Mapped: The United States of Elevation

If you contrast the world’s mountains to the actual size of the Earth, they are just tiny bumps.

In fact, if you had a globe that was 12-inches in diameter with mountains accurately depicted to scale, Mt. Everest would protrude from the surface at just the thickness of two sheets of paper.

But while these rocky formations seem insignificant from the vacuum of space, for us that live on Earth they are much more relevant. Mountains dictate everything from weather patterns to travel routes, and these geographical features have helped shape human society as we know it.

Elevation, Exaggerated

Today’s short video loop comes from Reddit user newishtodc, and it shows the elevation profile of most of the continental United States.

Pulling data from the USGS, the video loop actually exaggerates the scale of the topography so that elevation changes are much more pronounced. Instead of getting the “bumps on a surface” effect, it allows us to clearly see where the mountainous regions are.

Here’s another version, this time including Alaska, Canada, and parts of Mexico:

Peak Elevation

As you likely noticed in both videos, mountains are particularly abundant on the western side of the continent.

What you may not have realized, however, is that the highest peaks in North America are exclusively found in just three different subregions: Alaska (U.S.), Yukon (Canada), and the Cordillera Neovolcanica (Mexico).

The 10 Highest Peaks in North America

Rank Mountain Location Range Elevation
#1 Denali 🇺🇸 Alaska Alaska Range 20,310 ft (6,190 m)
#2 Mount Logan 🇨🇦 Yukon Saint Elias Mountains 19,551 ft (5,959 m)
#3 Pico de Orizaba 🇲🇽 Mexico Cordillera Neovolcanica 18,491 ft (5,636 m)
#4 Mount Saint Elias 🇺🇸 Alaska Saint Elias Mountains 18,009 ft (5,489 m)
#5 Popocatépetl 🇲🇽 Mexico Cordillera Neovolcanica 17,749 ft (5,410 m)
#6 Mount Foraker 🇺🇸 Alaska Alaska Range 17,400 ft (5,304 m)
#7 Mount Lucania 🇨🇦 Yukon Saint Elias Mountains 17,257 ft (5,260 m)
#8 Iztaccíhuatl 🇲🇽 Mexico Cordillera Neovolcanica 17,159 ft (5,230 m)
#9 King Peak 🇨🇦 Yukon Saint Elias Mountains 16,972 ft (5,173 m)
#10 Mount Bona 🇺🇸 Alaska Saint Elias Mountains 16,550 ft (5,044 m)

The highest mountain on the continent is Denali—although you may know it as Mt. McKinley. The name change was actually requested by Alaska back in 1975, but it wasn’t officially recognized by the U.S. government until 2015, coinciding with President Obama’s visit to the state.

Denali isn’t the only massive mountain in Alaska, and the state is actually home to all 10 of the highest peaks found in the United States.

The tallest mountain in California (Mt. Whitney, 14,505 ft) comes in at #11 on the U.S. list, while Colorado’s highest (Mt. Elbert, 14,440 ft) comes in the #14 spot nationally. Finally, the highest peak in Washington State (Mt. Rainier, 14,417 ft) is at #17.

Flatter Than a Pancake?

In the above animations, it’s also possible to see the regions that are dead flat.

Despite having a reputation for being flatter than a pancake, Kansas isn’t anywhere near the flattest state. That particular designation goes to Florida, where the top elevation is just 345 ft (105 m) above sea level.

Strangely, Florida is so flat that many of the tallest buildings in Miami easily surpass the highest natural point in the state in terms of height. The Panorama Tower, for example, is 868 ft (265 m) tall, making it more than double the height of the highest hill in Florida (Britton Hill).