What Are the Differences Between Hill and Mountain?

Difference Between Mountain and Hill

Hills and mountains are geographic formations rising above the surrounding land. Even though these two structures share some differences and similarities, there are no set standards to differentiate between them.

This article provides you with some fundamental distinctions between the hills and the mountains.

Difference between Mountain and Hill

In general understanding, mountains are snow-capped tall hills. Whereas, hills are shorter in height and rarely see snow even though the climate can be very cold.

A hill generally is rounded and shorter in height than to a mountain.

A mountain is steep and is covered in snow.

Definition of Mountain and Hill

Oxford dictionary defines –

  • A mountain is – “A large natural elevation of the earth’s surface rising abruptly from the surrounding level; a large steep hill.”
  • A hill is – “A naturally raised area of land, not as high or craggy as a mountain., a flock of ruffs”

Wiktionary defines –

  • A mountain as – “A large mass of earth and rock, rising above the common level of the earth or adjacent land, usually given by geographers as above 1,000 feet in height (or 304.8 meters), though such masses may still be described as hills in comparison with larger mountains.”
  • A hill as – “An elevated location smaller than a mountain.”

Characteristics of Mountain and Hill

  • Generally, hills are round
  • Mountains tend to be steep

This does not necessarily mean that hills must be round and mountains are steep. Some older mountains are smaller and rounded.

A mountain is considered to be taller than a hill.

On this hypothesis, a mountain has diverse ecology, species of plants, and wildlife. On the other hand, a hill generally has the same topography and plantation vaguely varies.

Height of Mountain and Hill

Again, there is no specific measurement to differentiate a mountain from a hill. However, height is the most common factor that has been used to distinguish between these two.

As mentioned above, mountains and hills are elevated landforms compared to their surroundings.

The United Kingdom identifies a landscape like a mountain that has a summit at least 2,000 feet above sea level.

The UN Environmental Program identifies an environment as mountainous if it:

  • Elevates at least at 8,200 feet
  • Elevates at least at 4,900 feet (slope > 2 degrees)
  • Elevates at least at 3,300 feet (slope > 5 degrees)
  • Elevates at least at 980 feet (with elevation range within 4.3 miles)

Comparatively, a hill is usually measured below 2,000 feet.

Formation of Mountain and Hill

A mountain is relatively steeper than a hill.

Mountains formed by the shifting of tectonic plates or volcanism. Mountains are usually situated in immense mountain ranges while some can be found isolated.

On the other hand, hills are formed by the buildup of rock debris. Other phenomena like glaciers and winds also deposit sand to create hills.

Hills are also formed by soil erosion on a mountain. Volcanoes are other factors for the formation of a hill.

Climates and Ecology in Mountain and Hill

Mountains have colder climates thus providing diverse plantations and wildlife than observed in hills. Different plants and animals are seen at different elevations.

After a certain height, trees cannot grow, and alpine types of plantations are seen. Wildlife becomes more isolated with the elevated topography.

Since hills are at lower altitudes, they are covered with temperate forests, savanna, scrubland or even deserts. Vegetation is ripe than it is in the mountains, and the living condition is more comfortable due to more natural resources to exploit.

The Economy of Mountain and Hill

Due to inhospitable living conditions, mountains are less used for agriculture. However, they have been used to extract resources.

Mountains also provide excellent value for recreational activities like mountain climbing.

In hills, the climate is more friendly, helping more wildlife to scavenge food for survival. The resources found in the hills make human living conditions more hospitable. As a result, economic opportunities are higher in the hills than in the mountains.

How to Distinguish a Mountain from a Hill?

Mountains are tallest landforms on earth.Hills are shorter than mountains.
Mountains are usually covered with snow.Hills sometimes see snowfall.
Mountains are generally steep.Hills are basically round shaped in comparison to mountains. Some hills may be steep.
The ecology of mountains changes with the variation in altitude.The ecology of hills is comparatively similar because of their short height.
Movement in tectonic plates forms mountains. Volcanic activities also are factors in the creation of mountains.Hills are usually formed by erosion in the mountain. Volcanoes also form hills.
Farming is less in the mountains.Hills provide fertile lands for farming.
The climate is harsh for humans and animals to survive. Their population is sparse in the mountains.Due to plenty of land to farm and ecological friendly climate, hills are commonplace for human settlement. A variety of animals are also found in the hills.

How to Distinguish a Mountain from a Hill


Earth has a varied geography. Mountains and hills are part of the topography no matter how they are defined.  Even if there are no standards to identify them, we can classify them by comparing their heights, climate, and ecosystem (maybe more).


  • The world’s highest mountain is Mount Everest standing tall at 29,035 feet above sea level.
  • Olympus Mons (69,459 feet) situated at Mars is known to be the tallest mountain in the solar system.

On a side note, I recommend you to watch the movie (pun intended) “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain” to explore more differences between a mountain and a hill!