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Appalachian Mountains and the Appalachian Trail

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Appalachians

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.

Chattahoochee River

Chattahoochee River

Blue Ridge Mountains - North Georgia. The Blue Ridge Mountains are a sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains.

Blue Ridge Mountains - North Georgia. The Blue Ridge Mountains are a sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains.

Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains in January

Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains in January

Blue Ridge Mountains in July

Blue Ridge Mountains in July

Smoky Mountains, in North Carolina

Smoky Mountains, in North Carolina

Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee

Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee

Village in the North Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains

Village in the North Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains

Tallulah Gorge, in North Georgia

Tallulah Gorge, in North Georgia

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.

The Smoky Mountains are a sub-range of the Appalachians. This is Cades Cove, Tennessee.

The Smoky Mountains are a sub-range of the Appalachians. This is Cades Cove, Tennessee.

Streams and rivers are abundant in the Appalachians.

Streams and rivers are abundant in the Appalachians.

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.

Winter in the Appalachians.

Winter in the Appalachians.

Spring in the Appalachians.

Spring in the Appalachians.

Summer's greens in the Appalachian Mountains.

Summer's greens in the Appalachian Mountains.

Autumn in the Appalachian Mountains.

Autumn in the Appalachian Mountains.

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.

We've seen lots of deer in the Appalachians.

We've seen lots of deer in the Appalachians.

We've seen a couple of beavers in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We've seen a couple of beavers in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Elk have been re-introduced in the Appalachians.

Elk have been re-introduced in the Appalachians.

I think we've seen wild turkeys every time we've vacationed in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I think we've seen wild turkeys every time we've vacationed in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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.

Hubby and I beside the Georgia end of the Appalachian Trail.

Hubby and I beside the Georgia end of the Appalachian Trail.

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.

Appalachian Trail:

Read more about the Appalachian Mountains:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

jimmar from Michigan on March 24, 2012:

Someday I'd like to hike the Appalachian Trail. Nice hub and photos thanks.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 01, 2012:

Proud, thanks a bunch for the kind words!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 01, 2012:

Dan, I'm glad you also appreciate the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains and that you got to hike the Appalachian Trail!

proudtobeadad on March 01, 2012:

I really like your pics. We love the mountains in NC and have actually been to some of the places you have displayed. I enjoyed your hub.

Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on December 27, 2011:

Great hub with great pictures, it brings back memories of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Thank you for sharing this hub!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 01, 2011:

Thanks, rwelton. You really need to plan a trip to the Appalachians, especially the Blue Ridge Mountains. Beautiful!

rwelton from Sacramento CA on October 31, 2011:

Fantastic hub - loved the photos. I have traveled extensively, but not yet here.

thnx

rlw

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 18, 2011:

MsDora, thanks for stopping by for a read about the Appalachians and the Appalachian Trail! I really appreciate it!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 18, 2011:

David, that sounds awesome! I bet the Appalachian Trail is gorgeous in New Hampshire. Great so see you!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 18, 2011:

Doodle, I sincerely hope you and your wife will get to experience the Appalachian Trail. As I said, I haven't actually "hiked" the trail, but I have been on the trail, and I've been to the Appalachians many times.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 18, 2011:

Bluestar, I hope you get to visit the Appalachian Mountains in the near future. It's an amazing area of the US, and I didn't even mention all the historic sites in the Appalachians! lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 18, 2011:

Judi, thanks so much for reading and sharing!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 18, 2011:

kerlyn, thanks so much for your kind words! Have you ever been to the Appalachians?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 18, 2011:

Wow, Dinkan, you made my day!!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 18, 2011:

Thanks for these beautiful pictures and the equally amazing facts.

Russell-D on October 16, 2011:

About age 13, I hiked a portion of the trail through New Hampshire, foraging our canoe from water to water. As everyone else has said, the pictures tell the story of how different the landscape is as you trek it. And the stillness, just the sound of wind, birds and wild animal calls. Thanks for the memory. Good fun. David Russell

doodlebugs from Southwest on October 16, 2011:

One of our goals (my wife and I) is to hike the Appalachian trail. Beautiful photos in your Hub. Hopefully we can find the time and money to do so someday.

Annette Donaldson from Northern Ireland on October 16, 2011:

Stunning hub. How I wish I could afford to visit. It has long been my dream, but I still have a lot of pennies to save first. In the meantime I can read your hub for a little taste of my dream to come.

Judi Brown from UK on October 16, 2011:

Fabulous hub, simply beautiful photography. Thank you for sharing. Voted up and shared. :-)

kerlynb from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on October 16, 2011:

Talk about a well-written and well-illustrated hub. Thank you, thank you for the great armchair voyage! By just reading through your hub, I was like suddenly transported to the Appalachians :D

dinkan53 from India on October 16, 2011:

great, mind blowing photographs, especially I like "Autumn in the Appalachian Mountains" beautiful!nice style of writing, photos and video makes this hub a perfect one. Well done.