Blue Ridge Mountains

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Blue Ridge Mountains
Rainy Blue Ridge-27527.jpg
The Blue Ridge Mountains as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell in North Carolina
Highest point
Peak Mount Mitchell
Elevation 6,684 ft (2,037 m)
Coordinates 35°45′53″N82°15′55″W / 35.76472°N 82.26528°W / 35.76472; -82.26528 Coordinates: 35°45′53″N82°15′55″W / 35.76472°N 82.26528°W / 35.76472; -82.26528
Appalachian map.svg
Appalachian Mountains
CountryUnited States
States North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama
Parent range Appalachian Mountains
Orogeny Grenville orogeny
Type of rock granite, gneiss and limestone

The Blue Ridge Mountains are a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian Mountains range. The mountain range is located in the Eastern United States, and extends 550 miles southwest from southern Pennsylvania through Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. [1] This province consists of northern and southern physiographic regions, which divide near the Roanoke River gap. [2] To the west of the Blue Ridge, between it and the bulk of the Appalachians, lies the Great Appalachian Valley, bordered on the west by the Ridge and Valley province of the Appalachian range.


The Blue Ridge Mountains are known for having a bluish color when seen from a distance. Trees put the "blue" in Blue Ridge, from the isoprene released into the atmosphere. [3] This contributes to the characteristic haze on the mountains and their perceived color. [4]

Within the Blue Ridge province are two major national parks – the Shenandoah National Park in the northern section, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the southern section. The eight national forests include George Washington and Jefferson, Cherokee, Pisgah, Nantahala and Chattahoochee. The Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile (755 km) long scenic highway, connects the two parks and runs along the ridge crest-lines, as does the Appalachian Trail. [5]


Although the term "Blue Ridge" is sometimes applied exclusively to the eastern edge or front range of the Appalachian Mountains, the geological definition of the Blue Ridge province extends westward to the Ridge and Valley area, encompassing the Great Smoky Mountains, the Great Balsams, the Roans, the Blacks, the Brushy Mountains (a "spur" of the Blue Ridge) and other mountain ranges.

The Blue Ridge Mountains as seen from Blowing Rock, North Carolina Blowing Rock.jpg
The Blue Ridge Mountains as seen from Blowing Rock, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge near Massies Mill, Nelson County, Virginia Blue Ridge Nelson Co VA.jpg
The Blue Ridge near Massies Mill, Nelson County, Virginia

The Blue Ridge extends as far south as Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia and as far north into Pennsylvania as South Mountain. While South Mountain dwindles to hills between Gettysburg and Harrisburg, the band of ancient rocks that form the core of the Blue Ridge continues northeast through the New Jersey and Hudson River highlands, eventually reaching The Berkshires of Massachusetts and the Green Mountains of Vermont.

The Blue Ridge contains the highest mountains in eastern North America south of Baffin Island. About 125 peaks exceed 5,000 feet (1,500 m) in elevation. [6] The highest peak in the Blue Ridge (and in the entire Appalachian chain) is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet (2,037 m). There are 39 peaks in North Carolina and Tennessee higher than 6,000 feet (1,800 m); by comparison, in the northern portion of the Appalachian chain only New Hampshire's Mt. Washington rises above 6,000 feet (1,800 m). Southern Sixers is a term used by peak baggers for this group of mountains. [7]

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs 469 miles (755 km) along crests of the Southern Appalachians and links two national parks: Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains. In many places along the parkway, there are metamorphic rocks (gneiss) with folded bands of light-and dark-colored minerals, which sometimes look like the folds and swirls in a marble cake.


Blue Ridge Mountains, viewed from Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook in North Carolina Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook.jpg
Blue Ridge Mountains, viewed from Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook in North Carolina

Most of the rocks that form the Blue Ridge Mountains are ancient granitic charnockites, metamorphosed volcanic formations, and sedimentary limestone. Recent studies completed by Richard Tollo, a professor and geologist at George Washington University, provide greater insight into the petrologic and geochronologic history of the Blue Ridge basement suites. Modern studies have found that the basement geology of the Blue Ridge is made of compositionally unique gneisses and granitoids, including orthopyroxene-bearing charnockites. Analysis of zircon minerals in the granite completed by John Aleinikoff at the U.S. Geological Survey has provided more detailed emplacement ages.

The northernmost extension of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in northern Maryland South Mountain-airphoto.jpg
The northernmost extension of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in northern Maryland

Many of the features found in the Blue Ridge and documented by Tollo and others have confirmed that the rocks exhibit many similar features in other North American Grenville-age terranes. The lack of a calc-alkaline affinity and zircon ages less than 1.2 billion years old suggest that the Blue Ridge is distinct from the Adirondacks, Green Mountains, and possibly the New York-New Jersey Highlands. The petrologic and geochronologic data suggest that the Blue Ridge basement is a composite orogenic crust that was emplaced during several episodes from a crustal magma source. Field relationships further illustrate that rocks emplaced prior to 1.078–1.064 billion years ago preserve deformational features. Those emplaced post-1.064 billion years ago generally have a massive texture and missed the main episode of Mesoproterozoic compression. [8]

