The trail is currently protected along more than 99% of its course by federal or state ownership of the land or by right-of-way. Annually, more than 4,000 volunteers contribute over 175,000 hours of effort on the Appalachian Trail, an effort coordinated largely by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) organization.
In the course of its journey, the trail follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, crossing many of its highest peaks, and running, with only a few exceptions, almost continuously through wilderness.
Georgia has 75 miles (120 km) of the trail, including the southern terminus at Springer Mountain (elevation 3,280 feet, 992 m). An 8 mile (12 km) approach trail (not part of the AT) begins at the Amicalola Falls State Park visitor center. The approach trail is often littered with items cast aside by overburdened hikers unprepared for the difficulties of the initial hike. At 4,461 feet (1,360 m), Blood Mountain is the highest point on the trail in Georgia. The AT and approach trail are managed and maintained by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club.
North Carolina has 88 miles (142 km) of the trail, not including more than 200 miles (325 km) along the Tennessee border. Altitude ranges from 1,725 to 5,498 feet (525 to 1,676 m).
This part of the trail is home of the Fontana Dam Shelter, affectionately known as the Fontana Hilton, known for its view of fjordlike Lake Fontana, comparatively spacious accommodations, water spigots, flush toilets, nearby free hot showers and a one dollar shuttle to an all-you-can-eat buffet. It is also a short distance from a post-office, making it an ideal re-loading location.
Tennessee has 293 miles (472 km) of the trail, including more than 200 miles (325 km) along or near the North Carolina border. The section that runs just below the summit of Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the highest point on the trail at 6,625 feet (2,019 m). The trail enters Tennessee from North Carolina atop Doe Knob, on the crest of the Smokies, and exits Tennessee into Virginia atop Holston Mountain.
The first 64 miles (103 km) of the A.T. in Tennessee follows the crest of the Smokies, and is largely shared with North Carolina. In the Western Smokies, the trail traverses a young forest that replaced what was once a large highland pasture, most noticeable in areas such as Spence Field, Thunderhead Mountain, and Silers Bald. The trail reaches 6,000 feet for the first time on the western slope of Mount Buckley (a sub-peak of Clingmans Dome) and comes within a few meters of the summit of Clingmans. The trail crosses US-441 at Newfound Gap and traverses a series of rocky cliffs known as "The Sawteeth" en route to the high ridges of the Eastern Smokies. Here, the trail crosses Mount Chapman and Mount Guyot, and passes one of its most remote shelters at Tricorner Knob before gradually descending.
Just beyond Mount Cammerer, the A.T. exits the Smokies, crossing I-40 into the Cherokee National Forest. After traversing Snowbird Mountain, Max Patch Bald, and Lemon Gap (just south of Del Rio), the trail exits Tennessee atop Bluff Mountain and re-enters again atop Rich Mountain (in Greene County), some 10 miles (16 km) to the northeast.
After traversing the Bald Mountains, the Appalachian Trail crosses the Nolichucky River and enters the Unakas, gradually ascending to the Roan Highlands near the town of Roan Mountain in Carter County. Atop Roan High Knob, the A.T. again eclipses 6,000 feet (approximately 6,280 feet), and passes the highest shelter along the entire trail. After crossing Grassy Ridge, which is the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachias, the trail descends to the Laurel Fork Valley, where it turns west away from the state boundary.
Just beyond White Rocks Mountain, the trail passes through Hampton, Tennessee before turning north again. At Watauga Lake at the TVA Watauga Dam, the trail turns northeast, crossing Iron Mountain before turning briefly to the northwest at the Carter County-Johnson County line. After passing over Cross Mountain, the trail again turns northeast and ascends Holston Mountain en route to Virginia.
Virginia has the most mileage of the trail of any state (more than a quarter) with 550 miles (885 km) of the trail, including about 20 miles (32 km) along the West Virginia border. Some consider the Virginia section to be the wettest, most challenging part of the hike for northbound hikers. Substantial portions closely parallel the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shenandoah National Park.
McAfee Knob is affectionately known as "the most photographed spot on the A.T.
