Appalachian Mountains and the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Mountains are located in the eastern United States, along with a small part of Canada. At the southern end, the range spreads into Alabama. From there, it runs north through Georgia, a corner of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The Appalachians are thickly forested, much unlike the bald, sharp crags of the Rockies. In comparison, the Appalachian Mountains seem more like gently rolling hills. Their present benevolent appearance, however, belies their violent history. These lovely green-blue ridges were once taller than the Himalayas! The Appalachian Mountains of the Ordovician period were the tallest peaks that have ever existed on Earth – ever. Millions of years of erosion have taken their toll, and now the highest point in the Appalachian Mountains is Mt. Mitchell, in North Carolina. At 6,684 feet in height, Mt. Mitchell is also the highest point east of the Mississippi.
The late John Denver sang about the Appalachian Mountains in “Country Roads, Take Me Home.” According to John:
Almost heaven, West Virginia,
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains,
Growin’ like a breeze.
Denver was certainly right about one thing: life in the Appalachians is “younger than the mountains.” In fact, it’s a heck of a lot younger. The Appalachians are among the oldest mountains on Earth. Rocks from the Appalachians are hundreds of millions years old, according to geologists. The ancient mountains were once in the center of Pangaea, formed some 400 million years ago by the collision of tectonic plates.
Sub-ranges of the Appalachians
The Appalachian Mountains are basically divided into three major sections. These include the southern Appalachians, the central Appalachians, and the northern Appalachians. Within each major section of the Appalachian range are sub-ranges. Some of these are the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, the Long Range Mountains, the Longfellow Mountains, the Catskills, and the Poconos.
Scenery and geography of the Appalachians
The Appalachians provide some of the most stunning scenery in the Unites States, and every season offers a different landscape. In spring, colorful rhododendrons and mountain laurel grace the hillsides, with dogwoods, redbuds, and tulip trees towering above. In summer, the foliage is green and lush, thanks to more than enough rainfall. Autumn brings riotous color from the numerous hardwoods, and going on scenic fall drives is a favorite pastime for those living near the mountains. In winter, many of the peaks are covered with thick blankets of snow, even in the Southern Appalachians.
Amazing geological features and natural formations can be seen in the Appalachians. Rivers, streams, and creeks are numerous, and many boast cascading waterfalls. Valleys and grassy meadows dominate the areas between the ridges, and caves and caverns are hidden beneath the hills, many just waiting to be explored.
Wildlife of the Appalachian Mountains
It’s all but impossible to visit the Appalachians without catching at least a glimpse of some fascinating wildlife. Large mammals like whitetail deer and black bear live in much of the range, and in the northern section, you’ll find moose and caribou. Elk and red wolves have been re-introduced in parts of the Appalachians, too. Smaller mammals are abundant, including gray squirrels, red squirrels, flying squirrels, fox squirrels, rabbits, skunks, bobcats, beaver, chipmunks, otters, woodchucks, coyotes, opossums, red foxes, gray foxes, wild boar, bats, and raccoons.
There’s another large mammal supposedly lurking in the Appalachians, although many Game and Fish officials will disagree. It’s the panther – also called Florida panther, puma, cougar, mountain lion, painter, and catamount. Many long-time residents of Appalachia tell stories about panther sightings and encounters. Supposedly, the puma population in the eastern U.S. is restricted to a small number of animals in extreme south Florida. For years, residents of Georgia and other eastern states have reported seeing the big cats, but most reports were met with much skepticism. In 2008, however, a cougar was shot by a hunter in Troupe County, GA. Wildlife officials assumed the cat was an escaped pet, but DNA studies revealed that the feline had come from the wild population in Florida. Droppings in other eastern states adjacent to the Appalachian Mountains have been identified as puma scat, and they contained puma fur. So, it looks as if all those old stories about panthers in the Appalachians are more than just tall tales.
Many species of birds visit the Appalachians or live in the mountains year round, including bald eagles, wild turkeys, wood ducks, peregrine falcons, hawks, chickadees, doves, indigo buntings, warblers, swifts, and many other bird species. Several species of fish, amphibians, and reptiles also live in the Appalachians. Most are completely harmless, but there are two venomous snake species native to the mountains: the copperhead and the timber rattler.
Vegetation of the Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachians are blessed with an amazing collection of trees, shrubs, flowers, and plants. At the higher elevations, the red spruce, the balsam fir, and the Fraser fir grow. Pines include the white, the red, the pitch, the shortleaf, and the Virginia pine. At lower elevations, many hardwood trees and other types of trees can be seen. The most common include hemlocks, sycamores, holly, sugar maple, white ash, sweet birch, beech, tulip poplar, red maple, hickory, basswood, buckeye, redbud, sweet gum, black oak, white oak, and red oak.
Shrubs that call the Appalachians home include rhododendron, mountain laurel, blueberries, huckleberries, and teaberry. Dogwoods are also native to the area. Many species of wildflowers can be enjoyed, depending on the season. Some Appalachian residents engage in wildcrafting and seek plants that have food or medicinal value. Some of the most valued are ramps, ginseng, rosehips, Echinacea, purslane, sorrel, mushrooms, wild ginger, chicory, horse nettle, and lobelia.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail:
The Appalachian Trail
I hiked the Appalachian Trail! Well, not the whole trail, exactly. I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail. Okay, okay…I “hiked” about ten feet of the famous trail, just so I could say I’d been on it. This wasn’t a planned action on my part. Hubby and I were vacationing in the North Georgia Appalachians, and one day we were just riding around and enjoying the scenery. We saw a sign that identified the Appalachian Trail, so of course, I just had to get out and set my two tootsies on one of the best known hiking trails in the world.
My daughter and her husband actually did do some hiking on the Appalachian Trail. What they really enjoyed, however, were the side hiking trails. They found one that led to a beautiful waterfall, and the trail allowed them to walk behind the cascading water. They said that was a really unique experience!
The Appalachian Trail extends from Georgia’s Springer Mountain to Maine’s Mt. Katahdin. In all, the trail is over 2,000 miles long. Most of the hiking trails sections are through forests and other wilderness areas, but occasionally, the trail crosses a highway or winds near a town. The main Appalachian Trail is marked by white blazes, and blue blazes signify side hiking trails, camping spots, trail shelters, and scenic overlooks.
Different sections of the Appalachian Trail have been adopted by different groups, so the types of shelters along the trail depend on the sponsor. For example, the shelter at North Carolina’s Fontana Dam includes real toilets and access to a restaurant. Be advised, however, that many shelters along the Appalachian Trail are no more than simple lean-tos with primitive outdoor privies. They might or might not have fresh water available, but most have places where hikers can pitch a tent. Generally speaking, the shelters and camping spots are located within a day’s walk of the next shelter along the Appalachian Trail.
Read more about the Appalachian Mountains:
- The Real People of Appalachia
This article discusses the Appalachians and the people living in Appalachia. Videos included.
More by this Author
If you and your family enjoy the camping life, you’re probably eagerly awaiting the “spring thaw.” It’s already begun in much of the U.S., and folks are eager to get out of their homes and enjoy...
How to find the best tents, including new and used tents. Photos, videos, tips, cabin tents, pop up tents, cheap tents, and discount tents are included.
Tips for getting your disability claim approved quickly—from someone who's done it. Lots of good feedback and advice from readers, too!