Intro to Lightweight Backpacking on the AT

Destination: Damascus, VA

| Activities: Backpacking and Hiking

On this wilderness backpacking trip we travel along one of the Appalachian Trail's most interesting sections, from Dicky Gap to Elk Garden, at the height of the rhododendron and azaleas in bloom.This section of the Appalachian Trail is known for high alpine meadows, towering rhododendron, azaleas, wild pony herds, other more indigenous wildlife, and spectacular views. It is the perfect setting for learning all about wilderness backpacking or, if you have backpacked previously, learn techniques from our expert guides that will keep your pack under 30 pounds. On this trip you will learn everything you need to know to start backpacking on your own. We keep our mileage low on this trip so that everyone has the energy and time to learn. Maximum group size: 8


  • Experiencing the freedom and comfort of carrying a backpack under 30 lbs
  • Learning all the techniques of wilderness backpacking so you can do it on your own
  • Backpacking over one of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail
  • Seeing wild pony herds and enjoying the azaleas and rhododendron in bloom
  • Receiving a detailed and illustrated Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking handbook

Departures and Prices

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  • 1-2 Experienced Adventures in Good Company backpacking guides depending on size of group
  • Three nights lodging and four nights camping
  • Dinners and breakfasts from dinner Sunday to breakfast the following Sunday
  • Group camping (double backpacking tents), cooking, and safety equipment
  • Trip shuttle from the airport to Damascus, not including driver gratuity
  • Round trip shuttle from Damascus to the trail including driver gratuity
  • *You can also bring your own tents (to be carried by you) for this trip. Your tent must weigh 2.5 pounds or less to qualify. Please let your Program Manager know if this interests you.

  • Not included: Transportation to Damascus; backpacks, sleeping bags and other personal gear; alcoholic beverages (alcohol in town is fine and we do not allow alcohol on the trail); guide gratuities; lunches and snacks

    Trip Documents

    Trip Info

    This trip is rated a 3 because, while you will be carrying a 30 pound pack on a trail where there are some sustained challenging ascents and descents, the mileage is quite moderate to allow time to learn and practice skills. However, do not underestimate the physical challenges of this - even 5 miles when you're carrying a backpack for the first time can be quite an eye opener. Rating: 1 2 [3] 4 5. A rating of 3 requires aerobic conditioning for a minimum of 30 - 45 minutes 3 to 4 days a week.

    This is a backpacking trip, but it is also much more than a backpacking trip. It is a chance to learn the skills, equipment, and mindset necessary for lightweight backpacking, from how to hang a bear bag to how to cook meals efficiently. You will also learn the history and culture of the Appalachian Trail. If you are an experienced lightweight backpacker looking for a higher mileage and more physically challenging trip, our AT Section Hike is a better choice.

    We spend the first two nights at A Rivers Edge in Damascus, VA. Our spacious lodging gives us plenty of room to lay out our gear and get packed. The next four nights are camping, having only what we carry in our packs. Group tents are provided, if needed. Some of our campsites will be at shelters with fire grates and pit toilets; others will be primitive. We spend our final night at a motel in Abingdon, VA, where hot showers and warm beds are a revelation after our 5 days on the trail.

    Below is the proposed itinerary for the trip. As is true on any adventure travel trip, plans for any specific day may be modified due to weather considerations, unforeseen circumstances, new opportunities, and group interests.

