Colorado’s varied, and often rugged,topography ranks it number one in the nation in average elevation, and it contains parts of five differentphysiographic provinces.


Many are impressed that Denver is one mile above sea level, yet the Mile High City is less than theaverageelevation of Colorado. At 6,800 feet above sea level, Colorado has the highest average elevation in the nation. Thirty one percent (32,649 square miles) of the state is “mountainous”, or greater than 8000 feet above mean sea level.The vertical range in elevation is more than two miles,ranging from a low of 3,313 feet above sea level where the Arikaree River enters Kansas, to 14,440′ at the crest of Mount Elbert near the center of the state.

We have 58 named peaks that are greater than 14,000 feet in elevation (the fourteeners) and there are well over 700 peaks higher than 13,000 feet above sea level. Why? Two phenomena cause the higher elevation: 1. a thicker crust and2. a thinner lithospheric mantle. Why is that? Well, the crust is apparently thicker because it is old and cold and the lithosperic mantle is currently being thinned by heat coming from deeper in the mantle.

Physiographic Provinces

Five different physiographic provinces and three subprovinces are found within Colorado. The five provinces include the Middle Rocky Mountains, Southern Rocky Mountains, Wyoming Basin, Colorado Plateau, and Great Plains. The Great Plains includes the three subprovinces: the Colorado Piedmont, Raton Basin and High Plains.


The San Juan Mountains: “The Switzerland of America”. View from north side of Silverton toward the Grenadier and Needles Ranges – Pigeon and Turret Peaks.

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