Bluefield College in Virginia has a fall internet course that requires weekly excursions to the Appalachian Trail. Students keep a trail journal (with pictures and stories) and upload part of it for online discussion. They must also join in some service project (e.g., cleaning up trash, digging ditches). The course finishes with a requisite final project, such as writing nature poems, compiling a photography display, or creating a PowerPoint presentation on outdoor recreation.
The plant life on Virginia's section of the trail includes thickly-growing wild blueberry bushes. The bushes are especially numerous along the trail's central sections, through the Shenandoah National Park, and its northern sections. The blueberries ripen in late summer, offering hikers a plentifully available food source.
The annual "Trail Days" festival held in in Damascus, Virginia has become the largest single gathering of Appalachian Trail hikers anywhere.
Pennsylvania has 229 miles (369 km) of the trail The trail extends from the Pennsylvania-Maryland border at Pen Mar, a tiny town straddling the state line, to the Delaware Water Gap, at the Pennsylvania-New Jersey line. The Susquehanna River is generally considered the dividing line between the northern and southern sections of the Pennsylvania AT. The AT crosses the Susquehanna via the Clarks Ferry Bridge, near Duncannon.
In the southern half of the state, the AT passes through Caledonia State Park, Michaux State Forest, and Pine Grove Furnace State Park (the actual midpoint of the AT is near PGF State Park). These areas in south central Pennsylvania are the northernmost portions of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are geologically distinct from the Ridge and Valley section further north. The two parts are separated by the broad Cumberland Valley, where the trail has a change of scenery, crossing many farms and large highways. There is no camping allowed in the 18 mile stretch between Alec Kennedy and Darlington shelters.
In the northern half of the state, the AT climb back up into the mountains and passes through St. Anthony's Wilderness, which is the second largest roadless area in Pennsylvania and home to several coal mining ghost towns, such as Yellow Springs and Rausch Gap.
With the description of "where boots go to die", Pennsylvania is infamous among thru-hikers for having more long stretches of rocky trail than any other state, although many feel the rocks are overrated. The worst rocks are in the northern half of the state, north of the Susquehanna River. Many consider Pennsylvania one of these easier parts of the AT, since it is mostly walking on ridges with relatively small elevation changes compared to many other states.
New Jersey is home to 72 miles (116 km) of the trail. More than half of it is along the top of Kittatinny Ridge at the northwestern corner of the state. The trail enters New Jersey from the south on a pedestrian walkway along the Interstate 80 Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge over the Delaware River, ascends from the Delaware Water Gap to the top of Kittatinny Ridge in Worthington State Forest, passes Sunfish Pond, continues through Stokes State Forest, and eventually reaches High Point State Park, highest peak in New Jersey (a side trail is required to reach the actual peak). It then turns in a southeastern direction along the New York-New Jersey border for about 30 miles (48 km), passing over long sections of boardwalk bridges over marshy land, then entering Wawayanda State Park and then the Abraham Hewitt State Forest just before entering New York near Greenwood Lake.
Black bear activity along the trail in New Jersey increased rapidly starting in 2001. In August 2005, a teenage hiker sleeping at Mashipacong Shelter was awakened by a bear biting his leg. The bear was later identified and killed by authorities (New Jersey Herald or this more complete account). Metal bear-proof trash boxes are in place at all New Jersey shelters.
New York's 88 miles (142 km) of trail contain very little elevation change compared to other states. From south to north, the trail summits many small mountains under 1,400 feet (430 m) in elevation, its highest point in New York being Prospect Rock at 1,433 feet (438 m), and less than half a mile (800 m) from the border with New Jersey. The trail continues north, climbing near Fitzgerald Falls, passing through Sterling Forest, and then entering Harriman State Park and Bear Mountain State Park. In Harriman State Park, the trail passes through the famous Lemon Squeezer, a narrow crack between huge boulders. It crosses the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge, which is the lowest point on the entire Appalachian Trail at 124 feet (38 m). It then passes through Fahnestock State Park and continues northeast until it enters Connecticut via the Pawling Nature Reserve. The section of the trail that passes through Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks is the oldest section of the trail, completed in 1923.
