Since the dawn of time mountains have transfixed the human imagination. Mount Olympus served as the mythical home of the gods in Ancient Greece and Mount Vesuvius doled out unfathomable destruction when it erupted during the reign of the Roman Empire. Mountains across the world inspire thrillseekers to scale their peaks, and act as the backdrop for many a classic landscape painting.
We’ve collected our favorite mountain images together in one definitive list. These jaw-dropping mountains are (sometimes) treacherous to scale and always legendary in status. Whether on the South African coast or deep in the heart of Mexico, these mountain views may just convince you to buy a plane ticket, pack your gear, and set out on an adventure.
1. K2, Himalayan mountains
K2 has the distinct honor of being the second-highest peak on the planet, only falling short of Mount Everest. K2 is not a mountain to be scaled by beginners: it is infamous for its strenuous ascents, and the fatality rate is surprisingly high. One of the reasons K2 is so difficult to climb is its sheer drops – the base of K2 is just as steep as the vertical peak. The mountain resembles an ancient pyramid with an even harsher gradient. High winds and frequent snow storms also increase the danger K2 presents to hopeful climbers.
K2 is located within the Karakoram range of the Himalayan mountains, which act as a natural barrier between Pakistan and China. If you can get close you’re treated to many a gorgeous backdrop rife for capturing, as the climber in the above photo is keenly aware.
2. The Matterhorn, Swiss Alps
The Matterhorn is the most iconic mountain in the Swiss Alps, and the idyllic beauty of the sleepy mountain towns that surround it only contribute to its allure. Skiing is a favorite activity of those that visit the region, but actually scaling the Matterhorn is much more dangerous. Even if you can best the patches of ice and snow along the treacherous climb there’s always a distinct likelihood of avalanches in the area. The first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 saw four climbers perish.
The Matterhorn is a perennial staple of pop culture: you can spot the Matterhorn as subject of the famous Albert Bierstadt painting, as the logo of Swiss chocolate manufacturer Toblerone, and as the setting of the Archer episode “Swiss Miss.” As the photo above demonstrates, the mountain has earned its reputation as one of the most beautiful destinations in Europe.
3. Table Mountain, South Africa
The name Table Mountain was first spoken in 1503. It derives from the incredibly flat top of this mountain that overlooks Cape Town on the coast of South Africa. The level plateau stretches approximately 3 kilometers across, and is flanked by steep, unforgiving cliffs. Unless you’re a rugged, adrenaline-fueled free climber we certainly don’t advise scaling Table Mountain along the face of the cliff.
However, visitors can ride a cable car to the top to experience some mesmerizing views of Cape Town, Robben Island, Table Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. If you have more time on your hands you can trek up the winding hiking paths with other tourists in the area. The mountain is often shrouded in cloud cover, and if you walk along the plateau when it’s shrouded in clouds you’ll feel as though you’ve escaped into the heavens.
4. Pico de Orizaba, Mexico
Also known as Citlaltépetl Volcano, Pico de Orizaba is the highest mountain peak in Mexico and also happens to be a stratovolcano (but don’t worry, the volcano has been dormant since 1687). The name comes from the Nahuatl expression for “Star Mountain,” though many locals refer to it as “White Mountain” due to the frequent snow cover. The mountain borders the Mexican states of Puebla and Veracruz, overlooking the city of Orizaba. Pico de Orizaba represents the eastern end of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, which covers much of western and southern Mexico.
Many climbers that have scaled Pico de Orizaba have noted the beauty of the shadow cast by the volcano on the surrounding plains during sunrise. If you can brave an early ascent in the dark you’ll be rewarded with one of the most spectacular views available to mountaineers.
5. Half Dome,Yosemite National Park, California
One of the most well-known rock formations in Yosemite National Park, California, Half Dome makes its way onto our list because of its unique and fascinating shape. The signature Half Dome was weathered by the Merced River during the formation of the Yosemite Valley. The California Geological Survey once claimed that Half Dome was outright inaccessible, but for those up to the challenge there exist multiple ways of scaling this granite slab.
Hikers can embark on an 8.5 mile hike straight up Half Dome with the assistance of braided steel cables constructed for climbers. There are also a few rock climbing paths up Half Dome, some of which have been free-soloed in a matter of hours (but we do not recommend this route). Plan ahead – permits are required 7 days a week, and only 75 permits are issued per day.
6. Mont Blanc, Alps
We’ve made our way back to the Alps to highlight the tallest mountain in the European Union, Mont Blanc. Measuring about whopping 4,800 meters (or about 15,750 feet) above sea level, Mont Blanc is situated along the border of France and Italy. No permanent height can actually be assigned to Mont Blanc: the elevation fluctuates every year based on the thickness of the snow cap. Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco in Italian, literally translates to “White Mountain.”
