Text Box: Blue Ridge Introduction | Geology and Features | Significant Features | Resources
The Blue Ridge province extends from south-central Pennsylvania southwestward for approximately 600 miles to Mt. Oglethorpe in north-central Georgia.  The province is bounded along its entire eastern edge by the Piedmont Plateau and along its entire western edge by the Ridge and Valley province.  Essentially all of the province is mountainous and has been called the backbone of the Appalachians.  The highest elevations within the Appalachians occur within the province.
There are various definitions and connotations associated with names of many of the mountain ranges in the province.  Sometimes all of the ranges are classified together as simply the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Others use the term Blue Ridge Mountains for those that extend along the eastern edge of the province from Maryland to North Carolina.  However, most often this name is restricted to the range formed by the Blue Ridge Escarpment and associated mountains in Virginia and North Carolina.  The Unaka Range is also variously defined.  Its area is sometimes limited to the mountains near the Nolichucky River, which begins in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina and flows northwestward into Tennessee, but more commonly the term Unakas is applied to the complex group of mountains in the entire southwestern part of the province, which coincides closely with rocks of Cambrian age.  The Unaka Range is generally divided into several ranges with names that are mostly used locally, including Iron, Stone, Holston, Bald, Rebecca, Starr, Roan, Chilhowee, Chocolocco, English, Bean, Unicoi (including an eastward extension called the Snowbird Mountains), and the Great Smoky Mountains (Smokies), that are essentially the mountains within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which extends along par t of the North Carolina-Tennessee border.  The Cohutta Mountains in north-central Georgia are generally considered a separate range.  The Catoctin Mountains of northern Virginia create an outlier of the Blue Ridge province within the Piedmont Plateau. 
The province is often divided into the northern Blue Ridge and the southern Blue Ridge sections.  The northern Blue Ridge extends approximately 260 miles from Pennsylvania to Roanoke, Virginia, which is about 50 miles north of the middle of the province.  It is much narrower than the southern section, in some places extending east-west for only about 5 miles with a maximum width of 14 miles.  The province is just a single ridge in extreme northern Virginia, and in the northern part of the province in south-central Pennsylvania, where it is called South Mountain or the Carlisle prong; here the province is approximately 10 miles wide.  This northern portion also has a much lower average elevation than the southern; no peaks exceed 5,000 feet in elevation and only a very few are higher than 4,000 feet.  The northern Blue Ridge has several water gaps that have been cut by the Potomac and James rivers, and many wind gaps, including Ashby, Manassas and Snickers.  The rivers that used to flow through these wind gaps were pirated by the Shenandoah River, a tributary to the Potomac River. 
The southern portion of the province, from Roanoke southward, is wider, higher and more rugged than the northern part.  The province is about 70 miles wide near its southern end, and there are 46 peaks that exceed 6,000 feet in elevation (about 20 of which are in the Smokies) and nearly 300 peaks that exceed 5,000 feet.  Here the province rises abruptly in places more than 2,000 feet above the Piedmont Plateau to the east.  A spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains that is considered a cross-range that connects the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Unakas–the Black Mountains of west-central North Carolina (named for the dark forests of spruce and fir trees that cover most of the peaks)–contains 17 peaks that are taller than 6,000 feet, including Mt. Mitchell, which at 6,684 feet is not only the tallest mountain in the Appalachians and the eastern United States, but also the highest summit east of the Black Hills of South Dakota. 
Most of the drainage, which often displays a very distinctive trellis pattern, is carried by westward-flowing rivers, including the New, Nolichucky and the French Broad rivers, the last river joining the Holston River about 5 miles east of Knoxville, Tennessee (see the Ridge and Valley province) to form the 652-mile-long Tennessee River.  The Roanoke River is the southernmost one to flow eastward through the province.  There are no water gaps through the Blue Ridge south of this river. 
 Blue Ridge Introduction | Geology and Features | Significant Features | Resources