Learn about the Appalachian Mountains and all it has to offer.
The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, are a mountain range that runs from New Brunswick, Canada, to Alabama in the United States. The range supports an abundance of wildlife, creating habitats for hundreds of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. According to Discover Life, the mountain range represents one of the most biodiverse areas in North America. For example, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is in the Southern Appalachian area, there are more than 30 species of salamanders, and more tree species exist there than are present in all of Europe.
In the United States, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a hiking trail covering more 2,000 miles and 14 states, stretching from Maine to Georgia. Specifically, the National Park Service notes that the trail begins in Baxter State Park in Maine and finishes on Springer Mountain in Georgia.
Protected environmentally and conserved for posterity by the National Parks system, the Appalachian Mountains region has three National Parks: Acadia National Park, Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Acadia National Park is located along the coast of Maine. Stripped of topsoil by the glaciers that covered the area millions of years ago and battered by coastal waves, this section of the Appalachian Mountain range is rugged and windswept. Coniferous spruce and fir trees soften the great outcroppings of granite, which appear to rise from the depths of the sea.
Virginia boasts the Shenandoah National Park. Protected by the National Park system, it has recovered from years of poor farming habits and uncontrolled deforestation created by lumber companies. Today, the park features oak forests and indigenous wildlife.
Spanning the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers diversion for fans of wildlife, hiking or history. The area's past settlers include individuals of the Cherokee Nation and Irish, Welsh, Scotch, German and other European settlers. The villages throughout the Smoky Mountains hint at the area's rich cultural history.
The inspiration of many artists and writers, Acadia National Park has visitors' and nature centers, museums, hiking trails and campgrounds situated on the side of the mountains at the edge of the ocean. The park is open all year, but many of its facilities, including the visitors' centers, are only open from April 15 through October.
Shenandoah National Park is open all year and features several visitors' centers, campgrounds, scenic vistas, restaurants and lodging options. Visitors can enjoy a visit to Big Meadows, where birdwatchers might catch a glimpse of the roughly 200 varieties of birds that frequent the park. Shenandoah also offers ranger programs, where visitors can explore the park with a ranger or attend a variety of talks and presentations.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009. Several visitors' centers located both within and outside of the park are open all year, although certain facilities close during the winter months. Travelers are welcome to camp, fish, ride horseback, bike or visit one of several historical sites within the vast parks. Specialty camps, such as horse camps, which allow visitors to bring their own mount, are available for a fee and with a reservation. In addition, back-country tent camping is available with a special permit. Fishing in the area is allowed with proper licensure from Tennessee or North Carolina. Visitors interested in hiking will find various accommodations along the 2,000-mile Appalachian Mountain Trail. Since the trail intersects a number of towns and villages over its 14-state expanse, long-term hikers will be able to find facilities where they can send mail, make phone calls or purchase supplies.
Roads throughout the Appalachian Mountain range provide access to mountaintops, scenic vistas and recreational areas.
In Maine, a drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain offers breathtaking views. Many visitors travel to the top of the pink granite summit to watch the sunrise, and from early October through early March, the mountain is the first spot in the United States where the sunrise can be seen.
The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive winds through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park and features lodges, restaurants and picnic areas. According to the Blue Ridge Parkway Association, the parkway, often considered "America's Favorite Drive," runs 469 miles through the Smoky Mountains and into Shenandoah National Park.
Nine miles from the main entrance of Shenandoah National Park, visitors will find the Luray Caverns, a geological experience. Open all year, guided tours of the caverns depart every 20 minutes.