How Big Is Kentucky? See Its Size in Miles, Acres, and How it Compares to Other States

drawing of american state of kentucky on chalkboard, drawn by chalk
© vepar5/Shutterstock.com

Written by Mike Edmisten

Updated: September 17, 2023

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Kentucky is located in the south-central United States along the western side of the Appalachian Mountains. Here is a look at the total area of the Bluegrass State in terms of square miles, square kilometers, and acres, along with comparisons to the sizes of other states.

Location of state of Kentucky in United States

Kentucky is located in the south-central U.S.

©TUBS / CC BY-SA 3.0 – Original / License

Length and Width of Kentucky

At its longest point, Kentucky measures 425 miles from west to east. That is equivalent to the distance from Indianapolis, Indiana to Atlanta, Georgia.

While Kentucky’s west-to-east measurement is substantial, it is much shorter, measuring north-to-south. The state extends 182 miles at its widest point. That is roughly the same distance from Louisville to Nashville, Tennessee.

Square Miles and Kilometers

The University of Louisville lists Kentucky’s total area at 39,732 square miles. That equates to 102,907 square kilometers.

Forests cover about 50% of Kentucky’s land. The state also features more miles of streams and rivers than any other state except for Alaska.

Acres

Kentucky’s land mass equates to 25,428,480 acres. One square mile is equivalent to 640 acres. 

A football field (minus the end zones) is a little over one acre in size.

Other States

Kentucky is in the bottom third of states according to land mass. The Bluegrass State ranks 37th out of the 50 U.S. states in terms of size.

The smallest state in the U.S. is Rhode Island at 1,214 square miles. Kentucky is nearly 33 times larger than Rhode Island.

Kentucky is approximately the same size as the six smallest U.S. states combined. From smallest to largest, those states are Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Alaska is far and away the nation’s largest state at 665,384 square miles. Nearly 17 Kentuckys could fit into Alaska!

Texas is the largest of the contiguous 48 states at 268,597 square miles. That is nearly seven times the size of Kentucky. California, the third largest state, is s little more than four times the size of Kentucky.

States with sizes comparable to Kentucky include Virginia (about 3,000 square miles larger), Tennessee (approximately 2,400 square miles larger), and Indiana (around 3,300 square miles smaller).

Kentucky accounts for just a little over one percent of U.S. land. Rhode Island only occupies 0.04 percent of the nation’s land, while almost 17.5 percent of United States land is in Alaska.

Map of Kentucky and Flag of Kentucky

Kentucky ranks 37th in state size.

©Creative Commons – Original / License

State Borders

Kentucky shares borders with seven states. It is bordered by Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio to the north, West Virginia to the northeast, Virginia to the east, Tennessee to the south, and Missouri to the west. 

Rivers define most of the state’s borders. Kentucky’s borders with Tennessee and Virginia are the only two that do not follow along a river.

Kentucky Bend

There is quite an oddity in the borders between Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. A small section of Kentucky measuring about 27 square miles lies in an oxbow loop of the Mississippi River. This region is known as the Kentucky Bend. It is also sometimes called Madrid Bend, New Madrid Bend, Bessie Bend, and Bubbleland. 

Kentucky Bend map

Kentucky Bend is completely separated from the rest of the state, making it one of the oddest state borders in the nation.

©Jim Efaw, author of this work / CC BY-SA 2.5 – Original / License

Kentucky Bend is completely encircled by Missouri and Tennessee. The Mississippi River flows around the east, north, and west of Kentucky Bend, representing the border with Missouri. The land border to the south is with Tennessee. That means this small exclave, which is officially part of Kentucky, does not touch the rest of the state of Kentucky at all.

Kentucky Bend is likely the result of mistakes made by nineteenth-century surveyors. The few residents living in Kentucky Bend have a Tennessee mailing address. The closest populated area is New Madrid, Missouri. Yet, the residents of Kentucky Bend are counted among the citizenry of Kentucky. It is one of the most interesting and confusing state borders in the U.S.

Population

Kentucky is home to 4,512,310 residents, according to the United States Census Bureau’s 2022 estimate. That makes Kentucky the 26th most populous state in the nation.

