The United States is home to a diverse range of majestic landscapes, including some of the highest and most awe-inspiring mountains in North America.
When it comes to mountains, no other state contains as many of the highest peaks as Alaska. Due to their remote setting in the Last Frontier, some of these mountains are rarely visited but maintain their daunting status as iconic features of Alaska’s geography.
Of the top 11 highest mountains in the United States, 10 are located in Alaska and the last, Mount Whitney, is part of the Sierra Nevada range in California.
Read on for more information about the highest 11 mountains in the United States. Related: Highest Point in Every U.S. State
1. Denali- Alaska – The Highest Mountain in the United States
Rising 20,310 feet (6,190 meters) , Denali is the United States’ highest mountain. Denali is also the highest mountain in North America and is the third highest mountain of the Seven Summits (a hiking term for the tallest mountain on each continent) after Mount Everest and Aconcagua.
Denali was formed by tectonic plate convergence
Located in the Alaska Range, Denali and the mountains around it were formed from dramatic tectonic activity that continues to increase the mountain’s elevation little by little every year.
Detail was formed by the convergence of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, causing the uplift of the Earth’s crust in the region.
Denali has a large base-to-peak rise than Mount Everest
Denali has one of the largest base-to-peak rises on Earth, with a vertical gain of around 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) from its base, which is greater than that of Mount Everest.
Denali is the Koyukon Athabaskan word meaning ‘the tall one,’ and the mountain holds great significance for indigenous Alaskans who have resided around it since time immemorial.
The mountain is the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserve, a protected area spanning over 6 million acres of wilderness, providing habitats for various wildlife species, including grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and Dall sheep.
Additionally, Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the most visited locations in Alaska, bringing tourists in from around the world during the summer months. Many of the park’s wildlife animals can be seen from the park’s singular road.
2. Mount Saint Elias – Alaska Yukon
Mount Saint Elias straddles the Alaska/Canadian border in the Saint Elias Mountain Range in northern southeast Alaska. At 18,009 feet (5,489 meters), it is the second highest mountain in the United States and in Canada behind Mount Logan.
Mount Saint Elias forms part of the Saint Elias Mountains, a subrange of the Pacific Coast Ranges, which extend from southeastern Alaska through the Yukon and into northern British Columbia.
Mount Saint Elias, on the US side is part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest National Park in the United States. Nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States are found in this National Park.
This mountain range is located near Glacier Bay, which has a high density of glaciers and icefields as well as tectonic and volcanic activity that has helped make this mountain range popular for modern and past exploration.
Mount Saint Elias is called Yasʼéitʼaa Shaa or Shaa Tlein by the indigenous Yakutat Tlingit people who have lived in the area for thousands of years.
Mount Saint Elias saw its first recorded summit in 1897 by an Italian expedition. The Italian team was led by Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, along with guides and climbers from the United States, on July 31, 1897.
3. Mount Foraker – Alaska
On a clear day, Mount Foraker can be seen in tandem with Denali in the Alaska Range.
Mount Foraker is the third highest peak in the United States with an elevation of 17,400 feet (5304 meters).
Mount Foraker is situated in the central Alaska Range within Denali National Park and Preserve, approximately 14 miles (23 km) southwest of Denali, the highest peak in North America.
Mount Foraker is also located on a fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, the longest glacier in the Alaska Range, across from Denali and Mount Hunter.
The indigenous Dena’ina names for Mount Foraker are Sultana, meaning ‘the woman,’ or Menlale, meaning ‘Denali’s wife’ due to its close proximity to Denali.
The first recorded successful summiting of the north and south peaks occurred in 1934 by Charles Houston, T. Graham Brown, and Chychele Waterston.
4. Mount Bona – Alaska
Mount Bona is a dormant stratovolcano located in the Saint Elias Mountains. Mount Bona is situated in the eastern Alaska Range within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, which is the largest national park in the United States.
At 16,550 feet (5,040 meters), Mount Bona is the highest volcano in the United States as well as the fourth highest mountain in the US. Mount Bona is also the fifth-highest independent peak in the United States.
Mount Bona is surrounded by extensive icefields, including the Russell Glacier to the north and the University Range icefield to the west. Covered by glaciers and ice fields, the Klutlan Glacier flows into the Yukon Territory of Canada and is an important contributor to the Russell Glacier complex.
Mount Bona is located near several other high peaks in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, including Mount Blackburn, Mount Sanford, and Mount Wrangell. This makes the area a popular destination for mountaineers seeking to climb multiple high peaks within the same region.
The first successful ascent of Mount Bona was achieved by Allen Carpe, Terris Moore, and Andrew Taylor on June 8, 1930.
5. Mount Blackburn – Alaska
Mount Blackburn is an old, eroded shield volcano that tops out at 16,390 feet (4996 meters). Located in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, it is the second highest volcano in the United States as well as the fifth highest mountain in the country.