The trail passes within one mile (1.6 km) of the business district of Kent, a popular resupply point for long-distance hikers. In the town of Salisbury (which occupies the northwestern corner of the state), it skirts the town center before reaching the summit of Bear Mountain, the highest peak in Connecticut at 2,316 feet (706 m), descending, and entering Massachusetts. (The state's highest point, on the shoulder of Mount Frissell at the Massachusetts line, lies about 1.5 miles (2 km) off the AT, as does the junction of those two states with New York. Such a side-trip is on the order of 4 miles (6.5 km) long and entails about 1,300 vertical feet (400 m) of climbing.)
Saint Johns Ledges is a popular rock climbing route located along the Appalachian Trail about 2 miles north of Kent, CT and just west of River Road adjacent to the Housatonic River. The ledges are the rocky outcroppings along the eastern flank of Calebs Peak. This is the most rugged portion of the Appalachian Trail through Connecticut.
This portion is usually described as if continuously in the state, but it actually passes into New York State for nearly two miles (3 km) to reach a maximum distance of about 1,800 feet (500 m) west of the state line. This portion meets neither roads nor maintained trails in New York, is in practice accessed only via portions of the trail that are actually in Connecticut, and is maintained by the Connecticut chapter of the AMC (rather than the New York/New Jersey one).
At the northern end of that isolated New York segment, the state line is also the western boundary of a 480-acre (190 ha) Connecticut reservation inhabited by 11 Schaghticoke Indians. Inside it, the AT roughly parallels its northern boundary, crossing back outside it after 2,000 feet (640 m).
In light of the routing through the reservation, the ATC and National Park Service began efforts in the early 1980s to acquire land to the north that would provide for a federally owned route avoiding the reservation's current recognized boundaries. In 2000, the recognized leadership of the reservation announced exclusion of hikers from the reservation portion of the AT for a period of four days, and the ATC temporarily rerouted the trail onto four miles (7 km) of roads in place of the entire six miles (10 km) of trail, before the scheduled closure was cancelled. The acquisition plans are also complicated by possibly illegal (though in either case not necessarily legally remediable) sales of reservation land in the 18th and 19th centuries, that might at least include some of the proposed acquisition.
This leg was officially and temporarily rerouted again in the early 2000s, as the result of a wildfire in both states that was fought with earthmoving equipment. The trailbed south of the summit faced erosion from destruction of logs used for side-hilling, and of vegetation and organic soil adjacent to it; reconstruction was a major Connecticut-AT trail-maintenance effort.
Massachusetts has 90 miles (145 km) of trail. The entire section of trail is in western Massachusetts' Berkshire County; it traverses both the Taconic Mountains and the Berkshires. The A.T. climbs the highest peak in the southern Taconic Mountains, Mount Everett (2,602 feet, 793 m), then descends to the Housatonic River Valley and skirts the town of Great Barrington. From there, it ascends into the Berkshire Mountains and passes through the towns of Dalton and Cheshire. It ascends into the Taconic Mountains again, visiting the highest point in the state at 3,491 feet (1064 m), Mount Greylock. It then quickly descends to the valley within 2 miles (3 km) of North Adams and Williamstown, before ascending again to the Vermont state line. The trail throughout Massachusetts is maintained by the Berkshire Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club.
The 281 miles (452 km) of the trail in Maine are particularly difficult. More moose are seen by hikers in this state than any other on the trail. The northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is on Katahdin's Baxter Peak in Baxter State Park.
The western section includes a mile-long (1.6 km) stretch of boulders at Mahoosuc Notch, often called the trail's hardest mile.
The central Maine section crosses of the Kennebec River at a point where it is 200 feet (65 m) wide, the widest unbridged stream along the trail. Fording the river is unsafe because of swift and powerful currents and the unannounced release of water from upstream hydroelectric facilities. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club offers a canoe ferry ride across the river during peak hiking season. Although there are dozens of river and stream fords on the Maine section of the trail, this is the only one that requires a boat crossing.
The most isolated portion in the state (and arguably on the entire trail) is known as the "100-Mile Wilderness." This section heads east-northeast from the town of Monson and ends outside Baxter State Park just south of Abol Bridge.
Baxter State Park closes the summer rules overnight camping season from October 15 to May 15 each year. Park management strongly discourages thru-hiking within the park before May 31 or after October 15
In Maine, the AMC maintains the AT from the New Hamsphire border to Grafton Notch, with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club responsible of maintaining the remaining miles to Katahdin.