Easiest Five

On December 6, 2011 · 10 Comments

The Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona intersect at a quadripoint, is the quickest way to visit four of the United States. The distance between the states, by definition, equals zero. I experienced that myself a number of years ago:


4 Corners

I was asked a question quite awhile ago but only checked into an answer earlier this week. Everyone understands that the Four Corners is the easiest four, but what is the easiest five? In other words, what is the minimum distance one needs to travel in order to reach five states? Few of us own airplanes or helicopters so I decided to research this question via public roads. I figured this would make it feasible for someone to replicate my investigation in person should they feel so inclined.

Reflexively, my mind went towards the New England states. There are several of them and they are relatively small. If five states were jammed closely together, I figured, it would be easy to drive between them.

CT–>RI–>MA–>NH–>ME (140 miles / 225 km.)



View Larger Map

I considered a classic journey up Interstate 95. Millions of drivers probably follow this five-state route every year. I adjusted the track just a bit through Boston and reduced the distance to 140 miles. That’s pretty good. Five states in 140 miles.

Next I drew numerous maps and attempted various routes until I latched onto the secret: the shortest lines can be drawn from tripoint to tripoint. One state, preferably a narrow neck of said state, will often be included in both tripoints. It doesn’t always have to work that way but it should probably include at least one tripoint. For example, I can take the situation described above and change the starting line to the CTMARI tripoint and reduce the distance to about 110 miles / 177km.


VT–>NH–>MA–>CT–>RI (88 miles / 142 km.)



View Larger Map

New England has better examples than that one. The distance from the MANHVT tripoint to CTMARI is only 88 miles. It would be even shorter if the Connecticut River didn’t interfere. I couldn’t start exactly at MANHVT — I had to push the beginning several miles upstream to Brattleboro, Vermont where I could find a bridge.

That’s the other caveat. It’s almost impossible to start directly atop a tripoint because natural features such as rivers, mountains or deserts interfere with the most direct routes.


TX–>NM–>OK–>CO–>KS (69 miles / 111 km.)



View Larger Map

I found an even better example distantly removed from New England, which surprised me. Would you believe it even involved Texas, the largest state in the Lower-48? It’s made possible by the existence of the Oklahoma Panhandle which is only 34 miles wide.

This may actually be the "Easiest Five" with a distance of only 69 miles. Politicians certainly didn’t have this in mind when they forged the Compromise of 1850 in an attempt to diffuse the issue of slavery (Texas surrendered its land above 36°30′ as a result). Nonetheless, it seems to have set-up the shortest road distance between five U.S. States.

I haven’t checked every possibility so feel free to examine other options and see if you can find something even shorter. The only rule is that you need to be able to snap it to the road grid using Google Maps and include the link in a comment.

Here are some other possibilities I examined and discarded:


Totally Unrelated

Go back to the comments on the Most Landlocked State article if you haven’t been there in the last couple of days. Readers have been posting some great maps that have taken my original concept and expanded it in interesting ways:

Great efforts, everyone!

On December 6, 2011 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Easiest Five”

  1. Michael says:

    The first possibility that came to mind for me is NJ-PA-DE-MD-VA, 131 miles from Bridgeport, NJ to National Airport. (This starts near the NJ-PA-DE tripoint, which is in the Delaware River.) This route also goes through DC, so if you count DC as a state this is a candidate for the shortest six; alternatively you can cut it back to the MD-DC border and 120 miles.

  2. Greg says:

    I like that the last route you mapped shows off the northeastern panhandle of New Mexico. By the way, have you seen that the Strange Maps guy is writing a weekly series for the New York Times website on borders? I had the misfortune of discovering it at work today, and it was all I could do not to read his whole collection of work so far. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/borderlines/

  3. Peter says:

    I’m not quite sure how to link to the maps, but by my calculation Kittery ME –> Brattleboro VT –> Thompson CT –> Elkton MD, with short side trips into Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, would equal eleven states in about 540 miles.

  4. Bill Harris says:

    Here’s NJ-PA-DE-MD-VA in 131 miles:

    http://g.co/maps/ecewu

    And here’s PA-DE-MD-VA-WV in 130 miles:

    http://g.co/maps/wf97z

  5. That’s a nice study, thanks. The TX-KS certainly stands out as surprising. I’ve driven that route, except for the road to nab CO, instead doing KA-OK-TX-NM that day. And I did AR-MO-TN-KY-IL one time, too, I think that exact route. I’ve never gone looking for the shortest way to do those.
    I have one 6-state day that wasn’t too long but had plenty of traffic: NH-VT-MA-CT-NY-NJ. And one very long (600 mile) 5-state day: OH-IN-IL-MO-KS (and barely over the border for that one.)
    –Mark

  6. Bill Harris says:

    Here’s a shorter NJ-PA-DE-MD-VA trip:

    http://g.co/maps/z7a8u

    119 miles

  7. Peter says:

    Taking the train may be a more relaxing alternative to driving. As we all know, however, Amtrak isn’t always the most pleasant way to ride. Fear not! By taking commuter and subway trains – and, admittedly, overlooking a couple of gaps – it’s possible to take a 540-mile, ten-state (including DC) trip, from Newburyport, Massachusetts to Fredricksburg, Virginia (http://g.co/maps/r6a54).

    Details:
    1. MBTA Newburyport/Rockport Line, Newburyport –> Boston North Station
    2. MBTA Orange Line, Boston North Station –> Boston Back Bay Station
    3. MBTA Providence Line, Boston Back Bay Station –> T.F. Green Airport, Rhode Island
    4. [50-mile gap]
    5. Shore Line East, New London, Connecticut –> New Haven.
    6. Metro-North New Haven Line, New Haven –> Grand Central Terminal, New York.
    7. S or 7 subway and 1/2/3 subway, Grand Central Terminal –> Penn Station, New York.
    8. New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor Line, Penn Station –> Trenton, New Jersey.
    9. SEPTA Trenton Line, Trenton –> 30th Street Station, Philadelphia.
    10. SEPTA Wilmington/Newark Line, 30th Street Station –> Newark, Delaware.
    11. [22-mile gap]
    12. MARC Penn Line, Perryville, Maryland –> DC Union Station.
    13. Virginia Railway Express, DC Union Station –> Fredricksburg.

    Schedules being what they are, this journey cannot be made in a single day, even if it weren’t for the gaps.

  8. Bill Harris says:

    @Peter-

    Why not just take the Metroliner between New York and DC? It stops in NJ, PA, DE, and MD with no gaps.

  9. David says:

    I would count DC as a “state”

    5 states in 101 miles (VA-DC-MD-DE-PA):

    http://g.co/maps/8m4cp

    4 states in 38 miles (VA-WV-MD-PA):

    http://g.co/maps/brk5t

  10. stangetz says:

    A ha!

    5 States, 115mi (MD-DE-PA-NJ-NY):
    http://g.co/maps/qbh62

    4 states, 21.5 Miles (VA-WV-MD-PA):
    http://g.co/maps/79dxe

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