Rocky Mountain Majesty: The Highest Mountains in Colorado

It has the highest mean elevation of all the United States and the country’s second highest peak. So what are the highest mountains in Colorado? We’ve got a list that rocks.

Travel and Exploration
14 December 2023

Colorado’s natural landscape is a fascinating tapestry of geographical diversity. In the east, the vast flat, grass-covered expanse of the Great Plains transitions into the rolling hills of Colorado Piedmont. Moving westwards from there, the topography shifts dramatically. Divided between the Southern Rockies and the Colorado Plateau, it’s in western Colorado that one finds its defining topographical feature: mountains. Some 831 peaks in this part of the state rise to elevations of between 11,000 and 14,000 feet. And these aren’t even the highest mountains in Colorado. Because it also has at least 53 “fourteeners.” In other words, mountains that exceed 14,000 feet.

In this article, we’re going straight to the top, identifying its highest peaks and indeed the tallest mountain in Colorado. But first, let’s set the scene.

The Rockies

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado. (Credit: Sandra Leidholdt via Getty Images)

While the far west and southwest of Colorado is taken up by the Colorado Plateau, Colorado’s central western region is dominated by the largest mountain system in North America, the Rocky Mountains. As a whole, the Rockies spread up from New Mexico all the way into Canada. Colorado’s portion, part of the Southern Rockies, is further divided into smaller subranges. What sets Colorado’s Rockies apart is that, as well as being home to Colorado’s highest peaks, they also encompass the very tallest ones in the Rocky Mountains overall.

Mount Elbert

Mount Elbert Reflecting in Twin Lakes Near Leadville, Colorado. (Credit: Lightvision, LLC via Getty Images)

Rising to over 14,440 feet, Mount Elbert stands as the biggest mountain in Colorado. It’s also the highest of all the Rocky Mountains and the second highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Located in Lake County, it’s part of the Sawatch Range, and epitomises the gentle contours for which the range is known. Most of Mount Elbert is composed of quartzite rock, but other types of metamorphic rock are present as well as igneous types. From Elk and grouse to gophers and black bears, a range of wildlife is found in its vicinity. And, while the lower slopes are a mix of spruce, pine, fir and aspen trees, the peak is alpine.

Mount Massive

Sunset on the summit ridge of Mount Massive, Colorado. (Credit: Daniel H. Bailey via Getty Images)

About five miles north of the highest point in Colorado is its second highest summit, Mount Massive. This 14,428-foot high peak is another member of the Sawatch Range and, as well as being the second tallest mountain in Colorado, it’s also second highest of the Rockies and the third-highest peak in the contiguous United States. It’s located in the Mount Massive Wilderness of San Isabel National Forest in Lake County. While naming such a vast mountain as “massive” seems eminently appropriate based on height alone, it’s apparently based on the size of its summit. At over three miles long, this “massive” ridge has five summits all above 14,000 feet.

An interesting historical note is the rivalry between Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, particularly regarding their height difference of only 12 feet. One story tells of an amusing episode where supporters of Mount Massive attempted to increase its height by piling stones at its summit, only for these efforts to be thwarted by Mount Elbert proponents.

Mount Harvard

Mount Harvard in early summer. (Credit: tabedin via Getty Images)

At a height of around 14,421 feet, Mount Harvard is the tallest of a group known as the Collegiate Peaks, a set of mountains named after universities. Set within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness of the San Isabel National Forest in Chaffee County, Mount Harvard is the third tallest mountain in Colorado and in the Rocky Mountains. It’s also the fourth highest in the contiguous United States. It’s said to have been named by the members of an 1869 expedition which also named Mount Yale. This trend of naming peaks after educational institutions continued, with nearby mountains being named for Princeton, Columbia, and Oxford.

Blanca Peak

Colorado Rocky Mountains featuring Blanca Peak (Credit: nick1803 via Getty Images)

The Four Sacred Mountains of the Navajo are a quartet of peaks bordering the Navajo Nation. Each was assigned a colour and compass bearing, of which Sisnaajiní was blue in the east. Today, it’s more widely known as white or Blanca Peak and is the fourth highest point in Colorado at 14,351 feet. Located in the southern part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Rockies, it looms 7,000 feet over the San Luis Valley. The rocks that make up Blanca Peak are thought to date back around 1.8 billion years.

La Plata Peak

La Plata Peak, Sawatch Range, Colorado. (Credit: Adventure_Photo via Getty Images)

The fifth biggest mountain in Colorado is La Plata Peak in Chaffee County, which reaches around 14,361 feet in elevation. The name, “La Plata,” means “the silver” in Spanish, an allusion to the rich silver deposits found in the area.

Colorado's Highest Peaks

Sunset over The Rocky Mountains. (Credit: Teresa Kopec via Getty Images)

As we’ve seen, the highest mountains in Colorado are also some of the highest in the country. Set amid the geological wonders of the Southern Rockies, these huge topographical features not only dominate their regions but also often date back to the time of the continent’s very formation.


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