What is the difference between "mountain", "hill", and "peak"; "lake" and "pond"; or "river" and "creek?"

There are no official definitions for generic terms as applied to geographic features. Any existing definitions derive from the needs and applications of organizations using those geographic features. The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) database utilizes 63 broad categories of feature types defined solely to facilitate retrieval of entries with similar characteristics from the database.

These categories generally match dictionary definitions, but not always. The differences are thematic and highly subjective. For example, a lake is classified in the GNIS as a "natural body of inland water”, which is a feature description that can also apply to a reservoir, a pond, or a pool. All "linear flowing bodies of water" are classified as streams in the GNIS. At least 121 other generic terms fit this broad category, including creeks and rivers. Some might contend that a creek must flow into a river, but such hierarchies do not exist in the nation's namescape. 

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names once stated that the difference between a hill and a mountain was 1,000 feet of local relief, but this was abandoned in the early 1970s. Broad agreement on such questions is essentially impossible, which is why there are no official feature classification standards.

Learn more: U.S. Board on Geographic Names Principles, Policies, and Procedures

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Is there a list of mountain peak elevations in the United States?

Specific data for current mountain peak elevations do not exist at USGS other than what was previously published in an Elevations and Distances in the United States booklet. A way to determine an approximate elevation at a specific point is to use the spot elevation tool query in The National Map viewer or through the Point Query Service ...

Does the Geographic Names Information System Database contain entries for obsolete names and historical geographic features that no longer exist?

Yes, The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) actively seeks names of features that no longer exist. The term "historical" as used in the GNIS specifically means that the feature no longer exists on the landscape. An abandoned ghost town, for example, still exists so it is not historical. Historical features have no reference to age, size,...

How can I propose a name change for a natural feature?

Proposals to change the name of a natural feature can be submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names . There must, however, be a compelling reason to change it. The Board is responsible by law for standardizing geographic names throughout the Federal Government and discourages name changes unless necessary. Further, changing a name merely to...

How can I name an unnamed natural feature?

Proposals to name an unnamed natural feature can be submitted to the Board on Geographic Names (BGN). The BGN is responsible by law for standardizing geographic names throughout the Federal Government, and promulgates policies governing issues such as commemorative naming, derogatory names, and names in wilderness areas. Please note that no...

How can I acquire or download Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) data?

Download Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) data using the U.S. Board on Geographic Names website . Query the database for official geographic feature names, their location attributes, variant names, and other data. Display, print, and download up to 2,000 records from a query. GNIS data can also be downloaded via the National Map Viewer...

How many counties are in the United States?

There are 3,141 counties and county equivalents in the 50 States and the District of Columbia: 3,007 entities named "County" 16 Boroughs in Alaska 11 Census Areas in Alaska (for areas not organized into Boroughs by the State) 64 Parishes in Louisiana 42 Independent Cities (1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nevada, and the remainder in Virginia) 1...

What is the most common city/town name in the United States?

There are no official definitions of city, town, village, hamlet, neighborhood, etc. All named entities with human habitation are classified as Populated Place, including incorporated places (20 percent of the Nation's communities), unincorporated places (the majority), housing developments not yet incorporated, and neighborhoods within...

What is the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)?

The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) was developed by the U.S.Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN), which maintains cooperative working relationships with state names authorities to standardize geographic names. GNIS contains information about the official names for places, features, and...
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Date published: July 31, 2017

Mapping Public Lands in the United States

The Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) is the official inventory of public parks and other protected areas in all U.S. states and territories.

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This is a photo of the southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake.
August 31, 2018

Southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake

Southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake. Photo by Neal Herbert, Yellowstone National Park.

Bull Hill Wyoming
December 31, 2013

Bull Hill, WY

Bull Hill, location of the Bear Lodge Deposit, Wyoming.

Wheeler Peak with Glacier
June 19, 2005

Wheeler Peak with Glacier

This zoomed-in view shows Wheeler Peak and a great bowl-shaped glacial cirque on the mountain's eastern face. A rock-covered glacier exists year round in the base of the cirque. A bristlecone pine forest grows on slopes near the toe of the glacier. This photograph was taken in mid July, 2005. The previous winter the Snake Range received nearly three times its normal

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Glacier Peak volcano, Washington reflected in pond below the Whitec...

Glacier Peak volcano, WA reflected in pond below the Whitechuck Gla...

Glacier Peak volcano, Washington reflected in pond below the Whitechuck Glacier, view from the south in late summer.

This is an aerial photo of Indian Pond hydrothermal explosion crater

Aerial photo of Indian Pond hydrothermal explosion crater

Aerial photo of the 0.06 square mile (0.16 square kilometer) Indian Pond hydrothermal explosion crater north of Yellowstone Lake. The deposits from the explosion that formed the crater were dated with radiocarbon to 2,900 years ago. Photo from Yellowstone National Park Photo Collection taken by Jim Peaco in July 2001.

Lassen Peak viewed from the south at the summit of Brokeoff Volcano...

Lassen Peak viewed from the south at the summit of Brokeoff Volcano...

Lassen Peak viewed from the south at the summit of Brokeoff Volcano, Lassen Volcanic National Park.