By a substantial margin, the highest peaks in the United States lie west of the Mississippi, from 20,320-foot Denali in the Alaska Range to the many mighty summits of the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, and the Great Basin ranges. However, the loftiest mountains east of the Mississippi are still magnificent places. These Appalachian heights represent some of the oldest highlands in the world, as well as critical bastions of eastern wilderness.
The Top 10
The highest peaks east of the Mississippi all reside in the Blue Ridge province of the Southern Appalachians, most notably in the Black and Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The top 10, including the highest point and tallest mountains, are: (1) 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, the highest point; (2) 6,647-foot Mount Craig, (3) 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome, (4) 6,621-foot Mount Guyot, (5) 6,611-foot Balsam Cone, (6) 6,593-foot Mount LeConte, (7) 6,571-foot Mount Gibbes, (8) 6,475-foot Potato Hill, (9) 6,417-foot Mount Chapman, and (10) 6,410-foot Richland Balsam.
The Black Mountains
Five of the top 10 summits belong to the Black Mountains, a small but significant range in western North Carolina named for their dark high-elevation forests of spruce and fir. The king summits of Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig are surrounded by a collection of impressively high neighbors, including Balsam Cone, Mount Gibbes, and the modestly named Potato Hill. One of the most intimate and rigorous ways to experience the Black Mountain highlands is on the rough Black Mountain Crest or Deep Gap Trail, which summits many of the great peaks.
The Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains, which lie west of the Black Mountains across the valley of the French Broad River, are perhaps the most imposing nest of peaks in the eastern U.S. Not only do they encompass several of the very highest east of the Mississippi, they also showcase, particularly in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, large tracts of rugged, federally protected wilderness and old-growth forests of astounding biodiversity. The name stems from the range's reliable mists, partly derived from evapotranspiration off the heavy timber blanketing most of the highlands. Clingmans Dome is the tallest summit, only a few dozen feet lower than Mount Mitchell. While it can be surmounted in a car, the next loftiest peak, Mount Guyot, is remote and pathless, even though the Appalachian Trail crosses its lower shoulders. Mount LeConte looms an impressive 5,300 feet above its base, making it one of the East's most prominent mountains.
Other Notable Mountains
The 10th highest peak east of the Mississippi, Richland Balsam, lies in the Great Balsam Mountains, to the southeast of the Great Smokies. The Great Balsams, as well as the nearby Roan Highlands and Great Craggies, contain a number of other summits rising above 6,000 feet. Outside the Southern Appalachians, the northeastern U.S. includes several particularly notable mountains. Mount Washington, in New Hampshire's White Mountains, is the loftiest at 6,288 feet, and a place of infamously fierce weather. Maine's 5,268-foot Katahdin is a grand-looking dome of significant prominence. Unlike the mountains of the Southern Appalachians, both Mount Washington and Katahdin were glaciated in the Pleistocene and exhibit ice-scoured topography, including yawning cirques.
Exploring the Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains, including the renowned Blue Ridge Mountains, offer breathtaking vistas and unparalleled outdoor experiences. The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway winds through these majestic ranges, providing access to stunning viewpoints and charming towns. Asheville, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, serves as an excellent base for exploring the region. From the highest mountain peaks to the lush valleys, the Appalachian Mountains showcase the diverse beauty of North America's eastern wilderness. With its rich history, captivating landscapes, and abundant wildlife, this mountain range is a must-visit destination.