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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Table: highest, lowest, and elevation span for each state (in feet)
|State||Highest Point||Highest Elevation (ft)||Lowest Point||Lowest Elevation (ft)||Elevation Range (ft)|
|California||Mount Whitney||14,494||Death Valley||-282||14,776|
|Washington||Mount Rainier||14,411||Pacific Ocean||0||14,411|
|Hawaii||Pu’u Wēkiu, Mauna Kea||13,796||Pacific Ocean||0||13,796|
|Nevada||Boundary Peak||13,140||Colorado River||479||12,661|
|Arizona||Humphreys Peak||12,633||Colorado River||70||12,563|
|Idaho||Borah Peak||12,662||Snake River||710||11,952|
|Utah||Kings Peak||13,528||Beaverdam Wash||2,000||11,528|
|Oregon||Mount Hood||11,239||Pacific Ocean||0||11,239|
|Colorado||Mount Elbert||14,433||Arikaree River||3,315||11,118|
|Montana||Granite Peak||12,799||Kootenai River||1,800||10,999|
|Wyoming||Gannett Peak||13,804||Belle Fourche River||3,099||10,705|
|New Mexico||Wheeler Peak||13,161||Red Bluff Reservoir||2,842||10,319|
|Texas||Guadalupe Peak||8,749||Gulf of Mexico||0||8,749|
|North Carolina||Mount Mitchell||6,684||Atlantic Ocean||0||6,684|
|Tennessee||Clingmans Dome||6,643||Mississippi River||178||6,465|
|New Hampshire||Mount Washington||6,288||Atlantic Ocean||0||6,288|
|South Dakota||Harney Peak||7,242||Big Stone Lake||966||6,276|
|Virginia||Mount Rogers||5,729||Atlantic Ocean||0||5,729|
|New York||Mount Marcy||5,344||Atlantic Ocean||0||5,344|
|Maine||Mount Katahdin||5,268||Atlantic Ocean||0||5,268|
|Georgia||Brasstown Bald||4,784||Atlantic Ocean||0||4,784|
|Oklahoma||Black Mesa||4,973||Little River||289||4,684|
|West Virginia||Spruce Knob||4,863||Potomac River||240||4,623|
|Nebraska||Panorama Point||5,424||Missouri River||840||4,584|
|Vermont||Mount Mansfield||4,393||Lake Champlain||95||4,298|
|Kentucky||Black Mountain||4,145||Mississippi River||257||3,888|
|South Carolina||Sassafras Mountain||3,560||Atlantic Ocean||0||3,560|
|Massachusetts||Mount Greylock||3,491||Atlantic Ocean||0||3,491|
|Kansas||Mount Sunflower||4,039||Verdigris River||679||3,360|
|Maryland||Hoye Crest||3,360||Atlantic Ocean||0||3,360|
|Pennsylvania||Mount Davis||3,213||Delaware River||0||3,213|
|Samoa||Lata Mountain||3,160||Pacific Ocean||0||3,160|
|North Dakota||White Butte||3,506||Red River of the North||750||2,756|
|Arkansas||Magazine Mountain||2,753||Ouachita River||55||2,698|
|Alabama||Cheaha Mountain||2,407||Gulf of Mexico||0||2,407|
|Connecticut||Mount Frissel on south slope at State line||2,380||Long Island||0||2,380|
|New Jersey||High Point||1,803||Atlantic Ocean||0||1,803|
|Minnesota||Eagle Mountain||2,301||Lake Superior||601||1,700|
|Virgin Islands||Crown Mountain||1,556||Atlantic Ocean||0||1,556|
|Missouri||Taum Sauk Mountain||1,772||Saint Francis River||230||1,542|
|Michigan||Mount Arvon||1,979||Lake Erie||571||1,408|
|Wisconsin||Timms Hill||1,951||Lake Michigan||579||1,372|
|Guam||Mount Lamlam||1,332||Pacific Ocean||0||1,332|
|Iowa||Hawkeye Point||1,670||Mississippi River||480||1,190|
|Ohio||Campbell Hill||1,550||Ohio River||455||1,095|
|Illinois||Charles Mound||1,235||Mississippi River||279||956|
|Indiana||Hoosier Hill||1,257||Ohio River||320||937|
|Rhode Island||Jerimoth Hill||812||Atlantic Ocean||0||812|
|Mississippi||Woodall Mountain||806||Gulf of Mexico||0||806|
|Louisiana||Driskill Mountain||535||New Orleans||-8||543|
|Delaware||On Ebright Road at Delaware-Pennsylvania State line||448||Atlantic Ocean||0||448|
|Florida||Britton Hill||345||Atlantic Ocean||0||345|
|United States||Denali – Alaska||20,320||Death Valley – California||-282||20,602|