It’s known as the “Grand Canyon State,” but this famous landmark is just one of Arizona’s natural wonders. The 48th state is home to a variety of flora and fauna, while its features range from desert to alpine. Formed by a mix of plate tectonics and stream erosion, the state’s topography features cacti-strewn deserts, grand waterfalls and colossal caves. What’s more, several mountain ranges pepper the landscape, particularly in the northern Colorado Plateau.
The question is, what are the highest mountains in Arizona? That’s what we’re here to find out.
The highest point in Arizona is found around 10 miles north of Flagstaff on the Colorado Plateau. There, within Coconino National Forest, Humphreys Peak rises to a towering elevation of 12,633 feet above sea level. It’s the tallest peak of San Francisco Mountain, an ancient, eroded stratovolcano that formed through a series of eruptions occurring between about one million and 93,000 years ago. Humphreys lines the crater of this vast volcano along with two other summits, Agassiz and Fremont, the trio known together as the San Francisco Peaks. The mountain is held sacred by various indigenous cultures, including the Navajo, Hopi, and Havasupai. Its Hopi and Navajo names respectively are Aaloosaktukwi and Dook’oʼoosliid. Humphreys is named after a 19th century U.S. Army General.
Mount Baldy, apparently so named for its bare top, is an extinct stratovolcano in eastern Arizona, and a prominent feature in the White Mountains range. It reaches an impressive height of 11,403 feet, making it the second tallest mountain in Arizona and the highest of the White Mountains, one of the four sacred mountain ranges of the Western Apache. The Apache name for the mountain is Dzil Ligai, meaning “Mountain of White Rock.” Renowned for its grandeur and rugged landscape scored by deep river canyons, Mount Baldy is also the source of the Little Colorado River.
Reaching 10,912 feet, the third highest point in Arizona is the top of the trio of peaks of Escudilla Mountain in Apache County. This basalt and sandstone mountain has 12 rock glaciers, likely formed around 11,700 years ago, reflecting a unique climatic and geological history influenced by its proximity to the ocean and highland areas.
A term unique to southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico is that of sky islands; isolated mountain ranges that emerge in a desert environment and transform as they rise, becoming alpine in character. They are, in effect, islands in a sea of desert. Arizona’s highest peak amongst its sky islands is Mount Graham, which epitomises the extraordinary biodiversity resulting from this ecological mix. Its fauna ranges from Coues white-tailed deer, Gould’s turkey, coatimundi, and black bears, to rare species such as Mount Graham red squirrels, Mexican spotted owls, and goshawk. It’s also here that one finds the southernmost stand of Englemann spruce in the US, with research revealing living trees dating back to between 1257 and 1270 AD.
And that’s not all. At 10,720 feet, Mount Graham is also the fourth tallest mountain in Arizona by elevation. Its Western Apache name, Dzil Nchaa Si’an, roughly means ′Big Seated Mountain.′ It’s the highest of the Pinaleno or “Deer” Mountains, one of the Western Apache’s four holiest mountains, and considered sacred by all of the region’s indigenous peoples. It’s located in Graham County’s Coronado National Forest, approximately 70 miles northeast of Tucson.
Another of the highest mountains in Arizona is Kendrick Peak. Part of the San Francisco volcanic field, this 10,425-foot lava dome volcano is aged between 2.7 and 1.4 million years.
Arizona's Highest Peaks
As we’ve seen, Arizona’s highest peaks are an impressive and varied bunch, with five of them exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation.
However, elevation is just one way of classifying a mountain’s size, which it does by measuring the height of a mountain’s summit from the Earth’s sea level. Prominence meanwhile is a measure of a mountain’s height relative to its surroundings.
A list compiled by this criteria would deem Mount Graham the biggest mountain in Arizona, its prominence being 1,932 feet to Humphreys’ 1,841 feet. Then, there’s the fact that some peaks are not sufficiently separate to be classed as mountains. For example, both Agassiz Peak at 12,360 feet and Fremont Peak at 11,973 feet are higher than Baldy Mountain, but they’re not generally considered mountains in their own right, but rather sub peaks of San Francisco Mountain.
To summit up, the race for the title of tallest mountain in Arizona is a tough one.