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Pacific Ranges

Range TypeBogus mountain grouping for this site
Highest PointMount Whitney (14,495 ft/4418 m)
CountriesUnited States (58%), Canada (28%), Mexico (15%)
(numbers are approximate percentage of range area)
Area377,413 sq mi / 977,500 sq km
Area may include lowland areas
Extent2,624 mi / 4,222 km North-South
1,438 mi / 2,314 km East-West
Center Lat/Long41° 52' N; 123° 23' W
Map LinkMicrosoft Bing Map

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The Pacific Ranges are another grab-bag super-range that contains the north-south trending ranges on the western rim of North America. Included are the major chains of the Coast Mountains, the Cascade Range, the Sierra Nevada, and the mountains of Baja California.

The arbitrary northern boundary of the Pacific Ranges is White Pass near Skagway, Alaksa, beyond which the mountains get a lot higher, icier, and colder in the form of the Saint Elias Mountains. Also, north of White Pass the mountains start trending east-west, instead of north-south.

The eastern edge of this mountain grouping is a largely indistinct line where the major Pacific chains like the Coast Mountains, the Cascade Range, and the Sierra Nevada merge into the less mountainous, dryer intermountain terrain. This line is indistinct in B.C., follows U.S. highway 97 south into Washington and Oregon, and eventually U.S. 395 in California, and eventaully meets the Colorado River near its delta to follow the Sea of Cortez south. The southern tip is, of course, Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja.

It seems pretty ludicrous to include the wide variety of ranges from Baja to southeast Alaska into one range, but there is a kind of structural unity to these mountains. For most of the length of this chain, there is a lower coastal chain directly bordering the Pacific Ocean, a intervening valley, and then a higher, more inland chain behind that.

The lower coastal chain starts out as the Alexander Archipelago (the islands of southeast Alaska), and continues south as the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island. It emerges entirely on land to stay as the Olympic Mountains and the Coast Ranges of Oregon and California. The intermediate valley begins as the Inside Passage, continues as Puget Sound and the Willamette Valley, and ends up as the Central Valley of California. The higher, eastern chain is the high wall formed by the Coast Mountains, Cascade Range, and Sierra Nevada.

In Southern California the lower and higher parallel chains merge into one complex range, which trends east-west as the Transverse Ranges before heading south as the Peninsular Ranges into Baja. While these ranges are dissimilar in some ways to those further north, the whole complex seemed like a logical unit, guarding the western edge of the continent like a series of ramparts.

Precipitation is very variable along the length of the Pacific Ranges. From Northern California northward, the mountains are among the wettest in the world, supporting temperate rain forests. The southern reaches of these ranges are more similar to the other ranges of the American west, with dry, open forests rising from dry desert plains.

Map of Pacific Ranges
Click on red triangle icons for links to other ranges.


Note: Range borders shown on map are an approximation and are not authoritative.
Click Here for a Full Screen Map

Other Ranges: To go to pages for other ranges either click on the map above, or on range names in the hierarchy snapshot below, which show the parent, siblings, and children of the Pacific Ranges.
North AmericaLevel 1 (Parent)
         Alaska-Yukon RangesLevel 2 (Sibling)
         North America Arctic IslandsLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Pacific RangesLevel 2
                 Northwest Coast IslandsLevel 3 (Child)
                 Coast MountainsLevel 3 (Child)
                 Northwest U.S. Coast RangesLevel 3 (Child)
                 Central and Southern California RangesLevel 3 (Child)
                 Baja CaliforniaLevel 3 (Child)
                 Cascade RangeLevel 3 (Child)
                 Sierra NevadaLevel 3 (Child)
         Intermountain WestLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Rocky MountainsLevel 2 (Sibling)
         North America PlainsLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Appalachian MountainsLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Central Mexican RangesLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Central America RangesLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Caribbean AreaLevel 2 (Sibling)



Major Peaks of the Pacific Ranges

Ten Highest Peaks
RankPeak NameftmRange3
1.Mount Whitney14,4954418Sierra Nevada
2.Mount Rainier14,4114392Cascade Range
3.Mount Williamson14,3734381Sierra Nevada
4.North Palisade14,2424341Sierra Nevada
5.Mount Shasta14,1624317Cascade Range
6.Mount Sill14,1534314Sierra Nevada
7.Mount Russell14,0884294Sierra Nevada
8.Polemonium Peak14,080+4292+Sierra Nevada
9.Split Mountain14,0584285Sierra Nevada
10.Mount Langley14,0264275Sierra Nevada
Sub-peaks are excluded from this list. List may not be complete, since only summits in the PBC Database are included.
Child Range High Points
RankPeak NameftmRange3
1.Mount Whitney14,4954418Sierra Nevada
2.Mount Rainier14,4114392Cascade Range
3.Mount Waddington13,1864019Coast Mountains
4.San Gorgonio Mountain11,4993505Central and Southern California Ranges
5.Picacho del Diablo10,1543095Baja California
6.Mount Eddy90252751Northwest U.S. Coast Ranges
7.Golden Hinde72012195Northwest Coast Islands



Photos of Peaks in the Pacific Ranges

Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney is the flat-topped feature to the left and behind the much more spectacular-looking Keeler Needle in this picture taken from the final section of the Mount Whitney trail (1989-06-13).
Mount Rainier

The massive, icy form of Mount Rainier in the classic view from the Paradise Inn area on the south side of the mountain (1994-07-19).
Mount Williamson
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Mt. Williamson and the North fork of Bairs Creek from Highway 395 (2011-04-17). Photo by Mark McCormick.
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North Palisade
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The North Palisade massif glows in evening alpenglow from Palisade Basin (2009-09-06). Photo by Grant Myers.
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Starlight Peak
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Rapping off the "Milk Bottle" (1996-07-13). Photo by Terry Flood.
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Mount Shasta
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A classic view of the east side of Mount Shasta in September. Photo by Ken Jones.
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Mount Sill
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Mount Sill in the California Palisades (2001-07-17). Photo by James Barlow.
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Mount Russell
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View of Mt. Russell from the summit of Mt. Whitney (1987-08-15). Photo by Richard Carey.
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Middle Palisade
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Middle Palisade from the east (2012-08-03). Photo by Craig Barlow.
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Thunderbolt Peak
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Getting ready to climb Thunderbolt's summit block just as the sun begins to light it up (2013-07-20). Photo by Craig Barlow.
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