Blue Ridge Mountains

Range TypeMountain range with well-recognized name
Highest PointMount Mitchell (6684 ft/2037 m)
CountriesUnited States
States/ProvincesVirginia (33%), North Carolina (25%), Tennessee (12%), Georgia (10%), Maryland (9%), Pennsylvania (6%), South Carolina (3%), West Virginia (1%)
(numbers are approximate percentage of range area)
Area34,563 sq mi / 89,517 sq km
Area may include lowland areas
Extent418 mi / 672 km North-South
482 mi / 775 km East-West
Center Lat/Long37° 15' N; 79° 35' W
Map LinkMicrosoft Bing Map

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The Blue Ridge is the extremely long mountain crest that runs from just north of the Potomac River on the Virginia-Maryland border south all the way to northern Georgia. The Blue Ridge Mountain Complex can be thought of as the Blue Ridge, with two main additions: its low continuations north of the Potomac into Maryland and Pennsylvania, and, more importantly, the whole series of high mountains centered on western North Carolina and extending west into Tennessee and south into Georgia. These high ranges include the Great Smokies and many others, and contain all of the 6000 foot peaks in the Appalachians except New Hampshire's Mt. Washington.

The entire huge complex of the Blue Ridge Mountains has clear natural boundaries. On the east, the mountains rise up distinctly from the flatter, rolling hills of the Piedmont. On the west, the Blue Ridge drops to the extraordinary Appalachian Valley, a continuous trough running from Alabama to Montreal.

The Blue Ridge and its associated ranges are almost entirely thickly forested, gentle, rounded mountains. Way too far south to even approach having a timberline, even the summits of Mt. Mitchell (6684') and Clingmans Dome (6636') are in the middle of deep forest and would have no views whatsoever if lookout towers hadn't been built. No other large mountain range in the country has as many good, paved roads meandering through the high country and up to important summits. And pointed, craggy summits as rare in the Blue Ridge as low, rounded ones are in the Tetons.

However, as with any huge area, generalizations are never totally true. There may not be any timberline, but the summits of many "Balds" in the Blue Ridge area are open meadows with often fine views. There are pockets of rugged, challenging terrain, and even a few peaks with rocky ledges at the summits that poke above the trees and provide spectacular mountain settings--Old Rag-3268 in Virginia and Grandfather Mountain-5984 in North Carolina come to mind.

The lack of challenging monster mountains isn't necessarily a drawback, either. The many high roads in this area, plus the gentle slopes and often short walks to summits from high trailheads, make the Blue Ridge an excellent place for mountain explorers who don't go for backpacking, rugged scrambling, or rock-climbing. A family or retired couple in their car doing easy dayhikes can spend huge amounts of time in the highest country in the east without ever getting a mile away from a car. Also, mountains need not present sheer, craggy faces to impress; the Blue Ridge charms with its endless waves of green hillsides, its incredibly diverse flora and fauna in its damp forests, its haunting blue morning mists (which gave the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokies their names), and the fascinating Appalachian culture of the long-time residents. Some of the mountain folk, isolated in their deep mountain hollows, speak English so similar to the Elizabethan dialect of the 1600s that it has interested Shakespearean scholars.

The very high average height of the southern Blue Ridge region gives it a climate that most people do not associate with the south. Winter snows can be heavy, and even spring blizzards can happen, as A.T. through-hikers getting an early start in April in Georgia sometimes find out. The area has the greatest rainfall in the contiguous U.S. outside of the Pacific Northwest, and is also much cooler and less humid than the surrounding lowlands. Asheville, NC, the large city in the center of the southern Blue Ridge Complex, has been rated as having one of the most pleasant climates, due to more bearable summers than in, say, Atlanta, with more bearable winters than found in places like New England. This pattern is less true for the northern Blue Ridge in Virginia, with its much lower elevations and much narrower mountain mass.

