a rolling hill - what is a small mountain

What Is A Small Mountain Called? (Explained)

Small mountains are also known as hills or foothills in some regions. They are landforms that are smaller in size and elevation compared to larger mountain ranges.

The argument of when a hill becomes a mountain and visa versa rages on to this day as mini mounts vary in size, height, and altitude depending on where they are in the world and who defines them.

This article will explore small mountains, aiming to find out what makes a mountain considered small and why. 

Definition Of A Mountain

A mountain is a large landform that rises prominently above its surrounding terrain, typically with steep slopes and a defined summit. Mountains are natural features formed through geological processes and are characterized by their distinct physical attributes.

National Geographic defines a mountain as:

“A mountain is a landform that rises at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) or more above its surrounding area.”

Defining Small Mountains

Defining small mountains can be subjective and vary depending on the geographical context, cultural perceptions, scientific conventions, and even the person defining them. What seems small to a Nepalese sherpa, may seem huge to someone living in the flat lands of Florida!

There is no universally agreed-upon definition, but some criteria commonly used to classify small mountains include:


Small mountains are generally characterized by their moderate heights. The specific elevation threshold for classifying a mountain as small can vary across regions and countries. For example, in many, mountains with elevations below 2,000 feet (610 meters) or 1,000 meters may be considered small.


Small mountains typically have gentler slopes compared to larger mountain ranges. They often exhibit more rounded profiles and less rugged terrain, making them more accessible and easier to ascend.

Size and Mass

Small mountains are generally smaller in size and mass compared to their larger counterparts. They may not extend over vast areas or have the same massive geological formations commonly associated with larger mountains.

The Context Within Mountain Ranges

Small mountains are often part of larger mountain ranges, acting as transitional or subsidiary features. They may represent lower peaks within a mountain system, forming a gradient between higher peaks and lower-lying areas.

Photo of the matterhorn - What is a small mountain

When Is A Mountain Considered Small

The classification of a mountain as “small” can vary depending on the context and the specific criteria used for classification.

A few factors can influence whether a mountain is considered small:

  1. Local Perspective: Mountains that may be considered small in comparison to the surrounding peaks within a mountainous region. For example, a mountain that stands significantly shorter than the tallest peaks in the area might be considered small, but is still massive.
  2. Elevation: Elevation is one of the key factors in determining the size of a mountain. However, what constitutes a small mountain in terms of elevation can differ depending on the region. In some areas, a mountain with an elevation below a certain threshold, such as 2,000 feet (600 meters), might be considered small. In other regions with higher overall elevations, the threshold for considering a mountain small might be much higher.
  3. Prominence: Prominence refers to the vertical distance between a mountain’s summit and the lowest contour line encircling it without any higher summit. Mountains with low prominence might be considered smaller compared to those with significant prominence, which often have a more prominent and distinct appearance on the landscape. A great example of this is Mount Ventoux in France which stands high above a flat landscape.

Famous Small Mountains Around The World

Here are 10 of our favorites

  • Table Mountain (South Africa)
  • Sugarloaf Mountain (Brazil)
  • Uluru (Australia)
  • Mount Saint Helens (United States)
  • Mount Olympus (Greece)
  • Mount Snowdon (Wales, United Kingdom)
  • Mount Ararat (Turkey)
  • Mount Rainier (United States)
  • Mount Pilatus (Switzerland)
  • Mount Cook (New Zealand)

The Defenition Of A Hill Or Foothill

A hill is a landform that is slightly elevated compared to the surrounding area, typically with a rounded or gentle slope.

It is not scientifically defined but generally agreed that if the peak is under 1000ft (300m) above the surrounding landmass, it´s considered a hill. Anything above that is a mountain.

Hills come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re scattered around the world. They can be covered in grass, trees, or maybe even houses. People often enjoy walking or rolling down hills, having picnics on them, or just admiring the view from the top.

Remember, though, the line between a hill and a mountain can be blurry sometimes. It depends on who you ask and where you are. But overall, hills are charming landforms that add a little bit of elevation and character to the great outdoors.

Famous Hills Around The World

Here are some of our favorite hills from around the world.

  • Acropolis Hill (Greece)
  • Arthur’s Seat (Scotland, United Kingdom)
  • Glastonbury Tor (England, United Kingdom)
  • Horseshoe Hill (Australia)
  • Montmartre (France)
  • Pincian Hill (Italy)
  • Primrose Hill (England, United Kingdom)
  • Signal Hill (Canada)
  • Tepozteco Hill (Mexico)
  • The Seven Hills of Rome (Italy)
  • Twin Peaks (United States)

Arthurs seat

5 Great Things About Small Mountains

Small mountains may not be as towering or impressive as their bigger siblings, but they have unique qualities that make them pretty darn special.

Accessible Exploration

One of the fantastic aspects of small mountains is their accessibility. Unlike larger, more imposing peaks, small mountains often have well-defined trails and manageable slopes, making them perfect for hikers and nature enthusiasts of various skill levels. Exploring a small mountain can be a rewarding adventure without requiring advanced mountaineering skills.

Sweeping Panoramic Views

Small mountains still offer remarkable panoramic views, showcasing the surrounding landscapes from a higher vantage point. Standing atop a small mountain, you can enjoy breathtaking vistas, taking in the beauty of valleys, forests, lakes, or even distant peaks.

Unique Flora and Fauna:

Small mountains host a diverse range of flora and fauna, often specific to their particular ecosystems. These mountains can be home to unique plant species, wildflowers, and even rare or endangered wildlife. Exploring the biodiversity of a small mountain can be a fascinating experience, offering encounters with various plants and animals that have adapted to its specific conditions.

Outdoor Recreational Activities

Small mountains are ideal playgrounds for outdoor activities. They provide opportunities for hiking, trail running, mountain biking, rock climbing, birdwatching, and photography, among others. Engaging in these activities on a small mountain allows for an active and immersive experience in a natural setting, promoting physical exercise and connection with the outdoors.

Peaceful Retreats

Small mountains often provide a sense of serenity and solitude. With fewer crowds compared to larger, more popular destinations, small mountains can offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Whether it’s for a quiet hike, a moment of reflection, or simply enjoying the tranquility of nature, small mountains can provide a much-needed escape and a chance to recharge.

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