What’s the Tallest Mountain in North America? How About in Mexico? Canada? The United States?

            Sometimes I like to hike and I have one friend that loves to trek up high mountainous peaks. He’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (at 5,895 meters or 19,340 feet, it’s the tallest mountain on the African continent) as well as several mountains in the Pacific Northwestern United States. I’m not quite as eager about hiking to such lofty peaks, but with the approach of summer (and more temperate hiking weather), I began to wonder what the tallest mountains around me are.

            … So of course, I had to look it up. I’ve heard people refer to Mount Everest in the Himalayas as the tallest mountain in the world (it stands 8,849 meters or 29,032 feet high and was renamed in 1865—before that, it was known as Peak XV) and you may know that K2 (at 8,610 meters or 28,250 feet) in the Karakoram mountain range is the second tallest (but the first deadliest, with about 1 climber for every 4 people to reach the summit dying along the way). But all those mountains are on different continents. What about the mountains of North America? What’s the tallest mountain in North America?

Picture of Denali, North America’s (and the United States’) highest mountain, reflecting in a pond by Denali National Park and Preserve – _MG_4070Uploaded by AlbertHerring, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29613771

            Hint—if you’re thinking it must be in the far north, you’re on the right track. It’s in Alaska. … The tallest mountain in North America is Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley, but officially retitled in 2015 by President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell). Denali stands 6,190 meters or 20,310 feet high, and if you’re paying attention to the questions above, then you now know that the tallest mountain in the United States is Denali (because Alaska is in the United States).

            … And if you’re thinking that since Alaska borders Canada, Canada must have the next highest mountain, you’d be correct. The second highest mountain in North America—and Canada’s tallest—is Mount Logan, which reaches 5,959 meters or 19,551 feet and lies in the Yukon’s Kluane National Park and Reserve. But hold on a second, Mount Logan isn’t done growing; because of active tectonic uplifting, it could someday extend even higher. And if Logan climbs more than 759 feet, it’ll surpass Denali for the number one spot!

View of Mount Logan, Canada’s tallest mountain, from the southeast by Gerald Holdsworth – From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration[1]…full jpeg at [2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1714943

            But what about Mexico? Do you know the highest peak in Mexico? I’ll admit I didn’t know it was the dormant volcano Pico de Orizaba (also called Citlaltépetl, which translates to “star mountain”) before looking it up. Pico de Orizaba is also the 3rd highest peak in North America, rising 5,636 meters or 18,491 feet above sea level; in fact, it is quite eye-catching because Citlaltépetl also has a topographic prominence of 4,922 meters or 16,148 feet (which basically means that’s how high you’d have to climb to reach summit-level if you were to start from the lowest surrounding point). And since neither Mount Denali or Mount Logan are volcanic, Pico de Orizaba is counted as the tallest volcano in North America.

            All these mountainous facts—and the lovely weather outside my window—make me itch to go hiking. … I think I’ll stick to a few hundred feet (or less 😉 ) in elevation change, however.

Photograph of Citlaltépetl, Mexico’s highest peak, by Jair Loyo Coria – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7351363