By llama, jetboat, or incline railway, how’s the letter getting there?
The U.S. Postal Service began in 1775 and has radically transformed in its nearly 250-year history. Technology, trends, depressions, recessions, surplus; the U.S. Postal Service has explored creative options to deliver mail to some of the most obscure places in our country. Are you living on one of the wackiest or longest routes? Or is a boat used to deliver packages to your door?
Top Picks for You
One of the Longest Rural Mail Routes in the Nation
WHERE: Marquette, Michigan
Susan Kleiman, a rural mail carrier for the Escanaba Michigan Post Office, journeys along the longest rural route in Michigan. Her delivery route runs between Delta and Marquette Counties, encompassing more than 130 miles daily, including 361 stops, which take roughly 10 hours. Kleinman drives an all-wheel drive vehicle, given the challenging nature of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “I’ve driven through all four seasons in one day,” says Kleiman. “And I have constant run-ins with deer, turkey, coyote, wolf, and even bear along my route.”
WHERE: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Each year, dozens of individuals battle it out to become one of Lake Geneva’s mailboat jumpers. In the summer of 2022, there were seven jumpers; and yes, everyone misses sometimes! The route began in 1916 across the lake-filled region because roads were undeveloped and too challenging for any faster transport than a boat. The uninterrupted mail route runs from June 15 to September 15 each year and can be witnessed in person on the Lake Geneva Cruise Lines’ Ferry. Postal carriers launch themselves from the passenger/mail boat, retrieve and deliver mail, and jump back onto the ferry from the dock.
WHERE: Sevierville, Tennessee
The LeConte Lodge is 6,360 feet above sea level in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain National Park and is one of the highest-elevation guest lodges in the eastern United States. There are no roads to this high-altitude perch; therefore, llamas are critical in retrieving and sending mail, food, and other supplies to LeConte Lodge for their guests and staff. Even more fun and bizarre, guests can buy a postcard at the top of Mt. LeConte, place it into the postal box and watch it be taken back down the 14-mile Trillium Gap Trail via llama for onward transportation into Gatlinburg.
WHERE: Hells Canyon, Idaho
The name Hells Canyon alludes to the difficulty and obscurity of this route tracing the Snake River. The canyon stretches ten miles along the border of eastern Oregon and western Idaho, including a tiny portion of eastern Washington. This is North America’s deepest river gorge measuring 7,992 feet between the bottom of the river-filled gorge and the top of the rock faces. Remarkably, this is even deeper than the Grand Canyon; understandably, most of this route is not accessible by automobile. Every Wednesday, 52 weeks of the year, the U.S. Postal service delivers the mail in the canyon by jetboat!
For the past 103 years, there have only been six contract carriers for this route. For the past 47 years, Beamers Hells Canyon Tours has been entrusted with the Wednesday delivery service, come ice and snow!
Year-Round River Boat Delivery
WHERE: Magnolia Springs, Alabama
Magnolia Springs, located at the headwaters of the Magnolia River in southern Baldwin County, has the only year-round U.S. Postal Service route via boat that delivers dock-to-dock mail. The river route has been a tradition since 1916 and includes 176 boxes on the Magnolia Star River Route, stretching across 31 nautical miles. The iconic route was even in existence before the incorporation of the town.
Shortest Mail Route
WHERE: Athens, Georgia
The United States Postal Service has 74,000 rural postal routes and almost 145,000 city mail routes in America. There are extreme routes crisscrossing more than 150 miles per day. However, the nation’s shortest route is in Athens, Georgia, where the postal route is just shy of 1,000 feet! Along this route are 281 deliveries!
Steepest Mail Route
WHERE: Royal Gorge, Colorado
The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park used to operate the World’s Steepest Mail Route. The natural formation of gorges obviously challenges traditional transportation for mail delivery, and the simplest solution was the Park’s Incline Railway. On July 21, 1949, Dorothy Arko opened the Royal Gorge Post Office in the Old Indian Trading Post at the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park and served as the only postmistress until she retired in 1988. Here, twice a day, she rode on the World’s Steepest Incline Railway to exchange mail with the Denver & Rio Grande Western passenger train that would be waiting at the bottom of the gorge. Sadly, the Incline was destroyed in the 2013 Royal Gorge Fire and no longer can use these tracks; therefore, all postal service has ceased.
Mule Mail Route
WHERE: Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon hosts a heroic mail route traversing extreme elevation changes and wild weather conditions to make a 16-mile round trip route from the top of the canyon to the Native American village of Havasupai located at the bottom of the canyon. It has to be done by a mule. This is the last official mail-by-mule route in America and still runs weekly. The first route emerged in the 1930s and utilized 10 to 22 mules to bring mail and goods to and from Supai. Each mule could carry up to 200 pounds, and the Supai Post Office even has an official mule train postmark. Note: Havasupai is closed to all outsiders at the moment, but the neighboring Post Office of Peach Springs is where the mules depart and can be seen.
Hottest, Driest Postal Route
WHERE: Death Valley
It’s no surprise that Death Valley has an extreme mail route. The valley basin is located at an elevation below sea level. This makes for a post office that is at the lowest elevation in America (282 feet) and the hottest and driest in the country. The route includes days of 116° F in the scorching summer. On the contrary, the U.S. Postal Office in Alma, Colorado, is the highest-elevation post office in America at 10,578 feet and postal employees have to endure numerous weeks of below-zero temperatures while navigating mail routes.
WHERE: Mayport, Florida
According to the U.S. Postal Service, they have explored many means of technology to get mail from one location to the next, including missile mail. On June 8, 1959, the U.S. Navy Submarine USS Barbero fired a guided missile with the intent of reaching Mayport, Florida. Here, a naval auxiliary air station received 3,000 letters that raced at 600 miles per hour. This was the first official missile mail but was not deemed effective enough to endure a permanent route.
WHERE: Cities Across the US
The U.S. Postal service was also eager to capitalize on the Segway trend in the early 2000s and debuted its own fleet for urban mail routes in Virginia. Mail couriers could attach their bags, and the idea was to provide a less physical route with the aid of the Segway. The trial proved ineffective as the Segway couldn’t make it an entire route without being charged, cracked sidewalks and tree roots were cumbersome, and the time saved was not valuable.