What are the Appalachian Mountains?

Jason C. Chavis

The Appalachian Mountains are a chain of mountains located in the eastern United States and Canada running across the North American continent from Alabama in the south to Newfoundland in the north. The mountain range measures roughly 100 to 300 miles (160.9 to 482.7 km) wide and covers an area of about 1,500 miles (2,413.5 km) from north to south. Although generally classified as one large chain, the Appalachian Mountains are subdivided into a number of different groupings. As the prominent eastern American mountains, they account for the highest points in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The tallest point in the chain is Mount Mitchell located in North Carolina, measuring 6,684 feet (2,037 m).

A group of hikers in the Appalachian mountains.
A group of hikers in the Appalachian mountains.

Discovered by Europeans in 1528, the Appalachian Mountains are named after a Native American village Apalachen. During his expedition in 1540, Hernando de Soto began to refer to the mountains by the Native American name, which ultimately resulted in the designation taking permanent hold. It is believed that Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, the French artist accompanying explorer Jean Ribault, was the first to detail the name for the mountain chain on a map in 1562. Over the course of next centuries, the mountains were also referred to as the Alleghenies. It wasn't until the late 1800s that the United States officially dubbed the Appalachian Mountains by their current name.

A number of scenic vistas can be enjoyed while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
A number of scenic vistas can be enjoyed while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

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One of the prominent features of the Appalachian Mountains is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Extending from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, the trail traverses 2,178 miles (3,505 km) of preserved wilderness through 14 U.S. states. The trail was established by Benton MacKaye in the early 1920s as a way for urban travelers to experience the scenery of the mountains. Each year, many people hike the Appalachian Trail, with some even attempting the entire route over the summer months.

Throughout the history of Appalachia, the region has been known for a low standard of living. While the area has numerous natural resources, the population was essentially isolated from the Industrial Revolution and lacked modern facilities that the rest of the country enjoyed. Appalachia poverty became a central issue in President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. He developed the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1963, which is tasked with aiding 420 counties in the mountains with development and economic reform.

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Discussion Comments


@Scrbblehick -- Yes, exactly. I have hiked in the Rockies and along portions of the Appalachian Trail, and that's so true. When I was hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park, I was always stunned by the grandeur of the mountains.

The Appalachian Trail is no less arduous in places, and the beauty is all around also, but there's a definite feeling of being "taken in" somehow, by the Appalachians. I love those mountains!


One thing people immediately notice about the Appalachians is they look nothing like the Rockies or the Grand Tetons -- and not much like any other mountains anywhere else in the world.

The Appalachians are rolling, green mountains. They may be topped with snow in the winter, but don't rise above the timberline, as do the Rockies. An Appalachian mountain doesn't have a discernible peak; it looks more like the keel of a boat.

The Rockies leave one in open-mouthed wonder, gaping at their stark beauty. The Appalachians embrace you; their beauty is more accessible.

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