Mountains fascinate us with their massive size and stunning beauty. Some of us stare in admiration, while others want to climb them. The higher the summit, the more we are drawn to it. While Mount Everest proudly stakes its claim as the world’s highest peak above sea level, you may wonder where you can find the tallest mountains in the US. We will outline America’s iconic peaks so you can plan your mountain adventure.
Alaska is known as the last frontier due to its rugged landscapes and sparse population. Part of that untamed wilderness includes towering snow-capped mountains. The state harbors every peak of America’s top ten tallest mountains.
To give some love to all parts of our country, we will outline the top five and then look at the highest summits within each region.
Elevation: 20,310 Feet
Mountain Range: Alaska Range
Previously called Mount McKinley, the summit now known as Denali is the tallest peak in the United States and North America. It towers over Alaska’s Denali National Park & Preserve.
You would think all park visitors would easily spot a mountain that soars 20,310 feet. However, it is so big that it creates its own weather. The mountain is regularly obscured by clouds, with only 30% of park visitors getting a glimpse.
When planning a Denali National Park & Preserve trip, visit for a few days if feasible. It improves your odds of seeing the mountain.
Julie and I were delighted to join the 30% club on the last day of our park visit. We had a short three-hour window in the morning before catching our bus. So, we headed into the park one last time. Our early morning efforts yielded moose sightings and a glimpse of Denali. It is one of the biggest thrills of our travels.
Mount Saint Elias
Elevation: 18,009 Feet
Mountain Range: Saint Elias Mountains
Mount Saint Elias straddles the Yukon and Alaska borders within the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. It is the second-tallest peak in both Canada and the United States.
The Tlingit name for the mountain is Was’eitushaa, which means “mountain at the head of Icy Bay.” It is a sacred site with significant cultural and spiritual importance to the Tlingit people, essentially a living being.
Elevation: 17,400 Feet
Mountain Range: Alaska Range
Mount Foraker sits in Denali National Park & Preserve, the second-highest mountain in the Alaska Range and the third-highest peak in the US. It is about eight miles from Denali, separated by the Kahiltna Glacier.
The Dena’ina native peoples revered Mount Foraker, giving her two names. One is Sultana, meaning “the woman.” The other is Menlale, or “Denali’s wife.” Many local Alaskans still call her Sultana.
Elevation: 16,550 Feet
Mountain Range: Saint Elias Mountains
Mount Bona resides deep in the Saint Elias Mountains in eastern Alaska. It is a massive ice-covered stratovolcano, simultaneously the fourth-highest mountain and the tallest volcano in the US.
The mountain was named by Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, in 1897. Legend says he spotted the mountain while ascending Mount Saint Elias and named it after a racing yacht.
Elevation: 16,390 Feet
Mountain Range: Wrangell Mountains
Mount Blackburn is an old, eroded shield volcano in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. It is the fifth-tallest mountain and second-highest volcano in the US. Lieutenant Henry Allen named the mountain in honor of Kentucky senator Joseph Clay Stiles Blackburn.
Mount Blackburn has two summits. The West Peak is its high point. Dora Keen and George Handy ascended East Blackburn, also known as Kennedy Peak, in 1912. Mount Blackburn is one of the few significant mountains first climbed by a woman.
Mountain Range: Saint Elias Mountains
Before we move outside Alaska, I want to mention another prominent peak in the state that Julie and I had the privilege of seeing. Mount Fairweather is the seventh-highest peak in the US. It straddles the US and Canadian borders, mainly within Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve. Legend says Captain James Cook named the mountain in 1778, supposedly for the weather encountered at the time he visited.
There is a lot of natural beauty in Glacier Bay. The park harbors snowy mountains, majestic glaciers, lush forests, and icy waterways. We observed exotic wildlife, including humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bears, and mountain goats, all from the comfort of our cruise ship.
The sheer size and scope of the setting distorts your perception. A 200-foot-tall glacier appeared to be 20 feet high. Comprehending that the surrounding mountains are 10,000 to 15,000 feet is challenging. My most cherished travel memories are observing the natural wonders of Denali and Glacier Bay.
Mount Whitney – Tallest Mountain in the West
Elevation: 14,505 Feet
Mountain Range: Sierra Nevada
Mount Whitney, located in California, is the highest peak in the Western US and Lower 48. It ranks number eleven overall on America’s tallest mountains list. The mountain nestles in Sequoia National Park and is the most frequently climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada. A permit is required for everyone, including day hikers, to climb or hike in the Mount Whitney zone.
Despite Mount Whitney’s size, Sequoia National Park visitors cannot see the mountain from primary roads. It is on the far east side of the park, and another mountain chain runs north and south through the park’s center. Ironically, Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, North America’s lowest point, is a 135-mile hike from Mount Whitney.
