The Appalachian Mountains are a system of mountain ranges running along the eastern coast of North America from Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, in the north to Alabama, USA, in the south. Although shorter and less well known than the vast Rocky Mountains in the western part of the continent, the Appalachians are geologically the oldest North American mountain range. The highest peak in the range is Mount Mitchell, located in North Carolina.
The Appalachian Mountains are a varied destination. Many visit the mountains as day visitors. Some hike all or part of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,174-mile (3,499-km) hike along the main ridges of the mountain range.
The range runs through the following U.S. states and Canadian provinces (north to south):
- 18 Great Smoky Mountains National Park — vast national park offering scenic ridgeline views of the breathtaking Appalachian Mountains.
- 19 Shenandoah National Park — one of the most popular touristic destinations in the eastern part of USA known for its over 100-mile drive which offers panoramic mountain views.
The Appalachians originally uplifted when the supercontinent Pangaea was forming. The crashing together of the European and African tectonic plates with the North American plate caused enormous mountains to rise. At their peak they were likely higher than the Alps or Rockies today, possibly rivaling the modern Himalayas. Erosion during the Age of Dinosaurs wore the Appalachians down to nearly a flat plain, but subsequent uplift allowed rivers to cut valleys into the ancient rock, forming the modern peaks and valleys that characterize the region.
The mountains served as a barrier to western migration when Europeans began settling the continent. Except along river valleys and the Great Lakes, there was very little white settlement west of the Appalachians until the beginning of the 18th century. The Erie Canal was dug, in part, to allow goods and travelers to flow more freely across the divide, and soon railroads would be laid through tunnels and across bridges to further open up the west.
Then there are those who settled in the mountains. In The South, the mountain dwellers developed a subculture known as Appalachia, or (derisively) "hillbilly". Farther north, in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, anthracite coal deposits led to a strong tradition of coal mining in the hills.
Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, published in 1999, offers an entertaining look at the author's attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail.
- Appalachian Trail — over two million people a year hike a portion of this extensive trail running from Georgia to Maine.