Major Mountain Ranges of the USA

The United States of America is home to some of the most stunning mountains in the world. From the soaring peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the rugged terrain of the Appalachian Mountains, the USA has no shortage of awe-inspiring natural beauty.

There are more than 200 mountain ranges in the USA.

Let’s take a look at the 10 main mountain ranges.

Rocky Mountains

The Rockies are a colossal chain extending over 3,000 miles from Canada down to New Mexico, shaping the western backbone of North America. It encompasses the grandeur of Colorado’s fourteeners like Pikes Peak and Longs Peak and the wild expanse of Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Sierra Nevada

California’s Sierra Nevada stretches approximately 400 miles and hosting some of the country’s most famous peaks including Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, as well as the iconic Yosemite Valley.

Appalachian Mountains

Spanning over 2,000 miles from Alabama to Canada, the Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest in the world. The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200-mile hiking trail that winds through Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Alaska Range

The Alaska Range is a 600-mile, crescent shaped mountain range that stretches across Central Alaska. The range is dominated by Denali, North America’s tallest peak. The Alaska Range is one of the highest mountain ranges in the world, after the Himalayas and the Andes.

Cascade Range

Reaching from British Columbia in Canada to northern California, the Cascades are a long line of active and dormant volcanoes including Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. It lies in the Ring of Fire, a string of sites of seismic activity around the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

Brooks Range

Located in northern Alaska, the Brooks Range spans 720 miles from east to west. It is technically an extension of the Rockies. The mountain range is situated entirely within the Arctic Circle and is considered the highest mountain range in the polar circle. It’s also home to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a vastwilderness where polar bears, caribou and musk oxen roam. 

Adirondack Mountains

Located in New York, the Adirondack Mountains contains 46 high peaks. The park is comprised of over 6 million acres of protected land, making it the largest park in the contiguous United States.The word “Adirondack” means “those who eat trees” in the language of the Mohawks.

Coast Range

The Pacific Coast Range runs parallel to the Cascades and hugs the western edge of the continent from Alaska to California. While not as large as the Rockies or Sierra Nevada, these mountains hold their charm with dense forests, picturesque coastal vistas, and rugged cliffs.

Klamath Mountains

In the far northwest of California and extending into Oregon, lie the Klamath Mountains. Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains, Siskiyou Mountains, Eddy Range, Salmon Mountains, and Castle Crags are a few of the mountains that make up this chain, with the Siskiyou Mountains being the Klamath Mountains’ largest subrange.

Ouachita Mountains

The Ouachita Mountains extend approximately 225 miles from Arkansas and Oklahoma. It is believed that these mountains were once as tall as the present-day Rocky Mountains, but eroded over millions of years to less than 3,000 feet. Its highest peak, Magazine Mountain, is currently 2,800 feet tall.

The 15 Tallest Mountains in the USA

The tallest mountains in the United States are mostly found in just one state – Alaska.

Alaska has fourteen major mountain ranges, with three of them – the Alaska Range, Saint Elias Mountains and Wrangell Mountains – being home to most of the 15 highest peaks in the USA. Colorado and California are the other states that have a few participants in the running.

Without further adieu, here are the 15 tallest peaks in America.

1. Denali (20,310 ft/6,190 m)

Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, is the highest mountain in the USA. As one of the Seven Summits, it is a popular destination for climbers, with around 1,200 people attempting to summit each year.

Located in Denali National Park in Alaska, the mountain is the third most isolated peak on Earth after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. Interestingly, its actual height is still being debated.

The highest point in the USA, the summit of Denali, is officially 20,310 feet tall. However, the mountain’s elevation has been measured numerous times, with some measurements suggesting that it is higher than the commonly accepted figure.

The name “Denali” means “the high one” in the Athabaskan language.

2. Mount Saint Elias (18,008 ft/5,489 m)

Mount Saint Elias is located on the border between Alaska and the Yukon Territory in Canada. It is part of the Saint Elias Mountains.

The mountain has enormous ice fields and glaciers, which are some of the largest in North America. The mountain is also steeped in history, having been named after the biblical prophet Elias by the Russian explorer Vitus Bering in 1741. The first ascent was made in 1897 by the Duke of Abruzzi after eight attempts.

3. Mount Foraker (17,400 ft/5,304 m)

Located in the Alaska Range, Mount Foraker is the third-highest mountain peak in the United States. It is often referred to as Denali’s sister peak, as it is located just 14 miles southwest of Denali in the Alaska Range.

The mountain has rugged terrain, jagged peaks and challenging climbing routes, which make it a popular destination for experienced climbers. It was named after Joseph B. Foraker, an Ohio senator who advocated for the creation of Mount McKinley National Park.

4. Mount Bona (16,550 ft/5,044 m)

Mount Bona is located in the Saint Elias Mountains in southeastern Alaska. Known for its massive size, it has a base diameter of 25 miles and covers an area of over 7,000 square miles. Mount Bona was named by the Duke of the Abruzzi. He saw the peak while making the first ascent of Mount Saint Elias and named it after his racing yacht.

The geology of the mountain includes rocks that are more than 300 million years old. Mount Boma is one of the largest volcanoes in the world is still considered an active volcano. It was formed by layers of volcanic ash, lava, and rock.

5. Mount Blackburn (16,390 ft/4,996 m)

Mount Blackburn is part of the Wrangell Mountains in Alaska. It has one of the largest icefalls in North America which descends from the summit. The mountain is also home to many glaciers, including the Kennicott Glacier, which is over 20 miles long.

The mountain range was named after Joseph Clay Stiles Blackburn, a senator from Kentucky who was an advocate for the creation of the park.