North of Roanoke, VA, the Blue Ridge is pretty much a single mountain crest. South of Roanoke, it startes expanding into a huge, wide, confusing oval of ranges and ridges that extends all the way into Georgia. To make sense of the entire complex, it has been divided into 4 sections: first,the Northern Blue Ridge, the single ridge north of Roanoke; second, the Southern Blue Ridge Front, which forms the eastern and southern edges of the large southern oval; third, the massive Great Smoky Mountains; fourth, the Western Blue Ridge Ranges, which are the other ranges at the western edge of the oval excepting the Smokies; and fifth and finally, the Central Blue Ridge Ranges, the jumble in the middle of the oval, which includes the Black Mountains and its high point, Mt. Mitchell (6684').

Map of Blue Ridge Mountains
Click on red triangle icons for links to other ranges.

Note: Range borders shown on map are an approximation and are not authoritative.
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Other Ranges: To go to pages for other ranges either click on the map above, or on range names in the hierarchy snapshot below, which show the parent, siblings, and children of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Appalachian MountainsLevel 2 (Parent)
         Canadian AppalachiansLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Northern U.S. AppalachiansLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Appalachian PlateausLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Appalachian RidgesLevel 3 (Sibling)
         Blue Ridge MountainsLevel 3
                 Northern Blue RidgeLevel 4 (Child)
                 Southern Blue Ridge FrontLevel 4 (Child)
                 Great Smoky MountainsLevel 4 (Child)
                 Western Blue Ridge RangesLevel 4 (Child)
                 Central Blue Ridge RangesLevel 4 (Child)
         Piedmont-Southeast CoastLevel 3 (Sibling)

Major Peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Ten Highest Peaks
RankPeak NameftmRange4
1.Mount Mitchell66842037Central Blue Ridge Ranges
2.Mount Craig66472026Central Blue Ridge Ranges
3.Clingmans Dome66432025Great Smoky Mountains
4.Commissary Ridge6640+2024+Central Blue Ridge Ranges
5.Mount Guyot66212018Great Smoky Mountains
6.Cattail Peak6600+2012+Central Blue Ridge Ranges
7.Balsam Cone6600+2012+Central Blue Ridge Ranges
8.Mount Le Conte65932010Great Smoky Mountains
9.Mount Buckley6560+1999+Great Smoky Mountains
10.Big Tom6560+1999+Central Blue Ridge Ranges
Sub-peaks are excluded from this list. List may not be complete, since only summits in the PBC Database are included.
Child Range High Points
RankPeak NameftmRange4
1.Mount Mitchell66842037Central Blue Ridge Ranges
2.Clingmans Dome66432025Great Smoky Mountains
3.Roan High Knob62851916Western Blue Ridge Ranges
4.Grandfather Mountain59461812Southern Blue Ridge Front
5.Apple Orchard Mountain42251288Northern Blue Ridge

Photos of Peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Mount Mitchell

A very misty day on the highest peak in the Eastern United States, Mount Mitchell (1984-08-18).
Mount Craig
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The Black Mountain crest between Mount Mitchell and Deep Gap. Photo by Todd Grey (2007-02).
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Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome is marked by an observation tower with a curved ramp, providing a view out over the trees (1983-03-15).
Mount Guyot
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The view from Mount Cammerer: in the center background is Mount Guyot, 4th highest summit in the Appalachians (2008-04-26). Photo by Jeff Malik.
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Cattail Peak
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Mt Craig and the Black Mountain Crest from Mt Mitchell (2014-05-20).
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Balsam Cone
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Balsam Cone is the peak just to the left of the blow down which is on top of Big Tom. (2013-04-23). Photo by Bruce Hicks.
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Mount Le Conte
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Mount LeConte, Tennessee, as seen from Charlies Bunion (2010-04-10). Photo by Jeff Malik.
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Big Tom
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Plaque on top of Big Tom (2012-10-14). Photo by Bruce Hicks.
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Mount Le Conte - Cliff Top
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Sunset on Cliff Tops @ Mt. LeConte (2016-10-24). Photo by David R.
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Mount Gibbes
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NC Geodetic Survey benchmark on Mt. Gibbes (2015-07-06). Photo by Bryan Marchant.
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