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Mountain vs. Plateau: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 22, 2023
A mountain is a large landform with steep sides rising above surrounding land; a plateau is a flat, elevated land area.

Key Differences

A mountain is a prominent landform characterized by a peak and often steep sides, while a plateau is an elevated area of relatively level land.
Mountains are formed mainly through tectonic movements and volcanic activity, resulting in peaks and rugged terrains. In contrast, plateaus, despite being elevated, boast flat or gently rolling surfaces.
While both mountains and plateaus can be elevated, mountains often have a more pronounced elevation from base to peak. Plateaus, on the other hand, are defined by their extensive flat surfaces at height.
Mountains typically have varied climates, with colder conditions at higher altitudes. Plateaus, with their flat terrains, can be more conducive for human settlements and agriculture.
Examples of mountains include the Rockies, the Himalayas, and Mount Everest. Plateaus, such as the Colorado Plateau or the Deccan Plateau, often originate from volcanic activity, erosion, or upliftment of land without folding.

Comparison Chart


A large landform with a peak and steep sides.
A flat, elevated area of land.


Tectonic movements, volcanic activity.
Volcanic activity, erosion, upliftment.


Pronounced elevation, peaks.
Elevated but flat or gently rolling surface.


Varied, colder at higher altitudes.
Relatively consistent, suitable for habitation.


Rockies, Himalayas, Mount Everest.
Colorado Plateau, Deccan Plateau.

Mountain and Plateau Definitions


A natural elevation of the earth's surface with a peak.
The mountain stood tall against the skyline.


A period where something doesn't increase or advance.
My weight loss hit a plateau after a few months.


A significant challenge or obstacle.
Overcoming his fears was a mountain he had to climb.


A state of stability or a period without change.
After rapid growth, the company's profits hit a plateau.


A large quantity or amount.
He has a mountain of work to complete.


Pertaining to or situated on a plateau.
The plateau region had its unique ecosystem.


Relating to or resembling a mountain.
The mountain terrain was tough to navigate.


An elevated, flat or gently sloping region.
The plateau was vast and extended to the horizon.


A region or area having many mountains.
The mountain regions are known for their scenic beauty.


To reach a stable level or period of little change.
Sales plateaued after the initial release.


Abbr. Mt. or Mtn. A natural elevation of the earth's surface having considerable mass, generally steep sides, and a height greater than that of a hill.


An elevated, comparatively level expanse of land; a tableland.


Can plateaus have mountains on them?

Yes, some plateaus can have mountains or highlands within their expanse.

How does a plateau differ from a mountain?

A plateau is an elevated flat area, while a mountain has a peak and steeper elevation.

How are mountains primarily formed?

Mountains are primarily formed through tectonic movements and volcanic activity.

What is a mountain?

A mountain is a large landform with a peak and steep sides.

What's the highest mountain in the world?

Mount Everest is the world's highest mountain.

Do mountains play a role in cultural or national identities?

Yes, many mountains are symbols of national pride or have cultural significance.

Can plateaus influence weather patterns?

Yes, plateaus, due to their elevation, can impact local weather patterns and conditions.

Can volcanic activity form mountains?

Yes, many mountains, especially volcanic cones, are formed due to volcanic activity.

Are plateaus suitable for living?

Yes, many plateaus, due to their flat terrains, are conducive for human settlements and agriculture.

How do plateaus benefit ecosystems?

Plateaus can support unique ecosystems due to their elevation, climate, and isolation.

Can a plateau be formed due to erosion?

Yes, erosion can carve out landscapes, leading to the formation of plateaus.

Are all mountains part of mountain ranges?

While many mountains are part of ranges, some stand alone as isolated peaks.

Why are mountains often seen as spiritual or sacred places?

Their majestic presence, isolation, and challenge they pose have made mountains symbols of spirituality in many cultures.

Why are plateaus important for agriculture?

Plateaus often have fertile soil and favorable climate, making them suitable for various crops.

What does it mean when someone says they've "hit a plateau"?

It means they've reached a state of little or no change after a period of activity or progress.

How do plateaus impact rivers?

Rivers on plateaus often have rapids or waterfalls at their edges where they descend to lower land.

Are plateaus always at high elevations?

No, while plateaus are elevated, they can be at varying heights, from just above sea level to very high elevations.

Do plateaus have specific flora and fauna?

Yes, many plateaus house unique species adapted to the specific conditions of the elevated flatland.

Why do mountains have cooler temperatures at their peaks?

As altitude increases, air pressure drops, causing cooler temperatures on mountain peaks.

Can mountains influence local climate?

Yes, mountains can affect rainfall, wind patterns, and temperature, influencing local climate.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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