U.S. States With the Most Extreme Elevation Spans

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The topography of the United States is extremely diverse. The United States is home to several prominent mountain ranges including the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, and the Appalachian Mountains. The Alaska Range, a  600-mile-long (950 kilometer) mountain range in the south-central region of Alaska, features Mount Denali, the tallest mountain in North America with an elevation of 20,194 feet (6,155 meters).

Bookended by the mountain ranges that run down the western and eastern sides of the United States, the middle of the country has wide expanses of low topography including the Great Plains, the Coastal Plains, and the Lower Ohio River Valley.

What is an elevation span?

An elevation span refers to the difference in elevation between the highest and lowest points within a specific area. Elevation spans can encompass the highs of mountains or cliffs and the lows of deep valleys or even below-sea-level depressions. Elevation is the measurement of the height of a point on the Earth’s surface above (positive values) or below (negative values) sea level.

A view of a snow covered mountain behind a forest mountain with water of a lake in the foreground.
Elevation span is the distance between the highest and lowest point in an area. Diagram: Caitlin Dempsey. Background photo: Danny Brothers, USGS, public domain.

Elevation span can be an indicator of the topographical diversity of an area. Areas that have valleys and peaks will have a greater elevation span than a region that is mostly low-lying or rolling hills.

Elevation span of the entire United States

The elevation span of the entire United States encompasses the lowest point, which is Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California, at 282 feet below sea level, and the highest point, which is Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) in Alaska, at 20,320 feet above sea level. The total elevation span of the United States is therefore 20,602 feet (20,320 feet – (-282 feet)). This vast range reflects the diverse topographical features found across the country.

A shaded relief map of the United States with inset maps for Alaska and Hawaii with lowest points in each state marked with a small black dot and highest points in each state marked with a red diamond symbol.
Shaded relief map with highest points (red diamond symbols) and lowest points (black dots). Map: Caitlin Dempsey, Lambert Conformal Conic map projection, elevation data from USGS, shaded relief from Naturalearthdata.com.

States with the greatest elevation span

All of the states with the highest difference between their lowest and highest elevations are found in the western part of the United States. This area contains some of the highest mountain ranges in the United States.

A note about the data: Exact elevation measurements will vary depending on the source. All of the data listed here for highest and lowest elevations for each state is from the USGS. The table of highest and lowest elevations from the USGS is a compilation of data sources including the National Geodetic Survey, Corps of Engineers, and state surveys.

13 states have an elevation span of over 10,000 feet, making them the U.S. states with the most extreme differences between the highest and lowest points. Only one state, Alaska, has an elevation span over 20,000 feet.

1. Alaska – 20,320 foot elevation span

Alaska is the only state that has an elevation span that is more than 20,000 feet. The highest point in Alaska is Denali with a peak of 20,320 feet. The lowest point is sea level (0 feet elevation) as the Alaskan coastline faces the North Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, and the Arctic Ocean (fun fact: Alaska is the only state that borders two different oceans).

Denali seen from backcountry Unit 13 on June 14, 2019. Photo: NPS / Emily Mesner
Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, as seen from backcountry Unit 13 on June 14, 2019. Photo: NPS / Emily Mesner

2. California – 14,776 foot elevation span

California is home to the highest mountain peak in the United States outside of Alaska. Mount Whitney has an elevation of 14,494 feet. The lowest point in North America can be found in Death Valley, California. Badwater Basin, a salt flat in Death Valley, sits below sea level with a elevation of -282 feet. California and Louisiana are the only states in the country with elevation points below sea level.

The difference in elevation between Mount Whitney and Badwater Basin gives California a total elevation span of 14,776 feet.

Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park. Photo: NPS, public domain.
Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park has the lowest elevation in California. Photo: NPS, public domain.

3. Washington – 14,411 foot elevation span

With a high point thanks to the 14,411 foot elevation of Mount Rainier, part of the Cascade Range, and a low point of 0 feet at Washington’s Pacific Ocean facing coastline, Washington is the state with the third highest elevation span.

Astronaut photograph ISS056-E-85160 taken on July 8, 2018 shows a nadir view of Mount Rainier.
Astronaut photograph ISS056-E-85160 taken on July 8, 2018 shows a nadir view of Mount Rainier. Source: NASA.

