The lower forty-eight states of America have tens of thousands of miles of great hiking and backpacking trails. But, for those individuals for whom hiking and backpacking are not enough, these states also have hundreds of mountains to climb. From year-round snow-capped peaks, to summits with spectacular summer views, America has a plethora of mountains to climb. While each mountaineer will have their favorite peaks in America, read on to find a great top ten list of mountains that you should climb – or re-climb for the best alpine views.
1. Mount Whitney, California
At 14,505 feet the tallest peak in the continental United States occupies the top slot, and rightly so. Although it is a popular mountain among hikers, mountaineers, and climbers, especially during the summer months, it has a number of challenges for each skill level. Moreover, the mountain provides a number of routes and a number of different conditions during each of the seasons which keep even advanced mountaineers returning to the mountain on a yearly basis. The most popular route by far is the Whitney Portal Route, which is a twenty-two mile out-and-back route on a maintained trail. The mountain is also the terminus point of the John Muir Trail; and a popular winter climb via the Mountaineer’s Route. Mount Whitney is located just outside of the town of Lone Pine, California.
2. Mount Rainier, Washington
At 14,411 feet tall, Mount Rainier is slightly below the elevation of Mount Whitney. However, unlike Mount Whitney, which is a generalist’s mountain, offering opportunities for all skill levels, Mount Rainier is a classic mountaineer’s mountain, in that all of its climbs are technical climbs requiring knowledge of how to use an ice axe and crampons, along with other mountaineering skills. Mount Rainier is also the most topographically prominent mountain in the United States; and due to it being an active volcano in the Cascade range with rapidly changing weather patterns, is also one of the most dangerous mountains in the United States. The most popular route on Mount Rainier is the Disappointment Cleaver route, which is climbed by aspiring mountaineers over the course of a two to three day period. While this route is considered a basic route by experienced mountaineers, the mountain also boasts one of the toughest mountaineering routes in the world, the Liberty Ridge route. Mount Rainier is located one hour to the south of Seattle, Washington.
3. Angels Landing, Utah
Utah is one of the most scenic United States; and offers many great climbs. The best mountain to climb in Utah, however, features a trail that has been cut from solid rock, and has a number of dangerous drop-offs along the ascent. Angels Landing is a 5,790 foot mountain that is located in the middle of Zion National Park. In 1926, the National Park Service constructed a one-way 2.4 mile trail to the summit. The trail begins next to the Virgin River, and ascends steadily to the summit. The last section of trail is over a knife edge of solid rock, with over eight hundred foot drop-offs on either side. This trail is not for the faint hearted; or those with a fear of heights. But, for those who dare, the views from the summit are spectacular.
4. Mount Belford, Colorado
No list of America’s top mountains would be complete without at least one mention of Colorado, the state which has the most mountains over fourteen thousand feet. Although Colorado has a number of fine mountains, ranging from Long’s Peak to Mount Elbert, and many in between, the mountains in Colorado that are not as well-known are some of the state’s finest.
At 14,197 Mt. Belford is the 18th highest mountain in the State of Colorado, and is located in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. Although it is within the top twenty tallest peaks in Colorado, Mt. Belford is considered one of the easiest climbs of the fifty-three fourteeners in the state. The main route to climb Mt. Belford is the Northwest Ridge/Missouri Gulch route; and this route is utilized by a majority of mountaineers or summer hikers to ascend the peak. While the first half mile of the trail is relatively flat; the remaining three and one half miles (3.5) of trail to the summit is very steep. During this portion of the trail, climbers must gain over four thousand feet of elevation which makes the ascent feel anything but “easy”! Despite the steep elevation gain in a short distance, Mt. Belford is a great mountain for novice mountaineers to attempt; and as such, is quite popular during the summer months. Mt. Belford is located twenty miles South of Leadville, Colorado.
5. Mount Borah, Idaho
Although it is a little off the beaten path, Mount Borah is one of the finest climbs in the United States. Mount Borah is the highest mountain in Idaho at 12,655 feet in elevation, and is also the tallest peak in the Lost River Range. The most common route to climb Borah Peak is the southwest ridge, which leaves from the Borah Peak Access Road parking area in the Challis National Forest. While this route is the most common, it is a strenuous climb. Under perfect summer conditions, a mountaineer can expect to gain over 5,200 vertical feet over the three and one half (3.5) miles of trail and scrambling to the summit. Climbers must also address the area on this route known as “Chickenout Ridge”. This area is a steep arête just before the mountain’s summit that has steep drop-offs on both sides. Mount Borah is located in a remote part of Idaho; and the closest towns are Challis, Idaho, which is located thirty-two miles North of the mountain, and McKay, Idaho, which is located twenty miles South of the mountain.
