By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Head to the western United States, where you’ll have your altitude adjusted by these lofty peaks.
As lifelong mountain lovers, we decided to investigate the tallest mountains in the United States. If we were altitude purists, our focus would be limited to just Alaska, which boasts the 16 highest peaks in the country. Instead, we set our sights on finding the tallest mountain in 13 individual states.
1. Mount McKinley, Alaska, 20,320 feet
Awe-inspiring Mount McKinley, the loftiest mountain in the country, is located in Denali National Park and Preserve. Its magnificent landscape supports a wide diversity of wildlife, including grizzly bears, caribou, wolves, and moose. In summer the slopes contain garlands of birds and flowers covering 6 million acres of beauty. Denali Park Road is the only road in the park and, with few exceptions, private vehicles aren’t allowed. To see the park, hop aboard a bus.
2. Mount Whitney, California, 14,496 feet
As the tallest mountain in the continental United States, Mount Whitney towers high over Death Valley, the lowest point in North America. Part of the Sierra Nevadas, on the west side it’s easily viewed from Sequoia National Park; on the east, you’ll see it while driving U.S. 395, but you’ll want to stop in Lone Pine for a longer, safer look. Hikers might want to know that Mount Whitney is the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail, which runs 212 miles between this peak and the Yosemite Valley.
3. Mount Elbert, Colorado, 14,433 feet
Colorado’s tallest mountain is located southwest of Leadville, its highest town. Even in a state rich in mountains, Mount Elbert dominates the view. This mountain is just one of the peaks reaching more than 14,000 feet into the Colorado sky. It’s easy to understand why Mount Elbert is a favorite of hikers. In spite of its size, it is reputed to be easy to climb. Unfortunately, when we were there we didn’t know that it’s only 4½ miles each way on a good trail. Darn!
4. Mount Rainier, Washington, 14,411 feet
Imagine an active volcano encased in 35 square miles of snow and ice. Down below you’ll find dense, old-growth forest and spectacular subalpine meadows. No wonder it’s a national park! What’s more, Mount Rainier is just a 54-mile drive from Seattle.
5. Gannett Peak, Wyoming, 13,804 feet
This is the highest mountain in the state “” taller than Grand Teton “” and it straddles the Continental Divide. Nine-hundred-acre Gannett Glacier, said to be the largest single glacier in the Rockies, flows down Gannett’s northern slopes. Grand Teton National Park to the northwest occupies most of the valley, preserving those awesome peaks and glacial lakes. Wildlife abounds, including deer, moose, pronghorn antelope, elks, grizzly and black bears, bison, and trumpeter swans. Many of the larger animals roam across the valley floor.
6. Mauna Kea, Hawaii, 13,796 feet
Depending on how you measure it, Mauna Kea is 13,796 feet tall, but purists insist the entire Big Island of Hawaii is actually a mountain, stretching an estimated 33,000 feet from the sea floor. That would make it the world’s tallest mountain. Still, it would be tough to hike the underwater part. Besides, motorhomes don’t float, or fit into an airliner, so we’ll move on.
7. Kings Peak, Utah, 13,528 feet
Utah is a desert state, the second most arid in the country. It also has tall mountains woven in and among the plains and lowlands. Kings Peak, located in Ashley National Forest, is part of the Uinta Mountain range. This mountain is approximately 80 miles east of Salt Lake City. The peak is a good 12 miles from the nearest road and is surrounded by a huge wilderness area filled with pristine lakes, flat alpine meadows, and easy summits.
8. Wheeler Peak, New Mexico, 13,161 feet
The Sangre de Cristo mountain range in northern New Mexico offers a series of high summits and unusually high treelines. Few other places can claim to have forests above 12,000 feet. Alpine trails lead past colorful wildflowers, cascading waterfalls, and rushing waters up to the top of New Mexico’s tallest mountain, Wheeler Peak.
9. Boundary Peak, Nevada, 13,140 feet
Located entirely within the state of Nevada, Boundary Peak rises approximately a mile east of the California border, thus its name. It is one of the most remote peaks on the list, surrounded by the Boundary Peak Wilderness Area.
10. Granite Peak, Montana, 12,799 feet
Located in the Beartooth Range of the Rockies, Granite Peak is a tough climb for hikers. It involves rock climbing, long hikes, snow climbing, exposed camping, sudden severe thunderstorms, and a journey through the Froze-To-Death Plateau. This one is definitely for those who take their summiting seriously. The mountain is approximately 60 miles southwest of Billings. Yellowstone National Park is just southwest of the mountain. The park also has trails to Granite’s summit.
11. Borah Peak, Idaho, 12,662 feet
This peak, named for Idaho Senator William Borah, is located in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, 45 miles north of Arco. This area also contains the Wild & Scenic Salmon River and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, making it a desirable destination for hunting, fishing, whitewater rafting, and other outdoor recreation activities. A 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit the area in 1983, causing damage to the surrounding towns and changing the landscape of the mountain.
12. Humphreys Peak, Arizona, 12,633 feet
The highest point in Arizona, located approximately 11 miles north of Flagstaff, is the highest of a group of ancient volcanic peaks. On days when it’s 105 degrees in Phoenix, it can be 60 degrees cooler on top of Humphreys. Not the entire state is desert, as some people assume. The summit can be most easily reached by hiking the 4.5-mile Humphreys Trail. If you do go hiking up the peak, watch out for thunderstorms during the summer.
13. Mount Hood, Oregon, 11,239 feet
The tallest mountain in Oregon lies 45 miles southeast of Portland. Mount Hood is made of lava flows, domes, and volcaniclastic deposits. The main cone formed approximately 500,000 years ago, but it has erupted only four times in the last 15,000 years. The most recent episode ended shortly before the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1805. There will be more bursts of energy from Mount Hood, but not without warning.