All Ways – Every Cardinal Direction

On June 12, 2012 · 18 Comments

I put a little throwaway comment at the tail-end of my recent All Ways South article. Here I demonstrated that one could travel due south from Missouri into each of its eight neighboring states from at least one point along their shared borders. As I thought about it I noted, "Come to think of it, I imagine one could pick just about any state and any cardinal direction and replicate this feat thanks to small surveying errors and corrections."

It was speculation based upon an educated guess. I never made an attempt to prove it. One reader, "Darien Gap" (which I’m guessing is a pseudonym), undertook that challenge for his home state.

… After some cursory examination in Google maps, I believe that it is possible to travel to all of my home state’s (West Virginia) neighbors by traveling in each cardinal direction. In other words, ALL FOUR directions work. I thought it would be hard to travel West into Pennsylvania from WV, but it appears there may be a few perturbations in the Mason-Dixon line SW of Mount Morris, PA.

That provided me with the impetus to get off my lazy tail and see if I could do the same with my home base, the Commonwealth of Virginia, which has five adjacent neighbors: Maryland; North Carolina; Tennessee; Kentucky and West Virginia. I’ll also add the District of Columbia to the pile even though it’s not a state just to make things more interesting.

Let’s start with a presumption. Nature doesn’t tend to create completely straight lines across the landscape for long distances. I’m sure there are some exceptions – hmm… perhaps a good topic for a future article — although for the sake of this exercise let’s presuppose that a border running along a river or a mountain ridge for hundreds of miles will have some directional kinks within it. The Potomac River defines Virginia’s boundary with Maryland, and various portions of the Appalachian Mountains do the same for much of the boundaries with West Virginia and Kentucky. Thus, I won’t bother to look at them any further. I can always go to the map and find plenty of examples if people require evidence, though.

District of Columbia

I’m going to violate my own rule right off the bat. The Potomac River also defines a border between Virginia and the District of Columbia. However, it’s not a very long border so I believe it requires a little extra scrutiny.

View Larger Map

Indeed, one can cross from Virginia into the District following all four cardinal directions. This is simplified because the border does not run down the middle of the river. Rather, it falls within the territory of the District of Columbia up to the high-water mark. Thus, any knobs and nubs along the Virginia side of the river will create abundant opportunities. Border crossings from all four cardinal directions are possible, for example, in this map image that shows a small area at the northern end of National Airport and the southern end of Gravelly Point.

Take a look at this video I shot a few years ago at Gravelly Point while you ponder that previous statement.

I’ll concede that some of you might take issue with this map because some of the border crossings traverse only the waters of the District of Columbia and not across any dry land. I’m sensitive to that. Instead follow these links and you’ll see maps where one can leave Virginia heading west and hit DC land or south and also hit DC land. It still works. All is well.


View Larger Map

Tennessee turned out to be easy. Going south from Virginia is simple, it’s the default. I also had little difficulty finding ways to go from Virginia to Tennessee heading east (left side of image) and heading north or west (right side of image).

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Look! Even the Google Street View car can drive from Virginia into Tennessee heading east!

North Carolina

North Carolina was only slightly more problematic. One area looked particularly promising. It turned out to be yet another Google Maps error as I investigated it further. It did not appear on a U.S. Geological Survey topographic map.

Traveling from Virginia into North Carolina heading east or west wasn’t a problem (here for instance) because the border looked like it was surveyed by a drunkard. That’s probably unfair. Let’s recall that this boundary was surveyed originally in the 17th Century through wilderness while the two states were still young colonies.

View Larger Map

Traveling from Virginia into North Carolina heading north is possible although perhaps only at the single spot featured above. I confirmed this location on a USGS topo map. One can go directly north from Virginia land to North Carolina land here albeit with a boat.

I continue to believe that a person with enough determination could pick just about any state and any cardinal direction to do the same. Exceptions might include the 4-corners area as well as very short, very straight borders such as the western edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle. It might not be possible to head east from Oklahoma to enter New Mexico without resorting to some kind of trickery such as going completely around the planet.

How did your home state fare? How about the 12MC audience outside of the United States?

On June 12, 2012 · 18 Comments

18 Responses to “All Ways – Every Cardinal Direction”

  1. Peter says:

    It’s probably been mentioned here already, but from the extreme southwestern corner of Connecticut, in the town of Greenwich, you will wind up in New York whether you travel due north, south, east or west (south and east would require a boat).