6. Mount Sanford (16,237 ft/4,949 m)

Mount Sanford is the sixth-highest mountain in the USA. It is a shield volcano in the Wrangell Volcanic Field, in eastern Alaska near the Copper River. Mount Sanford is known for its unique geology, which includes a massive caldera that is more than 6 miles in diameter.

The mountain was named in 1885 by Lieutenant Henry T. Allen of the U.S. Army after the Sanford family. It was first climbed in 1938 by American mountaineers Terris Moore and Bradford Washburn.

7. Mount Fairweather (15,325 ft/4,671 m)

Mount Fairweather is located on the border between Alaska and British Columbia in Canada. It is the highest peak in British Columbia even though most of the mountain is sits on Alaskan soil. The peak is only 20 km away from the Pacific Ocean. 

The mountain range was named by Captain James Cook, who saw the peak in 1778 while navigating the bay in “fair weather.” He was impressed by its beauty and symmetry.

8. Mount Hubbard (14,950 ft/4,557 m)

Mount Hubbard is a stunning mountain located on the border between the United States and Canada, in the Saint Elias Range of Alaska. It has three distinct summits, with the highest being on the Canadian side of the border. It’s also considered one of the most difficult mountains to climb in North America due to its steepness and unpredictable weather conditions.

Mount Hubbard has also been the site of several scientific studies, including studies on glaciology and climate change. The mountain range was named after Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society.

9. Mount Bear (14,831 ft/4,520 m)

Mount Bear is a massive peak located in the Saint Elias Mountains on the border between Alaska and the Yukon Territory in Canada. One of the unique features of Mount Bear is its location. It is situated at the intersection of three major mountain ranges, which gives it a distinctive appearance. It is also home to several glaciers, including the Bear Glacier, which is one of the largest glaciers in North America.

The mountain is named after William Wallace Atwood’s expedition, which explored the region in 1912.

10. Mount Hunter (14,573 ft/4,442 m)

Mount Hunter is a prominent peak in the Alaska Range, located in the Denali National Park and Preserve. It is the third-highest peak in the Alaska Range, following Denali and Mount Foraker.

The mountain has a steep vertical relief, which makes it a popular destination for ice and mixed climbing. The mountain has several challenging routes, including the famous West Ridge, which requires advanced technical skills and is considered one of the most difficult climbs in North America.

The peak was named after Robert Hunter, an early explorer of the area, in 1903. It was first climbed in 1954 by a team of four American climbers, including Bradford Washburn, who later became a renowned mountaineer and photographer.

11. Mount Whitney (14,505 ft/4,421 m)

Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States and the 11th highest peak in the USA. It is located in the Sierra Nevada range in eastern California.

Mount Whitney has a rich history and is considered sacred by the indigenous people of the area. The mountain was first climbed in 1873 by a team of four, led by Charles Begole, and has since become a popular destination for hikers and climbers from around the world. Whitney Portal, located near the town of Lone Pine, is gateway to the main hiking route to the summit.

The peak is named after Josiah Whitney, the state geologist of California, and is situated in the John Muir Wilderness area.

12. Mount Alverstone (14,500 ft/4,420 m)

The 12th highest mountain in the USA brings us back to Alaska. Mount Alverstone is a majestic mountain that resides on the border of Alaska and Canada. It is part of the Saint Elias Mountains and forms the highest point of the Alaska-British Columbia boundary. The mountain is located within the largest non-polar ice field in the world, the Bagley Icefield, which spans over 1270 square miles.

The peak was named after the Anglican Bishop of Victoria, Charles James Stewart, who also went by the name of Alverstone. This mountain was first climbed in 1906 by a team of four people led by American philanthropist and alpinist Dora Keen.

13. University Peak (14,470 ft/4,410 m)

University Peak is located in the Saint Elias Mountains of Alaska. It can be considered a southern outlier of the large massif of Mount Bona. It is known for its dramatic and rugged terrain, with steep cliffs and deep valleys.

The peak was named by Terris Moore, President of the University of Alaska. He wrote, “I herewith claim by virtue of prior discovery to name two peaks about five and ten miles west-southwest of Mount Bona. I informed regents of the University of my intention to name one of these peaks University Peak for the University of Alaska.”

The first ascent of University Peak was in 1955, led by American mountaineer Keith Hart.

14. Mount Elbert (14,440 ft/4,401 m)

Located in Colorado, Mount Elbert is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains. It is in the Sawatch Range of central Colorado, near the town of Leadville. Mount Elbert has glacial cirques which were formed during the last Ice Age. These cirques are bowl-shaped depressions on the mountain’s slopes, and they are filled with snow and ice year-round.

The mountain was named after Samuel Hitt Elbert, who was the governor of Colorado in the late 1800s. The mountain was officially named in his honor in 1873, although it had been known to Native Americans and early explorers long before that.

15. Mount Massive (14,428 ft /4,398 m)

Mount Massive is the second highest peak in the Rocky Mountains and the third highest peak in the contiguous United States. The name Mount Massive is comes from its impressive size. It covers an area of over 340 square miles and has a summit plateau that is approximately 5 square miles. The peak is also home to several large glaciers, including Massive Glacier, the largest glacier in the Sawatch Range.

Mount Massive has a rich history. The mountain was first explored by American frontiersman John C. Fremont in 1845 and was named by early miners who thought the mountain was the highest peak in the area.

How Does Mount Kilimanjaro Compare?

Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and one of the Seven Summits. It stands 19,341 feet or 5,895 meters above sea level and would therefore be the second tallest peak in the United States if it were actually located there.

Unlike many of the peaks on this list, scaling Kilimanjaro does not require technical mountaineering skills or carrying heavy backpacks. Africa’s highest peak is a high altitude trek that is guided and fully supported by a local crew. Therefore, it can be climbed be people with no experience and average fitness.

Interested in climbing Kilimanjaro? See our trip dates and prices.