Can’t make it to the top of Everest? These mountains each feature beautiful trails and their own thrilling summit
or lovers of adventure, there is no more common aspiration than the desire to summit Mount Everest. But reaching the highest point on Earth—on the border between China and Nepal—is a trip that requires a ton of spare time and money. And environmental concerns stemming from so many people attempting to summit Everest (and leaving behind trash) may soon lead to new regulations that will make it more difficult to secure permission to climb past base camp.
However, there are plenty of mountains out there that are less difficult to summit but are nevertheless incredibly iconic. So we’ve selected for you 24 to add to your wish list that aren’t Everest (or K2 in Asia), mountains which anyone with a thirst for altitude can aspire to climb with the right planning and basic training (and, preferably, a keen respect for the environment) and which are sure to leave you with stories to tell.
Our criteria: We placed great emphasis on historic and cultural significance but had a few additional requirements. No mountain on this list has a way for you to drive your car to the top (sorry, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington), no peaks are included in which the cost of access wildly exceeds the mountain’s actual difficulty (which shaves Antarctica’s Vinson Massif, with its $38,000 price tag, off the list) and none are so technical that they would attract a bigger following among rock climbers than mountaineers (sayonara, Yosemite’s Half Dome).
We’ve rated the mountains based on a blend of difficulty and time needed: one star for a day trip; four stars for a technical climb that requires at least two to three weeks.
The snow-capped Aconcagua in Argentina provides a stark contrast to the bare, arid countryside
Height: 22,841 feet/6,962 meters
It’s been nicknamed the poor man’s Everest, perhaps unfairly. Though its northwestern route requires no technical skills and the cost of access doesn’t start to rival an Ivy League tuition bill, it’s still the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas and the Western Hemisphere’s highest point. Fly to Mendoza, Argentina, and start your climb in December. It’ll be chillier than in January or February, but you’ll beat the worst of the crowds.
Guided treks to this icy summit take nearly three weeks.
A mountain climber views the Loch Eil and the Scottish Highlands from the peak of Ben Nevis
BEN NEVIS (BEINN NIBHEIS)
Height: 4,409 feet/1,344 meters
Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles, is the crumbling remnant of a 350-million-year-old volcano that, in spite of its modest height, is an imposing figure on the Scottish horizon. Known as Beinn Nibheis in the Gaelic language, the mountain has bad weather that can pose plenty of challenges to hikers. Still want to check it out? Every September, there’s an 8.7-mile race to the summit and back.
Even if you’re not running, you can hike Ben Nevis in a day.
CERRO GORRA BLANCA
Height: 9,547 feet/2,910 meters
Countries: Argentina and Chile
This beauty on the Southern Patagonian Ice Field is more accessible to the intermediate climber than many of the other peaks in this windswept region at the southern end of the Earth, but it’s still prone to extreme weather and makes for a tough, snowy ascent. Mountaineers who choose to climb sans guide are cautioned that their navigation skills need to be top-notch.
A tough, snowy climb. You’ll need a week for a guided trek.
Height: 13,025 feet/3,970 meters
This picturesque classic of the Alps, which towers above quaint Swiss villages, is notorious not just for being the namesake of the Clint Eastwood film The Eiger Sanction but also for its north-face climb. More than 60 people have died on this mountain since 1935. If you’re less willing to gamble with fate, the mountain’s western flank is somewhat safer.
Expect to spend two days on it. Stamina is required.
The sheer stone face of China’s Hua Shan mountain can be ascended in just a day thanks to gravity-defying staircases and narrow wooden platforms
Height: 7,087 feet/2,160 meters
One of China’s most sacred mountains, Hua Shan has gained newfound notoriety for having some of the world’s scariest nontechnical hiking trails, which include gravity-defying stone staircases and terrifyingly narrow wooden platforms attached to steep cliff faces. There are also two cable-car routes that will get you to the top, but where’s the fun in that?
It’s a day trip with staircases but a real nail-biter.
Height: 13,671 feet/4,167 meters
Jebel Toubkal is the highest peak in Africa’s Atlas Mountains and forms the divide between the arid Mediterranean coastline and the Sahara Desert. And it’s surprisingly accessible: Hire a taxi in Marrakech, Morocco, to take you to the mountain village of Imlil, 40 miles away, where guides and rental equipment for the moderately difficult trek to the summit are easy to find.
Treks can take anywhere from two days to a week.
