The Geology, History, and Wildlife of the Appalachian Mountain Habitat

Appalachian Mountains
Brett Maurer/Getty Images

The Appalachian Mountain Range is an ancient band of mountains that stretches in a southwestern arc from the Canadian province of Newfoundland to central Alabama, the heart of southeastern United States. The highest peak in the Appalachians is Mount Mitchell (North Carolina) which lies at an elevation of 6,684 feet above sea level.

Habitat Classification

The habitat zones found within the Appalachian Mountain Range may be classified as follows:

  • Ecozone: Terrestrial
  • Ecosystem: Alpine / Montane
  • Region: Nearctic
  • Primary Habitat: Temperate forest
  • Secondary Habitats: Mixed deciduous forest (also known as southern hardwood forest), southern Appalachian forest, transition forest, and boreal forest


The wildlife a person might encounter in the Appalachian Mountains includes a wide variety of animals:

  • Mammals (moose, white-tailed deer, black bears, beaver, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels, foxes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, groundhogs, porcupines, bats, weasels, shrews, and minks)
  • Birds (hawks, woodpeckers, warblers, thrushes, wrens, nuthatches, flycatchers, sapsuckers, and grouses)
  • Reptiles and amphibians (frogs, salamanders, turtles, rattlesnakes, and copperheads)


A hiker along the Appalachian Trail would see plenty of plant life as well. More than 2,000 species of plants are believed to live along the mountain range, with 200 species living only in the southern Appalachians.

  • Rhododendron, azalea, and mountain laurel are among those producing flowers.
  • A multitude of tree species includes red spruce, balsam fir, sugar maple, buckeye, beech, ash, birch, red oak, white oak, poplar, walnut, sycamore, yellow poplar, buckeye, eastern hemlock, and chestnut oak.
  • Mushrooms, ferns, mosses, and grasses also are abundant.

Geology and History

The Appalachians were formed during a series of collisions and separations of tectonic plates that began 300 million years ago and continued through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. When the Appalachians were still forming, the continents were in different locations than today, and North America and Europe had collided. The Appalachians were once an extension of the Caledonian mountain chain, a chain that is today in Scotland and Scandinavia.

Since their formation, the Appalachians have undergone extensive erosion. The Appalachians are a geologically complex range of mountains that are a mosaic of folded and uplifted plateaus, parallel ridges and valleys, metamorphosed sediments and volcanic rock layers.


The rich forests and coal veins provided industry to an often impoverished area. But the aftermath sometimes left areas of the Appalachians devastated with air pollution, dead trees, and acid rain. Several groups are working to conserve the habitat for future generations as the native species also face threats from urbanization and climate change.

Where to See Wildlife

The 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail is a favorite of hikers, running from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Main. Shelters are posted along the route for overnight stays, though it isn't necessary to hike the entire trail to enjoy its beauty. For those who would rather drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs 469 miles from Virginia's Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Some of the places you can see wildlife along the Appalachians include:

  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail (stretches from Maine to Georgia)
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee)
  • Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
  • White Mountain National Forest (New Hampshire and Maine)
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Klappenbach, Laura. "The Geology, History, and Wildlife of the Appalachian Mountain Habitat." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Klappenbach, Laura. (2021, September 7). The Geology, History, and Wildlife of the Appalachian Mountain Habitat. Retrieved from Klappenbach, Laura. "The Geology, History, and Wildlife of the Appalachian Mountain Habitat." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).