  2. Peter says:

    I’ll continue with Connecticut. We know from my prior post that it’s possible to get to New York traveling due north, south, east or west. If starting from the exact same point is not necessary, east is the only direction that would require a boat. Rhode Island too, thanks to the Westerly Bulge (dunno if that’s it’s actual name).
    Massachusetts is the toughest call. North is obvious, while the infamous Southwick Jog allows for east and west. I can’t tell if south is possible, however. According to Google Maps the western border of the Jog may run very, very slightly in a northeast-southwest direction, which would make south possible, but I just can’t be sure.

  3. Richard says:

    Massachusetts might be an exception — I can’t really tell, because Google Maps is the most precise description of the state borders that I have easy access too.

    You can do it going north: NH and VT are trivial; NY is easy because, although the border is a straight line, most of it is slanted a bit NE-SW. CT works because of the Southwick Jog (eastern border, right at Route 168), and RI works because of a jog in its eastern border, just east of Providence and north of I-195.

    I don’t know if any of the other directions work. South is tricky because of the VT border, which is as far as I can tell a straight line. Google Maps shows some slight variations, but not enough to help, and in any case I think they’re probably attributable to Google Maps errors.

    East: the NY border appears to be three straight lines: most of it is slanted NE-SW, with a little bit NW-SE and E-W at the very southwestern corner. Google displays a slight bend in the E-W section, but I’d want to see the USGS maps before declaring that this works.

    West: the VT border is slanted very very slightly NW-SE, so if it is in fact straight, I don’t think you can do it.

    The strongest claim that I can make, though, is that we’d have to consult the USGS maps to be sure.


  4. My home province of British Columbia fails because its borders with Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Idaho, and Montana are all entirely composed of latitudinal lines. In fact, you’d have to have to travel as far east as New Brunswick before you found a province where each of its three neighbours (of which there are three – Maine, Quebec, and Nova Scotia) can be reached in all cardinal directions. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador also pass the test, but only because they share borders with only one province each.

  5. Pfly says:

    Ah, I know that Nottoway River jog on the VA-NC border. My way back colonial era paternal ancestors lived in that general area, so I’ve poured over maps of it.

    As for my state, Washington, only two states border–Oregon and Idaho–and both involve border segments along rivers, so it’s safe to assume, I think, one can go from WA to OR or ID in any cardinal direction. WA also borders British Columbia, of course. On land the border follows the 29th parallel fairly well. Doubtlessly there are jogs that allow one to go east or west from state to province, but I doubt you can go north from BC into WA or south from WA into BC. BUT! The maritime border around the San Juan Islands and down the Strait of Juan de Fuca provides plenty of ways to go between the two in any cardinal direction. That works for me.

    There’s a number of western states with straight borders. I’m sure there are jogs that allow one to go from one state to another “along” the borders, but to go from one state to another in the “opposite” direction seems far less likely to be possible in many cases; eg, going south from Utah or Nevada into Idaho, or south from Nevada or California into Oregon, or west from Nevada into Utah, or south from Arizona into Utah, or south from New Mexico into Colorado. And so on. I rather doubt those things and others in the west are possible, in most cases.

  6. Pfly says:

    (Er, the WA-BC border follows the *49th* parallel! Not sure why I wrote 29th…)

  7. Darien Gap says:


    I’ve looked into the issue a bit more and I am not sure that all four cardinal directions work for West Virginia. Google Maps shows some wavering in depiction of the Mason-Dixon line, but this is not apparent on an old 15′ topo map. It may be that the southern PA border is truly straight. This would mean that it is not possible to travel West from West Virginia to enter Pennsylvania.

    However, I have learned that Mason and Dixon were not able to complete their line because their Indian guide feared hostilities as they entered apparent Lenape territory near what is now Mount Morris, PA. Work on the line continued 17 years later with a different group of surveyors. Perhaps there is enough of an error to allow for every cardinal direction to WV’s neighbors. Need to look more carefully.

  8. Peter says:

    Now that I’m a resident of New York I’ll give the Empire State a try.

    Vermont: East is obvious. West and north can be done on land in the bulge east of Whitehall. North is also possible near the NY-VT-MA tripoint. South can be done in a couple of border irregularities a short distance north of the tripoint, in the Whitehall bulge, and by boat in Lake Champlain.

    Massachusetts: East is once again obvious. South can be done at most points along the border due to its NE-SW orientation as previously noted. North is possible just west of the NY-MA-CT tripoint. Unless there’s a border irregularity that shows up on the USGS maps, west doesn’t look possible.

