Resupplying and Accessing Towns Along the Appalachian Trail
Resupplying on the Appalachian Trail is easier then you might think. While the heart of the AT takes you through the Appalachian mountains and there are certainly remote parts of the trail, it also takes you within practical distances from dozens of towns and communities along the way. The AT takes hikers within reach of a town every three to seven days on average. These towns naturally serve as useful resupply points for tangible goods such as food and gear, but they are also helpful for restoring your physical energy and mental fortitude. Of course, it isn’t always necessary to go into town to resupply. Sometimes you’ll be able to achieve a successful resupply at a random gas station at a crossroads. Some hostels stock basic supplies for hiker resupply.
Towns tend to be more reliable and offer a greater variety. That being said, all towns are not created equal when it comes to resupply. The quality and distance to grocery stores will vary from town to town and don’t expect every town to have an outfitter to satisfy your gear needs. This is where a guidebook can serve you well, as it offers maps of popular towns listing relevant local businesses for hikers.
While not necessary to stay supplied on the AT, mail drops are still a common practice some thru-hikers utilize for resupplying. The concept essentially involves hikers packing desired supplies into a package and then mailing the package to a specific destination on the trail. The intention is that the hiker will then pick up the mailed supplies when they pass the location the package was mailed to. Bounce boxes follow a similar idea: the hiker leaves larger quantities of supplies such as medication or gear items not consistently needed in a box, mailing it ahead, and catching up to it in towns along the trail.
Mail drops require logistical preparation. The more mail drops, the more complex the logistics. Because post offices will only hold packages for a limited amount of time, hikers often have to coordinate with family or friends to ship the boxes for them within the desired time frame. Fortunately, many outfitters and hostels along the AT offer to hold mail drops for hikers as well and will usually hold them for longer periods than the post office. These options are often better choices than the post office itself as it also frees the hiker from the strict operational hours of the USPS.
We don’t recommend using mail drops or bounce boxes to supply yourself with items that would be easily acquired from shops in trail towns. Mail drops are most appropriately used to help with items that wouldn’t be easily accessible from the trail, such as prescription medicines, unique dietary needs, or just a special treat to lift your spirits. Bounce boxes can get expensive to ship—something to keep in mind as you mail an economy-sized bottle of ibuprofen to yourself four times in a row instead of buying smaller bottles in town.
Whether you need mail drops or not for your hike is highly dependent on your specific needs on the trail. Consult the articles below for more insight on if mail drops are for you.
Getting to Town
While the AT does run straight through the middle of a few towns, these are few and far between. Typically towns and other resupply points can be anywhere between one to 20 miles away from the trail. For towns a short distance off trail, walking is a potential option, but is highly undesirable for obvious reasons. Some hiker-friendly towns may feature local businesses that offer shuttles for thru-hikers for a reasonable fee (usually outfitters or hostels). A guidebook can help identify if such services are available in each town. Similarly, there may be resident trail angels who openly offer shuttling services to hikers. Trail angels are often listed in some guidebooks as well as in certain outfitters along the trail. Below is our updated list of shuttles and services for accessing different stretches of the AT.
Failing any other options many thru-hikers commonly resort to hitchhiking. However, this comes with a few considerations worth noting. First and foremost, the act of hitchhiking is technically illegal in some form or another in all 14 states that the AT passes through. New Jersey and New York have an outright bans on all forms of hitchhiking. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania ban the practice on turnpikes or highways. In many cases the actual laws for hitchhiking are vague and open to interpretation. For example, there is a lot of written language about not standing “in” the road to hitch, but whether this also implies the side or shoulder of the road isn’t necessarily clear. In any case, in most states along the AT the enforcement of hitchhiking laws are pretty relaxed. As long as you are not obstructing the flow of traffic, stay safely on the shoulder of the road, and an officer isn’t having a particularly bad day hikers can usually stick out their thumb with little fear of reprisal. However, some states have garnered a reputation for stricter enforcement than others—New York and New Jersey in particular.
Beyond the fear of legal issues, there is an obvious level of risk with accepting rides from strangers. Most drivers near towns around the trail who stop do so because they are accustomed to the sight of hikers near AT intersections. Many are former/future hikers themselves, looking to help out fellow AT adventurers. Still, never feel like you have to get into a car with someone just because they are the first to stop. If you ever feel uncomfortable getting in a car with someone then don’t! Plain and simple!
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