Privately owned mountains

I got to thinking about this while I was down in Pleasanton week before last, and took a field trip to Mt. Diablo State Park. Seems like just about every significant peak in the U.S. is government (read publicly) owned, as part of a state or national park or monument or whatever. Large or small, from Shasta, Rainier, Lassen, and McKinley, down to Cumberland, Stone, Haystack, and the rest.

Are there any exceptions?

Googling for the phrase “largest privately owned mountain” returns this site, which asserts that this ski mountain in Vermont makes that claim. True? Not true?

And were any of our mountains privately owned (under our current system of government) before they were turned into parks, or were most of them discovered and claimed by Lewis & Clark types on behalf of the state?

And what about internationally? What’s the largest privately owned mountain in the world? Is the U.S. habit of nationalizing its major geographic assets unusual, or typical, or what?

(No, I’m not in the market. I’m just curious.)

I have no knowledge on the matter, but it seems like a hard question to answer owing to the following points:

1: How big is a mountain?
Is it the volume? Surface area? Height?

2: Which part is the mountain?
Is it just the peak? Continuous elevation de/increase? Until the land reaches sea level? Where Dave Inglewood drew the border back in 1803?

3: How do you own a mountain?
(Similar to point 2) Must you own the peak? The majority of land on it?

and the killer, the problem that also concerns ships, lakes, streams, seas, etc

4: What is a mountain?

At least one of Colorado’s Fourteeners is entirely on private land: Culebra Peak.

There are many mountains that are privately owned, at least partially. In NH, Dartmouth College owns 4500 acres of Moosilauke (10th highest in NH), including the summit. It’s the largest inholding in the White Mountain National Forest. In addition, there is a small private holding right next to the summit of Mt Washington, the highest peak in the northeast.

The highest points in several states are privately owned, including West Virginia, South Dakota, Iowa, and I think Kansas. In West Virginia there is a major issue with summit mining, as mining companies own whole mountains and actually dig out under them, reducing their height.

I’m not sure what Okemo is talking about, since they aren’t that big a ski area or mountain. Most major ski areas in the northeast operate at least partly on Forest Service land, so that may be what they are talking about.

In Maine and NH, timber companies own huge tracts of land (insert Monty Python joke) that have many mountains. But they restrict access in many places so you probably don’t hear about them much. But you can get in there and there is some excellent hiking/skiing/snowmobiling, etc.

The early settlers wanted usable land, they weren’t that interested in the view from the top. If it wasn’t farmable, they wouldn’t waste their claim on useless land.

Of the 29 highest peaks in Maine, at least two are now privately owned: White Cap is 3856 feet and Boundary Peak (also called Unnamed Peak) on the Maine-Quebec border is 3855 feet.

The tallest mountain in Maine is Katahdin (5268 feet) in Baxter State Park. The whole area of the park including Katahdin and several other tall mountains was privately owned until about the mddle of this century. From the 1930s to the 1960s, one-time governor Percival Baxter bought most of the land in several parcels with his own money and donated it to the people of Maine.

I am so last century. I meant the middle of the twentieth century.

The reason most mountains ended up as public land is that no one wanted them. You can’t farm on a mountain. Most of the land in the United States started out as public land, and was transfered to private hands through various mechanisms…homesteading, railroad give aways, etc. Since the mountains weren’t usefull for any of that, they never got transfered.

The Sutter Buttes in Yuba County, California, are a privately owned mountain range.


Most of the mountains in Colorado are a patchwork of mining claims, even the ones that are in national forests. I don’t know what rights a mining claim gives and it’s certainly not complete ownership, but there was a lot of interest in the seemingly useless high country.

The situation in the UK is complicated. And somewhat politicised.
The highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis. Land ownership in Scotland is a particularly sensitive issue, so it was big news when the John Muir Trust bought it from its private owners. The Trust is perceived to have Scottish roots and the deal seems to have been regarded as in the public interest.
Outside Scotland, the highest mountain in the UK is Snowden. In that case, it was recently bought by the charity The National Trust, with the help of a large donation from Antony Hopkins. Again there was a perception that, while not passing to the government, the land was being handed over to the Welsh people.
That said, the purpose of the National Trust has distinctly changed over the years. Originally founded to preserve areas of particular natural beauty, there was a period where its primary purpose was in saving stately homes. And people argued about whether this was a violation of its original purpose. In recent decades there’s been a shift back towards preserving landscapes.

Charity organisations like the National Trust do have, at least, the tacit support of successive governments. There are also government organisations like the Forestry Commision that control substantial areas of rural Britain. On top of all of these you have the notion of national parks. These are areas designated by the government, with regulations to preserve the natural environment.

When Mt St Helens went boom, the square mile that included the summit was privately owned. I think by Weyerhaeuser, but I could be wrong.