In general, the tallest mountains are in the West. The nation’s 15 tallest peaks are all west of the 100th Meridian, or the 100° W longitude line that marks the eastern boundary of the Great Plains.
The states with the tallest mountains are not necessarily the highest states above sea level. While the summit of Washington’s Mount Rainier reaches 14,411 feet, the fourth highest peak of any state, the average elevation of the state is 1,700 feet, approximately 70% of the national elevation of 2,500 feet. The state with the highest average elevation is Colorado, which stands at 6,800 feet above sea level.
Some states also have more topographic diversity than others. While California has the second highest peak of any state, it also has the lowest elevation in the country. Situated 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley is the lowest point in both California and the United States as a whole. The difference between California’s 14,494-foot peak atop Mount Whitney and its Death Valley trough is nearly 3 miles. Meanwhile, in flatter states such as Florida and Delaware, the difference between the highest and lowest point is less than 500 feet.
Mountainous states provide residents with access to recreational opportunities, which may ultimately contribute to positive health outcomes. In states like California, Colorado, and Washington, which have the second, third, and fourth highest peaks in the country, approximately 90% of residents have adequate access to locations for physical activity such as parks and recreational centers — much greater than the 84% national average.
Residents of higher elevation states tend to have healthier behaviors overall. According to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program, in California, Colorado, and Washington, the shares of adults who do not regularly exercise are respectively 17.4%, 17.1%, and 14.4% — the fifth lowest, fourth lowest, and lowest inactivity rates in the nation.
States with higher elevations tend to have larger outdoor tourism industries. All 10 of the states with the highest average elevations generate more revenue per capita from outdoor recreation tourism than the national average.
To determine the highest point in every state, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States. Outdoor recreation consumer spending figures came from the Outdoor Industry Association and are for 2017. Population data came from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. All data are for the most recent period available.