The Oldest Mountains In America Are Right Here In North Carolina And They're Amazing
Unbeknownst to many, the oldest mountains in America (in fact, the North American Continent) can be found right here in North Carolina. Anyone familiar with the Tar Heel State may naturally think the oldest mountains we speak of here are the Appalachian Mountain Range, which includes the famously wonderful Blue Ridge Mountains – but think again. While the Appalachians formed some 480 million years ago, there’s another much older mountain range in play here. And at 500 million years old, it’s believed to contain the oldest mountains in America: the Uwharrie Mountains.
Remarkably, the Uwharrie Mountains were originally along the coast and rose to as high as 20,000 feet. Over time, erosion and the rise of the eastern seabed through a process called "isostasy" has slowly positioned this mountain range at its present location some 150 miles from North Carolina's coast.
Time has also cast significant erosion to the Uwharrie's majestic 20,000-foot peaks. Today, the highest point in the Uwharrie Mountains is right around 1,100 feet.
The Uwharrie Mountains offer a treasure trove of adventures for exploring the country's oldest mountains.
North Carolina Zoo, 4401 Zoo Pkwy, Asheboro, NC 27205, USA
At the base of the mountain range, the North Carolina Zoo affords visitors a chance to enjoy the terrain while discovering the
world's largest natural habitat zoo
, located in Asheboro.
An hour to the southwest, you can visit the sight of the country's first documented gold discovery.
That 1799 discovery of a 17-pound gold nugget in a creek bed in what is now the Uwharries spawned the opening of a profitable mine that is still open and operates as a venue where visitors can tour part of the original mine, pan for gold, and visit a museum and gift shop.
Reed Gold Mine
is open for self-guided tours of the underground mine as well as
on designated days of the week. Until the start of the California Gold Rush in the 1850's, Reed produced more gold in America than any other mine.
The Uwharrie Mountains spill into four North Carolina counties in the Piedmont and the foothills continue into another four counties. The range covers an enormous territory.
Perhaps one of the most secluded and undeveloped areas in the Uwharrie ridge areas is the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness. It's also credited with being the oldest inhabited area of the oldest mountains in America. Evidence of American Indians living in the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness has been traced back 12,000 years.
With relatively few bonafide attractions within the wilderness area, the best way to experience Birkhead Mountain Wilderness is by way of several key hiking trails. Most of them are rated easy or moderate.
Birkhead Mountain Wilderness is only 5,160 acres strong so most of the trailheads are within a short distance from one another, making it easy to explore more than one trail per day.
Coolers Knob Mountain trail is a good place to begin.
This 2.5-mile out-and-back hike is rated easy and is ideal for beginners. Most hikers should be able to finish this hike in under three hours. The trail has an elevation change of 390 feet.
The 3.4-mile Thornburg trail traverses an historic home and farm complex that includes this farmhouse built in 1855.
Other buildings on the property include a carriage house (circa, 1900), various equipment and storage sheds, a hog house, a chicken house, a smokehouse, and of course, everyone's favorite: an outhouse. You may feel like you're on a trail in the Oconoluftee Valley inside Smoky Mountains National Park as you wander through this historic property along the trail.
In addition to the Coolers Knob and Thornburg trails, the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness has various
other trails that are also perfect for putting boots on the ground in America's oldest mountain range.
Of note, hikers here often discover archaeological evidence such as artifacts from Native American inhabitants that previously occupied the land. As a reminder, please leave anything you find in place and undisturbed. Federal law protects historic sites and any artifacts found on public lands.
The Birkhead Mountains Wilderness is open and usually accessible year-round.
Did you know the oldest mountains in America are found right here in North Carolina? This mountain range isn’t the only natural wonder in North Carolina with some significant age behind it. We are also home to one of the
oldest rivers in the whole world and some of the oldest trees in the world.
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