6. Humphreys Peak, Arizona
Although Arizona is a state that is not known for mountaineering, it does possess a stellar mountain – Humphreys Peak. At 12,637 feet, the mountain is the highest point in the state; and is a popular destination for climbers who wish to attempt the popular Humphreys Peak trail, which is a one-way 4.8 mile trail that slowly ascends up the mountain’s slopes to the summit. One mile from the summit, this trail also passes through the only section of alpine tundra present in Arizona. In the winter, the mountain becomes a place where serious mountaineers climb the peak through a modified Humphreys Peak trail, or from a variety of other routes that are only accessible with ice axes and crampons. Humphreys Peak is located just north of Flagstaff, Arizona.
7. Mount Washburn, Wyoming
Although there are many fine views in Yellowstone National Park, one of the best views is the easily accessible 10,243 foot peak of Mount Washburn. Mount Washburn was named in 1870 after Henry D. Washburn, the expedition leader of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, which made the first record ascent of the peak. Washburn’s expedition was the start of many hikers and mountaineers climbing Mt. Washburn; as the mountain has remained a popular attraction from the early days of Yellowstone National Park. Today, the mountain can be climbed by two routes that are maintained by the National Park Service. The first of these routes is the Dunraven Pass Route, which is a 3.1 mile one way hike, or a 6.2 mile roundtrip hike. The second of these routes is the Chittenden Road Route, which is a 2.5 mile one way hike, and a 5 mile roundtrip hike. While both routes gain 1,400 feet of elevation, the Chittenden Road Route is the more popular of the two hikes. Mt. Washburn is located in the Northeast Corner of Yellowstone National Park, and is located halfway between Canyon Village and the Tower-Roosevelt Junction.
8. Mount Hoffman, Yosemite National Park, California
The best view in Yosemite isn’t found from any of the park-approved viewpoints off any off the well-trodden trails or well-driven roads. The best view to be found in Yosemite is from the top of Mt. Hoffmann. Mount Hoffman, which is named for cartographer Charles F. Hoffmann, is a peak that is 10,855 feet tall that lies in the geographic center of the park. The standard approach to this route is to leave from the May Lake parking area, which is located off of the Tioga Pass Road. From the trailhead, it is one and one quarter miles to May Lake, with a mere five hundred feet of elevation gain. This is the easiest portion of the route, and one that provides great views. Once you are at the lake, the trail cuts west, where many overnight backpackers pitch their tent for an evening. The trail then ascends a series of minor switchbacks to a small forested level area, before ascending up the talus covered slope of the mountain. It is here where the official trail ends, and the scrambling begins. From the summit, there is a fantastic view of May Lake, the High Sierra, and all of Yosemite. The return is back down the talus slope, past the Lake, and down the trail.
9. Mount Hood, Oregon
Mount Hood is the tallest point in Oregon, at 11,250 feet; and like Mount Rainier, is a part of the Cascade Range of mountains. Like Mount Rainier, Mount Hood dominates the surrounding area, including the Columbia River gorge. Unlike Mount Rainier, Oregon’s highest point features mountaineering routes for novice, intermediate, and advanced climbers. The most popular route for climbers is the South Side Route, which places mountaineers on the summit in a little under three miles. The mountain also features a number of more technical (and little used routes) for mountaineers on its many glaciers that require in some cases, a mixed skillset of mountaineering and ice climbing. Mount Hood is located an hour to the East of Portland, Oregon, and is easily accessible year-round.
10. Mount Shasta, California
At 14,179, Mount Shasta is the second largest peak in the Cascade Range; and it is a mountain that truly dominates the landscape of Northern California. Like Mount Rainier, and Mount Hood, it is a partially glaciated peak year round; and like Mount Rainier and Mount Hood, it features a number of climbing routes. The most popular climbing route on Mount Shasta is the Avalanche Gulch route, which requires a two to three day time commitment from climbers that are attempting to climb the mountain. The route winds up the side of the mountain, before ascending steeply past Lake Helen on a mixed snow/icefield. The route then traverses the top of the volcano, before ending at the cinder cone at the top. Like Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta also features a world-class climbing route that is for advanced climbers only, the Casaval Ridge route. Mount Shasta is located in the far Northern portion of California, and the closest town to it is Redding, California.