20 Fascinating Facts about North America

Want to discover some fun facts about North America? A huge, ancient, and diverse place, there’s plenty to learn! Here are 20 things you may not already know.

How much do you know about North America? Almost everyone is aware of how huge, diverse, and geopolitically important it is. And anyone who has lived or traveled there knows it has vibrant cities and spectacular landscapes.

But do you know how many people live there? Or how tall its biggest mountain is? What about how far its biggest river flows or when people first inhabited the continent? Many people may not even realize which countries fall within its boundaries.

These kinds of details tend to be less common knowledge. If you want to learn more about this incredible continent, here are 20 fun facts about North America.

1. It’s Comprised of 23 Countries

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Many people mistakenly think North America comprises just the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In reality, the continent has 23 independent nations. The full list includes the previous three countries plus:

Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

2. It’s Earth’s Third Largest Continent

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North America is enormous. It stretches from the top of South America to the North Pole, with countries bordering the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans. In total, the continent covers over 9.5 million square miles. That’s equivalent to 16.5% of the total land area on Earth and 4.8% of its total surface area. The only continents larger than North America are Africa and Asia.

3. It’s the Fourth-Largest Continent by Population

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Over 592 million people live in North America, which is roughly 7.5% of the global population. According to Macrotrends, there are currently 19.33 people per square kilometer. These numbers pale in comparison to Asia, which has almost 4.8 billion inhabitants – almost 60% of the world’s total population. That means there are over 150 people per square kilometer.

4. Nobody Knows When People First Inhabited It

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It remains unclear when humans first migrated to lands now known as North America. According to the Smithsonian, experts once believed it happened roughly 13,000 years ago when small groups of Stone Age hunters traveled across a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska before venturing south via an ice-free corridor.

However, subsequent discoveries suggest the migration began thousands of years prior. It’s now thought people may have first arrived at least 20,000 years ago and perhaps as far back as 30,000 years ago.

5. The Lowest Point Is 86 Meters Below Sea Level

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At 86 meters (282 feet) below sea level, Badwater Basin in California’s Death Valley is officially the lowest point in North America. It also experiences the hottest air temperatures on the planet. Furnace Creek (an apt name) once hit 56.7°C (134.1°F), and the average temperature in summer is over 45°C (113°F).

6. The Highest Point Rises Vertically Further Than Everest

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At 6,190 meters (20,310 feet) above sea level, Alaska’s Mount McKinley (Denali) is North America’s highest point. Technically, it’s also the tallest mountain on earth.

Everest is famous for this title and surpasses Denali in maximum height. But in terms of vertical rise, Denali wins. Its base stands at around 610 meters (2,000 feet) above sea level, meaning it climbs approximately 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) in total – significantly more than Everest’s 3,650-meter (12,000-feet) vertical rise.

7. The Name Comes From an Italian Explorer

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Both North and South America have an Italian navigator called Amerigo Vespucci to thank for their name. He was one of Europe’s first explorers to visit the New World.

In the early 16th century, a German cartographer created a map that labeled the continent now known as South America after Vespucci. In Latin, his name is Americus Vespucius, the feminine form of which is “America.” Map makers eventually started applying this name to both continents.

8. The Norse Were the First Europeans To Arrive

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In more recent history, the first Europeans to explore and settle in North America were the Norse. An old Norse tale says that roughly 1000 years ago, a man called Bjarni Herjulfsson was attempting to sail from Iceland to Greenland. Blown off course, he ended up seeing unknown shores to the southwest.

Upon his return, Herjulfsson shared this news. A year later, famed Viking explorer Leif Eriksson set out with a small band of compatriots to find and explore the land. Age-old Viking settlements in northeastern Canada lend credence to the tale.

9. It’s Rich in Natural Resources

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North America is one of the world’s most developed regions, largely thanks to its abundant natural resources. With lots of freshwater, huge forests, vast deposits of oil and minerals, and incredibly fertile soils, it had a strong foundation from which to become an economic powerhouse. Income per capita and the standard of living there are generally high as a result.

10. It Has the Largest Island in the World

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Greenland is an autonomous territory that falls within the North American continent. Covering an area of over 836,000 square miles, it’s officially the largest island on Earth – that’s bigger than the USA’s largest state, Alaska. Interestingly, Greenland is also where Leif Erikson was living before embarking on his voyage to North America.

11. Mexico City Is the Largest North American City

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The capital of Mexico, Mexico City, is home to around 12.3 million people, making it the biggest metropolis in North America by population. The runner-up is New York City, with around 8.2 million. In third place is another well-known US metropolis, Los Angeles, where approximately 4 million people live. Canada’s largest city is Toronto, which has around 2.6 million inhabitants.

12. Canada Is Its Largest Country by Land Area

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Contrary to popular belief, the biggest country in North America isn’t the United States. It’s Canada. With a total land area exceeding 3.8 million square miles (9.9 million square kilometers), it’s the second-largest country on Earth after Russia. It touches three oceans and has a coastline that extends more than 150,000 miles.

13. The US Is the Largest Country by Population

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The United States takes first prize in terms of population. Of the 592 million people living in North America, close to 342 million reside in the US (as of 2024). Approximately one-third of them live in America’s four most populated states: California, Texas, Florida, and New York. These have around 39 million, 31 million, 23 million, and 19.5 million inhabitants, respectively.

14. It’s Home to the Longest International Border on Earth

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The United States and Canada are two enormous countries that share by far the planet’s longest international border. It’s over 5,500 miles (8,900 km) long and undefended the whole way. Interestingly, this isn’t the only mighty border in North America. The infamous boundary between Mexico and the US is almost 2,000 miles long (3,155 km).

15. The Longest River in North America Is the Missouri

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Starting in the Rocky Mountains of southwestern Montana and ending north of St. Louis, Missouri, where it enters the Mississippi River, the Missouri River is the longest in North America. It snakes north, east, and south for a grand total of 2,341 miles (3,767 km). Interestingly, it flows into the Mississippi, which is the second-largest river on the continent.

More Quick-Fire North America Facts:

16. It Has the World’s Largest Freshwater Lake

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Lake Superior is one of the five infamous Great Lakes, which sit on or near the Canada-US border. It covers a whopping 31,700 square miles (82100 square kilometers), making it the biggest freshwater lake by surface area on the planet. Its volume of water is said to exceed all of the other Great Lakes combined.

17. There Are No Landlocked Countries

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Every country in North America touches the ocean. The only other places on Earth that can say that are Australia and Antarctica. The impact this ocean access has on trade and tourism is another reason for the continent’s prosperity.

18. Its Biggest National Park Could Fit a Country Inside

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Wrangell-St. Elisa National Park & Reserve in Alaska covers a staggering 13.2 million acres of land. A vast untouched wilderness, you could fit Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland inside and still have room to spare.

19. Every Biome Is Present

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North America is incredibly biodiverse. Apparently, it’s the only continent on Earth to contain every major biome. You’ll find the Arctic tundra, rainforests, deciduous and coniferous forests, deserts, mountains, and grasslands.

20. The US Produces and Exports the Most Corn on Earth

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Corn is one of the planet’s most consumed crops, and the United States is at the forefront of production. According to World-Grain.com, it produces over 354 million tonnes of it each year and exports almost 58 million tonnes.


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Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including MSN.com and news sites across the US.