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Dumfriesshire is a border county. It is bounded on the north by Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire, on the east by Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire, on the south by Solway Firth and the English county of Cumberland, and on the west by Kirkcudbrightshire and Ayrshire. The area is 1073 square miles.

The surface of the county in the north and northeast is mountainous. The Hartfell and Black Larg are the highest peaks. The chief rivers are the Nith, Annan, and Esk, all of which traverse beautiful fertile valleys. The three best known passes through the mountains into the county are the Dalveen, Enterkin, and Menock.

Dumfries is the county town and Annam the chief port. Moffat, Hartfell, and Closeburn are resort towns with mineral springs.

The shire was the scene of constant strife between the border clans during the 16th and 17th centuries.