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 those summits can both 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 base. What's more, both 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 judgement 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!

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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; <4300 ft. elevation gain; terrain Class 1-2)
    1. Black Mesa, OK (via trail from Black Mesa Nature Preserve entrance)
    2. Eagle Mountain, MN (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)

  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 (mi.) Elevation Gain (ft.) Difficulty
IdahoBorah Peak12668via Chicken-Out Ridge Trail~3.45260Class 3
New HampshireMt. Washington6288via Tuckerman Ravine Trail4.14257Class 2
MaineKatahdin5270via Appalachian Trail5.24150Class 2
MaineKatahdin5270via Helon Taylor & Knife-Edge Trails4.33787Class 3
North CarolinaMt. Mitchell6684via Mt. Mitchell Trail5.63684Class 1
New YorkMt. Marcy5343via trails from Adirondak Loj7.43180Class 2
VermontMt. Mansfield4395via Sunset Ridge Trail3.3~2600Class 2
MassachusettsMt. Greylock3360via Hopper Trail4.12391Class 1
TexasGuadalupe Peak8751via trail from Pine Springs Campground4.22390Class 1
South CarolinaSassafras Mountain3560via Foothills Trail2.5~1900Class 1
GeorgiaBrasstown Bald4784from Jack's Gap31780Class 1
TennesseeClingmans Dome6643via Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap~71594Class 1
South DakotaBlack Elk Peak7244via Trail #9 from Custer State Park3.8~1100Class 1
VirginiaMt. Rogers5729via Appalachian Trail from Grayson Highlands State Park4.31079Class 1
MichiganMt. Arvon1979walking from Roland Lake7.7~1000Class 1
OklahomaBlack Mesa4975via trail from Black Mesa Nature Preserve4.2~800Class 1
MarylandHoye-Crest3360via trail from US-2191.1~750Class 1
MinnesotaEagle Mountain2302via trail from Boundary Waters
Canoe Area Wilderness Access
Point #79
3.5554Class 1
VermontMt. Mansfield4395via Stowe Toll Rd.1.3~550Class 2
GeorgiaBrasstown Bald4784from upper parking lot0.5~500Class 1
ConnecticutMt. Frissell2379via Mt. Frissell Trail1.8490Class 2
North DakotaWhite Butte3508via trail from local road~1.5~400Class 1
MissouriTaum Sauk Mountain1772with Mina Sauk Falls1.5~390Class 1
TennesseeClingmans Dome6643via Clingman's Dome Access Rd.0.5330Class 1
New JerseyHigh Point1803via Appalachian Trail from NJ-28~1~300Class 1
KentuckyBlack Mountain4145walking from VA-1601.5250Class 1
ArkansasMt. Magazine2753via park trail0.6~225Class 1
MississippiWoodall Mountain807walking from County Rd. 176~1~200Class 0
IllinoisCharles Mound1235from W Charles Mound Rd.~1.25~200Class 1
LouisianaDriskill Mountain535via trail from Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church0.9~150Class 1
WisconsinTimms Hill1951via park trail0.25140Class 1
PennsylvaniaMt. Davis3213via trail from Mt. Davis Picnic Area0.8~100Class 1
North CarolinaMt. Mitchell6684via Blue Ridge Pkwy0.2~100Class 0
IllinoisCharles Mound1235from upper parking lot~0.25~75Class 1
South CarolinaSassafras Mountain3560via F. Van Clayton Memorial Hwy.<0.1~30Class 0
New HampshireMt. Washington6288via toll road & stairs<0.1~25Class 1
Rhode IslandJerimoth Hill811via path from RI-1010.3~25Class 0
West VirginiaSpruce Knob4863via County Rd. 1040.2~20Class 0
MassachusettsMt. Greylock3360via park road<0.1~20Class 0
MissouriTaum Sauk Mountain1772alone (via park road)0.25<10Class 0
MichiganMt. Arvon1979via Ravine River Rd.<0.1<10Class 0
FloridaBritton Hill345via N Co Hwy 285<0.1<10Class 0
IndianaHoosier Hill1257via Elliott Rd.<0.1<10Class 0
KentuckyBlack Mountain4145via Black Mountain Ridge Rd.<0.1<10Drive-up
DelawareEbright Azimuth447via Ebright Rd.<0.1<10Drive-up
New JerseyHigh Point1803via park road<0.1<10Drive-up
IowaHawkeye Point1671via IA-60 and 130th St.<0.1<10Drive-up
PennsylvaniaMt. Davis3213via park road<0.1<10Drive-up
GeorgiaBrasstown Bald4784via shuttle<0.1<10Drive-up
KansasMount Sunflower4041via farm road<0.1<10Drive-up
NebraskaPanorama Point5427via ranch road<0.1<10Drive-up
OhioCampbell Hill1549via career center road<0.1<10Drive-up
AlabamaCheaha Mountain2413via park road<0.1<10Drive-up
MississippiWoodall Mountain807via County Rd. 185<0.1<10Drive-up
WashingtonMt. Rainier14417------------
CaliforniaMt. Whitney14505------------
ArizonaHumphreys Peak12637------------
WyomingGannett Peak13809------------
ColoradoMt. Elbert14440------------
AlaskaDenali20310------------
NevadaBoundary Peak13147------------
MontanaGranite Peak12807------------
HawaiiMauna Kea13803------------
OregonMt. Hood11249------------
UtahKings Peak13534------------
New MexicoWheeler Peak13167------------

Difficulty ratings explained: