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Appalachian Mountains and Appalachian Trail

Updated on January 14, 2018
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis loves the Appalachian regions where first Americans settled and made important contributions to history and the new world.

Catawba Valley

Catawba Valley as seen from the McAfee Knob overlook.
Catawba Valley as seen from the McAfee Knob overlook. | Source

Flora and Fauna

Spring is warming up Earth and the Appalachian Mountains along the Appalachian Trail in eastern USA is a beautiful place to observe rebirth of nature.

From now until the end of autumn wildflowers in the Appalachians are abundant and beautiful. From the gentle, soft colored spring flowers to the bold and spectacular fall colors, the Appalachians show off nature's finest.

Wildlife that may be seen are the black bear, deer, elk, moose and small critters.The black bear usually will not bother the hikers, still be cautious and give it space should you see one.

There are also two kinds of venomous snakes -- the copperhead and the Eastern timber rattlesnake. Make sure you carry a snake bite kit, just in case.

The Appalachians are home to some rare and endangered species of both plants and animals. Protect the environment and remember to take nothing from nature but photos.

The views from trail high points are amazing. It is a photographer's paradise.

Oconee Bells

Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia)
Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia) | Source

Eastern Timber Rattlesnake

Eastern Timber Rattlesnake, there is a reason for its name: crotalus horridus
Eastern Timber Rattlesnake, there is a reason for its name: crotalus horridus | Source


The Appalachian Mountains are home to a wide range of cultures. The name itself came from the word Appalachee, from the Indians of the same name. The Appalachee lived in northwest Florida from at least A.D. 1000. They existed on their agricultural knowledge and hunting. From Florida they migrated into Louisiana and Georgia.

The Cherokee and Shawnee Indians were in the area for more than a thousand years prior to people coming in from England, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, France, Italy, Holland, and Africa. This created some very diverse and multicultural regions.

Invariably, if in the mountains long enough, you will hear some quaint old folk sayings. It is a unique way the mountain folk have of talking and believing their superstitions.

The 'mountain folk' in the Appalachians are gems of nature. The gems of the past come forth when we stop long enough to see and hear them. The love and support those folks gave to each other most definitely was a way of healing. What power, what a blessed gift they had. The Appalachians are full of magic, beauty, and spirituality.

Old Folk Sayings

If it rains on Easter Sunday, it will rain for seven Sundays in a row.

If the bottom of your foot itches, it means you are going to walk on strange ground

Two miles as the crow flies.

She’s prettier than a speckled pup.

Come on in and see how pore folks live.

To get rid of warts, steel someone's dishcloth (used) and bury it, the warts will disappear.

You can never conquer a mountain, but you can conquer yourself.

Appalachian Mountain System

Appalachian Mountain system in eastern United States.
Appalachian Mountain system in eastern United States. | Source

Formation of the Mountains

The Appalachians were formed during a series of collisions and separations of tectonic plates that began 300 million years ago and continued through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. When the Appalachians were still forming, the continents were in different locations than they are today and North America and Europe had collided. The Appalachians were once an extension of the Caledonia mountain chain, a mountain chain that is today in Scotland and Scandinavia.

The Appalachian Mountain range is an ancient band of some of the most beautiful mountain areas in North America. The range stretches from the island of Newfoundland in southeastern Canada and extends 1,500 miles down in a southwestward direction to Central Alabama in the United States -- with portions of 200 to 300 miles wide. It is believed that during the Ordovician period, roughly 460 million years ago, the Appalachian Mountains stood as the highest mountains on earth. It is now the second largest mountain range in the United States.

The significant ranges of the Appalachians are the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee, the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, the Alleghenies in Pennsylvania, the Catskill Mountains in New York, the Green Mountains in Vermont, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina is 6,684 feet high, the highest point of the entire range.

Mount Mitchell

Mount Mitchell, 6,684 ft , in North Carolina is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
Mount Mitchell, 6,684 ft , in North Carolina is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. | Source

"View from The Mountain House"

Catskill Mountain House in the Catskill Mountains, 1836 by William Henry Bartlett
Catskill Mountain House in the Catskill Mountains, 1836 by William Henry Bartlett | Source

Benton MacKaye Trail

Benton MacKaye Trail
Benton MacKaye Trail | Source

Appalachian Trail and Conservation

The Appalachian Trail was born from the thoughts of a visionary man, Benton MacKaye. MacKaye was a forester, planner, and conservationist. His philosophy in life was to find ways to balance the needs of humans with all in nature. In 1921 MacKaye began to put his thoughts of a trail in the Appalachians down on paper and wrote an article titled "An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning". What began as an idea and dream eventually became reality that is now a trail stretching approximately over 2,179 miles. The first part of the trail was opened in October of 1923.

Thanks to Benton MacKaye, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the many volunteers who give time and labor, the Appalachian Trail continues to be a beautiful connection between humans and the wilderness. It takes one who is a warrior of Mother Earth to continually protect, preserve, and maintain the natural beauty of the wilderness. By keeping the trails usable for hikers, the wilderness is then kept as it should be so the flora and fauna of the Appalachian Mountains are free to be as they are meant to be.