    Connecticut: again, east is obvious. Connecticut’s “panhandle” allows for north and south. In fact, Interstate 684 actually does go almost due north into Connecticut. West would require a boat, with the shortest journey starting on Fishers Island.

    New Jersey: the NY-NJ border runs NW-SE, so west and south are easy. North would require a boat from Manhattan or Staten Island. The Bayonne Bridge is close to due north, but not quite. While I first thought that east was impossible, it may be possible to go due east from the northwestern tip of Staten Island and just barely touch the southernmost part of Bayonne.

    Pennsylvania: South and west are obvious. North and east can be done with a boat at a number of spots along the Delaware River.

    • Chris says:

      All four cardinal directions from NY to NJ are easy, and on dry land — from Ellis Island. 🙂

      You seem to have left out (I mean oat) our other two neighbors (I mean neighbours), Quebec and Ontario. North to both is obvious. You can go east to Quebec from near the NY-ON-QC tripoint and, if the Google Maps boundary is to be believed, west to Quebec provincial waters, but I don’t see west to land, or south at all.

      North, east, and west from land to land are all possible, using a boat in the St. Lawrence River, and north, south, and west are all possible from the city of Niagara Falls, again using a boat.

    • Listroider says:

      West into Mass. is possible, according to Google Maps. Look just west of the three corners of MA, CT, and NY. the Massachusetts-New York border is tilted very slightly so that it’s on a northeast-southwest axis.

  9. Fredrik says:

    I tried first my own county in Norway, Hordaland. It worked totally fine with Sogn og Fjordane and Rogaland. I also managed to find all directions in the Telemark border, but coudn’t find a way to travel west from Hordaland to Buskerud.

    I also tried with Norway’s international borders, and it doesn’t offer too much drama. Pretty easy to find all directions both to Sweden, Finland and even Russia. Excluding Iceland, all the Nordic countries worked fine with all their neighboring countries and gave no problems at all, except Sweden-Denmark…

    I know they don’t share land borders. However, it seems possible on the map that this could work on that border. West from Sweden: No problem. South from Sweden: No problem. North from Sweden: Ehhhhhh…problem! Saltholm is a small Danish island in the middle of Øresund. Some small reefs just southeast of the island can be reached by the extreme southwest part of Sweden. Not all the time though. Saltholm is often flooded due to low terrain, so travelling north from Sweden to Denmark by land is not possible on stormy days. From Sweden to Denmark going east does also provide problems. It’s not that difficult thinking of sea borders because of Bornholm, but by land it is not easy. In fact I just barely couldn’t find any. There are a small group of reefs and small islands northeast of Bornholm owned by Denmark only about 1 kilometer from Sweden’s southernmost point, but no, you can’t travel east from Sweden to Denmark.

  10. Rhodent says:

    I decided to look at both of the states I consider home states: Maryland (where I lived as a kid) and North Carolina (where I currently live). Unfortunately I’m doing this at work and thus only have Google maps to go on, but hopefully someone (me, if I remember this when I get home tonight?) can verify these. We’ll start with Maryland:

    The twists and turns in the Potomac River render Virginia and West Virginia trivial. The District is rendered trivial by its diamond shape. That leaves Pennsylvania (where north is trivial) and Delaware (where north and east are trivial) For Delaware west, there is a point about four miles east of Delmar where the border appears to leave Highway 54 and briefly jog north, creating the opportunity for westbound MD-to-DE travel. I am skeptical about this, but if this is a mistake then the border most likely continues to follow Highway 54, and the curve of that highway a bit east of there creates an opportunity as well. Southbound MD-to-DE was trickier. There *may* be a spot along Galestown-Reliance Road (a couple of miles north of the Nanticoke River), but I suspect a Google mapping error here. It was the best I could find, so going south from Maryland to Delaware may not be possible. As for Maryland into Pennsylvania, I saw nothing for any direction other than the trivial north where I don’t suspect a Google error. There *may* be a bend about 3 miles WNW of Hancock MD that allows both east and west. Even if we assume 100% accuracy from Google, I saw absolutely nothing to imply southbound travel from Maryland to Pennsylvania is possible.

