Wide open spaces. NPS Alaska/Flickr

I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for those maps that show the crazy geographic concentration of things like wealth and population. This one, for instance, which splits U.S. economic activity in two. Or this one, which does the same for population.

There was a fun new entry in the genre at Reddit last week, with a map showing the enormous chunk of land where only 1 percent of the population lives. The map is kind of hard to read and uses data from 2010, so I made a version using the latest 2014 numbers from the U.S. Census.


The counties shaded blue are the 462 least densely populated counties of the nation. None of them have a population density greater than 7.4 people per square mile. In 65 of these counties, the density is less than one person per square mile.

The least-populated place in the United States is Alaska's Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area. At over 145,000 square miles, it's larger than New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia -- combined. But it's home to only 5,547 people, for a population density of fewer than 4 people every 100 miles.

One other way to understand these extremes is to compare our 462 most sparsely populated counties with some of the most populated places in the United States. In the map below, I highlighted New York's Bronx and Queens counties in orange. Together they're home to 3.8 million people -- far more than the population of the blue counties.


None of this is terribly complicated or groundbreaking. We all know how population density works -- the country is made up of cities and rural areas, and there are way more people in the former than in the latter.

But if it's easy enough to understand the concept in theory, it's even easier to lose track of how truly vast and unpopulated many of the country's rural areas are. This is especially true for those of us who live on the coasts, or in the eastern half of the country.

Geographically speaking, we are a nation of mountains, forests and farmland surrounding tiny islands of urbanity. These maps help put some of that in perspective.

More from Wonkblog:

This is what America would look like without gerrymandering

Cold weather person, or hot weather lover? This map shows where you belong

Fascinating maps show the most popular running routes in 20 major cities