The Western United States — more commonly referred to as the Far West or the American West — refers to the American region comprised of the westernmost states. Characterized by its plains, deserts, forested mountains, Pacific Coast, and Pacific Northwest rainforests, this area offers plenty of breathtaking sights to behold.

ALASKA

  • Capital: Juneau
  • State population: 741,894
  • Abbreviation: AK
  • Nickname: The Last Frontier

Located northwest of Canada, Alaska is the largest and most sparsely populated U.S. state. It’s bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the south, Yukon and British Columbia to the east, and the Bering Sea, the Bering Strait, and the Chukchi Sea to the west. Known for its diverse terrain of open spaces, mountains, and forests, and for being the home of North America’s highest peak (Denali), Alaska is a popular destination for outdoor activities like skiing, mountain biking, and kayaking.

Photo by Erika Skogg

ARIZONA

  • Capital: Phoenix
  • State population: 6.9 million
  • Abbreviation: AZ
  • Nickname: The Grand Canyon State

Arizona is a southwestern U.S. state best-known for the Grand Canyon. Southern Arizona boasts a desert climate, with very dry and hot summers and mild winters, while northern Arizona features moderate summer temperatures and significant winter snowfalls alongside the Colorado Plateau, the San Francisco Mountains, and dense forests filled with pine, Douglas fir, and spruce trees. Arizona is also one the Four Corners states, and borders the northern Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California. Other notable sites in the state include Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

CALIFORNIA

  • Capital: Sacramento
  • State population: 39.3 million
  • Abbreviation: CA
  • Nickname: The Golden State

Situated in the Pacific region of the United States, California stretches north from the Mexican border along the Pacific Ocean for nearly 900 miles. Its terrain includes cliff-lined beaches, redwood forests, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Central Valley farmland, and the Mojave Desert. It’s the most populous state in the U.S., and if it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world and the 36th most populous nation. Home to major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco — and the origins of the film industry, hippie counterculture, and the Internet — California is considered a global trendsetter in popular culture, innovation, and politics.

COLORADO

  • Capital: Denver
  • State population: 5.5 million
  • Abbreviation: CO
  • Nickname: The Centennial State

Colorado is a western U.S. state set apart by its diverse landscape comprised of arid desert lands, snow-capped mountains, high plains, mesas, plateaus, forests, and river canyons. Named after the Colorado River, the state is home to Rocky Mountain National Park, which spans the Continental Divide and encompasses protected mountains, forests, and alpine tundra. Colorado also boasts Mesa Verde National Park, which features Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. In addition to its extensive outdoor offerings, Colorado’s capital city, Dever, features a vibrant downtown area. Colorado is also one the Four Corners states.

Photo by Maria Levitov
Photo by Connor James

HAWAII

  • Capital: Honolulu
  • State population: 1.4 million
  • Abbreviation: HI
  • Nickname: The Aloha State

This volcanic archipelago isolated in the Central Pacific is renowned for its rugged landscape of cliffs, waterfalls, tropical foliage, and beaches of gold, red, black, and even green sands. Hawaii is the 50th and most recent state to have joined the U.S., as well as the only state composed entirely of islands. Located in Oceania, Hawaii is made up of hundreds of islands spread over 1,500 miles, but its eight main islands are Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the Island of Hawaii (or, the “Big Island”). Oahu houses Hawaii’s largest city, Honolulu, as well as Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor’s WWII memorials.

IDAHO

  • Capital: Boise
  • State population: 1.7 million
  • Abbreviation: ID
  • Nickname: The Gem State

Idaho is a northwestern U.S. state known for its mountainous landscapes and vast protected wilderness. Forming part of the Pacific Northwest, it is divided into several distinct geographic and climatic regions. In the state’s north, the relatively isolated Idaho Panhandle is closely linked with eastern Washington, while its south includes the Snake River Plain, and its southeast encompasses part of the Great Basin. Idaho’s capital, Boise, is set in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and is a popular destination for both rafting and fishing. Additionally, around 38 percent of Idaho’s land is held by the United States Forest Service — the most of any state in the country.

Photo by Camrin Dengel
Photo by Camrin Dengel

MONTANA

  • Capital: Helena
  • State population: 1 million
  • Abbreviation: MT
  • Nickname: The Treasure State

Defined by its diverse terrain, Montana boasts snow-capped peaks, lakes, prairie terrain, and alpine hiking trails alongside Glacier National Park, the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Rocky Mountains, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Yellowstone National Park, and the Great Plains. The state also has several nicknames including “Big Sky Country” and “the Treasure State,” as well as slogans that include “Land of the Shining Mountains” and “the Last Best Place.”

Photo by Thibaut Buccellato

NEVADA

  • Capital: Carson City
  • State population: 3 million
  • Abbreviation: NV
  • Nickname: The Silver State

Nevada is a state characterized by its great expanses of desert, and by the 24-hour casinos located in its largest city, Las Vegas. With a largely desert and semi-arid climate, much of Nevada lies within the Great Basin, while the state’s south is located in the Mojave Desert, and the state’s western edge spans to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevadas. Las Vegas is located in southern Nevada and is known for the elaborate themed hotels and luxury resorts that line its main thoroughfare, the Las Vegas Strip. The city is also home to museums, such as the Mob Museum, and many extravagant live shows.

