Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians

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The Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, also called the Ridge and Valley Province or the Valley and Ridge Appalachians, are a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian Highlands division. The physiographic province is divided into three sections: the Hudson Valley, the Central, and the Tennessee. [1]

Valley and Ridge province as part of the Appalachian Highlands division, based on the U.S. Geological Survery physiographic classification

The river valleys were areas of indigenous settlements for thousands of years. In the historic period, the Cherokee people had towns along many of the rivers in western South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains in present-day Tennessee. Similarly, the Catawba people occupied areas along the upper Catawba River in Western North Carolina, to the east of Cherokee County.

The ridge and valley system presents an important obstacle to east–west land travel even with today's technology. It was a nearly insurmountable barrier to European-American migrants who walked or rode horses traveling west to settle the Ohio Country, and later the Northwest Territory and Oregon Country. In the era when animal power dominated transportation, there was no safe way to cross east–west in the middle of the range; crossing was only possible nearer its extremes except for a few rough passages opened mid-range during the colonial era, including Cumberland Gap, Braddock's Road, and Forbes Road.

These were later improved as America's first National Roads, including Wilderness Road, Cumberland Road, Lincoln Highway, designated as U.S. Route 40 and U.S. Route 30 in later years. Early settlers of Ohio Country tended to enter it via the Ohio River; river systems were the most important transportation corridors. It was difficult in the late 19th and 20th centuries to construct railroads and modern highways through this area.


Valley and Ridge province of the Appalachian Highlands and its three physiographic sections: the Hudson, the Central, and the Tennessee Rivers

The eastern head of the Ridge and Valley region is marked by the Great Appalachian Valley, which lies just west of the Blue Ridge. The western side of the Ridge and Valley region is marked by steep escarpments such as the Allegheny Front, the Cumberland Mountains, and Walden Ridge. The Valley and Ridge is located on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

An aerial view of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, showing (from center to right): Wills, Evitts, and Tussey Mountains in December 2006

The Province extends from southeastern New York in the north through northwestern New Jersey, westward into Pennsylvania through the Lehigh Valley, and southward into Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. They form a broad arc between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau physiographic province, which includes the Allegheny and Cumberland plateaus. They are characterized by long, even ridges, with long, continuous valleys in between.

Significant ridges (from north to south)

Name State
Shawangunk Ridge New York
Kittatinny Mountain New Jersey
Bald Eagle Mountain Pennsylvania
Blue Mountain Pennsylvania
South Mountain Pennsylvania
Jacks Mountain Pennsylvania
Moosic Mountains Pennsylvania
Nittany Mountain Pennsylvania
Tuscarora Mountain Pennsylvania
Tussey Mountain Pennsylvania
Wills Mountain Pennsylvania and Maryland
Dans Mountain Maryland
Sideling Hill West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania
Cacapon Mountain West Virginia
Knobly Mountain West Virginia
Mill Creek Mountain West Virginia
New Creek Mountain West Virginia
North Fork Mountain West Virginia
Patterson Creek Mountain West Virginia
Sleepy Creek Mountain West Virginia
South Branch Mountain West Virginia
Spruce Mountain West Virginia
Allegheny Mountain Virginia and West Virginia
Great North Mountain Virginia and West Virginia
North Mountain Virginia and West Virginia
Shenandoah Mountain Virginia and West Virginia
Massanutten Mountain Virginia
Pine Mountain Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee
Clinch Mountain Tennessee and Virginia
Powell Mountain Tennessee and Virginia
Bays Mountain Tennessee
House Mountain Tennessee
Sharp's Ridge Tennessee
Taylor Ridge (Georgia) Georgia
Johns Mountain Georgia
Lavender Mountain Georgia
White Oak Mountain Tennessee and Georgia
Missionary Ridge Tennessee and Georgia
Stringer's Ridge Tennessee
Cheaha Mountain Alabama
Red Mountain Alabama

Ridges and valleys near Norton, Virginia in Wise County, Virginia
A map of the Cumberland Plateau and Ridge and Valley Appalachians on the border between Virginia and West Virginia
An aerial view Massanutten Mountain, including the south fork of the Shenandoah River (on left) and part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia



The Valley and Ridge Province was formed during the Alleghanian orogeny, a mountain-building event that occurred between 325 and 260 million years ago.[2] The rocks in the region were subjected to immense pressure and heat, causing them to deform and fold. The softer parts of these rock units (chiefly shale and limestone) were eroded to form the valleys and the harder parts of the folds (quartzites) formed the mountain tops and ridges.[3] The ridges represent the edges of the erosion-resistant strata, and the valleys portray the absence of the more erodible strata. Smaller streams have developed their valleys following the lines of the more easily eroded strata.[4][5]

Blue Mountain in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania's ridge country seen from Clarks Knob in Franklin County, Pennsylvania

A few major rivers, including the Delaware River, the Susquehanna River, the New River, and the Potomac River, are older than the present mountains, having cut water gaps that are perpendicular to hard strata ridges. The evidence points to a wearing down of the entire region to a low level with little relief, so that major rivers were flowing in unconsolidated sediments unaffected by the underlying rock structure. The region was then uplifted slowly enough so that the rivers could maintain their course, cutting through the ridges as they developed.

Valleys in the region are either synclinal or anticlinal.

These mountains are at their development in central Pennsylvania, a phenomenon termed the Pennsylvania climax.

See also



  1. ^ "Physiographic divisions of the conterminous U. S." water.usgs.gov. Retrieved September 6, 2023.
  2. ^ Hatcher, R.D. "Tracking lower-to-mid-to-upper crustal deformation processes through time and space through three Paleozoic orogenies in the Southern Appalachians using dated metamorphic assemblages and faults". Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Geological Society of America. Archived from the original on August 6, 2018. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
  3. ^ Stanley, 421-2
  4. ^ Stanley, 421-2
  5. ^ "Valley and Ridge Province (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved September 6, 2023.

Further reading

  • WPA, Kentucky: A Guide to the Bluegrass State (1939); classic guide from the Federal Writers Project; covers main themes and describes every town and feature, with capsule histories online
  • Stanley, Steven M. Earth System History. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1999. ISBN 0-7167-2882-6