The Most Isolated Town In The United States
Canadian tourists enjoying sunset at Point Roberts beach in this photo from 1959. Source: (Photo by Carl Mydans/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Where is the most isolated town in the United States? No, it is not in the Alaskan tundra or on the desolate plains of North Dakota or alone on a tiny island near Hawaii. The most isolated town in the United States is in Washington. An oversight when the U.S. and the U.K. established the border between the United States and Canada left the southern tip of a Canadian peninsula dangling in U.S. territory. You cannot drive to this town, Point Roberts, Washington, from the U.S. without crossing two international borders! Let’s look at what life is like in Point Roberts, Washington, the most isolated town in the United States.
How Did Point Roberts Become Cut Off From the Rest of the U.S.?
The United States and the United Kingdom agreed to use the 49th parallel as the boundary line between the U.S. and Canada. It seemed like a convenient and easy decision, except for one thing. The 49th parallel cuts through a peninsula of land south of Vancouver, British Columbia, called the Tsawwassen Peninsula. Since everything north of the 49th parallel went to Canada, then everything south of it went to the United States. This left Point Roberts, a five-mile plot of land at the tip of the peninsula, surrounded by Boundary Bay, dipping into in U.S. territory while the rest of the peninsula…and all the roads leading to Point Roberts…in Canada.
Point Roberts is an Exclave
Here is a new vocab word for you…technically, Point Roberts is an exclave. An exclave is a portion of a country that is separated from the main part. Point Roberts is different from Hawaii in that it is not an island. Like Alaska, there is road access to Point Roberts, but you cannot take a commercial flight to Point Roberts as you could to Alaska. You could get to Point Roberts by boat, but to drive there requires first crossing the international border into Canada, driving 25 miles through British Columbia, and then crossing back into the U.S.
Getting to Point Roberts is an International Hassle
Crossing into a foreign country requires proper documentation, like a passport, going through customs, and going through an international border crossing checkpoint. All this means is it can be inconvenient and time-consuming to commute to work or just zip up the road. Visitors to Point Roberts often comment that going passed armed guards to get to the town makes it seem very police-state-like. But for the more than one thousand full-time residents of Point Roberts, the international border is kind of like living in a gated community with the United States government guarding the gate.
The Border Crossing Makes Point Roberts a Really, Really Secure Place
It is not easy to cross into Canada or the U.S. Both countries have strict border crossing laws. It is difficult for convicted criminals to get passports and since one would need a passport to get to Point Roberts, it makes the town a safe place. If you have a crazy ex and a restraining order against them, they won’t be able to get to you in Point Roberts. The U.S. government recognizes the uniqueness of Point Roberts. Off the record, it has been reported that dozens of people in the Witness Protection Program live in Point Roberts. Sshhhhhh!
Living Close to Canada Has Its Advantages
For residents of Point Roberts, living close to Canada—and being forced to drive through it on an almost daily basis—has some advantages. The teens of Point Roberts quickly learn that the legal drinking age in British Columbia is just 19, instead of 21, as it is in the U.S. Another advantage for Americans is that it is oftentimes much cheaper to have prescription medication filled at a Canadian pharmacy than it is at a U.S. drug store.
For Canadians, Living Close to the U.S. Has its Benefits
Necessities like groceries and gas are significantly cheaper in the U.S. than they are in Canada so many people brave the border crossings into Point Roberts just to save money on food and to fill up their gas tanks. Some produce, however, cannot be transported across international borders, like peppers and tomatoes. In fact, most items are cheaper in the U.S. simply because of taxes and the rate of exchange. Canada has a 12 percent value-added sales tax. The postal system in Canada is more expensive, too, and many online retailers don’t ship to Canada at all. Point Roberts has at least five shipping and receiving businesses so Canadian residents can have their purchases shipped to a Point Roberts, USA, address and then zip across the border to pick up their packages when they are delivered.
Point Roberts is a Vacation Destination
So long as you have a passport, Point Roberts is a quaint and charming vacation destination. You can regularly see eagles flying overhead and whales swimming in the harbor. The beaches at the southern point are pristine. Point Roberts is not overly-developed and vacationers typically rent out homes in the town. Point Roberts also has a lovely harbor that is perfect for boaters.
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