4. Hawaii – 13,796 foot elevation span

Hawaii’s high elevation is the isolated peak of Pu’u Wēkiu on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that stands at 13,796 feet above the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii’s elevation span is equal to the height of the peak, since the base of this volcanic mountain is at sea level.

Snow covering Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on February 6, 2021. Landsat 8 image: NASA.
Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s highest point and the Pacific Ocean is the state’s lowest elevation. Satellite imagery taken on February 6, 2021. Landsat 8 image: NASA.

5. Nevada – 12,661 foot elevation span

Known for its arid desert landscape, Nevada’s highest point is Boundary Peak at 13,140 feet, while its lowest point is where the Colorado River flows at 479 feet above sea level, giving it an elevation span of 12,661 feet.

6. Arizona – 12,563 foot elevation span

Humphreys Peak is the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet, and the state’s lowest point is along the Colorado River at 70 feet above sea level, making for an elevation span of 12,563 feet.

7. Idaho – 11,952 foot elevation span

Borah Peak is the highest point in Idaho at 12,662 feet, and its lowest point is the Snake River at 710 feet above sea level. This gives Idaho an elevation span of 11,952 feet.

8. Utah – 11,528 foot elevation span

With Kings Peak reaching 13,528 feet and the lowest point at Beaverdam Wash at 2,000 feet above sea level, Utah has an elevation span of 11,528 feet.

9. Oregon – 11,239 foot elevation span

Mount Hood stands at 11,239 feet as the highest point in Oregon, while the lowest point is at sea level along the Pacific Ocean, totaling an elevation span of 11,239 feet.

Mount Hood with the city of Portland, Oregon in the foreground.
Mount Hood with the city of Portland, Oregon in the foreground. Photo: Ed Ruttledge, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.

10. Colorado – 11,118 foot elevation span

Colorado’s highest point is Mount Elbert at 14,433 feet, and its lowest point is the Arikaree River at 3,315 feet above sea level, giving it an elevation span of 11,118 feet.

11. Montana – 10,999 foot elevation span

The state’s highest point is Granite Peak at 12,799 feet, and the lowest is along the Kootenai River at 1,800 feet above sea level, resulting in an elevation span of 10,999 feet.

12. Wyoming – 10,705 foot elevation span

With Gannett Peak reaching 13,804 feet and the lowest point along the Belle Fourche River at 3,099 feet above sea level, Wyoming has an elevation span of 10,705 feet.

13. New Mexico – 10,319 foot elevation span

Wheeler Peak is the highest point at 13,161 feet, and the lowest point is Red Bluff Reservoir at 2,842 feet above sea level, which means New Mexico has an elevation span of 10,319 feet.

Chart: Elevation span for each U.S. state

A range plot chart showing the lowest and highest elevations for each U.S. state.
The range of elevations for each state in the United States. Graph: Caitlin Dempsey.

U.S. states with the lowest elevation spans

hese states have some of the lowest elevation spans in the United States, which means there’s a smaller difference between the highest and lowest natural points within their boundaries. All of these states have less than a 1000 foot difference between the highest point and the lowest point.

  • Illinois: The highest point is Charles Mound at 1,235 feet, located in Jo Daviess County. The lowest point is at the Mississippi River in Alexander County, which is at 279 feet above sea level, resulting in an elevation span of 956 feet.
  • Indiana: Hoosier Hill stands at 1,257 feet in Wayne County, making it the state’s highest point. The Ohio River in Posey County is the lowest point at 320 feet above sea level, giving Indiana an elevation span of 937 feet.
  • Rhode Island: Jerimoth Hill is the highest point at 812 feet in Providence County, while the state’s lowest point is at sea level along the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in an elevation span of 812 feet.
  • Mississippi: With Woodall Mountain as the highest point at 806 feet in Tishomingo County and the lowest point being the Gulf of Mexico at sea level, Mississippi has an elevation span of 806 feet.
  • Louisiana: Driskill Mountain in Bienville Parish rises to 535 feet above sea level. The state’s lowest point is New Orleans, which is 8 feet below sea level in Orleans Parish, making for an elevation span of 543 feet.
  • Delaware: The highest point is on Ebright Road at the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line in New Castle County at 448 feet. The lowest point is the Atlantic Ocean at sea level, giving Delaware an elevation span of 448 feet.
  • Florida: Britton Hill in Walton County is the state’s highest point at 345 feet above sea level. With the lowest point being the Atlantic Ocean at sea level, Florida has the smallest elevation span among U.S. states at 345 feet.
Marker on Britton Hill. Photo: StAugBeachBum, public domain via MediaWiki Commons.
Marker on Britton Hill. Photo: StAugBeachBum, public domain via MediaWiki Commons.

