About 20% of the Earth’s land is covered with mountains, including well-known ranges such as the Himalayas in Asia, the Rocky Mountains in North America, the Eurasian Alps, and the Andes in South America. The most mountainous states in the U.S. are Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Many mountainous countries rank among the most beautiful countries in the world, and mountains also enable a vast range of unique outdoor activities, including skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountaineering, trekking, rock climbing, mountain biking, base jumping, hang gliding, and more.
In order to determine which are the world's most mountainous countries, one must first decide what makes one country more mountainous than others. Is it having the tallest mountains? Is it having the highest percentage of land covered by mountains? Is it having more total area (mi² or km²) of mountains than other countries? Or is it perhaps the country with the highest average elevation above sea level overall (which enables countries with many smaller mountains to compare to those with fewer, but taller mountains)? Each of these measures is a viable option, and each will result in a different list, as evidenced by the tables below.
Top 10 Most Mountainous Countries in the World (by average height above sea level)
- Bhutan — 10,760 feet
- Nepal — 10,715 feet
- Tajikistan — 10,455 feet
- Kyrgyzstan — 9,805 feet
- Lesotho — 7,090 feet
- Andorra — 6,550 feet
- Afghanistan — 6,180 feet
- Chile — 6,140 feet
- China — 6,035 feet
- Armenia — 5,879 feet
Top 10 Most Mountainous Countries in the World (by % area covered in mountains)
- Bhutan — 98.8
- Tajikistan — 91.9
- Kyrgyzstan — 90.7
- Lesotho — 90.5
- Montenegro — 89.3
- Armenia — 85.9
- North Macedonia — 85.5
- Switzerland — 83.6
- Lebanon — 81.1
- Nepal — 80.7
The most mountainous country in the world: Bhutan
By nearly any measure, Bhutan is the world's most mountainous country. Bhutan’s average elevation is 10,760 feet and mountains cover 98.8% of its total area. The Northern parts of Bhutan are dominated by the Greater Himalayas, with the highest point being Gangkhar Puensum at 24,840 feet above sea level. Gangkhar Puensum is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. Most of the Bhutanese population lives in the southern parts of the country, consisting of valleys, hills, and highlands.
Mountainous countries two through ten: Nepal, Tajikistan, and more
Slightly to the west of Bhutan is Nepal, whose average elevation of 10,715 feet is the second-highest in the world. Nepal is home to the world’s highest mountain peak, Mount Everest, which sits at 29,035 feet on the border of Nepal and China. The third-most-mountainous country is Tajikistan, with an average elevation of 10,455 feet above sea level. Much of Tajikistan lies in a seismic belt, which contributes to its many high mountains and earthquake activity (mountains are most commonly formed by Earth’s tectonic plates moving and colliding below the surface, which causes quakes and pushes mountains into existence at the plates' edges). The Turkestan Range in western Tajikistan has a maximum elevation of 18,077 feet.
The Tian Shan and Pamir mountain ranges make up about 65% of Kyrgyzstan’s land. Most mountains in Kyrgyzstan are relatively young. The country's average elevation is 9,805 feet above sea level. Although not technically a country, Antarctica has some of the most mountainous lands in the world. Antarctica’s average elevation is 7,545 above sea level, the highest average elevation of any continent, which would make it the fifth-most-mountainous country if it were a country. Antarctica's tallest mountain peak is Mount Vinson at 16,050 feet.
Lesotho’s topography is covered primarily by the Drakensburg-Maloti mountain ranges, which run north to south along with the country. Most of Lesotho’s population resides in the lowlands of the mountains. Thabana Ntlenyana, the tallest mountain peak in southern Africa, is located in Lesotho and sits at 11,424 feet. Andorra ranks seventh, it's average elevation is 6,550 above sea level, with the Pic de Coma Pedrosa, the highest point in Andorra, reaching an elevation of 9,665 feet.
Finishing the top ten list of the most mountainous countries by elevation are Afghanistan, Chile, and China. Afghanistan’s average elevation is 6,180 feet above sea level. About 75% of Afghanistan’s terrain is mountainous, and almost 50% of the country has an average elevation of 6,650 feet. Afghanistan’s mountains include some extensions of the Himalayas. Chile has a high-elevation topography overall with an average elevation of 6,140 feet above sea level. The Andes Mountains comprise much of the land in the east, with peaks averaging at heights of 15,000 feet above sea level. China has an average elevation of 6,035 feet above sea level, and of course shares possession of Mount Everest, which lies at China's border with Nepal.
The world's favorite mountainous countries
Many tourists value a country not for the size or number of its mountains, but for the activities those mountains enable. For example, tourists love the Alps in Sweden and France for their world-class skiing. The Rocky Mountains running through the U.S. and Canada are known for skiing, hiking, mountaineering, and more. New Zealand's South Island has mountains for skiing, hiking, or canyoning. Peru's Andes are home to the famous Machu Picchu, a stunning archeological site, and Japan's Mount Fuji is visually iconic and artistically beautiful. Even Australia, whose name typically evokes images of the desert-like Australian Outback, has snow-covered peaks that attract fans of winter sports, outdoor activities, and rugged natural beauty.