First ascended in 1786, Mont Blanc is now climbed by over 20,000 people a year. The mountain is regarded by many as the birthplace of modern mountaineering. Trekking up this mountain is considered less dangerous than most of the mountains on this list – in fact, in 2007 20 people carried a portable jacuzzi to the summit and held an impromptu “jacuzzi party.”
7. Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Russia
Klyuchevskaya Sopka is the tallest mountain located on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and also has the distinction of being the tallest active volcano in all of Eurasia. In fact, the photo above depicts the smoky aftermath of recent eruption of Klyuchevskaya Sopka (which translates to Klyuchevskoy Volcano). The large cone is almost completely symmetrical, making the volcano perfect for far-range photography. Located about 60 miles from the Bering Sea, Klyuchevskaya Sopka has erupted on over 50 occasions since 1700.
The mighty volcanoes of Kamchatka has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. The mountain was first ascended in 1788, but few ascents occur today due to the inherent dangers. In 1931, for example, several climbers were killed by cascading lava during their group’s descent. Forgo the hike and instead visit the area nearby for plenty of photo-ops and gorgeous natural scenery.
8. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa
Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain on Earth that also happens to be a volcano, hardly needs an introduction. During high school you probably read Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” his classic short story set in a campsite at the base of the mountain. Towering over Amboseli National Park in Tanzania, Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro features three separate volcanic cones, nicknamed “Mawenzi,” “Shira,” and “Kibo.” The volcano is dormant, so adventurers don’t have to fret about the possibility of an eruption during their ascent.
If you summit Uhuru Peak on the rim of Kibo you can record a small message in a welcome book of sorts that is stored in a wooden crate atop the peak. While scaling Mount Kilimanjaro you’ll find nearly every type of ecosystem on the planet, including alpine desert, rainforest, moorland, rolling health, and arctic conditions at the top.
9. Mount Fuji, Japan
On a clear day you can see Mount Fuji from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, located just 100 kilometers away. Mount Fuji is a fixture of Japanese art and photography, its symmetrical sweeping cone featuring prominently on famous woodblock prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige during the 18th century Edo period.
Mount Fuji is very accessible from the city, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in an already beautiful country. It is considered one of three sacred mountains to citizens of Japan, and has been a pilgrimage destination for centuries. Mount Fuji is the most climbed mountain in the world, and the four different trails you can take to reach the summit have stations at regular intervals so you can stock up on rations and supplies. Though Mount Fuji is an active volcano, it hasn’t erupted since 1707.
10. Denali, Alaska
The name of the highest peak in North America has been a subject of considerable debate since the Alaskan Legislature formally asked the government to have the name officially recognized as Denali in 1975. Denali, which is Koyukon Athabaskan for “The High One,” has always been the name of the mountain for locals, but it was officially deemed Mount McKinley by the United States government until 2015 when President Obama announced the name change.
Located in Denali National Park, the peak of this mountain is a staggering 20,000 feet above sea level. Denali is considered one of the most challenging ascents anywhere in the globe because of the extreme temperatures and weather conditions as you approach the top. Some glaciers atop the mountain span 30 miles, and the wind chill can get down to minus 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
11. Huangshan Mountain, China
Located in the Anhui province of China, the name of this mountain range translates to “Yellow Mountain.” The oddly shaped jagged granite peaks of Huangshan Mountain make it one of the most visually arresting mountains to visit, and it has become one of the most common subjects for professional photographers in the regions. If you visit Huangshan prepare to be dazzled by the array of scenery and the astonishing views from the summit.
The mountain range poses fewer threats to the health of climbers, as the highest point, lotus peak, is about 6,000 feet above sea level. Nearly 60,000 steps are carved into the side of the mountain if you want to get a workout during your ascent, but for those with vertigo or bad knees we suggest simply riding one of the cable cars to the top.
12. Mount Everest, Nepal
Here we are: the highest mountain on Earth, the one and only Mount Everest. Situated on the border of Nepal and Tibet, this beauty attracts seasoned climbers and beginner mountaineers who want to claim they’ve scaled the largest natural structure on the planet, clocking in at 29,029 feet. Considering the amount of lore surrounding Everest and the long history of calamitous ascents, it’s surprisingly to learn that it is not considered one of the most difficult climbs (that would belong to K2).
However, the combination of high winds, altitude sickness, and snow blindness still cause fatalities, and depending on your route you may spot a frozen corpse as you approach the top. For added safety some groups hire a Sherpa guide to help them reach the summit, but if you’re not looking to risk your life you can still capture some astounding photos from less daunting mountains nearby.
Before you decide to climb one of these breathtaking mountains be sure to do your research. With enough patience, practice, and gear you can one day reach the peak of these formidable forces of nature.