Mount Elbert – Highest Summit in the Rocky Mountains
Elevation: 14,440 Feet
Mountain Range: Sawatch Range
The famous Rocky Mountains get a lot of attention from travelers in the US and Canada. While the Canadian Rockies are more rugged with jagged peaks, the Colorado Rockies are taller but more rounded in appearance. Mount Elbert is the tallest summit in the Rockies and Colorado. It rises in Lake County within the state’s west-central region.
Mount Elbert is often called the “Gentle Giant” due to its relatively easy climbing routes. In the same range, Mount Massive and Mount Harvard are a mere few feet shorter at 14,428 and 14,421 feet, respectively.
Mount Rainier – Highest Peak in the Northwest
Elevation: 14,417 Feet
Mountain Range: Cascade Range
Mount Rainier, located in southwest Washington near Seattle, is the tallest mountain in the Pacific Northwest and the highest volcanic peak in the Lower 48. The active but dormant stratovolcano is the centerpiece of its namesake national park and a source of five major rivers.
Since climbing Mount Rainier is difficult, many park visitors savor the stunning views while hiking or snowshoeing. The area harbors over 25 significant glaciers. In summer, many park visitors are delighted to discover wildflower-carpeted meadows and cascading waterfalls in the foreground of the snowy mountain.
Mauna Kea – Highest Summit in Hawaii
Elevation: 13,803 Feet
Mountain Range: Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain
Mauna Kea is an inactive shield volcano on the island of Hawaii. Most of the mountain gets submerged under the ocean. Measuring from the base, it is over 33,000 feet, taller than Mount Everest. However, we recognize mountain height based on elevation above sea level. At 13,803 feet, Mauna Kea is the highest elevation point in Hawaii.
Mauna Kea, meaning “white mountain,” is one of five volcanoes forming the island. You are likely more familiar with Mauna Loa, which means “long mountain.” Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano by mass and volume. It measures over 30,000 feet from its base, topping 13,679 feet above sea level.
Black Elk Peak – Highest Peak in the Midwest
Elevation: 7,244 Feet
Mountain Range: Black Hills
Black Elk Peak, formerly Harney Peak, is the highest point east of the Rockies. The hiking trailhead sits within Custer State Park, South Dakota’s oldest and largest state park.
When Julie and I explored the Black Hills of South Dakota, we fell in love with the fragrant pine forests, tranquil lakes, rugged rock formations, and towering spires. Custer State Park has some of the most rewarding hikes and scenic drives we have experienced. Plus, we spotted more wildlife here than in any national park. One of those scenic drives, Iron Mountain Road, spans 17 miles, leading you to Mount Rushmore.
Due to limited time, we hiked Cathedral Spires Trail to Little Devils Tower Trail rather than Black Elk Peak Trail. The elevation point is slightly lower but yields excellent views of Black Elk Peak and the valley below. We observed wildflowers, various birds, and mountain goats along the trails. With lovely scenery on the journey, challenging rock scrambling, and breathtaking vistas, it is one of our most memorable hikes.
Mount Mitchell – Highest Peak in the Southeast
Elevation: 6,684 Feet
Mountain Range: Black Mountain Range
Mount Mitchell has several distinctions, including the tallest Appalachian Mountains peak and the highest summit east of the Mississippi River. The mountain is about 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville and is easily accessed just off the famous Blue Ridge Parkway.
Julie and I savored an autumn foliage road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. While the temperatures were cool but comfortable at lower elevations, we discovered snow on Mount Mitchell. With a strong scent of pine in the air and snow on the ground, it felt like a winter wonderland.
Although the parkway has many fantastic overlooks and hikes, Mount Mitchell is a highlight. There is a sign that notes the elevation, perfect for selfies. The viewing platform provides stunning 360-degree vistas.
Mount Washington – Highest Peak in the Northeast
Elevation: 6,288 Feet
Mountain Range: Presidential Range
Mount Washington, part of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains, proudly towers over New Hampshire. Experienced hikers can crest the summit, but most visitors drive or ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Julie and I rode the train, an experience we will never forget.
“The Cog” is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway. Although the top speed is less than 5 miles per hour, it is a ride through history with breathtaking views. At the summit, you will experience clouds blowing around your body as you walk toward the viewing platform. While the elevation may not be as high as the western mountains, the views are still stunning.
Prepare for any weather when making this journey. Mount Washington holds the record at 231 miles per hour for the highest wind speeds ever recorded unrelated to a hurricane, tornado, or cyclone. Weather can change suddenly and dramatically at the summit.
Journey to the Summit
The tallest mountains in the US are natural wonders upon which we marvel. Sometimes, the challenge to reach the peak is as rewarding as the culminating views. We hope this list inspires you to plan your next mountain adventure. Whether you plan to hike, climb, drive, or ride a train to the summit, enjoy the journey.
Featured image credit: Steve_Allen via Deposit Photos
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