US mountains come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are scarcely larger than hills and are enshrouded in trees and vegetation, while others rise so high into the sky that their upper reaches are comprised of little more than rock and sometimes even perpetual ice and snow. Regardless of their size, the most popular mountains in the US are ideal outdoor playgrounds that are known not only for their wealth of recreational opportunities, but for their scenic value as well.
Rocky Mountains Image: AER Wilmington DE (flickr)
No other range dominates the US landscape quite like the Rocky Mountains. The size of the range alone makes it a major standout among the country’s topographical features, as does its role in helping to form the Continental Divide. Some of the highest peaks in the contiguous 48 are found in the Rocky Mountains Range, with Colorado being home to the highest concentration of mountains that top the 14,000-foot mark. Mount Elbert, at 14,440 feet, is the tallest peak in Colorado and within the Rocky Mountains in general. The US portion of the Rocky Mountains extends from western Montana and eastern Idaho on down through parts of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The range is home to some of the nation’s very best parks and mountains resorts, making it prime vacation territory. Among the parks of note is Yellowstone National Park.
Smoky Mountains Image: Mountain Photo Gallery (flickr)
Some of the most popular mountains in the US straddle the Tennessee-North Carolina border. They are the Great Smoky Mountains, often referred to in short as the Smoky Mountains or simply the Smokies. The Great Smoky name is inspired by the magical haze that is so often seen when looking out over the horizon. Protecting the majority of the range is the eponymous Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is America’s most visited national park. Hiking is among the activities of choice in the Smoky Mountains, due in part to the fact that a portion of the Appalachian Trail cuts through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail’s highest point is Clingmans Dome, which measures 6,643 feet above sea level. Clingmans Dome is also the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains on the whole. As a side note, the Great Smoky Mountains are a physiographic province of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In turn, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a physiographic province of the larger and more encompassing Appalachian Mountains.
Appalachian Mountains Image: Nicholas_T (flickr)
Much like the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains stretch for a considerable distance, running through portions of multiple states. Such ranges are perhaps best defined as mountain systems, as they are basically a collection of regional mountain ranges. In the US, the Appalachian Mountains reach from Maine all the way down to Alabama. Other US states that claim significant sections of the range include New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. Subranges and hilly areas extend the general boundaries of the Appalachian Mountains and the associated Appalachia cultural region. Among the mountain subranges of note in the Appalachian region is the aforementioned Great Smoky Mountains range. Numerous parks and mountain resorts are sprinkled throughout the Appalachian Mountains, and the region’s star attraction – the Appalachian Trail – runs all the way from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia.
Blue Ridge Mountains
Blue Ridge Mountains Image: cdsessums (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
Among the most notable US mountains that are part of the larger Appalachian Mountains Range are the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stretching from Georgia on northward to Pennsylvania, this range gets its name from the bluish color that its mountains take on when viewed from a distance. Two major national parks that are found within this subrange of the Appalachian Mountains are Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Blue Ridge Mountains region also claims the Blue Ridge Parkway and a portion of the Appalachian Trail. More than 100 peaks in the Blue Ridge range exceed 5,000 feet in elevation, with the highest of the bunch being Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet. Of all the US mountains east of the Mississippi River, not one is higher than Mt. Mitchell.
Adirondack Mountains Image: Tony Fischer Photography (flickr)
The Adirondack Mountains in New York State have long been some of the most popular mountains in the US for outdoor recreation. This has a lot to do with the range’s proximity to major population centers. Cities that are within a few hours’ drive or less include New York City, Boston, Burlington, Montreal, and Ottawa. Serving as the home of the Adirondack Mountains is the Adirondack Park, which covers more than six million acres and offers miles of hiking trails to go with its extensive collection of rivers, ponds and lakes. The most famous lake within the park’s borders is Lake Placid. Skiing is among the winter activities of choice in the Adirondack Mountains, with Whiteface Mountain offering the greatest vertical drop east of the Rockies. Fall brings the changing colors of the trees, which is spectacular to witness.
Over on the western side of the country, the Cascade Mountains figure among the most popular mountains in the US. The Cascade Range, which has a portion in Canada’s British Columbia province, covers parts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. Many of the peaks in this large range exceed 10,000 feet in elevation. They include two of the region’s most famous peaks – Mount Hood (11,235 feet) and Mount Rainier (the tallest peak in the range at 14,410 feet). Also interesting to note is that most of the peaks in the Cascade Range are volcanoes, the majority of which are thankfully extinct. Mount Saint Helens is the most famous of the active volcanoes in this region. Another famous attraction in the Cascade Mountains that is indicative of the area’s volcanic history is Crater Lake in Oregon. A good way to take in the scenery of the Cascade Mountains is by hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Other popular US mountains to enjoy in the western region of the country are the Sierra Mountains. More officially known as the Sierra Nevada Mountains, these rather lofty peaks extend for some 400 miles, with the majority of the range being in the east-central region of California. A portion of the range extends into Nevada. Among the most notable features of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are Mount Whitney and Lake Tahoe. Mount Whitney reaches an elevation of 14,505 feet and is the highest point in the contiguous United States. Lake Tahoe is North America’s largest alpine lake. As is true of other regions that are characterized by mountains, the Sierra Nevada region is one of great natural beauty. Other ideas for places to take it all in include Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park.