From the summit of Nepal’s Kala Patthar, foreground, one can get a full view of Everest from base camp to summit, a sight worth the two-week trek to get there
Height: 18,192 feet/5,545 meters
Though a molehill by Himalayan standards, Kala Patthar has earned renown because its summit is one of the best places on land to fully view Everest from base camp to summit. You can’t actually see Everest’s summit from its own current base camp, so this is one of the ways to glimpse it outside of a terrifyingly bouncy ride through the skies in a tiny DeHavilland Twin Otter plane.
It’s remote enough that you’ll need almost two weeks to fly to Nepal, summit it and return.
Height: 14,350 feet/4,374 meters
Few places on Earth can boast terrain as spectacularly rugged as the Altai Mountains. Mongolia’s highest peak, Khuiten straddles the border with China and is a stone’s throw from Russia. Though not an extremely difficult hike, it’s a long trip—about 1,000 miles—from Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Tour companies can facilitate a trek.
Set aside up to two weeks for this moderately technical climb.
Kilimanjaro is one of Africa’s most famous landmarks, and because it requires no technical climbing experience, it’s also an easy vacation diversion for many
Height: 19,341 feet/5,895 meters
Many a safari vacation to Tanzania or Kenya has been thrown delightfully off course by the unavoidable desire to climb Kilimanjaro, that massive dormant volcano rising above the East African plain. And it is possible to make it to the mountain’s Uhuru Point, the highest point in Africa, with no technical experience. But the altitude change means that less than 50 percent of hikers who attempt the summit actually make it.
Though it can be climbed in only five days, for the best experience seven or eight are required.
Height: 14,692 feet/4,478 meters
Countries: Switzerland and Italy
Shaped like a shark’s tooth, the isolated Matterhorn was allegedly one of the last peaks in the Alps to be scaled simply because it was considered unclimbable. It’s actually quite accessible to those with a moderate grasp of mountaineering, but unpredictable weather and the danger of rock falls make things a bit more complicated.
The climb is rarely technical, and treks to the summit take only a few days.
A placid lake reflects a mirror image of its neighbor, Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in the European Union at nearly 16,000 feet
Height: 15,781 feet/4,810 meters
Countries: France, Italy and Switzerland
This Alpine legend, the tallest mountain in the European Union, has made as much of a name for itself in great literature as it has among mountaineers. Even the easiest routes to the top are challenging and require a degree of comfort with icy terrain. Many adventure-travel companies offer frequent trips up Mont Blanc, and these often start from the town of Chamonix on the French side of the mountain.
Most guided treks encompass circuits of the surrounding countryside that last 10 to 12 days.
Height: 16,854 feet/5,137 meters
In biblical lore, this was the mountain where Noah’s ark docked after the Great Flood. In reality, this extinct volcano is the highest mountain in Turkey, and its picturesque slopes are right near the Armenian-Iranian border. Though it’s not a difficult climb if you go in late summer, you’ll need some skills with crampons and an axe plus a permit and a certified guide.
Guided tours take only a few days, but the weather near the summit can get rough.
Mount Aspiring in New Zealand, at right, can be summited in just three or four days, making it an ideal trek for the adventurous tourist
MOUNT ASPIRING (TITITEA)
Height: 9,951 feet/3,033 meters
Country: New Zealand
New Zealand’s highest mountains are in the Aoraki/Mount Cook range, and they’re nail-biters; Mount Aspiring (Tititea in the Maori language) is the island nation’s tallest peak outside that range and has routes that pose a far lesser challenge, making it accessible to intermediate-level mountaineers. Plus, the national park in which it is located was the setting for the fortress of Isengard in the Lord of the Rings movies.
If you’re in shape, it’s very doable in about three or four days.
Height: 18,901 feet/5,761 meters
Persian folklore about Iran’s highest peak abounds. According to Zoroastrian mythology, there’s a three-headed dragon chained inside the mountain (well, it is a dormant volcano). Surprisingly accessible from the capital city of Tehran, where it rises unmistakably above the skyline, Damavand offers both relatively easy and technically challenging routes to the summit.
Guides for this five-day trek will pick you up at the Tehran airport and drive you to your first camp.
Height: 18,511 feet/5,642 meters
A cable car and chairlift go partway up the slope and make it possible for this extinct volcano—the highest peak in Europe—in the Caucasus Mountains to be climbed with relative ease. For bragging rights, take the longer Kukurtliu Route, which requires a technical traverse over glaciers.
Guided tours will incorporate acclimatization days that can push a trek to well over a week in length.
