Mountain view at sunset.
Views of mountain chains extending into the horizon are typical on the Parkway.

Robert Stevens photo


The Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world. They began forming about 270 million years ago, when the land masses that would become North America and Africa collided. The collision piled up masses of rock along the margin of North America to form the Appalachians.

The Appalachians were once as tall as the Rocky Mountains. Over millions of years, erosion from ice, wind, and water carved the mountains into their current shapes. Today, geologists estimate that the Appalachian Mountains erode about two inches every 1,000 years.

View from Richard Balsam Mountain, highest point on the parkway.
Milepost 431, on Richard Balsam Mountain, is the highest point of the parkway.

Kristina Plaas photo

The parkway passes through six mountain chains in the Appalachians. From Virginia, the first 355 miles follow the Blue Ridge Mountains. Near Asheville, North Carolina, the parkway winds through the Black Mountains, the Craggies, the Pigsahs, and the Balsams. The parkway ends at the Great Smokies in North Carolina.

The tallest peak in the Appalachians is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,683 feet. Mt. Mitchell is also the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The highest elevation along the parkway road is 6,053 feet at Richland Balsam (Milepost 431) in North Carolina.

Last updated: January 14, 2021

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