Mountain Ranges in North America: Notable Mountains, Hikes, And All Things Altitude

Updated: May 11, 2023
mountain ranges in north america

North America is home to incredible mountain ranges, most of which occupy the western backbone of the continent and form part of the American Cordillera.

On this page you will find detailed guides to some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the US, including the Brooks and Alaskan Range, the Pacific Coast Ranges, the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains, Appalachians and Sierra Madres.

North American Mountain Ranges

The mountain ranges of North America are mostly concentrated on the Western Side of the continent, where they form part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountains that make-up the Western backbone of the continent and run almost continuously from North America, through Central America, South America and Antarctica.

The main ranges starting in the North and heading South are the Brooks and Alaska Range in Alaska, the Pacific Coastal Ranges, Cascades and Sierra Nevada, which run down the western side of the States, the Rocky Mountains, which are set a little back from the Western ranges and are the longest in North America, and the Sierra Madres ranges in Mexico. 

On the Eastern side of the United States running from north to south are the famous Appalachian Mountains, which form a natural boundary between east and west.

Below is a brief summary of the mountain main ranges in North America. Use the Quicklinks to read detailed guides on each. 

Rocky Mountains

rocky mountains

The Rocky Mountains aka the Rockies, is the longest mountain range in North America, stretching over 4,800km (3,000 miles) from New Mexico in Southwestern United States all the way to British Columbia in Canada.

The range consists of many sub ranges, including Absaroka, Big Belt, Big Horn, the Canadian Rockies, Clearwater, Laramie, Medicine Bow, Sacramento, the Tetons, and Wasatch to name a few.

The Rockies are distinct from the Sierra Nevada, Pacific Coast Ranges and Cascades, which all lie further west. The Rocky Mountains are home to some of the best long distance hikes in the world. See our picks for the best hikes in RMNP.

Sierra Nevada

sierra nevada

The Sierra Nevada range lies predominately in California, although the Carson Spur is situated in Nevada. 

The range is approximately 640km (400 miles) long and includes the notable features of Lake Tahoe (the largest alpine lake in the United States), and Mount Whitney (the highest peak in contiguous United States - i.e. the main 48 adjoining states, not including Alaska and Hawaii, which are separate). 

Alaska Range

alaska range

The Alaska range sits squarely in Southeastern Alaska, running approximately 650km (400 miles) from Lake Clark to White River in the Yukon province of Canada. 

The highest peak in North America and one of the Seven Summits, Denali (6,190m / 20,310 ft), is situated in the Alaska Range.

Outside of the Asian and South American continents, the Alaska Range is the highest in the World.

Cascade Range

cascades range

The Cascades are a major mountain range in western North America.The range extends from British Columbia in Canada, all the way through Washington and Oregon state to Northern California.

Apart from hosting some notable volcanoes in the High Cascades, the other most distinguishing feature is the iconic peak of Mount Rainier - the playground for many famous North American alpinists.

Top 10 Mountain Ranges, North America


Countries / States

Highest Point

Alaska Range

US (Alaska)

Denali (6,200m)

Appalachian Mountains (incl. Blue Ridge, Cumberland, Catskills, Green and White Mountains)

US (Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia)

Mount Mitchell (2,037m)

Canadian Rockies

Canada (British Columbia and Alberta)

Mount Robson (3,954m)

Cascade Range

US / Canada (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California)

Mount Rainier (4,392m)

Great Smoky Mountains

US (Tennessee and North Carolina)

Clingmans Dome (2,052m)

Olympic Mountains

US (Washington)

Mount Olympus (2,432m)

Rocky Mountains

Canada / US (British Columbia and Alberta in Canada through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico)

Mount Elbert (4,401m)

Sierra Madre (incl. Sierra Madre Occidental and Sierra Madre Oriental) 


Cerro Potosi (3,700m)

Sierra Nevada

US (California and Nevada)

Mount Whitney (4,421m)

White Mountains

US (New Hampshire and Maine)

Mount Washington (1,917m)

Notable North American Mountains

Here is a brief summary of our favourite North American peaks, with links to detailed mountain guides for each.



Denali (6190m / 20,310ft) is the highest peak in North America, one of the Seven Summits, and the third most prominent and third most isolated peak in the World - after Mount Everest and Aconcagua.

Denali was first summited in 1913 by climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum. Today the mountain is climbed fairly regularly with a summit success rate of around 60%. Unfortunately over 100 people have lost trying to bag Denali.

Mount Rainier

mount rainier

Mount Rainer (4,392m / 14,411ft) aka Tahoma or Tacoma, is the highest mountain in the Cascade Range. Rainier is an active stratovolcano, and is featured on the Decade Volcano list (a list of 16 volcanos considered to be particular dangerous due to their activity, chemistry and proximity to a densely populated area - Rainier is only 59 miles from Seattle). 

Climbing Mount Rainier is a real challenge due to the large crevassed glaciers and inclement weather that characterise the mountain. Nonetheless around 8,000 to 13,000 people attempt the climb every year, with about 50% reaching the summit. 

Highest Mountains In North America

The North American continent is rich in major mountain peaks.

The highest mountain is Denali, which also happens to be the only peak over 6000m on the continent (6190m / 20,310ft to be precise). After Denali there are 11 peaks over 5,000m (16,400ft), and another 100 over 4,000m (13,120ft) in North America.

In the western part of the United States, mountaineers frequently refer to the fourteeners, a collection of mountains over 14,000ft. There are 96 mountains in the United States that are classified as fourteeners, all of which are west of the Mississippi.

Below are the 10 highest peaks on the North American continent.

Mountain / Range


Country / State

Denali (Alaska Range)

6,190m / 20,310ft

United States / Alaska

Mount Logon (Saint Elias Mountains)

5,956m / 19,541 ft

Canada / Yukon

Pico de Orizaba (Cordillera Neovolcanica)

5,636m  / 18,491 ft


Mount Saint Elias (Saint Elias Mountains)

5,489m / 18,009 ft

Canada / Yukon

Popocatépetl (Cordillera Neovolcanica)

5,410m / 17,749 ft


Mount Foraker (Alaska Range)

5,304m / 17,400 ft

United States / Alaska

Mount Lucania (Saint Elias Mountains)

5,260m / 17,257 ft

Canada / Yukon

Iztaccíhuatl (Cordillera Neovolcanica)

5,230m / 17,159 ft


King Peak (Saint Elias Mountains)

5,173m / 16,972 ft

Canada / Yukon

Mount Bona (Saint Elias Mountains)

5,044m / 16,550 ft

United States / Alaska

Notable Hikes In North America

Yosemite National Park 3

North America has literally 10,000s of hiking trails, from extraordinary day hikes like the Half Dome Trail in Yosemite, to epic treks like the 3,500km (2,200 mile) Appalachian Trail. Read more on accommodation on the Appalachian Trail.

Many of the best hikes are found scattered throughout the amazing National Parks of the United States. 

Use the index below to search our detailed North American hiking guides, or get a top level overview from our guide to the Best Hikes in America.

About the author 

Mark Whitman

Mark has trekked extensively in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. He founded Mountain IQ in 2014 with the sole aim to be the best online information portal to some of the most popular mountain destinations around the world. When not writing for Mountain IQ, Mark is out exploring the outdoors with his wife!

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