Where to Send Mail Drops on the Appalachian Trail
We’ll be the first ones to say it: with few exceptions, it’s not really necessary to send mail drops on the Appalachian Trail. Thru-hikers have the option of hiking through or hitching into a town every three to seven days, which is more than enough frequency to get by without sending yourself food to hostels or other remote locations. The majority of trail towns will be able to provide at least something to get you through the next section of trail.
That said, AT town resupply options run the gamut. One end of the resupply spectrum will find hikers subsisting off the spongy combination of high-fructose corn syrup and chemicals that make up Oatmeal Creme Pies, while the other end will provide a veritable cornucopia of specialty grocery stores and co-ops. Most towns will at least have a chain grocery store, Dollar General, or something of the sort.
Here’s our up-to-date breakdown of the top five places to send resupplies on the Appalachian Trail, and the benefits and downsides to sending food to yourself.
Appalachian Trail Towns with the Worst Resupply*
*Ie, if you’re going to send mail drops, send them here.
(Miles taken from AWOL’s AT Guide 2019)
If you’re going to send a package, send it to one of these spots. It doesn’t mean we don’t love these five towns. It just means it’s hard to feed yourself from their resupply options. Some addresses will change depending on whether you’re sending USPS vs FedEx or UPS. Remember to clearly address your resupply box in the following format:
ATTN: Your Name
C/O General Delivery
Town, State, Zip
Please hold for AT Hiker
ETA (Estimated date of arrival)
1) NOC, Tennessee / North Carolina (NOBO mile 137 )
The Nantahala Outdoor Center is sweet. Rafting, restaurant decks overlooking the river, multiple lodging choices. It’s a great place to spend a zero day, and while the store does offer adequate (not comprehensive) resupply options, you’ll be wringing out your empty wallet after doing a full stock-up here. Definitely send a box. The NOC is early enough for NOBO hikers that whatever you packed for yourself before the trail will still be exciting.
Send to the NOC
13077 Hwy 19W
Bryson City, NC
2) Fontana Dam, North Carolina (NOBO mile 164 )
You’ll want plenty of fuel for the Smokies, and Fontana Dam is little more than a tiny general store and a hotel. If you hit this spot in the off-season, you might even not get the general store. Fontana Lodge expects AT hiker mail drops and they make the process easy and streamlined.
Send to Fontana Lodge ($5 pickup fee for nonguests)
Fontana Village Resort
300 Woods Road
Fontana Dam, NC
3) Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (NOBO mile 1,025)
Harpers Ferry is charming, hiker-friendly, and… expensive. A full resupply usually means hikers will have to take a shuttle to Walmart, which isn’t the end of the world, but also not the most convenient. Harpers Ferry Outfitters has some food, but since you’ll be heading to the ATC Headquarters for your hiker photo anyway, it’s worth sending a box.
Send to ATC Headquarters
PO Box 807
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
FedEx / UPS:
799 Washington St.
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
4) Caratunk, Maine (NOBO mile 2,040)
There isn’t much in Caratunk besides the delightful Caratunk House. They have a surprisingly good stock of hiker food options, but you’ll definitely pay a markup. Most hikers passing through here stay at the Caratunk House, and it’s easy to send yourself a package from a larger town in New Hampshire or Southern Maine.
Send to Caratunk House
PO Box 129
5) Monson, Maine (NOBO mile 2,077 )
Monson is the final town before the 100-Mile Wilderness. Home to the famous Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, Monson is a cute, hiker-friendly town with few resupply options. Shaw’s has enough to get you through, but the choices are limited and pricey. The gas station in town will fill the food bags in a pinch, but with an easy mail drop location like Shaw’s and the chance to have your favorite foods throughout the 100, Monson is an easy choice for sending a mail drop.
Send to Shaw’s Hiker Hostel ($5 pickup fee for nonguests)
PO Box 72
FedEx / UPS:
Shaw’s Hiker Hostel
17 Pleasant St.
Honorable Mentions for Bad Resupply
Port Clinton, PA
Neel Gap, GA
Hartford, TN (send to Standing Bear Hostel)
Pros and Cons to Sending Mail Drops
The good: You always know what’s in the food, which is especially important for hikers with a dietary restriction of any sort. You can usually eat healthier, create a variety of meals at home with a dehydrator, and you have full access to quality grocery stores.
The bad: It can be hard to tell what you’re going to want after a month or two on the trail. Chances are you’ll open a mail drop with more of the same bars that seemed appealing before you left, only to gag at the sight of them somewhere in Virginia. Your appetite will increase as you hike, which can be hard to plan for as well. You also have to time your arrival with the post office or hostel you sent the drop to, which can be tricky if you wind up in town on a weekend or at weird hours.
The meh: The cost can be a wash. Postage is expensive for shipping the drops, but then again, so is buying food in some of these small towns. It’s completely worth sending packages to a few spots on the AT, and not worth it in others.
What about food intolerances, dietary restrictions, or strict diets?
Yes. Hikers with dietary restrictions, whether by allergy or preference, will want to plan mail drops. If you’re hiking with diabetes, celiac, a dairy or nut allergy, any other food allergies or are abiding by a strict diet (e.g. veganism), planning your own meals doesn’t just ensure you’ll have food when you get to town, it’s safer as well. Sending your own food means you’ll know exactly what ingredients are in your meals, alleviating stress and potential gut reactions.
OK. But there must be places where the food sucks.
Oh, yes. Absolutely. See above. We polled recent Appalachian Trail thru-hikers on the towns they sent mail drops to, why they sent them, and whether or not they would recommend it. You’ll see below that there’s no one right answer. Dietary needs, planning, and personal preference all have to do with resupply strategy. Their answers are proof that there’s no one-size-fits-all model for AT resupply.
“I sent zero, and if I had to do it again I’d send one or two. I did not send mail drops because I didn’t want to be tied to going into certain towns. I liked the freedom of deciding I’m going to do things last minute without having to send a package ahead and wait for it there. I also liked being able to buy things last minute as my cravings changed day to day.” –Mountain Cat
“I sent 16 which was just right. I have celiac and cannot eat gluten.” –Odie
“We sent five, which was too much. We got sick of them. We thought we would save money.” –Skutch
“Homemade Wanderlust had a video and I watched it to figure out my resupply. I sent three or four and it was just right.” –Two Speed
“I had 19 drop boxes, which worked well for me. Saved time and money and mostly got the food I wanted.” –Hoot
“Didn’t send any; the cost of shipping was a hindrance.” –Throwdown
“I sent six for prescription resupply. Some of the food went bad by the time we got to it.” –Cribbage
“Six… too much. I would have only done four in hindsight. I sent them because of price and availability.” –Spoons
More on mail drops, resupplies, and food in general
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