Rocky Mountains

Range TypeMountain range with well-recognized name
Highest PointMount Elbert (14,433 ft/4399 m)
CountriesUnited States (78%), Canada (26%)
(numbers are approximate percentage of range area)
Area382,890 sq mi / 991,686 sq km
Area may include lowland areas
Extent1,709 mi / 2,750 km North-South
1,097 mi / 1,765 km East-West
Center Lat/Long47° 23' N; 115° 56' W
Map LinkMicrosoft Bing Map

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To many Americans and Canadians, the Rockies are synonomous with the very word "mountains". Thought of as high, majestic, craggy, and snowy mountain walls that march down the west edge of the plains uninterrupted from the Arctic to Mexico, the Rockies and their "Purple Mountain's Majesty" are an important part of every North American's mental picture of his country.

The truth is, though, that the Rockies in the United States are neither particularly high, majestic, rugged, snowy, steep, monolithic, or uniterrupted, at least compared to most other mountain ranges of similar renown. The Himalayas, Andes, Alps, Caucasus, and Alaska Range are all far more awesome when it comes to giant, jagged snow-covered summits. The most impressive section of the Rockies is the Canadian Rockies, a huge glacier-clad rampart that makes most of the U.S. Rockies seem like foothills.

The borders of the Rockies are reasonably clear. The eastern edge is where the ranges rise directly from the Great Plains, generally following I-25 in the United States. The northern edge is the Liard River, and the western edge in Canda is the great valley of the Rocky Mountain Trench. In the U.S. the western edge of the Rockies is indistinct, where the high ranges of the Rockies merge into the deserts of the Great Basin. The southern limit of what are usually called the Rockies is where the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Ranges peter out in central New Mexico.

The Rockies are fairly high in the world scheme of things, about as high as the Alps, the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and the Zagros Mountains of Iran and Iraq, all in the 14,000'/4500m range. However, the Rockies are far from any ocean, and rise from plains and deserts at elevations of about 4,000 to 8,000 feet, lowering considerably the local relief. The Canadian Rockies are lower than the ranges south of 49°, with only three summits over 12,000', but they are still more impressive in appearance due to more glaciation and steeper slopes.

Generally speaking, the U.S. Rockies are exceptionally gentle, rounded, easily climbed peaks, especially in light of their great height. There are precious few Rocky Mountain summits that offer the scenic grandeur and rugged craggieness of, say, the Alps--the Teton Range in Wyoming, the Crestones in Colorado, and the Sawtooths in Idaho come to mind, but little else. From a distance, especially from the expansive flatlands of the Great Plains, the Rockies look very impressive and pointy, but perhaps only twenty major summits in the entire range require any technical mountaineering skills or gear whatsoever. Mount Elbert (14,433'), the highest peak in all the Rockies, is so gentle people have ridden bicycles to its summit.

Similarly, the U.S. Rockies are not a very snowy range--there are a few small glaciers in Montana and Wyoming, and snowfields can be found on all the higher peaks at any time, but in general these are not snowcapped mountains, since from July to September virtually any peak can be climbed without having to deal with any snow.

Finally, the Rockies in the United States are not a single, uniterruppted mountain wall. Instead, they are a collection of about a hundred separate ranges spread out over six states, often with wide gaps and plains between individual ranges. The term "The Rockies" is so broad that in any local context it is virtually meaningless. Trying to make sense of all the individual ranges can be very confusing, as they are spread out over a huge area and often are completely separated from other nearby ranges, even though they are all part of the Rockies. Browsing through the range hierarchy on this site can help you figure it all out.

Map of Rocky Mountains
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 Rocky Mountains.
North AmericaLevel 1 (Parent)
         Alaska-Yukon RangesLevel 2 (Sibling)
         North America Arctic IslandsLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Pacific RangesLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Intermountain WestLevel 2 (Sibling)
         Rocky MountainsLevel 2
                 Far Northern RockiesLevel 3 (Child)
                 Canadian RockiesLevel 3 (Child)
                 Central Montana Rocky MountainsLevel 3 (Child)
                 Idaho-Bitterroot Rocky MountainsLevel 3 (Child)
                 Greater Yellowstone RockiesLevel 3 (Child)
                 Western Rocky MountainsLevel 3 (Child)
                 Southern Rocky MountainsLevel 3 (Child)
         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 Rocky Mountains

Ten Highest Peaks
RankPeak NameftmRange3
1.Mount Elbert14,4334399Southern Rocky Mountains
2.Mount Massive14,4214396Southern Rocky Mountains
3.Mount Harvard14,4204395Southern Rocky Mountains
4.Blanca Peak14,3454372Southern Rocky Mountains
5.La Plata Peak14,3364370Southern Rocky Mountains
6.Uncompahgre Peak14,3094361Southern Rocky Mountains
7.Crestone Peak14,2944357Southern Rocky Mountains
8.Mount Lincoln14,2864354Southern Rocky Mountains
9.Grays Peak14,2704349Southern Rocky Mountains
10.Mount Antero14,2694349Southern Rocky Mountains
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 Elbert14,4334399Southern Rocky Mountains
2.Gannett Peak13,8044207Greater Yellowstone Rockies
3.Kings Peak13,5284123Western Rocky Mountains
4.Mount Robson12,9893959Canadian Rockies
5.Borah Peak12,6623859Idaho-Bitterroot Rocky Mountains
6.Crazy Peak11,2093417Central Montana Rocky Mountains
7.Ulysses Mountain99213024Far Northern Rockies

Photos of Peaks in the Rocky Mountains

Mount Elbert

Mount Elbert, covered with spring snowfields, from south summit (1989-04-25).
Mount Massive
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Lakes on Massive (2013-09-08). Photo by Shawn Burrell.
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Mount Harvard

The north side of Mount Harvard rises from the Pine Creek Valley (1990-09-05).
Mount Harvard
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Mount Harvard, Colorado, rising above the Pine Creek Valley (2009-08-28). Photo by William Musser.
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Blanca Peak

Blanca Peak lords over the open expanses of the San Luis Valley.
La Plata Peak
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Upper reaches of La Plata Peak (2006-08-15). Photo by Joseph Del Grosso.
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Mount Massive - Northwest Peak
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Route up Massive and North Massive using Roach's route 9.4 and 9.4EC; Note the tower mentioned in his book (2018-06-23). Photo by David Musser.
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Uncompahgre Peak
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Uncompahgre from the west (1984-06-18). Photo by John Vitz.
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Crestone Peak
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Crestone Peak (1984-09-10). Photo by John Vitz.
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Mount Lincoln
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Lincoln on trail from Cameron (2014-08-21).
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