United States Geography

Map Project

VA SOL USI.2 b  The student will use maps, globes, photographs, pictures, and tables to locate and describe the location of the geographic regions of North America:  Coastal Plain, Appalachian Mountains, Canadian Shield, Interior Lowlands, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Basin and Range, and Coastal Range.

The United States may be divided into seven major regions from east to west:

Part of this lowland region includes the Atlantic Plain which lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the foothills of the Appalachians.  It was once underwater and is now almost flat.  The Atlantic Plain is narrow in the North, where Boston and New York City are located.  It broadens in the South to include all of Florida.  Another part of the Coastal Plain is the Gulf Plain which lies along the Gulf of Mexico.  The Gulf Plain has large deposits of petroleum.  New Orleans and Houston are major cities in the Gulf Plain.

The Atlantic and Gulf coasts are essentially coastlines, with numerous estuaries, embayments, islands, sandspits, and barrier beaches backed by lagoons. The northeast coast has many fine natural harbors, such as those of New York Bay and Chesapeake Bay, but south of the great capes of the North Carolina coast (Fear, Lookout, and Hatteras) there are few large bays. A principal feature of the lagoon-lined Gulf Coast is the great delta of the Mississippi River.

The Appalachian Mountains runs along the eastern part of North America.  The Appalachian Mountains have different names in different places.  For example, the Green Mountains, Alleghenies, Blue Ridge, and Great Smokies are all part of the Appalachian Mountains.  These ancient mountains, a once towering system now worn low by erosion, extend southwest from SE Canada to the Gulf Coastal Plain in Alabama. In E New England, the Appalachians extend in a few places to the Atlantic Ocean, contributing to a rocky, irregular coastline. The Appalachians and the Adirondack Mountains of New York (which are geologically related to the Canadian Shield) include all the chief highlands of E United States; Mt. Mitchell (6,684 ft/2,037 m high), in the Black Mts. of North Carolina, is the highest point of E North America.

Between the Rockies in the West and the Appalachians in the East is a large lowland area called the Interior Plains.  The dry western part of the Interior Plains is called the Great Plains.   This treeless plateau gently rises from the central lowlands to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.   The eastern part is called the Interior Lowlands or Central Plains.   This fertile central lowland is the agricultural heartland of the United States. According to scientists, the Interior Plains were once covered by a great inland sea.  Today, some parts are rich in coal and petroleum.  Other parts have fertile soil making them rich farmlands.  Chicago, St. Louis,  and Dallas are in the Interior Plains.

This region reaches from the Atlantic thorough Canada into the United States.  In Mexico, the Rocky Mountains become the Sierra Madre, or mother range.  The Rockies include some of the highest peaks in North America.  Many peaks are more than 14,000 feet high.  The Rockies were a serious barrier to European settlement of the United States.  When settlers moved west in the 1800's, crossing the Rockies posed great hardships.

Between the Rocky Mts. and the ranges to the west is the Intermountain Region, an arid expanse of plateaus, basins, and ranges. The Columbia Plateau, in the north of the region, was formed by volcanic lava and is drained by the Columbia River and its tributary the Snake River, both of which have cut deep canyons into the plateau. The enormous Colorado Plateau, an area of sedimentary rock, is drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries; there the Colorado River has entrenched itself to form the Grand Canyon, one of the world's most impressive scenic wonders.  West of the plateaus is the Basin and Range province, an area of extensive semidesert.  The lowest point in North America, in Death Valley National Park (282 ft/86 m below sea level), is there.  The largest basin in the region is the Great Basin, an area of interior drainage (the Humboldt River is the largest stream) and of numerous salt lakes, including the Great Salt Lake.

Between the Intermountain Region and the Pacific Ocean is the Pacific Mountain System, a series of ranges generally paralleling the coast, formed by faulting and volcanism. These tall mountain ranges stretch from Alaska to Mexico.  In the United States, some o these western ranges hug the Pacific Ocean.  The Cascades and Sierra Nevada stand a bit further inland.  The Cascade Range, with its numerous volcanic peaks extends S from SW Canada into N California, and from there is continued south by the Sierra Nevada, a great fault block. Mt. Whitney (14,495 ft/4,418 m), in the Sierra Nevada, is the highest peak in the conterminous United States.  Some important cities of the Pacific Coast are Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco.

An eighth division, the Laurentian Uplands, a part of the Canadian Shield, dips into the United States from Canada in the Great Lakes region. It is an area of little local relief, with an irregular drainage system and many lakes, as well as some of the oldest exposed rocks in the United States.

Links to Explore

U.S.A. Geography Games  This is terrific!


American History and Geography Fun


Where in the USA Game - Click on state to learn more about it


The Fifty States  U.S. States
Click on a state to learn more about it including the history, symbols, population, and famous people.


Facts About the United States


Fact Monster


The Official U.S. Time

See the official time for each of the different time zones in the United States. Click on a region to check the time.