As a camping family, we always discover interesting facts about locations and national parks. The difference in land mass was extraordinary as we traveled out west in the United States from the east coast. The height of mountains is measured here in the U.S. as “feet above sea level.” Whereas the mountains on the east coast actually begin at sea level, out west, the mountains start on the plains, which are higher in altitude. However, the western mountains are still measured from sea level.
|The Tundra of the Rockies, above|
The tallest mountain in the Appalachian Mountain Range located on the east coast is Mt. Mitchell in Mt. Mitchell State Park in North Carolina. It is a thickly forested mountain and is 6,684 feet above sea level.
Out west, the Rocky Mountains start at about 5,280 feet up from sea level because of the plains. Mt. Elbert in Colorado is 14,440 feet above sea level. Our family found this fascinating because of the snow caught in patches in the Rockies—even in July. You can read of our Colorado adventures here.
It’s the elevation, we discovered. The Rockies are bald on top, gray and chiseled, angular. It’s the tundra, a place where the weather is too harsh for tall trees. It’s too cold, too windy. Since the Appalachians are lower in altitude and worn down through the ages, they are forested and do not usually have snow on their peaks in summertime.
Camping gear changes with elevation because temperature changes in elevation—even in summer. When we camped at the base of Glacier National Park, we were warm enough in our 20 degree sleeping bags, meaning the bags would keep you warm in about 20 degree temperature. The weather was pleasant. Lake McDonald is 3,153 feet above sea level. You gain another 3000 plus feet heading up to Logan Pass at 6,646 feet.
When we camped at Yellowstone National Park, we were higher up—yet we didn’t realize it. At night, we shivered. We should have brought our sub-zero sleeping bags, good in zero degree weather. Yellowstone Lake is 7,732 feet above sea level.
It is important to check the elevation when you decide to camp in the mountains or on the plains out west. Pack warm gear and clothing. If you only have light sleeping bags, bring heavy blankets. Layer clothing for hikes as weather changes quickly at higher elevations. You can find tips about layering clothing here.
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