8 Towering Monadnocks Around the World

Devils Tower on a partly cloudy day in Wyoming
Devil's Tower in Wyoming is both a culturally significant site for many Indigenous peoples and a popular rock climbing location.

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Mountains typically exist as part of a range or chain, with each peak sloping down and up into the next. Sometimes, however, erosion whittles away a mountain range and leaves a single rocky mass standing alone in the middle of an otherwise relatively flat plane. Unlike volcanoes, which rise upward, monadnocks form when a core of hard rock resists erosion as the surrounding softer rock and soil is slowly carried away.

What Is a Monadnock?

A monadnock, also known as an inselberg, is an isolated, rocky ridge that is resistant to erosion and often surrounded by flat land.

From Devil’s Tower in the Black Hills of Wyoming to Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio De Janeiro, here are eight stunning monadnocks around the world.

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Mount Monadnock

Mount Monadnock reflects in a tree-lined pond in autumn

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The 3,165-foot-tall Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire rises high above the rest of the 1,017-acre Mount Monadnock State Park and the thousands of acres of protected land that lie beyond it. Interestingly, the elevated formation has an unnaturally low treeline due to repeated agricultural fires set by early settlers in the region. Mount Monadnock is a National Natural Landmark and features numerous popular hiking trails and a number of campsites.

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Suilven stands behind a rugged Scottish landscape on a cloudy day

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In the Northwest Highlands of Scotland stands the three-peaked monadnock known as Suilven. The formation reaches a staggering 2,398 feet tall at its highest point, the summit of Caisteal Liath, or “Grey Castle” in Scottish Gaelic. In 2005, regional community members, along with the John Muir Trust, purchased the land on which Suilven sits in order to preserve the important natural landmark.

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Devil’s Tower

Devil's Tower rises above the snow-covered Black Hills at dawn

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Measuring 867 feet from its base to its summit, the remarkable Devil’s Tower in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming holds special meaning for many people. The most striking feature of the butte is its columnar jointing, with some columns reaching hundreds of feet high and 10 feet wide.

What Is Columnar Jointing?

Columnar jointing is when igneous rocks (rocks formed by lava or magma) begin to cool off into a solid form and start to contract. The contraction that occurs places stress on the rock and causes cracking, which results in hexagonal, column-like shapes.

Devil’s Tower has special cultural and religious meaning for many different tribes of the region, including the Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, and Lakota, among several other Indigenous peoples. The location also happens to be a popular climbing spot, which has created conflict with those for whom it is sacred.

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The hat-shaped Hårteigen covered in snow on a bright day

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Towering 1,570 feet above the plateau of Hardangervidda National Park in Sweden is the hat-shaped monadnock known as Hårteigen. Its vertical face makes it popular among experienced rock climbers and is typically considered a two-day climb. The gorgeous landscape surrounding Hårteigen is home to animals like the Arctic fox and snowy owl, and some of the largest wild reindeer herds in Europe.

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Big Pinnacle

The Big Pinnacle of Pilot Mountain at sunset

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The Big Pinnacle of Pilot Mountain, in North Carolina, stands 2,421 feet above sea level. Sometimes referred to simply as “The Knob,” the monadnock features a predominant white cliff face that rises from a forested hill and is crowned by a wooded dome. The tree-topped summit has been closed to visitors since the 1970s and contains rare species of plants that include a flowering perennial called Greenland sandwort, the threatened bear oak, and the endangered Appalachian golden banner.

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Mulanje Massif

Mulanje Massif rises above the tea fields of Malawi

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The Mulanje Massif in the southeast African country of Malawi is a monadnock large enough to change the weather. Rain clouds traveling inland from the coast are caught by the massif, whose peak towers 7,608 feet above the surrounding plains, and are forced to drop their water vapor. The Mulanje Massif is home to many noteworthy species of wildlife, like the endangered Mulanje cypress tree, the endangered bird Thyolo alethe, and numerous amphibian and lizard species, like the Mlanje Mountain chameleon.

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Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain looms over the sailboats in Guanabara Bay

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Rising 1,299 feet up from the mouth of Guanabara Bay, the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain, or Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese, is visible from much of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The iconic monadnock, named after its conical shape reminiscent of molds once used to transport sugar, is fitted with a large cable car that famously carries visitors between its summit and a large hill called Morro da Urca. Sugarloaf Mountain became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012.

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Mount Cooroora

Lush, green trees cover Mount Cooroora as a rainbow casts down upon the hills below it

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In a town called Pomona on Australia’s eastern coast stands a monadnock known as Mount Cooroora. Covered in lush trees and vegetation, Mount Cooroora rises 1,440 feet above the gently rolling hills that surround it. A popular and challenging trail for casual hikers leads to the top of the monadnock (with chains provided for assistance) and offers splendid views of the countryside below. Every year since 1979, athletes from around the world gather to compete in the Pomona King of the Mountain Festival, where participants race up to the peak of Mount Cooroora and back down for top honors.