Loc: falls church, va
traveling from northern va to souwthwestern va for a weekend camping/hiking trip near mount rogers/grayson highlands area of the appalachian trail. i've never been camping and have really only done a small hike here and there. i'm borrowing a tent my bro in law says is pretty easy to set up and will have a sleeping bag. going to camp at a site so there's a bathroom and stuff. just planning on wearing regular running shoes and won't hike more than 5 miles or so in a day. i'll only be there friday night/saturday/saturday night/sunday, so not going all out with food (just plannign to bring pb sandwiches and some fruit - no stove or anything). Will stop into a visitor center for maps, bring a flashlight, and an extra power block to charge my phone. Will bring sunscreen and possibly bug spray, basic toiletries, toilet paper, and towel. mostly just want to try it out and get the "i did it" feeling to see if and how i want to do it again, but would be open to tips or things i'm not thinking of. i know it's supposedly "bear country" but given how well populated it is i figure i'll be fine as long as i put my food up and away.
Just to be clear: you're not backpacking, right? If I'm reading you correctly, you'll be staying at the public campground at the trailhead, not hiking in to spend the weekend camped at a shelter on the AT.
If so, your plan doesn't sound unreasonable. Will you be by yourself, or camping with someone? There's no real problem camping alone, it's just that learn a lot from someone more experienced.
As far as your tent: have you set that up yet at home? You don't want to get there and find out half the poles are missing, or that there aren't any tent stakes, or it's all moldy inside.
What temperature is the sleeping bag rated for? You'll want one that will handle the temperatures that are forecast. (Hint: the temperature in the Highlands is reliable 10 degrees colder than the reported temps in Damascus. Take that into account, too.) Also, are you using a sleeping pad underneath that sleeping bag? You'll be much more comfortable, and warmer, if you do.
Regarding food: are you comfortable eating the diet you suggest for a weekend at home? If you get out there and find out you're wanting hot food, or a little variety, Damascus isn't that far away, and there are a couple of really good places to eat. (And, if you have cell service, maybe a pizza place will deliver to the state campground - I know there's one place that will deliver to a location on the AT where it crosses a road; I just can't remember the details.)
The hiking in the Highlands is fairly easy (that's a relative term, though - I still found myself very tired after a 10 mile day there!) What I mean is that the trail is well-built, well-maintained, and the rate of elevation change isn't horrible. It's a really pretty place to hike, with a nice mix of woods and open space. You get some really nice views from the ridge tops. And the wild ponies are a really great touch. (Please don't feed them; they are wild. However, they are not dangerous. They are aggressive; they've habituated enough that they think of people as being willing to feed them, and they're not bashful about "asking.") I've awakened in the backcountry to see a pony looking into my tent from about four feet away - incredible!
Be sure to carry the "ten essentials" on your day hikes. If possible, let someone know your planned hike (best: someone at home who will notify authorities if you don't call them by a definite time. Another possibility: leave a note in your tent or on your car dashboard.)
I've never had problems with bears there, at least not in the backcountry; we did hang our food and smellables without fail, kept a clean campsite, and cooked downwind of our sleeping areas. One problem you may have in a public campground is not how you act, but how others around you - and before you - act. If they've not followed good practices, or have fed the bears to get that internet-worthy video, your careful practices won't matter: the bears will already equate people with food. You might want to ask the local ranger or park attendant whether there are currently problems, and what they recommend for food storage (bears can sometimes break into cars, so they may have bear containers.)
Are you planning to summit Mt. Rogers? If so, you might want to check out my friend's You Tube channel, "Watch Mike Hike." He has a short video about submitting Mt. Rogers - a definite must-see before you go.
The Highlands are indeed beautiful, and a great place to hike. I've been there three times, spending several days each time, and am hoping to get back again one of these days. (I'm from Ohio.)