Rocky Mountains – World Atlas

Also known as the “Rockies”, the Rockies are a major mountain range that dominates the western part of the North American continent. The Rocky Mountains stretch for approximately 4,800 km and are considered the largest mountain system in North America. The Rocky Mountains are bordered by the Great Plains to the east; and by the Canadian Coastal Mountains, Interior Plateau, Columbia Plateau, and the Basin and Range Province of the United States to the west.


Rocky Mountains in Colorado, United States.

The Rocky Mountains stretch from the northernmost part of western Canada to the state of New Mexico in the southwestern United States. The mountain range crosses the US states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. The Rocky Mountains contain over 100 individual mountain ranges which are further organized into four major groups. These groups include:

Canadian rockies

Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountains and Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada.

The Canadian Rockies extend southeast for approximately 1,600 km from the northern part of the Canadian province of British Columbia and form an important part of the natural border between the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Columbia. -British. Located in Mount Robson Provincial Park in the Canadian province of British Columbia, Mount Robson rises to 3,954 m and is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies are further divided into three main groups: the Continental Ranges and the Muskwa and Hart Ranges which are collectively known as the Northern Rockies. The Northern Rockies also include the Lewis and Bitterroot Ranges in the western part of the US state of Montana and the northeastern part of the US state of Idaho. The Rocky Mountain Trench forms the western limit of the Canadian Rockies and separates the Columbia Mountains from the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies.

Rocky Mountains
Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies.

The Middle Rockies

The Middle Rockies include the La Sal mountain ranges which are located along the border between the US states of Utah and Colorado; the Uinta Mountain Range in the US states of Utah and Wyoming; and the Teton Mountain Range in the US states of Wyoming and Idaho. The Absaroka Range stretches from northwestern Wyoming to Montana and serves as a link between the Middle and Northern Rockies. The central ranges of the Rockies are characterized by high mountain peaks with glacial peaks.

Southern Rockies

The Southern Rockies are found in the US states of Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. The mountain ranges that are part of the Southern Rockies include the Front Range and the Wet and Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the eastern slopes and the San Juan Mountains, Sawatch Ranges, Park and Gore Ranges on the western slopes. These eastern and western ranges are separated by many high basins, including the San Luis Valley, the Arkansas River Valley, and the North Park.

Rocky Mountains
Mount Elbert.

The mountain ranges of the Southern Rockies are comparatively much higher than the Northern and Middle Rockies. Located in the Sawatch Mountain Range in the US state of Colorado is Mount Elbert, which rises to 4,401.2m and is the highest point in Colorado as well as the entire Rocky Mountains.

Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau Province is an Intermountain Plateau physiographic region that is primarily centered on the Four Corners region in the southwestern portion of the United States. It includes parts of the US states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

Rocky Mountains
Loveland Pass in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado.

The Rocky Mountains vary in width from less than 100 km in the Canadian Rockies to about 600 km in the middle Rockies. Of the 100 highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains, 78 peaks are located in Colorado, 10 in Wyoming, 6 in New Mexico, 3 in Montana, and 1 in Utah. The Western Continental Divide traverses the ridges of the Rocky Mountains in northwestern Canada and the continental United States. The Continental Divide serves as a hydrological division separating the waters that empty into the Pacific Ocean from those that empty into the Arctic or Atlantic Oceans. Located in the Lewis Range of the Rocky Mountains in Glacier National Park, sits Triple Divide Peak, where water falling over the mountain pours into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as Hudson Bay.

Rocky Mountains
Hike to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mounatin National Park, Colorado.

The mountainous landscape of the Rockies is protected by several national parks including those of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, Yoho, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, etc. are also popular tourist spots and attract visitors from all over the world. The mountains offer many recreational activities like hiking, mountaineering, camping, mountain biking, snowboarding, skiing, fishing, etc.


The Rocky Mountains form the easternmost part of the North American Cordillera and formed during the Laramid Orogeny between 80 and 55 million years ago. During this period of mountain formation, the ancient Farallon Oceanic Plate moved under the North American Plate at a very low angle. This unusual subduction and strong tectonic activity caused layers of crust to pile up on top of each other and resulted in the formation of the Rocky Mountains along the western part of the North American continent. Other tectonic activity, erosions, and glaciers from the Pleistocene and Holocene eras helped sculpt the mountainous landscape and create the rugged Rocky Mountains. Ice ages also led to the formation of massive glacial landforms, cirques and U-shaped valleys.

The 15 tallest peaks in the Rocky Mountains

Rank Last name Height, meters (feet) Province or State


Mount Elbert

4401 (14440)



Mont Massif

4398 (14428)



Mount Harvard

4395 (14421)



Pic Blanca

4374 (14351)



Pic de la Plata

4372 (14343)



Peak of Misunderstanding

4365 (14321)



Crestone Peak

4359 (14300)



Mount Lincoln

4356 (14293)



Castle Peak

4352 (14278)



Gray Woodpecker

4352 (14278)



Mount Antero

4351 (14276)



Mount Evans

4350 (14271)



Long Peak

4346 (14259)



Mount Wilson

4344 (14252)



Mount Princeton

4329 (14204)



Rocky Mountains
Scenic winter views of the Rocky Mountains in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada.

Two vertical zones exist in much of the mountain range. The lower zone is characterized by a “cool temperate” climate with relatively cold winters and cool summers. The upper zone is characterized by a tundra-type climate with harsh winters and short, cold summers. Precipitation increases from south to north, where the northern parts receive about three times as much precipitation as those in the south. Most of the precipitation in the south is received as snowfall during winters, while local afternoon thunderstorms are common during summers.


Plant communities in the Rocky Mountains vary considerably with elevation. Low altitudes are characterized by poplars and other deciduous species. The average elevations are characterized by various trees such as aspen, douglas, pine pine, etc. Subalpine forests are characterized by Engelmann spruce, western red cedar, western hemlock, white spruce and lodgepole pine. A range of wild flowers such as arbutus, Indian brush, columbine, larkspur, etc. are also found in the mountainous terrain. Rocky Mountain tree line elevation ranges from 3,700 m in New Mexico to about 760 m at the northern end of the Rocky Mountains. Alpine tundra characterized by low flowering plants are found in areas above the treeline.

Rocky Mountains
Elk from North America over the Rocky Mountains.

Some of the notable wildlife species found in the Rocky Mountains include white-tailed deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, grizzly bear, black bear, lynx, cougar, prairie dog, squirrel, pika, groundhog, beaver, etc. Some of the avian species that have been recorded in the Rocky Mountains include the bald eagle, eagle owl, Canadian geese, turkey vulture, peregrine falcon, etc.

Brief history

Archaeological evidence has revealed that humans began to live in the Rockies between 10,000 and 8,000 BCE. The Rocky Mountain region was inhabited by members of various native tribes like the Apache, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Crow Nation, Nez Perce, Blackfoot, Shuswap, Sekani, Kutenai and others. All of these tribes have left an indelible mark on the Rockies with their distinctive cultures, works of art, and more. These Paleo-Indians also hunted ancient bison and mammoths in the valleys and foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In 1793, Sir Alexander Mackenzie became the first European explorer to cross the Rockies. In due course, a series of explorations were carried out by the Anglo-Americans and the discovery of valuable furs and minerals led to the start of economic exploitation of the Rocky Mountains. In 1872, the world’s first national park – Yellowstone National Park was established by the US Congress. Subsequently, several national parks and forest reserves were created to protect the mountainous landscape of the Rocky Mountains.

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