The mountains are not very high, but are very steep at places; Galdhøpiggen in South Norway is the highest peak in mainland Northern Europe, at 2,469 metres (8,100 ft), Kebnekaise has the highest peak on the Swedish side, at 2,104 m (6,903 ft), whereas Halti is the highest peak in Finland, at 1,324 m (4,344 ft).
The combination of a northerly location and moisture from the North Atlantic Ocean has caused the formation of many ice fields and glaciers. Temperature drops with increasing altitude; in South Norway, permafrost becomes common from about 1,500 meters above sea level on the western slope, and at about 1,200 meters above sea level on the eastern slope near the border with Sweden. In Northern Norway, permafrost becomes common from around 800 to 900 meters above sea level on the western slope, and some 600 meters above sea level on the eastern slope.
Its names in the Scandinavian languages are, in Swedish Skandinaviska fjällkedjan, Skanderna (encyclopaedic and professional usage), Fjällen ("The Fells", common in colloquial speech) or Kölen ("The Keel"), and in Norwegian Den skandinaviske fjellkjede, Skandesfjellene, Kjølen ("The Keel") or Nordryggen ("The North Ridge", name coined in 2013). The names Kölen and Kjølen are often preferentially used for the northern part, where the mountains form a narrow range near the border region of Norway and Sweden. In southern Norway there is a broad scatter of mountain regions with individual names, such as Dovrefjell, Hardangervidda, Jotunheimen, and Rondane.
The mountain chain's highest summits are mostly concentrated in an area (of mean altitude of over 1,000 m) between Stavanger and Trondheim in southern Norway, with numerous peaks over 1,300 m and some peaks over 2,000 m. Around Trondheim Fjord peaks decrease in altitude to about 400–500 m rising again to heights in excess of 1,900 m further north in Swedish Lapland and nearby areas of Norway. The southern part of the mountain range contains the highest mountain of Northern Europe, Galdhøpiggen at almost 2,500 m. This part of the mountain chain is also broader and contains a series of plateaux and gently undulating surfaces that hosts scattered inselbergs. The plateaux and undulating surfaces of the southern Scandinavian Mountains form a series of stepped surfaces. Geomorphologist Karna Lidmar-Bergström and co-workers recognize five widespread stepped surfaces. On eastern Norway some of the stepped surfaces merge into a single surface. Dovre and Jotunheimen are rises from the highest of the stepped surfaces. In south-western Norway the plateaux and gently undulating surfaces are strongly dissected by fjords and valleys. The mountain chain is present in Sweden from northern Dalarna northwards; south of this point the Scandinavian Mountains lie completely within Norway. Most of the Scandinavian Mountains lack "alpine topography", and where it does have it does not relate to altitude. Example of this is the distribution of cirques in southern Norway that can be found both near sea level and at 2,000 m. Most cirques are found between 1,000 and 1,500 m.