Are you curious about the Great Plains? This oft-overlooked and misunderstood region in America has its own beauty, both natural and cultural. Whether you live in the Great Plains and want to learn more about it or want to travel to the Great Plains (or through them), you might wonder what people mean when they mention the “Great Plains states.”
This post will teach you all about the geography of the Great Plains and which states are part of the Great Plains. You’ll also learn which states are often included in the Great Plains states but which are actually not part of the Great Plains. By the end, you’ll know which states are completely in the Great Plains, partly in the Great Plains, and not in the Great Plains at all.
What is the “Great Plains?”
When we talk about the Great Plains, what does that mean, exactly?
The “Great Plains” is also a geographical term that describes a particular ecosystem and landscape on the North American continent. The Great Plains are a semiarid grassland that ranges from 1,500 feet of elevation in the east to 5,000-6,000 feet above sea level in the west. The exception to this moderate average altitude is in far northern Canada, where the Great Plains reach the Arctic Ocean.
If your mind thinks of rolling hills of grass as far as the eye can see, that’s a mostly accurate image of the Great Plains! The Great Plains are certainly a large sweeping series of plains as the name suggests, but there are other landscape features including hills, rocky formations, and stream valleys. The Missouri River also cuts through the heart of the Great Plains, creating great bluffs and a wide river bed through parts of the plains; other rivers create small falls and tributaries.
There’s a lot more to the Great Plains than rolling fields of grass, though that is the majority of what you’ll encounter here.
Where are the Great Plains?
If you want to be specific about where the Great Plains are on a map, they broadly cover the middle of the North American continent. Don’t confuse this area with the Midwest though! They’re distinctly different geographies and ecosystems.
The Great Plains lie between the Rio Grande in the south and the delta of the Mackenzie River in the north and between the lake-pocked Midwest approaching the Mississippi River and the Canadian Shield on the east and the Rocky Mountains on the west.
The Great Plains measure nearly 3,000 miles in length and between 300-700 miles in width. In total, there are 1.125 million square miles of Great Plains, which is roughly one-third of the entire United States.
States in the Great Plains
The geographic region of the Great Plains doesn’t entirely follow state borders, so it helps to define exactly which states are part of the Great Plains – and which are not. The photo above shows exactly the states and bounds of the Great Plains.
There is some debate about which states are in the Great Plains, so for the purposes of this site, we’ll always stick to the list below.
States that are Completely in the Great Plains
The following states are completely in the Great Plains:
Note that the Great Plains do not extend further east than the eastern borders of these states. Though you might see some other sites include Missouri, Iowa, and Arkansas – they are not geographically part of the Great Plains.
States that are Partly in the Great Plains
The following states are partly but not entirely in the Great Plains:
- Montana (central and eastern)
- Wyoming (east from the Rockies)
- Colorado (east from the Rockies)
- New Mexico (eastern)
- Oklahoma (western and the Panhandle)
- Texas (the Panhandle and parts of west and central)
The other parts of these states are not part of the Great Plains, but either the Mountain West, the Midwest, the Arctic, or the South.
Canadian Provinces that are Partly in the Great Plains
There are also several Canadian Provinces that are partly part of the Great Plains:
- Alberta (east from the Canadian Rockies)
- Saskatchewan (southern)
- Manitoba (southwestern)
While some maps leave these Canadian Provinces out, they are geographically part of the Great Plains and should be included. While we’re initially focusing on just the U.S. states in the Great Plains, we plan to add travel resources and information about these three provinces in the Great Plains someday.
So there you have it! You know which states are part of the Great Plains – completely, in part, and not at all. Have any questions about the geography of the Great Plains? Let us know in the comments.