At its widest, North America stretches halfway around the planet, encompassing 23 countries and every major biome known to exist. The largest of these are the prairies and grasslands of The Great Plains, which form its centre. However, the world’s third largest continent is far from flat. Indeed, its natural wonders include some of the world’s highest mountains and even its tallest one.
To the east are the world’s oldest peaks, the Appalachians. However, it is among the young ranges of the west, some only a million years in the making, where you can find the highest mountains in America. These ranges include The Rockies, the Cascades and the Sierra Madre system. They are a part of the American Cordilleras, a series of mountain ranges that stretch from the Isthmus of Panama right up to Canada.
So, what are the highest mountains in North America? And where is the highest point in North America? We’re about to find out, starting with the tallest mountain in North America.
Elevation: 20,310 feet | Range: Alaska Range, Alaska, USA
It’s common knowledge that, at 29,028 feet above sea level, the highest mountain in the world is Everest. By contrast, the highest mountain in North America summits at 20,310 feet. And yet, when measured from base to summit, North America’s highest peak is the tallest of them all. Known simply as Denali, it measures 18,000 feet tall from its base compared with Everest’s 12,000 feet. So, where is this quiet giant?
Denali is found in the US state of Alaska, the most geologically active region in the whole continent. It’s the highest peak in the Alaska Range, which is itself part of a chain of mountain ranges known as the North American Cordillera.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, conditions on the tallest mountain in North America are extreme and unforgiving. The temperatures have been known to reach -70 degrees centigrade, and winds of up to 150 miles per hour. Three quarters of it is covered in snow and ice, while at the base there are 45-mile long glaciers.
While Denali is both the mountain’s traditional and current name, it was known for a time as Mount McKinley.
2. Mount Logan
Height: 19,551 feet | Range: Saint Elias Mountains, Yukon Territory, Canada
We head to the neighbouring country for the second highest point in North America. Just 25 miles north of Alaska, in the southwest of the Yukon Territory, Mount Logan is part of the Saint Elias Mountains. Yet, being the continent’s second highest peak is not the only feather in Logan’s cap. With an elevation of 19,551 feet, it is Canada’s highest mountain and, thanks to ongoing tectonic movement, is still growing at a rate of 0.35 mm per year.
Logan is also thought to have the biggest base of any non-volcanic mountain, a massive 25 miles long with 12 peaks. It’s the source of the Hubbard and Logan glaciers, is covered in snow and ice and temperatures can drop to -45 degrees centigrade.
3. Pico de Orizaba (Citlaltépetl)
Height: 18,491 feet | Region: Cordillera Neovolcanica, Puebla/Veracruz, Mexico
Number three on the list of highest mountains in North America is also the continent’s highest volcanic summit and Mexico’s highest mountain. Pico de Orizaba is an inactive stratovolcano, meaning it’s a conical shape made up of many layers. It rises to 18,491 feet above sea level, earning it the poetic Nahuatl name of Citlaltépetl, meaning “star mountain”.
Another extraordinary feature of Pico de Orizaba is its glaciers. Only two other volcanoes in Mexico still support such ice masses and Pico de Orizaba is home to the country’s largest one, Gran Glaciar Norte.
4. Mount Saint Elias
Height: 18,008 feet | Region: Alaska/Yukon
Sharing a range with Mount Logan, Mount Saint Elias is fourth in line to be North America’s highest peak. Also known as Boundary Peak 186, it straddles Alaska and the Yukon.
Mount Saint Elias reaches its top height of 18,008 feet by way of an incredibly steep incline. This, combined with the rugged terrain and unpredictable weather means very few people attempt its summit. That said, it has been submitted. The first recorded ascent was by Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi in 1897.
Mount Saint Elias holds special significance for the indigenous Tlingit people, who call it both the “mountain behind Icy Bay” and “Big Mountain”. Mythology says that Mounts St Elias and Fairweather were once together, but argued and separated, with the peaks between them representing their children.
Height: 17,802 feet | Region: Cordillera Neovolcanica, Puebla/Morelos, Mexico
An active stratovolcano on the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt rounds out the top five highest mountains in North America. Split between the central Mexican states of Puebla and Morelos, Popocatépetl reaches an elevation of 17,802 feet. It’s Mexico’s second highest peak, located in Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park.
The Highest Mountains in North America
Thus, the highest point in North America is Denali, in Alaska. However, North America’s highest peak is just one of the many magnificent wonders which make up the highest mountains in America, with an incredible 18 mountains rising over 15,000 feet.