Among the major mountain ranges in the U.S. are the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada and the Appalachians. Among these, only the Appalachians and their sub-ranges lie east of the Mississippi River, which roughly bisects the contiguous 48 states. Although the highest peaks here are far more modest than their counterparts to the west, some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi boast unique stories and historical notoriety of their own.
Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains
Mount Mitchell in western North Carolina rises to 6,684 feet above sea level, making it the tallest mountain in the east. Because of its high altitude, its fauna and flora are similar to those in higher regions to the north, such as Canada. Common trees include red spruce, fire cherry, yellow birch, mountain ash and mountain maple; birds such as winter wrens, slate-colored juncos, red crossbills and golden-crowned kinglets make their home there.
Mount Mitchell is part of the Black Mountains, which were formed over a billion years ago and feature six of the 10 tallest mountains east of the Mississippi. One of these is Mount Craig, second only to Mount Mitchell in this regard.
Clingmans Dome and the Smoky Mountains
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the third-highest mountain east of the Mississippi, behind only Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig. Located in Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, its summit temperatures can be 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than in the surrounding lowlands. Because the dome is very cool and wet, the spruce-fir forest there is classified as a coniferous rainforest ecosystem. As of 2014, the balsam woolly adelgid pest was slowly destroying this forest.
Elsewhere in the Smokies, Mount Guyot and Mount LeConte also rise over 6,400 feet.
Richland Balsam and the Great Balsam Mountains
The 6,410-foot-high Richland Balsam in North Carolina is the 10th-highest peak east of the Mississippi. As is happening on other high mountains in the southeast, the fir forests are under siege by the balsam woolly adelgid, accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s and to the Great Balsams in the 1970s. The igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks that form this and the surrounding mountains range in age from about 500 million years to about one billion years and are rich in feldspar, mica and quartz.
Mount Washington and the Northeastern Peaks
Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is the only 6,000-footer in the northeast, topping out at 6,288 feet. In addition to its relatively high summit, it's known for its wild weather, including a high recorded wind speed of 231 miles per hour -- the highest measured on Earth until 1996, when a typhoon in Australia reached 253 MPH.
Five other mountains named for presidents rise above 5,000 feet in this vicinity -- Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Quincy Adams and Madison. All are popular among hikers, often in combination. The White Mountains are younger than their southern Appalachian counterparts, forming from cooling magma between 100 and 124 million years ago.
- Mount Washington Observatory: The Presidential Range
- RomanticAsheville.com: Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
- National Park Service: Great Smoky Mountains -- Clingmans Dome
- RomanticAsheville.com: Richland Balsam Overlook & Hiking Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway
- Mount Washington Observatory: Mount Washington World Record Wind Toppled
- NOAA: Ocean Explorer: Geological Origin of the New England Seamount Chain
- Photo Credit dmfoss/iStock/Getty Images
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