Can you travel to any of the United States Minor Outlying Islands?

In addition to the well known US Territories of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, the CNMI, and American Samoa, there are a few territories that are collectively known as the United States Minor Outlying Islands, and include Midway Island, Howland Island, and Kingman Reef. Most of these territories appear to be uninhabited, dedicated as a nature preserve, or both.

Is it possible in any meaningful sense to travel to any of them? I’m talking both about practical matters and matters of permission. Can a US Citizen charter a flight to Baker Island (which is uninhabited) and back and expect that the government will let you hang out down there as long as you want and come back without permission? Are these territories uninhabited because the current landowners refuse to sell, because wannabe settlers/migrants cannot legally even get there, or is it because the territories are so remote and devoid of resources that even a multi-millionaire couldn’t afford the cost of living?

There’s gotta be a way. If not, how did the Google Street View of Midway get so extensive?

Are private yachts allowed to dock on any of these? If anything I’d expect yachties to visit rather than chartered planes.

Midway is accessible but it’s a wildlife refuge so you have to visit within their guidelines. Same for Baker Island and Howland Island.

Kingman Reef is also a wildlife refuge but closed to the public.

Baker and Midway have landing strips. Kingman and Howland do not.

Midway, along with nearby Ocean Island (Kure), Laysan, and a bunch of lesser-known islets, reefs, and atolls, are part of the State of Hawai’i and included in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Unaccompanied travel os restricted to protect the fragile ecology but it would be quite possible to visit any of them with a NPS escort except for budget constraints .

Midway is part of the greater Hawaiian island chain, but not the state. It is an unincorporated territory.

Midway was opened to tour groups in 2008, but tours are not available in 2013 due to NPS budget issues.

A bit off-topic, but I’ve never understood why the US government hasn’t ceded Midway to the State of Hawaii. Why was Midway ever a seperate territory to begin with? Most military bases do just fine being within the territory of one state or another; there doesn’t appear to be an especially compelling reason for Midway to have ever been separate from Hawaii, and even less of a reason now that it’s an uninhabited nature preserve.

Why would Hawaii want it? It provides no economic benefit.

The island was discovered and claimed for the US in 1859, long before the annexation of Hawaii, and was uninhabited at the time. There would seem to be no particular reason why it should have been joined to Hawaii.

Back on topic, Palmyra Atoll, located south of Hawaii, had an airstrip during World War 2, but apparently it’s all overgrown these days. People visit it on yachts, and there was a double murder there years ago (it’s the subject of the book And the Sea Will Tell). It’s also apparently been turned into a wildlife refuge. From what I’ve read, at least part of the island may still be privately owned, but what the practical significance of this is, I cannot say (would the land owners pay property taxes? To who?)

It’s geographically part of the Hawaiian Islands. It seems like such an obvious move that the US government should merge it with the State of Hawaii.

The current situation would be like if one of the Aleutian Islands was held by the US government as a territory seperate from Alaska. It might not make any practical difference, but why not just give the land to the state that’s literally right next door?

If you click on the links to the Wiki site for each particular ‘island’, you’ll get more info about visiting. And if you need more info, you’ll find out which US organization is in charge of the island and can give you more info.


Wake Island It is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States, administered by the Office of Insular Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior. Access to the island is restricted, and all activities on the island are managed by the United States Air Force.

Johnston is an atoll, which is located on the coral reef platform, comprises four islands. For nearly 70 years, the atoll was under the control of the American military. In that time it was used as an airbase, a naval refuelling depot and a weapons testing area. In the mid-1980s, the atoll became a facility for chemical weapons disposal. In 2004 the military base was closed; island control was handed over to civilian authorities. Johnston Atoll is an unincorporated territory of the United States administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior as part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Since the base was closed, the atoll is likely to have been visited by sailing vessels crossing the Pacific, as the deserted atoll has a strong lure due to the activities once performed there. One vessel blogged about stopping there for several days during a trip from Honolulu to the Marshall Islands.[9]

Midway Atoll is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States, and the former home of the Midway Naval Air Station (former ICAO PMDY). The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, encompassing 590,991.50 acres (239,165.77 ha)[1] of land and water (mostly water) in the surrounding area, is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Travel to the atoll in 2013 will not be possible through either organized tour companies or as a Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer, due to budget cuts in the US government’s 2013 fiscal budget, suspending visitor and volunteer programs. The visitor program (which reopened the atoll to visitors in January 2008) hosted 332 visitors in 2012. The tours have focused on the ecology of Midway and its military history. The economy is derived solely from governmental sources and tourist fees. All food and manufactured goods are imported. The refuge and most of its surrounding area are part of the larger Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

No love in this thread for lovely Navassa island?

Man, that’s a lot of albatrosses.

If it doesn’t make any practical difference, why do so?

While geographically part of the Hawaiian chain, Midway is about 1,000 miles from the nearest inhabited islands of the state of Hawaii.

I’d forgotten about Navassa. I say the US government should just give up its claim and let Haiti have the place. I understand it was claimed for its guano deposits, but these days it’s pretty much the dictionary definition of a worthless rock.