After hiking 38 of the 50 US state high points in the summer of 2016, I figured I ought to rank them by difficulty for the information of my fellow highpointers.

As I explained in my highpointing blog, I'd come across the Martin Classification of state high point difficulty while planning my trip, but it didn't quite satisfy me. For one, it only considers the easiest route to a high point's summit, which leads to sizeable mountains like North Carolina's Mt. Mitchell and New Hampshire's Mt. Washington being ranked in the easiest class. While technically correct, in that both those summits can be accessed by walking less than 0.2 miles, such a ranking is useless to one who'd rather hike those high points from their bases. What's more, both of those mountains have "standard approach" trails that could easily be incorporated into the ranking alongside the drive-up routes.

And second, Martin's classification takes little account of the technical difficulty of a route; it relies instead on elevation gain and trail length. This also leads to some odd rankings, in my opinion (such as the gentle stroll up Black Mesa, OK being ranked a class above the rough, rocky trails on Mt. Frissell, CT and Mt. Mansfield, VT). While an experienced mountaineer considering the glaciated Western high points might not care whether an approach is Class 1 or Class 2 terrain, the distinction matters to casual hikers, not to mention those with mobility issues, acrophobia, and/or small children in tow. And regardless of ability, many people would find a 14-mile hike easier than an 8-mile scramble of equal elevation gain (just ask anyone who's done both Mt. Marcy and Katahdin's Knife-Edge).

Thus, I've put together my own ranking, available here as a list and a sortable table. The standard route up each high point (as selected by me) is featured below, as are any alternate routes of sufficiently different character (again, my judgment call). All figures listed are accurate to the best of my knowledge, with any approximate values indicated by a '~'. The difficulty ratings are my own. I intend to complete this ranking as I continue highpointing, so check back for additions.

Please contact me if you spot any errors or omissions!

Handley Classification of State High Points (in ascending order of difficulty):

  1. Drive-ups (<10 ft. from the nearest parking; trivial elevation gain)

  2. Walk-ups (<.25 mi. from the nearest parking; <100 ft. elevation gain; terrain no harder than Class 1)
    1. Britton Hill, FL (via N Co Hwy 285)
    2. Hoosier Hill, IN (via Elliott Rd.)
    3. Mt. Arvon, MI (via Ravine River Rd.)
    4. Sassafras Mountain, SC (via F. Van Clayton Memorial Hwy.)
    5. Mt. Washington, NH (via toll road and stairs)
    6. Taum Sauk Mountain, MO (alone)
    7. Jerimoth Hill, RI (via path from RI-101)
    8. Spruce Knob, WV (via County Rd. 104)
    9. Mt. Mitchell, NC (via the Blue Ridge Pkwy.)
    10. Charles Mound, IL (via gravel road from upper parking lot)

  3. Quick hikes (.25-1.5 mi. from the nearest parking; <750 ft. elevation gain; terrain no harder than Class 2)
    1. Timms Hill, WI (via park trail)
    2. Clingmans Dome, TN (via Clingmans Dome Access Rd.)
    3. Mt. Davis, PA (via trail from Mt. Davis Picnic Area)
    4. Brasstown Bald, GA (via path from parking lot)
    5. Driskill Mountain, LA (via trail from Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church)
    6. Magazine Mountain, AR (from the trailhead nearest to the lodge along the park road)
    7. Charles Mound, IL (walking from W Charles Mound Rd.)
    8. Woodall Mountain, MS (walking County Rd. 185)
    9. Black Mountain, KY (walking from VA-160)
    10. High Point, NJ (via the Appalachian Trail from NJ-23)
    11. Hoye-Crest, MD (via trail from US-219)
    12. White Butte, ND (via trail from local road)
    13. Mt. Mansfield, VT (via Stowe Toll Road and the Long Trail)

  4. Half-day hikes (1.5-3 mi. from the nearest parking; <1900 ft. elevation gain; terrain Class 1-2)
    1. Taum Sauk Mountain, MO (and Mina Sauk Falls, via Mina Sauk Falls Trail)
    2. Sassafras Mountain, SC (via Foothills Trail from Chimneytop Gap)
    3. Mt. Frissell, CT (via Mt. Frissell Trail from Mt. Washington Rd.)
    4. Brasstown Bald, GA (via trail from Jacks Gap)

  5. Day hikes (3-8 mi. from the nearest parking; <4900 ft. elevation gain; terrain Class 1-2)
    1. Black Mesa, OK (via trail from Black Mesa Nature Preserve entrance)
    2. Eagle Mountain, MN (via trail from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Access Point #79)
    3. Black Elk Peak, SD (via Trail #9 (South) from Custer State Park)
    4. Mt. Greylock, MA (via Hopper Trail from Hopper Rd.)
    5. Mt. Rogers, VA (via Appalachian Trail from Grayson Highlands State Park)
    6. Mt. Arvon, MI (walking from Roland Lake Rd.)
    7. Clingmans Dome, TN (via Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap)
    8. Guadalupe Peak, TX (via Guadalupe Peak Trail from Pine Springs Campground)
    9. Mt. Mitchell, NC (via Mt. Mitchell Trail from Black Mountain Campground)
    10. Mt. Mansfield, VT (via Sunset Ridge Trail from Underhill State Park)
    11. Katahdin, ME (via Appalachian Trail from Katahdin Stream Campground)
    12. Mt. Marcy, NY (via trails from Adirondak Loj)
    13. Mt. Washington, NH (via Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center)
    14. Mt. Elbert, CO (via South Elbert Trail from Lakeview Campground)