Table: highest, lowest, and elevation span for each state (in feet)

StateHighest PointHighest Elevation (ft)Lowest Point Lowest Elevation (ft)Elevation Range (ft)
AlaskaDenali20,320Pacific Ocean020,320
CaliforniaMount Whitney14,494Death Valley-28214,776
WashingtonMount Rainier14,411Pacific Ocean014,411
HawaiiPu’u Wēkiu, Mauna Kea13,796Pacific Ocean013,796
NevadaBoundary Peak13,140Colorado River47912,661
ArizonaHumphreys Peak12,633Colorado River7012,563
IdahoBorah Peak12,662Snake River71011,952
UtahKings Peak13,528Beaverdam Wash2,00011,528
OregonMount Hood11,239Pacific Ocean011,239
ColoradoMount Elbert14,433Arikaree River3,31511,118
MontanaGranite Peak12,799Kootenai River1,80010,999
WyomingGannett Peak13,804Belle Fourche River3,09910,705
New MexicoWheeler Peak13,161Red Bluff Reservoir2,84210,319
TexasGuadalupe Peak8,749Gulf of Mexico08,749
North CarolinaMount Mitchell6,684Atlantic Ocean06,684
TennesseeClingmans Dome6,643Mississippi River1786,465
New HampshireMount Washington6,288Atlantic Ocean06,288
South DakotaHarney Peak7,242Big Stone Lake9666,276
VirginiaMount Rogers5,729Atlantic Ocean05,729
New YorkMount Marcy5,344Atlantic Ocean05,344
MaineMount Katahdin5,268Atlantic Ocean05,268
GeorgiaBrasstown Bald4,784Atlantic Ocean04,784
OklahomaBlack Mesa4,973Little River2894,684
West VirginiaSpruce Knob4,863Potomac River2404,623
NebraskaPanorama Point5,424Missouri River8404,584
VermontMount Mansfield4,393Lake Champlain954,298
KentuckyBlack Mountain4,145Mississippi River2573,888
South CarolinaSassafras Mountain3,560Atlantic Ocean03,560
MassachusettsMount Greylock3,491Atlantic Ocean03,491
KansasMount Sunflower4,039Verdigris River6793,360
MarylandHoye Crest3,360Atlantic Ocean03,360
PennsylvaniaMount Davis3,213Delaware River03,213
SamoaLata Mountain3,160Pacific Ocean03,160
North DakotaWhite Butte3,506Red River of the North7502,756
ArkansasMagazine Mountain2,753Ouachita River552,698
AlabamaCheaha Mountain2,407Gulf of Mexico02,407
ConnecticutMount Frissel on south slope at State line2,380Long Island02,380
New JerseyHigh Point1,803Atlantic Ocean01,803
MinnesotaEagle Mountain2,301Lake Superior6011,700
Virgin IslandsCrown Mountain1,556Atlantic Ocean01,556
MissouriTaum Sauk Mountain1,772Saint Francis River2301,542
MichiganMount Arvon1,979Lake Erie5711,408
WisconsinTimms Hill1,951Lake Michigan5791,372
GuamMount Lamlam1,332Pacific Ocean01,332
IowaHawkeye Point1,670Mississippi River4801,190
OhioCampbell Hill1,550Ohio River4551,095
IllinoisCharles Mound1,235Mississippi River279956
IndianaHoosier Hill1,257Ohio River320937
Rhode IslandJerimoth Hill812Atlantic Ocean0812
MississippiWoodall Mountain806Gulf of Mexico0806
LouisianaDriskill Mountain535New Orleans-8543
DelawareOn Ebright Road at Delaware-Pennsylvania State line448Atlantic Ocean0448
FloridaBritton Hill345Atlantic Ocean0345
United StatesDenali – Alaska20,320Death Valley – California-28220,602

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.