Are the Adirondack Mountains Part of the Appalachians?

Whiteface Mountain, Near Lake Placid, New York, in the Adirondacks. Photo courtesy Mwanner
Whiteface Mountain, Near Lake Placid, New York, in the Adirondacks.
Photo courtesy Mwanner

Having grown up in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia my entire life, I never had the opportunity to visit Upstate New York until my early 20s.

I still remember the first time I drove through the Empire State’s Adirondack Mountains: it was just before sunset in mid-March and I exited Interstate 87 and went north on US Route 9 toward Lake Placid.

The sun reflecting off the rocks of the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area that evening was without a doubt one of the most spectacular and breathtaking sights I have ever seen.  Though I was only a little more than 600 miles away from home, it felt like I had entered into another world – I had been raised in the mountains my entire life, but these formations were unlike anything my eyes had ever seen.

They were tall, rocky and sharp.  Unlike the generic, cookie cutter mountains of home, each of these peaks was different, with its own shape and structure.  To put it simply, these mountains weren’t anything like the Appalachian Mountains I knew.

Turns out, they aren’t the Appalachian Mountains at all but are actually their very own and unique land formation that forms a roughly circular dome about 160 miles in diameter and about 1 mile high.  In fact, the Adirondacks are the only mountains in the eastern U.S. that aren’t geologically Appalachian.

Every so often, Appalachian Magazine receives requests from people stating that the Adirondack’s were left out of a map, etc. It is with this thought in mind that we would like to highlight the main differences between the Appalachian and Adirondack Mountains:


Adirondack Rocks are generally metamorphic: A metamorphic rock is created either by heating up or squashing the earth’s crust.

Appalachian Rocks are generally sedimentary rocks: A sedimentary rock is formed by the deposition and subsequent cementation of that material at the Earth’s surface and within bodies of water.

Growing or Shrinking?

Adirondack Rocks were formed by an uplift and are actually still growing, albeit, only 3 mm per year, but the sky’s the limit… all they need is time before they catch Mount Mitchell in North Carolina!

Appalachian Rocks are eroding away.  Shhhh, don’t tell anybody, but they’ve really let themselves go in recent years!  If you will notice, the Appalachian Mountains don’t really boast of any jagged or sharp peaks, this is because they haven’t weathered very well and have been in a process of eroding for quite some time.

Highest Mountain
Summit of mt. Marcy, Photo courtesy: Idawriter
Summit of Mt. Marcy,
Photo courtesy: Idawriter

The highest mountain in the Adirondacks is the 5,344′ tall Mount Marcy. One of the most fascinating and noticeable characteristics of this mountain is the fact that though the majority of the mountain is forested, the final few hundred feet is above the tree line. The peak is dominated by rocky outcrops, lichens, and alpine shrubs.

The highest mountain
in the Appalachians is the 6,680′ tall Mount Mitchell.  This peak in western North Carolina is the highest point east of the Mississippi River and stands 1336 ft. higher than the Adirondack’s highest peak.

Summit of Mount Mitchell Photo courtesy: Idawriter
Summit of Mount Mitchell
Photo courtesy: Idawriter

Unlike the Adirondacks, however, which have a treeline at roughly the 4,000 ft. in elevation mark, the Appalachians do not and trees are present at the very top of this 1.26-mile high summit.  This is due to the fact that Mount Mitchell is located so much farther south than Mount Marcy.  The “above tree line” zones start at 4,000 ft. in New England, and 1,500 ft. in Quebec.

In closing, both mountains are breathtakingly incredible and like the various states and peoples they represent, are unique in their own way.  Comparing the two is akin to comparing apples to oranges, they’re just world’s apart.  The bottom line is this: if you’ve never experienced them both, you need to add this to your bucket list.

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