10 of the Largest Monoliths in the World

A stone monolith in a forested landscape, with ancient ruins on its summit
The summit of Sigiriya, on the island nation of Sri Lanka, is covered by the remnants of ancient gardens and structures.

Tuul & Bruno Morandi / Getty Images

Some of the world's most recognizable natural landmarks are stone monoliths. Wherever they are found, they dominate landscapes and inspire wonder in humans.

What Is a Monolith?

A monolith is a prominent mountain, boulder, or tower that consists of a single, large rock. In most cases, monoliths are composed of hard, erosion-resistant igneous or metamorphic rock and exposed by erosion of the surrounding landscape.

Some monoliths seem out of place, jutting into the sky out of an otherwise unremarkable landscape. Many of these stone structures inspire people to climb to their summits, while others are sacred sites where climbing has been forbidden.

Due to the broad definition of which rock structures can be considered monoliths, there is no authoritative ranking of the largest monoliths in the world. Tour operators and other local businesses sometimes make claims about a monolith's relative size, but empirical data that supports these claims is hard to find. Still, a few geological formations are so massive and so famous that they have secured their positions among the world's largest monoliths.

Here are 10 of the world's largest and most impressive monoliths.

of 10


A view of the Australian outback with Uluru looming in the distance

Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

While there's no official ranking of the world's monoliths by size, there's little doubt that Uluru is the largest. Located deep in the Australian Outback, the massive sandstone monolith is 1,142 feet tall, 2.2 miles long, and 1.5 miles wide. Despite its isolation, Uluru is one of the country's most iconic landmarks. It is is part of the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park and a sacred site for Aboriginal Australians, who are both the traditional and current landowners of the park.

Geologists believe the monolith formed about 350 million years ago, when colliding tectonic plates caused a sandstone rock layer to fold and reorient itself. Uluru is, technically speaking, the eroded tip of a rock slab that extends vertically several miles underground.

of 10

Ben Amera

A rounded rock monolith in a desert landscape

Adro_Hatxerre / Getty Images

Ben Amera is the largest monolith in Africa, and perhaps the second largest in the world behind Uluru. It stands about 2,030 feet tall in Mauritania, on the western edge of the Sahara Desert. Despite its grandeur, there is no paved road that leads to its base, and it is not often visited by tourists. As with Uluru, geologists believe that the bulk of Ben Amera lies below ground, and it could continue to grow taller as the surrounding desert slowly erodes.

of 10

El Capitan

A gray, granite tower rises above the forest in Yosemite Valley

U.S. Geological Survey / Flickr / Public Domain

El Capitan is one of the world's tallest monoliths. It stands some 3,600 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. Though it is surrounded by other impressive granite cliffs and domes (and could therefore be considered part of a mountain range rather than a monolith), El Capitan stands out due to its sheer size.

The vertical walls of the monolith are perhaps the most famous rock climbing destination in the world. Every summer, climbers converge in the valley to set up camp and prepare for their climbing trips. Reaching the summit often requires climbers to spend days or weeks on the wall while sleeping in tents suspended by ropes.

of 10

Peña de Bernal

A sandstone monolith with the roofs of a town in the foreground

Isai Cuevas / 500px / Getty Images

Peña de Bernal, standing 1,420 feet above the town of San Sebastian Bernal in Central Mexico, is by some measurements the tallest freestanding monolith in the world. The area containing the monolith is protected for its geological and cultural significance.

Situated within the Mexican Volcanic Belt, Peña de Bernal is a volcanic plug, or a mass of molten magma that solidified while still inside the volcano. Geologists posit that the volcano that created this plug went dormant millions of years ago and has since eroded.

A hiking trail leads roughly halfway up the monolith, where there is a small chapel. Continuing to the summit requires technical rock climbing abilities.

of 10

Devils Tower

A tall, natural stone tower with vertical columns and a flat top

Lietmotiv / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Devils Tower is a monolith in northeast Wyoming that rises 867 feet from its base to its summit. Its top, which is flat enough to walk across comfortably, is about the size of a football field. Ascending the sheer sides to reach the summit, however, requires technical climbing skills.

The hexagonal, vertical columns of the tower are the result of an ancient lava intrusion. When the lava cooled, it did so rapidly, causing cracks to form the distinctive columnar shapes.

Devils Tower is part of Devils Tower National Monument, the first national monument in the United States, designated in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt. But humans have known of the tower for centuries—it features prominently in Native American oral histories, which often refer to the grooved columns as the claw marks of a huge bear.

of 10


A bulbous stone tower sticks out of a forested landscape

SylvainB / Shutterstock

One of the most famous natural landmarks in Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is a granite monolith that rises 660 feet above the jungle in the center of the island nation. The monolith is the site of a fifth-century fortress and palace built by the Sri Lankan king Kassapa I. Today, Sigiriya serves as a museum to preserve the frescoes, tiled staircases, and ancient gardens found on the rock and in the surrounding area. The sides of the rock are nearly vertical, and visitors who climb to the flattened summit must navigate a series of exposed stairways.

of 10

El Peñón de Guatapé

A rounded stone monolith with a lookout tower, behind a landscape of lakes and forested land

Tan Yilmaz / Getty Images

Columbia's El Peñón de Guatapé is a granite monolith that sits 722 feet above a lake called Embalse Peñol-Guatapé. Geologists believe the rock owes its prominence to the lack of cracks on its surface. Other similar granite structures in the area likely have succumbed to erosion over time, as water found its way into imperfections in the stone. 

The rock is located about two hours from Medellín and is a popular tourist attraction. The summit of the monolith can be accessed by a set of wooden stairs that has been built into a large crevice on the side of the rock. At the summit, a three-story lookout tower also functions as a souvenir shop. 

of 10

Zuma Rock

A gray stone monolith with trees and bushes in the foreground

peeterv / Getty Images

Zuma Rock is a massive domed monolith that rises 980 feet above the Nigerian countryside, located about 45 minutes outside of the capital city of Abuja. The rock is composed of igneous gabbro and granodiorite and features vertical streaks caused by water runoff. 

Zuma Rock is one of the most prominent landmarks in Nigeria, and from 1999-2020 was pictured on the 100 naira banknote, the national currency of Nigeria. The rock is easily visible from several of the main highways leading into the capital city. 

of 10

Rock of Gibraltar

Buildings lit up at sunset illuminate the side of a rocky mountain

Sorin Colac / Shutterstock

The Rock of Gibraltar is a limestone monolith on the southwestern tip of Iberia. The 1,398-foot tall promontory is part of Gibraltar, an overseas territory of Great Britain. From its summit, it's possible to see across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar and view the Moroccan coastline. 

Today, the monolith is part of a nature reserve and is a popular tourist destination. The rock is home to a colony of Barbary macaques, the only wild primate native to Europe. The peak also features a network of tunnels built by British forces during the 18th century and expanded during World War II. Finally, the rock is home to a Moorish castle that dates back to the eighth century. Part of the structure was used as a prison as recently as 2010.

of 10

Sugarloaf Mountain

A rounded stone tower sits on the coastline of Rio de Janeiro

Cesar Okada / Getty Images

Sugarloaf Mountain sits at the mouth of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thanks to its urban location, the 1,299-foot dome is an incredibly popular travel destination. A cable car constructed in 1912 has ferried millions of tourists to the peak of the mountain over the years. The peak is also one of the largest and most visited urban rock climbing destinations in the world. 

Composed of a metamorphic rock called augen gneiss, Sugarloaf Mountain is thought to have formed some 560 million years ago, during a time when South America and Africa were still part of a supercontinent called Gondwana