The state of Nevada is full of surprises. While it’s best known for its casinos, bright lights and deserts, it also encompasses some of the US’s most important natural sites and resources. For instance, within the States it’s second only to Alaska in silver production. It’s even been nicknamed The Silver State, a reference to the 1850s silver rush there. Then, there’s the state’s official name. Nevada, from the mountains of Sierra Nevada, derives from the Spanish word for snowfall. This might seem a counterintuitive label for a place known for its hot, arid landscapes, but it is in fact apt. Because no other state in the contiguous US has a higher number of mountains. What’s more, these are no molehills. At least 35 of them exceed 10,000 feet and many are snowcapped for much of the year.
The question is, which are the biggest ones? Join us as we explore the highest mountains in Nevada.
Boundary Peak rises within Inyo National Forest in the western county of Esmeralda. Located less than half a mile from the border with California, this proximity to the state line is why it’s called Boundary Peak. Officially, this is the highest natural point in Nevada at 13,147 feet. Many sources also cite it as the highest mountain in Nevada, although this is a trickier claim. The reason? It might not be a mountain in its own right.
You see, the height of 13,147 feet refers to its elevation; the distance between the summit and sea level. By contrast, prominence is about how high it rises above its surroundings. With a prominence of just 253 feet, Boundary Peak falls below most minimums to count as a separate entity. Instead it might be classed as part of its Californian counterpart, Montgomery Peak. Both Boundary and Montgomery are members of the White Mountains range. However, Montgomery Peak is about 294 feet higher.
Regardless of whether it counts as one of the tallest mountains in Nevada, Boundary Peak is a true Nevadan gem. Its slopes are home to a forest of ancient bristlecone pines, said to be some of the world’s oldest living trees, and its summit is usually topped with snow.
At 13,065 feet above sea level, Wheeler Peak is only about 82 feet shy of the state’s highest point. Add to that its topographic prominence of 7,563 feet and, depending on who you ask, it’s this rather than Boundary Peak that’s technically the highest mountain in Nevada. Named for a 19th century surveyor, it’s found in the easternmost part of the state, within Great Basin National Park in White Pine County. There, it forms part of the 60-mile long Snake Range.
At the base of the mountain are the Lehman Caves, renowned for their shield formations, while its top remains heavily snowcapped for most of the year.
Just 20 miles north of Wheeler Peak, still in White Pine County, we find the third of the highest mountains in Nevada, Mount Moriah. Just like Wheeler, Moriah is part of the Snake Range, located in its northern region within Mount Moriah Wilderness Area in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. This 12,072-foot mountain is part of a landscape of sedimentary rocks dating back as far as the Cambrian period, sometime between 541 and 485 million years ago. Another impressive landmark in the wilderness, in fact immediately north of Moriah, is The Table, a sub-alpine plateau that is also home to Great Basin Bristlecone Pines.
In Central Nevada’s Ny County, Mount Jefferson stands as the fourth of Nevada’s highest mountains. It’s also the tallest in the fairly isolated Toquima Mountains range. And, if that wasn’t enough, it’s the third most topographically prominent mountain in Nevada after Mount Charleston and Wheeler Peak.
It’s a mountain with not one but three peaks, including the 11,820-foot North Summit, the 11,692-foot Middle Summit, and, the tallest of the trio, the South Summit at 11,949 feet. Shaped by alpine glaciers during the Pleistocene, there are several cirques here. It’s also known for its extreme alpine conditions and plant life, and almost 5,000 acres around Mount Jefferson are protected as a Research Natural Area.
In Clark County, approximately 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Mount Charleston stands as the highest peak of the Spring Mountains. It’s the state’s most topographically prominent and, at an elevation of 11,916 feet, the fifth among the tallest mountains in Nevada. For the Southern Paiute, it’s an Origin Mountain, a sacred site of their creation. They call it Nuvagantu, which roughly translates as “where snow sits.”
The Biggest Mountains of Nevada
And so, Nevada’s highest mountains are remarkable not just for their unexpected grandeur, but for the treasure they protect. From ancient organisms to sacred sites and ecological treasure troves, there’s plenty to “peak” anyone’s interest.