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How Big Is an Acre, Actually?

We all hear the term “acre” all the time, maybe every day. You probably know it’s a common term for measuring parcels of land, but how big is it, exactly? In this article, we’ll demystify this form of measurement that’s still in use after a thousand years or more.

We’ll find out why (and where) it’s used and what it actually means.

Hopefully, we can help you perfectly visualize just how much space an acre is.

What Is an Acre?

Usually, when you see the term “acre,” it’s describing an amount of land. That’s not always the case, however. Waterways, particularly lakes, are often described in numbers of acres. So are big developments like shopping centers, warehouses, or manufacturing plants.

Before we break it down in terms of size, let’s talk briefly about the word’s origin.

It probably goes back to either an Old English or Latin word for “open field” or where crops are grown. That’s because it originally meant how big of a space an ox could plow in a day. How far back are we talking? Historians believe the term acre has been in use since the Middle Ages, the period between 500 and 1500 A.D.

So, how big is an acre? It’s 43,560 square feet, the same as 4,840 square yards. That’s a square about 208 feet long on all four sides. It would take 640 acres to cover a square mile.

Measuring tape overlay
One acre equals 4,046.86 square meters or .00404686 kilometers.

Why does the US use acres?

If you’ve traveled abroad, you probably know that the use of acre as a measurement isn’t universal. In Europe and other areas, the preferred measurement for land is “hectare.” It’s the equivalent of one square kilometer or 10,000 square meters. That amounts to about 2.47 acres.

While most other countries use the metric system developed by the French, the United States remains somewhat independent. The system of weights and measurements in the U.S. is based on the old British Imperial System instead.

That’s why we hang on to the use of acre as a unit of measurement. It’s written in our Constitution, and national leaders have never wanted to change it.  

Translating between the two can be confusing, of course. For conversion purposes, an acre equates to 4,046.86 square meters or .00404686 kilometers.

How Many Football Fields Is an Acre?

In America, we also like to describe things in terms of football fields because it’s easy for most people to understand. In this case, it’s a good comparison, but not a perfect one.

Football fields are rectangular, 120 yards long (including the end zones), and 53 feet wide. Acres are square, with each side measuring 69.3 yards, so that’s about 75% the size of a football field.

Maybe basketball’s more your game. Nine basketball courts would fit. Tennis, anyone? Fifteen courts would be a match.

Pro Tip: You might not be able to run for acres, but you can at least stream football while relaxing in your RV. Here’s how!

Woman walking in flower field.
Whether you’re in a field or walking down the street, an acre is a big measurement to use.

How Many City Blocks Is an Acre?

If you live in a city or visit them often, you can get accustomed to using city blocks as a measuring stick. It’s hard to make an exact comparison, though, for a couple of reasons. First of all, city blocks are usually rectangular, like football fields, while acres are square.

And the other factor is that they vary in size from city to city. They generally cover about 100,000 square feet, the equivalent of 2.25 acres. But it’s not always the case. “In New York City, most city blocks are 660 feet by 330 feet, which is equal to 5 acres,” says

“Urban planning, however, has evolved over time, and ideas about the ideal size of city blocks have evolved with it. In some cities, block plots are much smaller. City blocks in Portland, Ore., for example, measure 290 feet by 290 feet, which is just under 2 acres.”

How Do You Calculate Acres?

Determining acreage – how many acres a piece of land is – is pretty straightforward, and there are a few different ways. (The only difficulty you might run into is if the plot of land is irregularly shaped.) Basically, you multiply the length of the land by the width to come up with the total area.

Then divide that number by the number of feet (or yards or meters) in an acre. As a reminder, the number of square feet in an acre is 43,560, and the number of square yards is 4,840. This equals 4,046.86 square meters.

Pro Tip: Join RV life and drive for acres! Check out these 22 Reasons RV Living is (Still) Great in 2022.

Is an Acre Bigger Than You Thought?

When you see a lot described as 1.25 acres or read about a vast 78,000-acre wildlife refuge, how much land is it? How about a sprawling cattle ranch in Texas that covers 260,000 acres? Can you even imagine how big that is?

Maybe it helps to think small, like three-fourths of a football field, and work your way up. Does that give you a clearer picture of how much land an acre is (or isn’t)? Let us know in the comments!

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