Photo by Jenny Connors

NEW MEXICO

  • Capital: Santa Fe
  • Population: 2 million
  • Abbreviation: NM
  • Nickname: The Land of Enchantment

This southwestern mountain state is widely known for its diverse terrain, which encompasses the Chihuahuan Desert and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and ranges from rose-colored deserts to broken mesas and snow-capped peaks. Despite New Mexico’s arid image, heavily forested mountain wildernesses also cover a significant portion of the state, especially toward the north. The state’s demography and culture are shaped by its strong Hispanic and Native American influences, and its capital, Santa Fe, is set apart by its Spanish colonial architecture, vibrant arts scene, outdoor recreation, and open-air Santa Fe Opera. New Mexico is also one the Four Corners states.

OREGON

  • Capital: Salem
  • State population: 4 million
  • Abbreviation: OR
  • Nickname: The Beaver State

Oregon is a coastal state in the Pacific Northwest known for its dramatic landscapes marked by volcanoes, mountains, beaches, abundant bodies of water, dense evergreen forests, high deserts, and semi-arid shrublands. The Columbia River delineates much of Oregon’s northern boundary along Washington state, while the Snake River delineates much of its eastern boundary along Idaho. Situated between California and Washington, Oregon is one of only three states to have a coastline on the Pacific Ocean. The state is also home to Portland, a city famed for its quirky, avant-garde culture.

Photo by Michael Matti
Photo by Brayden Hall

UTAH

  • Capital: Salt Lake City
  • State population: 3 million
  • Abbreviation: UT
  • Nickname: The Beehive State

Defined by its vast expanses of desert and the Wasatch Range mountains, Utah is a center of transportation, education, information technology, government services, mining, and outdoor recreation. Salt Lake City, its capital, is centered around Temple Square, the headquarters of the Mormon Church, and the Great Salt Lake attracts swimmers and sunbathers across the country. With approximately 62 percent of Utahns reported to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utahn culture and daily life are widely influenced by Mormonism. Utah is also one the Four Corners states.

Photo by Brandon Sharpe
Photo by Tiffany Nguyen
Photo by Brandon Jennings

WASHINGTON

  • Capital: Olympia
  • State population: 7.3 million
  • Abbreviation: WA
  • Nickname: The Evergreen State

Washington is a state in the Pacific Northwest with terrain spanning the snow-capped Cascade Mountains to the forested islands in Puget Sound. Its largest city, Seattle, is known for its thriving tech industry, vibrant music scene, and iconic coffeehouses, as well as the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and the Fremont Troll. Approximately 60 percent of Washington’s residents live in the Seattle metropolitan area, while the remainder of the state lives in temperate rainforests, mountain ranges, and central and semi-arid basin regions. Washington is also the northwesternmost state of the contiguous U.S.

WYOMING

  • Capital: Cheyenne
  • State population: 585,501
  • Abbreviation: WY
  • Nickname: The Equality State

Home to the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the Snake River, Wyoming boasts hundreds of animal species, dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, forested trails, and geothermal features. The western two-thirds of the state are covered mostly by the mountain ranges and rangelands of the Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third is covered by a high-elevation prairie called the High Plains. Almost half of the land in Wyoming is owned by the U.S. government, and offers several national forests, historic sites, and wildlife refuges.

Photo by Ty Newcomb
Photo by Zach Eisenhauer

PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Sometimes referred to as Cascadia, the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a geographic region in the American West bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Cascade Mountain Range to the east. Though no agreed boundary technically exists, it is commonly said that the PNW includes the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Broader conceptions reach north into southeast Alaska and Yukon, south into northern California, and east to the Continental Divide.

It is a diverse geographic region dominated by several mountain ranges and characterized by frequent rainfall and extensive, lush forests. The coastline of the PNW is one of the world’s longest fjord coastlines, and is dotted by numerous bays, islands, and mountains. The region’s largest metropolitan areas are greater Seattle, Washington; greater Portland, Oregon; and greater Vancouver, British Columbia.

Photo by Andrew Kearns
Photo by Andrew Kearns

SOUTHWEST

The Southwestern United States is the informal name of a region of the western United States. Although definitions vary greatly and have never been standardized, the 1948 National Geographic Society defined the American Southwest as all of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, and the southernmost sections of Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as parts of southwest Nebraska, western Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Regional lines still vary to this day, but Arizona and New Mexico are almost always considered the core of the modern-day Southwest. No matter which way it’s divided, the geography of the region is defined by the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts, and the Colorado Plateau. The deserts dominate the southern and western reaches of the area, while the plateau is the main feature north of the Mogollon Rim. The two major rivers of the region are the Colorado River, running in the northern and western areas, and the Rio Grande, running in the east, north, and south.

All population numbers are based on 2016 estimates.

SHARE
Hailing from the foothills of Northern California, Kacie is a writer and editor who's worked on everything from quarterly surf magazines to art books, zines, lookbooks, novels, and emoji style guides. She's a bit of a story junkie, but we forgive her for that. To view more of her work, creep her website and Instagram.