pose a few geo-nerd problems inspired by the Four Corners in the southwestern U.S.  As most of you know, there is only one spot in the U.S. — about 12 miles north of the Sinclair gas station in Beclabito, NM — where four states meet at a single point.*  But this begs the question: what about the near-misses?  Shouldn’t those places get a little bit of nerd-love too?

I will call these areas Four-State Circles — circles that include at least some part of four different states, other than the aforementioned Four Corners.  Here are my challenges:

  1.  What and where in the U.S. is the smallest Four-State Circle (and its runner-up)?
  2.  Similarly, what about the smallest Five-State Circle (and its runner-up)?
  3.  Finally, the smallest Six-State Circle (and its runner-up)?

I am sure you’ll all agree that we can safely stop at six states without feeling like we have shortchanged the topic.  So let’s go exploring — and here’s a map to help.

Four-State Circles

When scanning the map for potential four-state solutions, the key is to focus on regions where two nearby states don’t share a border.  This suggests a closer look at places like the Oklahoma panhandle and the contorted path of the Mississippi River south of Illinois.

But it turns out that both the winner and the runner-up for the smallest Four-State Circle lie east of the Appalachians.  Surprisingly, neither circle involves Rhode Island, and both include my home state of Pennsylvania.


Zoom to 39.594ɴ, 78.350ᴡ, 100 feet from Pepper Lane in Doe Gully, West Virginia.  Next draw a circle of 8.83 miles radius around that point.  This circle touches four states: from north to south, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.  This may be the runner-up Four-State Circle, but I believe it is the shortest path that crosses four states, a subtly different problem.


Now shift your focus 200 miles eastward to 39.676ɴ, 75.666 in Delaware, across the street from an industrial park in Christiana.  A 6.55-mile radius circle around this point is mostly Delaware, with slivers of New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania.  This would be a conflicted place to be a sports fan: 7 miles from three different states with major league sports teams, but not one to call your own.

Five-State Circles

The Five-State Circles were more painstaking to sort through.  It’s not like one can just enlarge a Four-State Circle a few miles in order to pick up a fifth state.  And what’s worse, all of the obvious candidates were so similar in size that some very careful plotting was needed to find the winner.  Here are the results:


Take U.S. 60 toward Grayridge, Missouri, then head a couple of miles south, and you will find — besides a lot of farmland — the center of the runner-up Five-State Circle.  This 28.8-mile-radius circle takes in parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, plus razor-thin slices of Arkansas and Illinois.  S0, Grayridge, population 122, you are now on the map.  Welcome to internet fame.


Here is where the Oklahoma panhandle gets its chance to shine.  A 27.1-mile radius circle centered on 36.892ɴ, 102.514, just north of Boise City, touches parts of five states: New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  Although the center of the circle is now just a pile of rubble next to U.S. 385, just wait until some enterprising Okie gets wind of this and builds a McDonalds there.

Six-State Circles

There are two attractive candidates here — the area around Baltimore, MD, and the area around Springfield, MA.  Only one of these, the smallest Six-State Circle, can be crowned the winner — the other will be the runner-up who, a la Miss USA, will assume the title if for any reason the winner cannot fulfill its duties.  So, may I have the envelope please…


Cold Bottom Road crosses Piney Creek and I-83 at 39.563ɴ, 76.665, just north of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in Sparks, Maryland.  The six states within 58.9 miles of this spot are: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia and Virginia.  If Washington, D.C., were a state, this would be the winning Seven-State Circle but sorry — rules are rules.


The center of the smallest Six-State Circle is American Legion Post 452 in Chicopee, MA, at 42.1456ɴ, 72.6140.  (The post meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at 17:30, so snap to it.)  This 43.2-mile radius circle covers parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont plus thin slices of New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  And yes, Rhode Island is a state, not a plantation.

So there you have it, asked and — exhaustively — answered.  But for those who need even more bar-bet material, here’s one last bit of U.S. state-border trivia.  The number of places where three (or four) states meet is (a) 55, (b) 68 or (c) 92.  Answer below.


* The four states which meet at one spot are Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.  And by my count, there are 55 places in the U.S. where three or four states meet at a point.
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8 Responses to Map Challenge II

  1. Rick says:

    We were at the four corners in the southwest two years ago and I must tell you it is in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

  2. Bruce says:

    Craig, your glorious nerdiness across multiple domains never ceases to impress, nay, ASTOUND me. I am a serious nerd in a few domains but you are a nerd’s nerd. The bee’s knees, truly, of knerdom. And as I read and thought about this study I realized that I am something of a geography nerd myself. I’ve always loved maps and even more, I love places, and the fact there are so many of them on Earth, and they all have different properties and connections. I think this is part of why I like travel, flying, and flight sims. All ways to revel in the sumptuous placeness of this planet. So to speak. Plus Chicopee is a great word if not much of a place. I’m glad it’s the center of something.

  3. Eric says:

    Jeepers, Craig – this is a complete drill-down effort. Amazing! And, yes, as Bruce said: you can be crowned as Nerd King. Perhaps you recall that I have several U.S. maps that are at least 150 yrs. old – should I send you snaps of those for the sequel? Great work here.

  4. Pete says:

    My first guess for the 4 state challenge was that it was going to be somewhere around West Virginia / Maryland / PA / Virginia, but then I second-guessed myself and thought it would be Tennessee / Kentucky / Arkansas / Missouri.

    • Craig says:

      My measurement (the Google Maps right-click measure-distance feature) shows that the closest-approach of Kentucky and Arkansas is 30.4 miles, or a 15.2 mile radius circle.

  5. Enrique says:

    Excellent post. May I also nominate the area by the Florida panhandle where Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida are packed together?

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