    For North Carolina:

    Our illustrious host has already taken care of Virginia. The mountain border renders Tennessee trivial. The general shape of South Carolina renders that state trivial for every direction except north; Lake Wylie (roughly 15 miles southwest of Charlotte) takes care of that direction. The shape of the Georgia border (which for at least parts of its length slopes slightly northward as you travel east along the border) renders south and east trivial. Google shows a jog in the border a bit east of Chatuge Lake which, if correct, makes both north and west possible; however, I strongly suspect a Google Maps error here. (At the very least, if the jog is real I suspect it runs straight north-south rather than the ever-so-slightly northwest to southeast that Google shows, and that eliminates north). Another dubious jog about four miles east of the NC-GA-TN tripoint makes west possible but not north. Therefore, it looks like it is not possible to travel from North Carolina to Georgia going north.

  11. Snabelabe says:

    Well, I assumed this would be very easy to do for Belgium, since Belgium has extremely twisty borders, both national borders as well as all provincial, municipal, etc. borders.

    I always had the feeling that Belgium had more twisty borders than most countries, and to prove this I played a bit with data I could find on wikipedia to calculate the border/area ratio of all countries and some territories. The results are here:

    And indeed Belgium ends up on the 16th place (13th country). Now if i could find the length of US state borders somewhere, without copyright, I’d have something more to do for this rainy day 😀

  12. Ariel Dybner says:

    Given the name of the site (and a slow afternoon at work), I checked out Delaware. Easy enough to go the four cardinal directions into New Jersey since the Delaware River curves a bit. Maryland was trickier but it looks like Delaware’s southern border with Maryland has a crook in it a bit west of Delmar. Unfortunately, while the 12 mile circle doesn’t appear to be a perfect circle, I couldn’t find any way to go south from Delaware into Pennsylvania. 🙁

    • January First-of-May says:

      I’m not sure what the “crook a bit west of Delmar” is (if you mean the intersection of Delmar Rd and Waller Rd, then Bing shows it but Google doesn’t, so I can’t be sure).
      However, there a slight bend to the north at Line Church Rd (Whitesville) and a slight bend to the south at Bethel Rd (Bethel) – both shown by both Google and Bing (Acme Topo apparently shows neither).
      Neither of the two is “four miles east of Delmar” as mentioned by Rhodent above; Line Church Rd is within the Highway 54 curve, and Bethel Rd is a further 3 miles east. Both seem to exist though 🙂
      Coincidentally, replying to Rhodent: it is of course easily possible to travel north from DE to MD (and therefore south from MD to DE) by starting between the North Line and the Arc Line! A good starting point is the turn of Valley Rd (Newark) – Google Maps shows a line (of unclear meaning) extending clearly north to the Maryland border. I’m assuming that you (Ariel Dybner) realized how obvious it is (as it should be to anyone who knows the meaning of this blog’s name).
      For the record, I don’t know of any possible route south from DE to PA.

      On-topic: Moscow City only borders Moscow Oblast, so the question is kind of trivial in this case 🙂 as for Moscow Oblast itself, borders in Russia are anything but straight, so it’s still easy – and in many cases possible from the same point (fun fact: a resort in Ratmino (Dubna, Moscow Oblast) I used to visit every summer has the peculiar property that a line by any possible azimuth would hit Tver Oblast within its first several miles – without anything around looking like an exclave*). Google doesn’t show a possibility to travel west into Yaroslavl Oblast (the border with which is only about 20 km long), but Yandex does, and that is by far the hardest crossing in terms of possible starting area (all other 27 possible vectors ignoring Moscow City are visible at Yandex’s “50 km” zoom level, though you have to look hard to see Smolensk east, and Yaroslavl south isn’t too obvious either).

      *) However hard I tried, I just couldn’t find anything remotely similar in the US; a good international example of a similar anomaly is the town of Trebom, Czech Republic, and the nearby town of Sciborzyce Wielkie, Poland, works just as well (but on larger scale) on the other side of the border. A larger example is the city of Geneva (the longest distance needed here is around 100 km). Something to include in the random topic database? 😉

  13. Nach says:

    It gets a bit tough out west where some borders are based on latitude/longitude definition. Take, for example, my home state of New Mexico: the northern border is based on the 37th parallel. Sure there could have been mistakes in the past from surveying, but correcting those mistakes still doesn’t let you travel in multi-cardinal directions: (from

    “In April 2009, a new survey was carried out and it turned out that the surveyors in 1861 and 1912 missed the parallel by 365 feet. Instead of a costly reassessment of the border line, the states affected and the US Supreme Court amended the definition of the state’s border, so now, the border between Utah, Colorado and Kansas in the North and Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma in the South it no longer at 37°N but at 36°59’56.34”N.”

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