Alaska's Mountains

Alaska Marine Highway

Alaska has a bounty of beautiful waterways. The Alaskan waterways play an integral role in the state.. Be sure and check out our Alaska water pages including: Alaska's Coastline, Alaska's Lakes, and Alaska's Rivers Some of Alaska's great lakes include: Aleknagik LakeBecharof Lake, Clark Lake liamna Lake, and  Minchumina Lake

Of the 20 highest peaks in the United States, 17 are in Alaska. Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America, is 20,320 ft. above sea level. Denali, the Indian name for the peak, means "The Great One."  The forces that lifted Mount McKinley is the subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the North American plate.. This plate also raised great ranges across southern Alaska. As that huge sheet of ocean-floor rock plunges downward into the mantle, it shoves and crumples the continent into soaring mountains which include some of the most active volcanoes on the continent. Mount McKinley in particular is uplifted relative to the rocks around it because it is at the intersection of major active strike-slip faults (faults that move rocks laterally across the Earth's surface) which allow the deep buried rocks to be unroofed more rapidly compared to those around them.

Mt. McKinley, or Mt. Denali, is much taller than Mt. Everest.  In fact, Denali is one of the most massive mountains in the world.  Mt. McKinley has been the goal of aspiring high altitude climbers since it was first climbed in 1913. Its reputation as a highly coveted summit derives from its location near the Arctic Circle and the Pacific Ocean giving it some of the most ferocious weather in the world.

In the south and southeast, the Pacific Mountain system is a major feature and is divided into many subdivisions. The Chugach Mountains begin near the Alaskan panhandle and form the coast along much of Southcentral Alaska. These mountains contain the greatest concentration of glacial ice in Alaska. As the warm, moist winter air off the ocean meets these mountains and cools, it creates some of the highest snowfall in Alaska. During the winter of 1952-1953, Thompson Pass near Valdez received about 81 feet (25 meters) of snow.  A major fault in Prince William Sound is contributing to the ongoing formation of these mountains. In 1964, this fault slipped, creating the Good Friday Earthquake that severely damaged Anchorage and destroyed several smaller communities including Chenega, Seward, and Valdez.

The Kenai Mountains cover all but the northern and western portions of the Kenai Peninsula. Many glacier-carved lakes dot the Kenai Peninsula, including Kenai Lake, Upper Russian Lake, and Trail Lakes. Many recreational hiking trails cut through the Kenai Mountains .A popular attraction in the Kenai Mountains is the fjords created where the east coast of the Kenai Peninsula meets Prince William Sound.

The Alaska Range is perhaps the most well-known mountain range in Alaska. It is home to Denali National Park and Mt. McKinley. This mountain range is one of Alaska's largest, starting at Alaska's eastern border with Canada, arcing across the north of Southcentral Alaska, ending to the west of the Kenai Peninsula.

The Alaskan Range is still changing. Spurr, an active volcano west of Anchorage erupted in 1992 and covered Anchorage with a thin layer of ash. On November 3, 2002, a massive 7.9 earthquake was caused by a fault running through the Alaska Range. For several weeks afterwards, thousands of aftershocks were recorded. Due to Alaska's sparse population, earthquake damage was only about $20 million.

Extending southwest from the southern Alaska mainland and the Alaska Range, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands are supported by the Aleutian Mountain Range. The Aleutian Range extends 1,600 mile, from Mount Spurr, across Cook Inlet from Anchorage, to Attu Island near the Asian continent and contains many active volcanoes. Collision between continental plates has created a 1,400 mile (2,253 km) chain of active volcanoes in this mountain range. This range is home to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, created when Novarupta erupted in 1912. The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes was named for the numerous fumaroles in the area. Fumaroles are holes in the earth that release hot gas steam into the air.

North of the Central Uplands and Lowlands area is the Rocky Mountain System of Alaska. This area is comprised of the Brooks Range and the Brooks Range foothills. The Brooks Range is Alaska's northernmost mountain range, all of it being located above the arctic circle. This range stretches about 720 miles (1,159 km) from Alaska's eastern border with Canada to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's west coast. Despite their northerly location and cool temperatures, there are few glaciers in this mountain range; this area is rather arid so not enough snow falls during the winter to create large glaciers. The largest glaciers in the Brooks Range aren't much longer than file miles  Arrigetch Peaks, considered by many to be the most dramatic peaks of the western Brooks Range, perhaps the most dramatic in all of Alaska.


The coastal mountain range along the Alaskan coastline

McKinley or Mt. Denali in Alaska

Alaska's Volcanoes:

Alaska contains over 100 volcanoes Over 40 of these have been active in our historic time.

Learn more about Alaskan volcanoes

Akutan Augustine Cleveland
Iliamna Novarupta/ Katmai Pavlof
Redoubt Mt. Spurr Wrangell