Mountain symbolism is mostly positive. It represents adventure, escape and conquest. Being out in the mountains is a chance to refresh and get away from the worries of the world of the cities.
Some common mountain symbolism includes:
- The Edge of Possibilities
- The Power of Nature
- Escape and Freedom
- Spirituality and Closeness to God
- Distance from Loved ones
Below, I’ll explore each of these meanings with examples and explanations.
Mountain Symbolism & Meanings
Mountains symbolize adventure to many of us. They’re out chance to go out and explore our world. Often, multi-day hikers will seek out hikes that take them beautiful places they’ve never been before.
There’s no better cliché quote to use for this sense of ‘mountain as adventure’ than John Muir’s famed quote:
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
This quote, used by many hikers, refers to the idea that we look to the mountains with lust. They stand there beckoning us to come to them and take part in an adventure among nature. You can feel like an explorer from ancient times, pushing the boundaries and expanding our maps.
Mountains are challenging to climb. They take many hours (even days) – and challenging ones like Everest require years of training.
In our everyday life, we refer to this challenge of hiking a mountain with terms like ‘one step at a time’ and ‘this is a mountain of a task’.
Here, we’re expressing that sense that climbing a mountain is a true challenge that will test us physically and emotionally.
There are even songs, like Miley Cirus’s The Climb, which metaphorically compare the challenge of hiking mountains to other challenges in our life:
There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Here, she’s not necessarily referring to a literal hike, but using the symbolism of mountains and applying it to challenges in her own life.
Mountains are enormous giants on the horizon. Nothing – not a even a nuclear bomb – can destroy them or push them aside.
They are, in other words, symbols of great strength.
In the book and television series Game of Thrones, for example, the strong character who defends the queen is called The Mountain. This man is the strongest and most powerful fighter in all the lands. Here, we can see the symbolism of the strength of mountains being put to use.
You might also say in a love letter: “My love for you is as strong as a mountain”, referring to just how much you love somebody.
4. The Edge of Possibilities
Sometimes, mountains look like they’re on the edge of the world.
And in fact, old maps would sometimes end at the beginning of a mountain range, simply because the mountain range is impassible.
Similarly, you often find in video games that the map on which you can roam ends with a mountain – a symbolic wall – which represents the end of the playing area.
In these situations, mountains are both literally and symbolically the end of the road. There is nothing beyond this as it’s the very ‘edge of the world’.
5. The Power of Nature
We often behave as if we are able to control and conquest nature. Humans have for centuries attempted to control nature. We cut down trees, build bridges, and create dams to control the waterways.
But mountains remain steadfastly powerful and immovable. Deep in the mountains are some of the most precious untouched parts of nature that – even today – humans cannot access. They’re the home to grizzly bears and other majestic animals living in peace.
This reminds us that despite the great power of humankind, nature remains a force to be reckoned with. We have not fully conquered the mountains and they remain resolutely free.
6. Escape and Freedom
Mountains are places we can retreat to in order to get away from civilization. They are an escape from the cities and worries of our lives.
Many ‘weekend warriors’ seek an alpine escape to refresh and rewind before coming back to work.
Furthermore, this sense of escape from the stresses of the world also represents a sense of freedom. We don’t have the constraints of civilization here. We can do whatever we want if we’re in the wilderness – scream at the top of our lungs, run and dance, without anyone seeing us except the birds in the trees.
When you get to the summit of a mountain hike, there’s a great feeling of conquest and accomplishment.
While above I noted that the mountains are some of the few places we haven’t tamed, we can still get the sense of conquest over them (however temporary that is!).
Standing on the top of a mountain looking out at the epic views of nature beyond is one of the best feelings a hiker can feel. You feel like you really achieved something with your day.
8. Spirituality and Closeness to God
For some people, hiking in the mountains is a spiritual feeling. Sometimes you feel closer to god when you’re out in nature. In fact, many people even believe god is found in nature.
But there’s more to it than this.
Many religions believe God and heaven are located above the sky. (See related: sky symbolism).
So, throughout history, people have built monasteries and churches on mountaintops to try to get as close as God as possible. They will build tall towers on their monasteries and churches to get even higher and closer to god than anywhere else.
9. Distance from Loved Ones
We often invoke mountains when talking about extreme distances between places and people. We can say that we are ‘separated by mountains’ as a way of highlighting just how distant you feel someone is from you.
Furthermore, there’s the saying:
“I would move mountains to be with you.”
Here, we’re invoking this idea that mountains are an obstacle that increases distance (it’s also an example of hyperbole highlighting just how powerful mountains are).
The mountains protect those who take refuge inside them. This includes people, animals and even trees.
Deep in the mountains, you can find some of the most exotic creatures that still exist in nature. You’ll find Bears in the Rocky Mountains of Canada and Gorillas in the mountains of Indonesia.
Furthermore, you’ll find the most amazing old growth trees deep in the wilderness of the mountains. It’s here where the trees are protected from the forestry industry ravaging the world.
And even humans seek protection in the mountains when they’re pursued by other humans. People fleeing persecution may set up bases in the mountains where it’s nearly impossible to be found by civilization.
The weather in the mountains can be incredibly unpredictable. You could be out in the mountains and feeling as if it’s a beautiful sunny day, but then suddenly the weather might break and you’re in the middle of a snow storm.
This is why many hikers recommend going into the mountains well-prepared and packing a detailed day pack even for the simplest hikes. But back in the day when explorers were trying to cross mountains for the first time, they didn’t have these luxuries.
They would often have to turn back from their expeditions due to the volatile weather conditions on top of mountains.
Furthermore, some mountains are even volcanoes, waiting to burst one day and cover the surroundings in lava and ash.
The symbolism of mountains is mostly positive. They represent escape, freedom and adventure. When we’re out in the mountains we can breathe fresh air and forget about the worries of civilization.
But they can also represent hardship and distance. It’s hard to climb a mountain, so we can invoke them when talking about the difficulties experienced in a journey. We can also use them rhetorically to highlight the distance between you and someone on the other side of the mountain.
I’m a Scorpio, I love the outdoors, and I’ve written articles in some major online publications like Medium and The Weekly. My favorite metaphor? Anything that’s got to do with baseball. I’m fascinated by the fact our language has baseball weaved all through it. Read more about me here.