Louisiana has a very similar population, with about 78,000 more residents than Kentucky.

California is the nation’s most populous state, with a 2022 estimate of 39,029,342 residents. There are over 8.5 times more Californians than Kentuckians.

The least populous state is Wyoming with only 581,381 residents. Kentucky has a population nearly eight times the size of Wyoming’s.

Kentucky’s population is just slightly larger than the nation of Panama in Central America

Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, with a population of around 628,500. The Louisville metro area boasts around 1.3 million residents.

Lexington is the only other Kentucky city with a population above 100,000. The city has approximately 321,800 residents with a metro populace of 517,000.

Frankfort is Kentucky’s capital. The city has a population of around 28,600.

Louisville, Kentucky, USA skyline on the river.

Louisville is Kentucky’s largest city by a wide margin.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Fun Facts About the Bluegrass State

Kentucky became the 15th state admitted to the Union on June 1, 1792. It was the first state on the western frontier to achieve statehood.

The highest point in Kentucky is Black Mountain in Harlan County, with an elevation of 4,145 feet above sea level. The lowest point in the state is the Mississippi River in Fulton County which sits 257 feet above sea level.

Kentucky has six state animals. Those officially designated animals include the northern cardinal (state bird), viceroy butterfly (state butterfly), Kentucky spotted bass (state fish), thoroughbred (state horse), honey bee (state insect), and eastern gray squirrel (state wild game animal).

Sign showing Black Mountain elevation

Kentucky’s highest point is 3,888 feet above its lowest point.

©Danielsen_Photography/Shutterstock.com

Presidential History

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, near Hodgenville. His birthplace is now a national historic park. The president of the Confederacy was also born in Kentucky. Jefferson Davis was born in Fairview on June 3, 1808. The birthplaces of these two opposing Civil War executives were only about 100 miles apart. 

A young Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is the most famous person ever born in Kentucky.

©National Park Service / CC BY 2.0 – Original / License

Zachary Taylor is the other president with Kentucky ties. Though he was born in Virginia on November 24, 1784, Taylor’s family moved to Kentucky when he was a young boy. They relocated to an area on the Ohio River that would later become the city of Louisville.

The state is also home to the first town in the United States to be named after George Washington, the nation’s first president. Washington, Kentucky, was named in 1780.

Notable Kentuckians

Kentucky was the birthplace of numerous country music stars, the most famous being Loretta Lynn, who sang about growing up in Butcher Hollow in her iconic song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Other well-known country artists born in Kentucky include Crystal Gayle, Wynonna Judd, and Billy Ray Cyrus.

Numerous famous actors also hail from Kentucky, including Rosemary Clooney, George Clooney, Ned Beatty, Jennifer Lawrence, Johnny Depp, and Jack Harlow.

The McCoy family of the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud lived in Pike County. The McCoys feuded with the Hatfields, who hailed from West Virginia, for nearly 30 years. 

National Park

Kentucky is home to one national park. Mammoth Cave National Park in south-central Kentucky is home to the largest cave system in the world. Over two million people visit the park each year to explore the cave. Visitors can also fish, canoe, bicycle, ride horses, and hike in the 52,000-acre park. 

Mammoth Cave National Park invites visitors to explore the largest cave system on Earth.

©iStock.com/zrfphoto

Kentucky Food

Foodies will certainly appreciate the numerous culinary creations that were born in Kentucky. The cheeseburger, the “Old Fashion” drink, Bibb lettuce, the Hot Brown sandwich, and chewing gum all originated in Kentucky. However, the most famous food to emanate from the Bluegrass State has to be the creation of Colonel Sanders. The famous Kentucky icon opened a café in Corbin in 1940 that gave rise to the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.


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About the Author

Mike is a writer at A-Z Animals where his primary focus is on geography, agriculture, and marine life. A graduate of Cincinnati Christian University and a resident of Cincinnati, OH, Mike is deeply passionate about the natural world. In his free time, he, his wife, and their two sons love the outdoors, especially camping and exploring US National Parks.

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