Mount Blackburn is surrounded by numerous glaciers, including the Kennicott Glacier to the west and the Nabesna Glacier to the north.
Mount Blackburn is the main source of ice that flows into the Kennicott Glacier, which is a draw for visitors seeking out the mining ghost town of Kennecott and the jumping off point of McCarthy. The mountain also contributes ice to the Nabesna Glacier and the Kuskulana Glacier.
The first successful ascent of Mount Blackburn was achieved by Bruce Gilbert, Dick Wahlstrom, Hans Gmoser, Adolf Bitterlich, and Leon Blumer on May 30, 1958.
6. Mount Sanford – Alaska
Mount Sanford is another dormant shield volcano in the Wrangell Mountains. At 16,237 feet 4,949 meters) high, Mount Sanford is the third highest volcano in the United States.
Mount Sanford is situated in the Wrangell Volcanic Field in eastern Alaska within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
The ice that comes from the mountain contributes to the aptly named Sanford Glacier.
The volcano hasn’t been active since before the historical record began in the 1700s; however, vapor, rock and ice fall from near the summit often look like smoke or ash rising from the summit.
The first successful ascent of Mount Sanford was achieved by Wilfred H. Babcock, H. Adams Carter, Elton Thayer, and Terris Moore on July 21, 1938. Mountaineers continue to make Mount Sanford a go-to mountain for expeditions.
7. Mount Fairweather – Alaska, British Columbia
Glacier Bay is one of the most popular tourist locations in Alaska, drawing millions of visitors each year to view the tidewater glaciers, wildlife, and remote beauty of this part of the world.
For thousands of years, indigenous Alaskans have lived at the foot of these mountains and glaciers. In the Tlingit language, Mount Fairweather is called Tsalxhaan or Tanaku, and the mountains between it and Mount Saint Elias are known as Tsalxhaan Yatx’i, or the Children of Tsalxhaan.
Mount Fairweather clocks in at 15,325 feet (4671 meters) and lies in Glacier Bay and the City and Borough of Yakutat in Alaska, and British Columbia in Canada.
The first successful ascent of Mount Fairweather was achieved by Allen Carpé, Terris Moore, and Andrew Taylor on June 8, 1931.
8. Mount Hubbard – Alaska, Yukon Territory
Mount Hubbard is located in the Saint Elias Range and straddles the border of Alaska and the Yukon.
Rising 14,951 feet (4557 meters), Mount Hubbard was named in 1890 after Gardiner Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society who sponsored the Russell Expedition to its flanks.
Mount Hubbard has three summits; the other two named summits are Mount Alverstone and Mount Kennedy.
The first successful ascent of Mount Hubbard was achieved by Walter Wood, Bob Bates, and Bill Hackett on July 6, 1951.
9. Mount Bear – Alaska
Mount Bear is 14,831 feet (4520 meters) tall and is located in the Wrangell-Saint Elias Mountains in Alaska, just four rugged miles away from the Canadian border.
Mount Bear contributes ice to the Barnard Glacier and the Klutlan Glacier complexes. Mount Bear is a little-climbed peak often overlooked for mountaineering expeditions because of the nearby Mount Logan, Mount Bona, and Mount Lucania.
Mount Bear was first climbed in 1959 by a team of American and Canadian climbers led by Fred Beckey.
10. Mount Hunter – Alaska
Mount Hunter is a 14,573 foot peak within Denali National Park. Located about eight miles away from Denali, Mount Hunter was named Begguya by the Dena’ina people. Begguya means ‘child of Denali.’
Mount Hunter has a North Summit, which is considered the main summit, and a South Summit known as Mount Stevens after a former Alaska state senator.
The first recorded ascent of Mount Hunter happened in 1954.
11. Mount Whitney – California
Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the United States that isn’t located in Alaska.
At 14,505 feet (4,421 meters), Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the continental United States and is a much sought after hike for day hikers as well as backpackers on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Mount Whitney is known as Too-man-i-goo-yah in the indigenous Paiute language. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Mount Whitney is along the border of Sequoia National Park and the John Muir Trail.
The mountain was first climbed in 1873 by a team of American climbers led by Charles Begole, A. H. Johnson, and John Lucas.
- Watch: 11 Highest Mountains in the United States (YouTube video)
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Glaciers of Alaska. USGS. Retrieved from https://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/p1386k/pdf/05_1386K_stelias.pdf
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Wikipedia. Mount Saint Elias. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Saint_Elias
Zimmerman, Kim Ann. Denali: Facts About North America’s Tallest Mountain. 16 May 2017. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/40595-denali-mount-mckinley.html
This article was originally written on December 2, 2020 and has since been updated.