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A Guide to U.S. Mountain Ranges
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A Guide to U.S. Mountain Ranges

Spanning across states and connecting cities and people, these landscapes offer a chance to get lost in the unadulterated wilderness.

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5 min read

November 02, 2021

The United States has many beautiful landmarks and natural wonders, but its mountain ranges might just be the most striking of them all. Spanning across states and connecting cities and people, these dynamic landscapes offer a chance to get lost in the unadulterated wilderness and unparalleled serenity. From the snowy peaks of the Alaska Range to the lush forests of the Sierra Nevada, the best mountain ranges in the U.S. are an adventurer’s dream come true. If you’re ready for a mountainous escape of your own, read on and make your pick from this list of top American mountain ranges—you can’t go wrong with any one of them. 

Major Mountain Ranges in the U.S.

The California Gold Rush occurred in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada from 1848 through 1855.

Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

Length: 400 miles
Elevation: 4,421 feet
Highest peak: Mount Whitney

Located almost entirely in California, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is known for its significance in the state’s Gold Rush era. The Sierra Nevada is also widely praised for being one of the prettiest mountain ranges in the U.S., with plenty of opportunities to adventure and explore.

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Among this sprawling mountain’s most notable features are General Sherman, the largest tree in the world; Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America; and Yosemite, a national park sculpted from hundreds of millions of year old granites. There are two other national parksSequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks—on this gorgeous eastern U.S. mountain range, as well as plenty of other spots for unique experiences, wildlife sightings, and stunning views. 

All of the eruptions in the contiguous United States over the last 200 years have been from Cascade volcanoes.

Cascade Range

Length: 700 miles
Elevation: 14,411
Highest peak: Mount Rainier

The Cascade Range passes through western North America, crossing parts of Canada, Oregon, and Washington, before making its way to California. With beautiful snow-capped mountains and volcanoes like Mount Saint Helens (which last erupted in 2008), this western U.S. mountain range is as striking as they come.

Rainier, Shasta, Adams, Hood, and other beacons allow for unlimited adventuring on this majestic mountain range in the U.S. If you’re escaping to the California portion of the Cascade Range, you’ll most likely be exploring the mysteriously beautiful Mount Shasta towering 14,179 feet above sea level. Rent a cabin there during the fall and winter months, go on scenic drives through the nearby towns, trek numerous hiking trails winding through, and ski at the top resorts—the possibilities are endless on this western U.S. mountain range.

The 400-mile-long Alaska range is one of the higher ranges in the world after the Himalayas and the Andes.

Alaska Mountain Range

Length: 400 miles
Elevation: 20,343 feet
Highest peak: Denali

The snowy peaks of the Alaska Range make it out to be one of the mightiest mountains in the world. While this American mountain range averages 7,000 to 9,000 feet in length, its central section soars much, much higher into the sky. In fact, its tallest point, Denali, reaches a whopping 20,310 feet in elevation and marks the highest summit in North America, qualifying Alaska as the tallest mountain range in the U.S.

Saint Elias National Park and Preserve, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and Denali National Park and Preserve are all located within the Alaska Range and allow for some of the best mountaineering and climbing in the state. Your climbing adventures atop this mountain range in the U.S. will not only be accompanied by incredible views, but also sightings of caribou, sheep, moose, grizzlies, wolves, lynx, and more amazing Alaskan wildlife.

Rocks in the Peninsular Ranges are dominated by Mesozoic granitic rocks, derived from the same massive batholith.

Peninsular Ranges

Length: 930 miles
Elevation: 10,834 feet
Highest peak: San Jacinto Peak

The Peninsular Ranges, also known as the Lower California Province, are a group of mountain ranges that extend from SoCal all the way to Baja California—it encompasses the Temescal, Santa Ana, San Jacinto, Perris Block, Laguna, and about 50 more mountains.

To enjoy an adventure on this major mountain range in the U.S., hike the 21-mile-long Cactus to Clouds Trail. Don’t feel like stretching your legs that much? The famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway can take you there; all you have to do to reach the San Jacinto Peak after is hike 5.5 miles. After you wrap up your mountainous adventure, consider spending the weekend in beautiful Palm Springs—it’s even better during the fall season.

The northern end of the California Coast Ranges overlap the southern end of the Klamath Mountains for approximately 80 miles on the west.

California Coast Ranges

Length: 400 miles
Elevation: 8,098 feet
Highest peak: Mount Linn

The California Coast Ranges span 400 miles from Humboldt County all the way to Santa Barbara County. Due to its great length, an adventure along this American mountain range can be anything you want. 

While the southern parts of the California Coast Range have a predominantly Mediterranean climate, the northern parts are significantly colder. Check out the northern side for a forested getaway, with groves of redwoods, Douglas fir, and knobcone pine, or head to the Central Valley for more dry temperatures and desert-like terrain.

Need getaway ideas for your retreat into mountain ranges in the U.S.? Visit the majestic Big Basin Redwoods State Park, go on as many scenic drives as your heart desires, and discover the magical Lost Coast.

The Klamath Mountains have varied geology, with substantial areas of serpentinite and marble.

Klamath Mountains

Length: 155 miles
Elevation: 9,025 feet
Highest peak: Mount Eddy

The Klamath Mountains are a wildly rugged and lightly populated mountain range in the U.S. spanning northwestern California and southwestern Oregon. Choose between one of the 11 wilderness areas on this American mountain range and enjoy traversing extensive hiking trail systems, recreation areas, and campgrounds, both primitive and developed.

If you like learning about the state’s flora and fauna, this mountain range in the U.S. is your treasure trove of new discoveries. As a consequence of the varied geology and soil types, the mountains have rich biodiversity, forming one of the largest collections of conifers in the world. Klamath is also home to a diverse array of fish and animal species such as black bears, large cats, owls, eagles, and more cool wildlife.

Get up close with all these species while backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail or white-water rafting along the rushing Klamath River. Need more inspo? California’s own Mendocino National Forest, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Klamath National Forest, and Siskiyou National Forest are within the premises of this American mountain range—happy exploring. 

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