The 3:00 PM sun was a scorching 98°F. Not a single cloud dotted the sky. Even the stiff breeze blowing off that big expanse of water couldn’t muster up any relief. Here we stood, in front of a giant buoy that had obviously been placed on solid ground in a gaudy attempt at recognition. Waves crashed the shoreline directly behind us. The buzz of insect wings cut through the almost tropical humidity on their way to encircling our heads like the paparazzi swarming Meghan Markle at a Maple Leafs’ game. For a brief minute I pondered, “Is this the SOUTHERNMOST Point in the U.S.? Am I back in Key West?” Then reality hit. Not another soul was anywhere near us at the moment. This place couldn’t be Florida. We were in Angle Inlet, a tiny community in Minnesota’s Northwest Angle. The NORTHERNMOST Point in the 48 contiguous United States.
Are You Sure?
First glance at a map may lead a person to believe that the tip of Maine actually sits higher than any of the other lower 48. But the irregular nub at the top of Minnesota begs to differ. This place lands at -94.885668 longitude and 48.875164 latitude. That may be quite a distance south of any portion of Alaska, but nearly 2° farther north of the equator than any other point in the 48 contiguous United States.
It wasn’t just fate that brought us to this remote land that revels in world class walleye fishing. Six months earlier we found ourselves vacationing in Key West, Florida. That laid back little Florida city is located at -81.779984 longitude and 24.555059 latitude, making it the southernmost point in the U.S. (not counting the Hawaiian Islands.)
Buoy Oh Buoy … The Most Photographed Spots
After snapping our obligatory picture in front of the red, yellow and black Southernmost Point buoy at the intersection of Whitehead and South Streets, the pondering starts. Where exactly is the Northernmost point in the U.S.? The question is put on hold for a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, a hand feeding of the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina, a sunset at Mallory Square, a tasting at the Key West Winery, and a bunch of other fun stuff. But the burning need to find the truth hovers in the back of our minds the whole trip.
Our research starts immediately upon on our arrival back in Minnesota. When we learn that the official Northernmost point is within driving distance of our home (albeit 400 miles/7 hours away), the wheels are set in motion. Six months later we’re perched on boat seats in the middle of Lake of the Woods. As the waves lap at the aluminum bow, we compare and contrast the two places.
Northernmost is WAY Different Than Southernmost
We begin with the vast differences. For starters, 2,315 miles different. But that’s not the only drastic number disparity. How about a population of about 4,000 in Key West compared to fewer than 100 Angle Inlet full-time residents. And we think you can probably figure out which city is which in these scenarios: 90 miles to Cuba vs. roughly 2,400 miles to Fidel Castro’s ol’ stompin’ grounds. Palm trees vs. pine trees. Seashells vs. snails. Crabs vs. crayfish. Saltwater vs. freshwater. Dolphins vs. walleye.
Although water completely surrounds both Key West and Angle Inlet, the biggest difference of all is how you wet your whistle in these two places. The little Florida town has 360 bars, pubs and taverns in a 1.5 x 4 mile area (maybe that’s where Southern(most) Comfort comes from?) Many of these watering holes are iconic, including Sloppy Joe’s, The Green Parrot, Sunset Pier and Smokin’ Tuna Saloon. On the other hand, the entire 115 square mile area of the Northwest Angle mainland boasts a total of one bar, Jerry’s, in the Angle Inlet community. The good news is that I am pretty sure you can order a Rum Runner or an ice cold beer no matter what border you’re towing the line on.
But here’s an even more surprising contrast. Driving from Minnesota requires leaving the country to reach one of these communities, but not the other. Funny thing is, that community happens to be Angle Inlet. Yes, traveling from Minneapolis by car, you have to leave the country to get to that remote part of Minnesota. Since the Northwest Angle is surrounded by water on its entire southern side, a traveller is required to cross the Canadian border not once, but twice to reach Angle Inlet Township.
The first border crossing at the Warroad, MN Port of Entry is a traditional crossing with customs guards on site. The second crossing occurs at Jim’s Corner, a remote, simple, unmanned shack. This tiny shed holds an iPad that can be used to apply for entry back into the States.
Returning to the lower 48 requires a reversal of these border crossings, only the iPad is out, replaced by an old metal-corded phone as a means of checking back into Canada. 45 minutes spent on this phone waiting for border crossing approval while Volkswagen-sized horseflies buzzed our bodies was not my favorite moment of the trip. The frustration of the experience ranked right up there with destroying the lower unit of a rented outboard motor on a submerged Lake of the Woods rock, aptly named “Million Dollar Reef.”
What’s the Point?
But back to the Northernmost and Southernmost points. Surprisingly, these vastly different communities also have a boatload of similarities. A big one is how the residents feel living in their own country. The Key West residents (known as the Conch Republic) have threatened to succeed from the union for years. Native Northwest Angleites have also threatened to scrap their U.S. citizenship and join Canada. But despite protests and threats, each of these residents remains a full-fledged U.S. citizen.
As you might know, Key West is famous for its incredible sunsets. Little did we know that the Northwest Angle sunsets rival almost any open-water sunset in the world. There’s no wild celebrations or no famous Mallory Square containing the Minnesota sunset, but on this given night it was awe-inspiring nonetheless.
Throw in Pelicans everywhere; more boats than cars; more fish than people; and way more water than land … and it’s hard not to leave a little piece of your soul right there with the similarities at either one of these special places. Although the scenery and serenity in Key West and the Northwest Angle are amazing, one visit will probably be enough for me at both of these destinations.
A Couple Of Hot Spots
Looking for another eye-opener? Temperature-wise, the Northernmost point in the latter part of June was actually quite a bit warmer than mid-January at the Southernmost point. But don’t try to compare temps of the two cities on the same winter day or you might be looking at about a 70-degree F swing in the other direction. It’s kind of funny how geography can play tricks on us.
So what’s next in our travels, you ask? Well, we did contemplate the Easternmost point (West Quoddy Head in Maine) and on the other coast, the Westernmost point (Cape Alava, a nodule on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula.) You can’t go any farther in either direction in this nation without getting your feet wet.
But, after being slightly underwhelmed with everything but the sunsets at the Northernmost and Southernmost points, I think this idea will have to wait awhile. In the meantime, we’ll keep exploring great parks and outdoor attractions. Hopefully we’ll find a bit more to offer than a selfie opportunity with a giant buoy!
You Can Tell Me Where to Go
Do you have any destinations you’d love to have us explore? Let us know your thoughts, ideas, or past travel experiences in the comments box below, or email us at ParkYourselfOutdoors@gmail.com. There’s nothing better than sharing this love for exploring with all of our readers.
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