The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia into North Carolina, skirting the southern end of the Black Mountains, weaving through the Craggies, the Pisgahs, the Balsams, and ending in the Great Smokies. We visit various locations in the Blue Ridge Mountains, studying the natural history of the area at different elevations from the foothills to the top of Mt. Mitchell (at 6,684 feet, the tallest peak in the eastern United States). At the higher elevations the mountains are cloaked with spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests mixed with heath balds of Catawba rhododendron and mountain laurel.
Mt. Mitchell rises from the Blue Ridge Parkway to an altitude of 6,684 feet -- the tallest peak in the eastern United States. Its vegetation is divided into hardwood forest, which covers the mountain below 4,500 feet, and coniferous spruce-fir forest which blankets the remaining higher elevations. Mt. Mitchell State Park encompasses 1,469 acres of predominantly Red Spruce and Fraser Fir woodland, and the life associated with this vegetation is northern in its character.
Typical breeding birds of the higher elevations include Common Raven, Brown Creeper, Dark-eyed Junco, Winter Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Northern Saw-whet Owl. Hermit Thrush and Red Crossbill can be found as well. The Appalachian race of the hardy Northern Flying Squirrel, closely related to the more familiar Southern Flying Squirrel of lower elevation broad-leaved woodlands, also occurs at this elevation.