The Blue Ridge Mountains began forming during the Silurian Period over 400 million years ago. Approximately 320 million years ago, North America and Europe collided, pushing up the Blue Ridge. At the time of their emergence, the Blue Ridge were among the highest mountains in the world and reached heights comparable to the much younger Alps. Today, due to weathering and erosion over hundreds of millions of years, the highest peak in the range, Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, is only 6,684 feet (2,037 m) high – still the highest peak east of the Mississippi River in the US. [9] [10]


The Blue Ridge Mountains in the background from Lynchburg, Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA IMG 4115.JPG
The Blue Ridge Mountains in the background from Lynchburg, Virginia

The English who settled colonial Virginia in the early 17th century recorded that the native Powhatan name for the Blue Ridge was Quirank. At the foot of the Blue Ridge, various tribes including the Siouan Manahoacs, the Iroquois, and the Shawnee hunted and fished. A German physician-explorer, John Lederer, first reached the crest of the Blue Ridge in 1669 and again the following year; he also recorded the Virginia Siouan name for the Blue Ridge (Ahkonshuck).

At the Treaty of Albany negotiated by Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood (1676–1740), of Virginia with the Iroquois between 1718 and 1722, the Iroquois ceded lands they had conquered south of the Potomac River and east of the Blue Ridge to the Virginia Colony. This treaty made the Blue Ridge the new demarcation point between the areas and tribes subject to the Six Nations, and those tributaries to the Colony. When colonists began to disregard this by crossing the Blue Ridge and settling in the Shenandoah Valley in the 1730s, the Iroquois began to object, finally selling their rights to the Valley, on the west side of the Blue Ridge, at the Treaty of Lancaster in 1744.

Flora and fauna

The forest environment provides natural habitat for many plants, trees, and animals.

View of Blue Ridge Mountains from Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway by Grandfather Mountain NC.jpg
View of Blue Ridge Mountains from Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina


The Blue Ridge Mountains have stunted oak and oak-hickory forest habitats, which comprise most of the Appalachian slope forests. Flora also includes grass, shrubs, hemlock and mixed-oak pine forests. [11]

While the Blue Ridge range includes the highest summits in the eastern United States, the climate is nevertheless too warm to support an alpine zone, and thus the range lacks the tree line found at lower elevations in the northern half of the Appalachian range. Statistical modelling predicts that the alpine treeline would exist at above 7,985 feet (2434 m) in the climate zone and latitude of the southern Appalachians. [12] The highest parts of the Blue Ridge are generally vegetated in dense Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests.[ citation needed ]


The area is host to many animals, including

Population centers

The largest city located in the Blue Ridge Mountains is Roanoke, located in Southwest Virginia, while the largest Metropolitan Area is the Asheville metropolitan area in Western North Carolina. Other notable cities in the Blue Ridge Mountains include Charlottesville, Frederick, Hagerstown, Chambersburg, Greenville, Johnson City, and Lynchburg.

In music and film

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Appalachian Mountains</span> Mountain range in the eastern United States and Canada

The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians,, are a system of mountains in eastern to northeastern North America. The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period. They once reached elevations similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains before experiencing natural erosion. The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east–west travel, as it forms a series of alternating ridgelines and valleys oriented in opposition to most highways and railroads running east–west.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great Appalachian Valley</span> Major landform in eastern North America

The Great Appalachian Valley, also called The Great Valley or Great Valley Region, is one of the major landform features of eastern North America. It is a gigantic trough—a chain of valley lowlands—and the central feature of the Appalachian Mountains system. The trough stretches about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from Quebec in the north to Alabama in the south and has been an important north–south route of travel since prehistoric times.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blue Ridge Parkway</span> Scenic parkway in the United States

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and All-American Road in the United States, noted for its scenic beauty. The parkway, which is America's longest linear park, runs for 469 miles (755 km) through 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties, linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It runs mostly along the spine of the Blue Ridge, a major mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Its southern terminus is at U.S. Route 441 (US 441) on the boundary between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, from which it travels north to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The roadway continues through Shenandoah as Skyline Drive, a similar scenic road which is managed by a different National Park Service unit. Both Skyline Drive and the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway are part of Virginia State Route 48 (SR 48), though this designation is not signed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians</span> Physiographic province of the larger Appalachian division

The Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, also called the Ridge and Valley Province or the Valley and Ridge Appalachians, are a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian division and are also a belt within the Appalachian Mountains extending from southeastern New York in the north through northwestern New Jersey, westward into Pennsylvania through the Lehigh Valley, and southward into Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. They form a broad arc between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau physiographic province. They are characterized by long, even ridges, with long, continuous valleys in between.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taconic Mountains</span> Appalachian Mountain range in the United States

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blue Ridge Mountain</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Black Mountains (North Carolina)</span> Mountain range in western North Carolina, US

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Environment of Virginia</span>

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The Glenwood Cluster is a region in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests recognized by The Wilderness Society for its rich biodiversity, scenery, wildflower displays, cold-water trout streams and horse trails. It offers a unique habitat for rare plants, salamanders and other rare species. The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail traverse the area, giving ready access with views to the east of the Piedmont region and to the west of the Valley of Virginia.


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