Hot pink moss phlox frame a view of Japan’s beloved Mount Fuji, an easy accessible and often crowded climbers’ destination
Height: 12,388 feet/3,776 meters
Serious climbers may gripe about the fact that the biggest danger on Mount Fuji these days is the sheer volume of tourists, but that doesn’t detract from its natural beauty. There are no rules against climbing Fuji outside of the official climbing season, July and August, so it’s easy to figure out how to avoid the masses.
Easily accessible, as the hordes of tourists accurately indicate.
Height: 5,269 feet/1,606 meters
Country: United States
Though it’s one of the smallest peaks on this list, Maine’s Mount Katahdin rightfully earns a spot for two big reasons: its spectacular Knife Edge approach to the summit and its status as the finish line for northbound Appalachian Trail hikers. Climb it in August or early September and you’re likely to hear the wild cheers of these hikers as they reach the top—they’ve been hiking approximately 2,200 miles from Georgia.
This can be a day hike if you start early in the morning.
The sun sets over the western face of the United States’ Mount McKinley, showing off its challenging slopes and year-round blanket of snow
MOUNT MCKINLEY (DENALI)
Height: 20,322 feet/6,194 meters
Country: United States
Named Denali by the Koyukon Native American people, Mount McKinley is arguably one of the most difficult and dangerous of this bunch. But this massive Alaskan peak still is an alluring draw for any mountaineering enthusiast. It’s a technical climb and it’s cold even in the summer, but the summit commands respect: McKinley is frequently considered to be a training ground for mountaineers who aspire to conquer the Himalayas’ toughest peaks.
Inclement weather can push the length of grueling McKinley treks to well over three weeks.
Height: 14,409 feet/4,392 meters
Country: United States
Rainier, the highest peak in Washington state, is an enormous stratovolcano, and it’s active. Famed for the striking backdrop it provides as it looms over Seattle, Rainier is also an extremely difficult climb. Those who aren’t sure they can make it instead can attempt the stunning 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which circumnavigates rather than summits the mountain.
Just under a four-star difficulty rating, seeing as it can be summited in only a few days.
Mount Rundle looms over the Bow River and surrounding land in Banff National Park, located in Alberta, Canada
Height: 9,675 feet/2,949 meters
One of the most picturesque gems of Canada’s storied Banff National Park, the sprawling Rundle is a popular hike for those seeking a good rock scramble with access to nerve-wracking cliff edges but with no requirement for technical mountaineering experience. As with most mountains, the weather is prone to frequent changes, but the vistas of the Canadian Rockies from the summit are well worth it.
It’s strenuous, but if you’re in shape, you can do it in a day.
Height: 14,180 feet/4,322 meters
Country: United States
California’s solitary Mount Shasta, a dormant volcano that probably won’t erupt for another few hundred years, scientists say, has long been a fixture in Native American lore. It’s also one of the United States’ legendary (and challenging) climbs and can be seen from northern California’s winding roads.
An ice axe and crampons are required even in the summer, but you can summit Shasta in a weekend.
Height: 18,865 feet/5,750 meters
If you’re wondering which came first, the mountain or the liqueur, legend has it that it’s the booze. Pisco, the peak, is said to have gotten its name from a tradition of tippling liberal amounts of pisco, the liqueur, to commemorate a successful ascent. This mountain in the Andes’ spectacular Cordillera Blanca range is readily accessible by going through guide companies that can provide support and equipment.
Give yourself five days for a trek plus an extra to acclimatize to the altitude.
The lush faces of Sri Pada, also called Adam’s Peak, in Sri Lanka beckon climbers, many of whom are religious pilgrims
SRI PADA (ADAM’S PEAK)
Height: 7,359 feet/2,243 meters
Country: Sri Lanka
Geographically, Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak, is the main watershed for the island of Sri Lanka. But it’s better known for a depression near the summit that’s called Buddha’s footprint, which Hindu, Islamic and Christian traditions also hold sacred. Most of the main trail to the summit is facilitated by steps, and the best way to experience Sri Pada is to climb by night and watch the sun rise from the top.
You’ll even get a staircase for most of the trip.
Height: 13,045 feet/3,976 meters
Acatenango offers a spectacular climb through a cloud forest before you reach a dry forest and then the volcanic zone. A string of armed robberies on the trail means that going with a guided group is best, and it’s possible to do as an overnight trek for less than $100 per person.
You’ll need just one night—and it’s cheap.
CAROLINE MCCARTHY has worked for CNET, CBS and Google, among other companies. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.