  6. Scrambles (3.5-8 mi. from the nearest parking; <5300 ft. elevation gain, terrain up to Class 3)
    1. Katahdin, ME (via Helon Taylor and Knife-Edge trails from Roaring Brook Campground)
    2. Borah Peak, ID (via Chicken-Out Ridge trail from Borah Peak Trailhead)

Table for comparison:

State Name Elevation Route Distance (one way; mi.) Elevation Gain (ft.) Incline (°) Difficulty
South DakotaBlack Elk Peak7244via Trail #9 from Custer State Park3.8~11003.14Class 1
OklahomaBlack Mesa4975via trail from Black Mesa Nature Preserve4.2~8002.07Class 1
KentuckyBlack Mountain4145via Black Mountain Ridge Rd.<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
KentuckyBlack Mountain4145walking from VA-1601.52501.81Class 1
IdahoBorah Peak12668via Chicken-Out Ridge Trail~3.4526016.33Class 3
NevadaBoundary Peak13147---------------
GeorgiaBrasstown Bald4784via shuttle<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
GeorgiaBrasstown Bald4784from upper parking lot0.5~50010.72Class 1
GeorgiaBrasstown Bald4784from Jack's Gap317806.41Class 1
FloridaBritton Hill345via N Co Hwy 285<0.1<10n/aClass 0
OhioCampbell Hill1549via career center road<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
IllinoisCharles Mound1235from upper parking lot~0.25~753.25Class 1
IllinoisCharles Mound1235from W Charles Mound Rd.~1.25~2001.74Class 1
AlabamaCheaha Mountain2413via park road<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
TennesseeClingmans Dome6643via Clingman's Dome Access Rd.0.53307.13Class 1
TennesseeClingmans Dome6643via Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap~715942.47Class 1
LouisianaDriskill Mountain535via trail from Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church0.9~1501.81Class 1
MinnesotaEagle Mountain2302via trail from Boundary Waters
Canoe Area Wilderness Access
Point #79
3.55541.72Class 1
DelawareEbright Azimuth447via Ebright Rd.<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
WyomingGannett Peak13809---------------
MontanaGranite Peak12807---------------
TexasGuadalupe Peak8751via trail from Pine Springs Campground4.223906.15Class 1
IowaHawkeye Point1671via IA-60 and 130th St.<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
New JerseyHigh Point1803via park road<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
New JerseyHigh Point1803via Appalachian Trail from NJ-28~1~3003.25Class 1
IndianaHoosier Hill1257via Elliott Rd.<0.1<10n/aClass 0
MarylandHoye-Crest3360via trail from US-2191.1~7507.36Class 1
ArizonaHumphreys Peak12637---------------
Rhode IslandJerimoth Hill811via path from RI-1010.3~250.90Class 0
MaineKatahdin5270via Appalachian Trail5.241508.60Class 2
MaineKatahdin5270via Helon Taylor & Knife-Edge Trails4.337879.47Class 3
UtahKings Peak13534---------------
HawaiiMauna Kea13803---------------
KansasMount Sunflower4041via farm road<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
MichiganMt. Arvon1979via Ravine River Rd.<0.1<10n/aClass 0
MichiganMt. Arvon1979walking from Roland Lake7.7~10001.41Class 1
PennsylvaniaMt. Davis3213via park road<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
PennsylvaniaMt. Davis3213via trail from Mt. Davis Picnic Area0.8~1001.36Class 1
ColoradoMt. Elbert14440South Elbert Trail5.648809.37Class 1
ConnecticutMt. Frissell2379via Mt. Frissell Trail1.84902.95Class 2
MassachusettsMt. Greylock3360via park road<0.1~20n/aClass 0
MassachusettsMt. Greylock3360via Hopper Trail4.123916.30Class 1
OregonMt. Hood11249---------------
ArkansasMt. Magazine2753via park trail0.6~2254.06Class 1
VermontMt. Mansfield4395via Stowe Toll Rd.1.3~5504.58Class 2
VermontMt. Mansfield4395via Sunset Ridge Trail3.3~26008.49Class 2
New YorkMt. Marcy5343via trails from Adirondak Loj7.431804.65Class 2
North CarolinaMt. Mitchell6684via Blue Ridge Pkwy0.2~1005.41Class 0
North CarolinaMt. Mitchell6684via Mt. Mitchell Trail5.636847.10Class 1
WashingtonMt. Rainier14417---------------
VirginiaMt. Rogers5729via Appalachian Trail from Grayson Highlands State Park4.310792.72Class 1
New HampshireMt. Washington6288via toll road & stairs<0.1~25n/aClass 1
New HampshireMt. Washington6288via Tuckerman Ravine Trail4.1425711.13Class 2
CaliforniaMt. Whitney14505---------------
NebraskaPanorama Point5427via ranch road<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
South CarolinaSassafras Mountain3560via F. Van Clayton Memorial Hwy.<0.1~30n/aClass 0
South CarolinaSassafras Mountain3560via Foothills Trail2.5~19008.19Class 1
West VirginiaSpruce Knob4863via County Rd. 1040.2~201.08Class 0
MissouriTaum Sauk Mountain1772alone (via park road)0.25<10n/aClass 0
MissouriTaum Sauk Mountain1772with Mina Sauk Falls1.5~3902.82Class 1
WisconsinTimms Hill1951via park trail0.251406.05Class 1
New MexicoWheeler Peak13167---------------
North DakotaWhite Butte3508via trail from local road~1.5~4002.89Class 1
MississippiWoodall Mountain807via County Rd. 185<0.1<10n/aDrive-up
MississippiWoodall Mountain807walking from County Rd. 176~1~2002.17Class 0

Difficulty ratings explained: