Geography of the Piedmont Region of Georgia

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Georgia contains numerous geographical regions, and in this lesson we are going to explore the Piedmont. We'll check out its major features, and look at the role it plays in Georgia today.

The Piedmont Region of Georgia

A lot of times, when we talk about the South we talk about it just like that. It's the South, one large, roughly homogeneous region full of pine trees, rivers and humidity. While the South does contain these things, there's actually more to it than that.

Let's take the state of Georgia, for example. Georgia actually contains no less than five distinct geographical regions. The second largest of these is the Piedmont region. Running around 870 miles across northern Georgia, the hilly Piedmont is an important part of this state, and an important part of the South.

Boundaries

Let's start by talking about exactly where the Piedmont region is. The southern half of Georgia is dominated by the state's largest region: the Coastal Plain. The Piedmont sits on the northern border of the Coastal Plain, but the two are extraordinarily different.

While the Coastal Plain used to be below the ocean, the Piedmont was not and thus was not smoothed and flattened by the currents over millions of years. As a result, there is actually a visible border between these regions called the Fall Line. The southern side of this line is the flat and sandy soils of the Coastal Plain. The northern side is the rugged and rocky topography of the Piedmont.

As the Piedmont sits just a little higher than the Coastal Plain, this border is defined by the almost constant presence of waterfalls, which is actually how the Fall Line gets its name.

To the north, the Piedmont is bordered by another very visible feature: the Blue Ridge Mountains. So, the hills and valleys of the Piedmont represent a middle ground between two extremes.

Geology

Since the Piedmont did not spend millennia under the ocean, its rocks were not washed into sand. So, we can get a great idea of the geological history of Georgia from the Piedmont region. Some of the rocks in this region predate the Appalachian Mountains themselves, one of North America's oldest mountain ranges at roughly 500 million years old. This ancient geologic history helped promote the conditions for certain minerals, and Georgia actually had its own gold rush back in the early 1800s.

At the surface, however, much of the Piedmont is covered in a coarse layer of partially eroded rocks called saprolite. Those who know Georgia, and anybody who has ever listened to County music, will recognize this as the state's famous red clay. The clay gets its color from high amounts of iron. It is also easily erodes, and the remainder is held in place only by the abundant foliage of the region.

The red clay under the foliage is a defining trait of the Piedmont
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Water

The Piedmont may not be defined by an extensive coastline, but that doesn't mean that these foothills are short on water. Georgia gets a high amount of precipitation each year, and it's in the Piedmont the much of the water from the mountains collects into major rivers. These rivers cut through the Piedmont clay, moving straight and quick to the Fall Line, where they enter the flatter and wider rivers of the Coastal Plain.

Perhaps the most notable river of the region is the Chattahoochee, which starts in the Blue Ridge Mountains and crosses the Piedmont before emptying into the Coastal Plain and the ocean.

This river was once one of the primary transportation highways in the state, moving boats along the length of the Piedmont.

Today, boat travel is not as common but the Chattahoochee is still a major shipping route between the coast and the inner regions, as well as an important source of fresh water for the cities of the Piedmont.

The Chattahoochee
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Of course, not all water in the Piedmont is on the move. In valleys along the major rivers, large lakes provide sources of recreation, fresh water, and habitats for fish, birds, mammals, and even reptiles like alligators (although these are more rare here than in southern Georgia).

West Point Lake is a major body of water off the Chattahoochee River near the Alabama state line. Lake Sidney Lanier is an example of a lake constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, meant to collect all the water coming off of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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