The 8 Oldest Mountain Ranges in the World and Where to Find Them

Written by Jennifer Haase
Updated: January 10, 2023
© digidreamgrafix/Shutterstock.com
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The oldest mountain ranges in the world are incredible examples of how the planet’s surface has evolved over billions of years. These ancient mountains are often heavily eroded, some no longer visible on the surface. Yet, they still tell us so much about the geological history of our planet. So let’s take a journey across the eight oldest mountain ranges in the world and where to find them. You might be surprised to find that two of the countries on this list have more of these oldest mountain ranges than the others. Or you might find it surprising that the oldest mountains aren’t necessarily the tallest ones on Earth. Sometimes they’re not very tall at all!

Read on to learn more about the oldest mountain ranges and where they sit. And we’ll share some of the best visitor attractions in these areas.

1. Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (South Africa and Kingdom of Eswatini)

The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains of South Africa and into the Kingdom of Eswatini are the oldest mountain range on Earth. With an estimated age of 3.5 billion years, these mountains represent some of the most ancient landscapes on the planet. Scientists believe this mountain range, which spans about 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, is the result of meteorites.

The Makhonjwa Mountains are home to an abundance of ancient sedimentary and volcanic rock prized for its age and diversity. These mountains are so old that the study of their geology helps scientists understand how Earth’s earliest continents formed.

Though it’s the oldest mountain range in the world, it’s nowhere near the tallest. The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains are a combination of small mountains, hills, and valleys. And the highest elevation along this range is only about 5,900 feet.

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains are ancient
With an estimated age of 3.5 billion years, the Baberton Makhonjwa Mountains of South Africa represent some of the most ancient landscapes.

©iStock.com/Marieke Peche

2. Hamersley Range (Australia)

The Hamersley Range is located in Western Australia and is the second-oldest mountain range in the world. This range formed approximately 3.4 billion years ago due to an ancient supercontinent breaking apart. Hamersley Range sits in the Pilbara region near the coast and is known for its spectacular coastal scenery.

Mount Meharry is the highest peak in this range, reaching an elevation of 4,098 feet. In addition, this range also contains some of the oldest rocks in the world, providing a peek into the history of Earth’s continental drift. Also, the Hamersley Range is a significant source of iron ore.

Within the Hamersley Range sits the Karijini National Park, where visitors can explore the range’s many gorges, waterfalls, and caves. There is a variety of wildlife in this area, including kangaroos, emus, bats, and over 325 species of birds live throughout the Pilbara region.

Mount Meharr. Karijini National Park, Australia
Mount Meharry is the highest peak in the Hamersley Range within Karijini National Park.

©iStock.com/Rhys_Palazzolo

3. Waterberg Mountains (South Africa)

The Waterberg Mountains rest in the Limpopo Province in South Africa and are about 2.8 billion years old. This oldest mountain range is part of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, which is a UNESCO conservation project. The mountains are part of a massif, with the highest peak (Geelhoutkop) reaching 6,000 feet.

The Waterberg Mountains are great for outdoor enthusiasts as the area contains several national parks, nature reserves, and hiking trails. And visitors can also explore some of the many caves in this region. The most popular might be the Makapansgat Caves, which are nearly 3 million years old!

Makapansgat Caves, South Africa
Makapansgat Caves in South Africa are nearly 3 million years old.

©hermansmit, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

4. Magaliesberg Mountains (South Africa)

The Magaliesberg Mountains sit in South Africa across the North West and Gauteng provinces. Formed from ancient volcanic eruptions, this incredible mountain range is about 2.3 billion years old. And it’s another range with ancient caves visitors can explore, including the majestic Sterkfontein Caves.

These mountains span about 75 miles and reach their tallest height of 6,076 feet at the peak of Mount Nooitgedacht. However, this range mainly consists of tall and rolling hills, along with many streams and waterfalls.

A hot spot for visitors in the area is the Hartbeespoort Dam in the North West Province, where river rafting and boat cruises are big tourist attractions.

Ancient Magaliesberg Mountains in South Africa
Magaliesberg Mountains were formed by ancient volcanic eruptions roughly 2.3 billion years ago.

©iStock.com/Arnold Petersen

5. Guiana Highlands (South America)

The Guiana Highlands are located in South America and have been around for 2.1 billion years. This range of low mountains, plateaus, and hilly landscapes spans the countries of Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela. The type of mountains here are mainly table mountains, which means they have flat tops.

The highest peak in this mountain range is Mount Roraima, reaching an elevation of 9,226 feet. Mount Roraima is a table mountain that sits inside the Pakaraima Mountain range within the Guiana Highlands.