The dedication and hard work of the volunteers each year is priceless to the maintenance of the trail and the sustainability of the environment. Many people become volunteers to help maintain the trail. You can check into this at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy site.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy got its start from a two day conference that MacKaye scheduled in March 1925 to discuss further planning and conservation. He called it the Appalachian Trail Conference which eventually changed to its current name and became the focal point of preservation for the entire trail. With the planning and dedication by MacKaye and many others, the entire trail was completed in 1937. It is now a popular destination for hikers.

If you have ever hiked the Appalachian Trail, you may sometimes wonder how it started and who keeps it maintained. With the help of over 6,000 volunteers putting in over 200,000 hours every year, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy preserves and makes it possible that the trail's natural beauty and heritage is there for people to enjoy.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail draws about four million people each year. It is about a 2,160 mile long hiking trail stretching from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

People love the short day hikes along the trail, or for the more vigorous, the long-distance backpacking hikes. Make sure to take enough water on long hikes. Higher elevations will cause dehydration much quicker than lower elevations will.

Some enthusiastic hikers meet every year to hike the entire trail, which takes one season to do so. It can take up to seven months to hike from one end to the other when considering camping along the way. April 15 is the earliest most hikers will start this journey, to avoid severe weather conditions.

Being in the Appalachians, for many people, is an opportunity for adventure and spiritual renewal. For nature study, the Appalachian Trail is a wonderful place to hike.

The terrain varies from heavily wooded areas to peaceful pastoral scenes and waterfalls. Camping sites are available all along the trail and are maintained by the National Park Services.

There are many people who hike the entire trail every year -- they are referred to as "thru hikers". The first woman to walk the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end was Mildred Lisette Norman Ryder. She became known as "Peace Pilgrim". A transcript of her "Steps Toward Inner Peace" was published in 1964.

Tropical Waterfall

Tropical waterfall in Pisgah National Forest.
Tropical waterfall in Pisgah National Forest. | Source

End of the Trail

The end of the trail is atop Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. The video below shows hikers climbing the Knife Edge of Katahdin. It is an awesome experience for those who make it to the top.

The Appalachian Trail begins at Springer Mountain in Georgia and journeys for 2,179 miles through fourteen states in the U.S. The trail follows the ridgeline of the Appalachians of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, where the trail ends at Mount Katahdin.

Experienced hikers who have travelled the entire trail from end to end are (thru-hikers) are very familiar with the small towns the trail passes through, the rivers to be crossed, some of the highest peaks of the Appalachian range, the wilderness, remote shelters, the wildlife, and the astonishing beauty of the land.

Rising to 5,268 feet, Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine. It is located in Baxter State Park in east central Piscataquis County. Sugarloaf Mountain at 4,250 feet is the second highest point in Maine and is over one hundred miles to the southwest of Katahdin.

Katahdin is a Penobscot term meaning "The Greatest Mountain". The Penobscot people are indigenous to Maritime Canada and the northeastern United States, particularly Maine. Along with the Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaq nations, the Penobscot are an important part of the historical Wabanaki Confederacy. In early days of the European settlers, the land of the Wabanaki (Dawn Land) was called Acadia, which is now most of Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The Wabanaki peoples called this land Dawn Land, because it was believed that Katahdin was the first place where the morning sun struck, due to it's great height.

Katahdin is in the center of Baxter State Park. The park is open year round, with strict regulations in the winter months. Overnight camping is from May 15 to October 15 each year. Day use parking at the trail heads is strictly limited to avoid overuse of the trails.

The park has no electricity, running water, or paved roads. The environment is kept as wild as possible and consideration of wildlife is of great importance, thus, audio and visual devices are prohibited in ways that would disturb or harass the wildlife

For the serious hiker and mountain climber, the hike most looked forward to is the "Knife Edge". This is a narrow ridge between Pamola Peak and Baxter Peak. It is not an easy trail to traverse and certainly not for a beginner. During high winds, the Knife Edge is closed to all hikers.

Baxter State Park and the Katahdin trail is for those who love to "rough it" with outdoor activities. On any part of the trail, it is so important to have the proper outdoor gear and clothing for camping and hiking. Good cameras are essential for taking home those prized photos to add to a scrapbook or album.

Mount Katahdin

Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine, the centerpiece of Baxter State Park, and the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine, the centerpiece of Baxter State Park, and the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail. | Source

Baxter Peak

Baxter Peak (center) and the Knife Edge Trail (center to left), Mount Katahdin in Maine
Baxter Peak (center) and the Knife Edge Trail (center to left), Mount Katahdin in Maine | Source

Katahdin Knife Edge Trail, OMGosh !

Knife Edge Trail, Only for the Brave

After watching the video below, would you hike the Knife Edge Trail?

See results

Trail Updates

New information added on January 14, 2018:

To keep informed on the latest conditions on the Appalachian Trail visit Trailwide Updates.

Note From Author

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns


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