The Guiana Highlands are home to Angel Falls in Venezuela. Angel Falls cascades from a flat-top mountain in Canaima National Park and is known as one of the highest waterfalls on Earth.

Mount Roraima - Venezuela
Mount Roraima is a large flat-topped mountain within the Guiana Highlands, in existence for approximately 2.1 billion years.

©iStock.com/Adrian Wojcik

6. Black Hills (United States)

The Black Hills move across western South Dakota into northeastern Wyoming and have been around for about 1.8 billion years. And it is the oldest mountain range in North America. The Black Hills are several small mountain chains, each with its own distinct terrain. In addition, the highest peak here is Black Elk Peak, reaching an elevation of 7,242 feet.

The Black Hills are home to some of the most beautiful geological formations in the United States, including Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Jewel Cave National Monument. Mount Rushmore is a National Monument with the faces of four US presidents carved into granite. At the same time, Crazy Horse Memorial is a monument honoring the Native American leader Crazy Horse. In addition, Jewel Cave National Monument offers visitors the opportunity to explore one of the world’s largest and most complex cave systems. It has 210 miles worth of cave passages!

Other attractions in this oldest mountain range in the world include Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. Visitors can explore these landmarks’ caves, mountains, valleys, and other geological formations. The Black Hills are also great for hiking, camping, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

Black Elk Peak, South Dakota
Black Elk Peak in South Dakota is the highest peak in the Black Hills with an elevation of 7,242 feet.

©sbmeaper1 / Flickr – License

7. St. Francois Mountains (United States)

The St. Francois Mountains rest in the southeastern part of the United States, stretching the Ozark Plateau of Southeast Missouri. This range is 1.5 billion years old, with its highest peak on Taum Sauk Mountain at 1,772 feet.

The St. Francois Mountains are home to incredible rock formations, like Elephant Rocks State Park and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Elephant Rocks State Park hosts an amazing display of enormous granite boulders that are said to resemble a herd of elephants. And Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is an area with natural water slides and swimming holes created by the Black River. The shut-ins are natural formations of rock around small pools of water.

As one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, the St. Francois Mountains never cease to impress with their ancient beauty. And this area offers visitors plenty of outdoor activities for hikers who love the great outdoors. If that includes you, check out Mount Pisgah Hiking Trail near Ashville, North Carolina. You’ll enjoy a 2+ mile challenging hike up to the observation deck at the summit. The view from the top is spectacular!

St. Francois Mountains, Missouri is one of the oldest ranges in the world.
St. Francois Mountains in Missouri is one of the oldest ranges in the world.

©Keith Yahl / Flickr – License

8. Blue Ridge Mountains (United States)

The Blue Ridge Mountains trail through eight states in the Eastern United States. This mountain range is approximately 1.2 billion years old, and its highest peak is Mount Mitchell at 6,684 feet. The eight Blue Ridge Mountain states are:

As with most of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, this one is home to unique wildlife like the Carolina northern flying squirrel. In addition, visitors to this region of the United States can explore a variety of outdoor activities like hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The area is also home to incredible attractions like Grandfather Mountain State Park and Shenandoah National Park. Grandfather Mountain State Park has high mountain peaks and lush forests. Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is an excellent place to view wildlife and explore hiking trails.

Shenandoah National Park along the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains
Shenandoah National Park, along the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains, is an excellent place to view wildlife and explore hiking trails.

©Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

The oldest mountain ranges in the world are Earth’s historians.

The oldest mountain ranges in the world teach us about Earth’s history and the incredible power of nature. Each range has its own unique terrain, attractions, and clues about how these ancient rock formations shaped our world.

Were you surprised by the locations of the oldest mountains on Earth? Three of the top oldest mountain ranges are in South Africa, with three more in the United States. In addition to those in Australia and South America mentioned above, there are many more ancient mountain ranges across the world to explore!

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Blue Ridge Parkway summer Appalachian Mountains Sunset
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About the Author

I've been a professional writer for over 12 years, specializing in nature themes, including plants and animals. My areas of interest include pets, sea animals, and flowers. Plus, I can't get enough of red pandas and hummingbirds! I also enjoy gardening, nutrition studies, and snuggling with my cats in my spare time.

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Sources
  1. Unesco, Available here: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1575/
  2. South African History Online, Available here: https://www.sahistory.org.za/place/makhonjwa-mountains-barbeton
  3. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/place/Hamersley-Range
  4. Unesco, Available here: https://en.unesco.org/biosphere/africa/waterberg