    DAY 1
    Meet at 5PM at Mt Rogers Outfitters in Damascus, Virginia. If you are flying in, the closest airport is Tri-City airport (TRI) in Bristol, VA and a shuttle will be arranged based upon the group flight times. You may also schedule your own shuttle with Mount Rogers Outfitters if this time does not work for you. After settling in to our nearby rental house, we’ll gather for a pizza dinner and begin our orientation to Lightweight Backpacking, wilderness travel and the trip! D
    DAY 2
    Today will be spent going into detail about lightweight backpacking and wilderness hiking/camping. We will spend our time listening, discussing and doing 'hands on' activities. Topics include safety in the wilderness, setting up camp, cooking, water filtration, clothing, setting up tents and tarps, the "ten essentials" and Leave No Trace philosophy. In the afternoon we begin the task of identifying those items we will take with us and those items that will be left behind, disbursement of group gear, packing and adjusting our backpacks. There will also be plenty of time for questions as well as for getting to know each other. Before the final packing of our packs we will make a trip to Mount Rogers outfitters for those items that were forgotten or maybe even those items we just have to have. After dinner, with all of our hard work done we can relax and look forward to our adventure. B, L, D
    DAY 3
    Today is the day – we’re going backpacking on the AT! After parking our cars, we are shuttled to the start of our hike. Then, after the necessary 'before' picture has been taken, we will begin our trip! We begin the hike by skirting the northern slope of Iron Mountain, passing through deep canopy, and along rolling terrain sprinkled with rocks and boulders. We cross several small streams and wetlands before reaching our first steep climb just below the crest of Iron Mountain. This final 'up' to our destination for the evening, Hurricane Shelter, is approximately 2 miles with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. Our shelter/camping area at Hurricane welcomes us and we will unpack (also known as pack explosion) set up camp, do our camp chores, and then enjoy a soup appetizer, and dinner!! If energy allows, we can have a campfire tonight. Total mileage 5.2 B, D
    DAY 4
    We start our day with a short climb to the top of Iron Mountain where the Appalachian Trail intersects with the Iron Mountain Trail. We will continue on the AT and descend until reaching the gap on the southern side of Iron Mountain. Here we cross the beautiful mountain stream of Fox Creek Gap with its cascades and wonderful pools of cold mountain water. Crossing the paved VA. 603, we will re-enter the forest on the southern side of Fox Creek and enter the Lewis Fork Wilderness Area. We then begin a sustained but moderate climb up the northern side of Pine Mountain to our next 'home' for the night, Old Orchard Shelter. At Fox Creek we will be at 3,400 feet of elevation and will steadily climb to about 4,000 feet of elevation over 1.5 miles. Total mileage 5 B, D
    DAY 5
    Our hike today starts with a climb to the top of Pine Mountain where the views are magnificent on a clear day. We then descend to an area known as The Scales, originally used as a corral for cattle during roundups, when cattle were pastured in the highlands during the summer months. It is now a beautiful backcountry campsite complete with an outhouse, water source, trashcans, and a wilderness campground host. After passing through The Scales, we begin climbing again. This climb will take us up Stone Mountain with its magnificent vistas to the west and north. This will be our first opportunity to see the wild ponies that inhabit this part of the trail, known for their exceptional interest in the food we are carrying in our packs. As we near our shelter area for the night, Wise Shelter, we will cross another lovely mountain stream, Little Wilson Creek, which is not only a wonderful water source but offers great pools for cooling off on a hot day! With any luck we will also start seeing some of the amazingly large azaleas and rhododendrons that are usually blooming at this time of year. Our campsite is just shy of Wise Shelter in a lovely meadow with a great view toward the east. Our terrain today is mostly either up or down with elevation gains/losses of just under 1,000 feet in 1 - 1.5 miles. Total mileage 5.9 miles. B, D
    DAY 6
    This may be one of the prettiest days of the trip! We begin this morning by traversing through beautiful old growth forest in Grayson Highlands State Park, steadily ascending a rocky ridge to one of the many beautiful vistas we will be rewarded with today - making us feel a bit like we have stepped into the Sound of Music. Below us is Massie Gap, which we next descend into and cross over, leaving Grayson Highlands and entering George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Wild ponies also frequent this area, and we often see both the adults and the colts along the way. Once across the Gap we continue climbing, steeply in a few places, until we reach the crest of the climb - Wilburn Ridge. The rest of our day will be spent on rolling terrain, above tree line on rocky and boulder covered trails. Our path will skirt Wilburn Ridge continuing to offer vista after vista, ascend stone stairs that skirt Grandview Peak with panoramic views of Pine and Stone Mountains; ascend to Fat Man's Squeeze, a short but rocky tunnel through large boulders; descend one short area of 'scrambling' down; and finally emerge onto an open field with, of course, more vistas. At this point we are in Rhododendron Gap, at an elevation of 5,440 feet, with acres of rhododendrons and magnificent views. From Rhododendron Gap our final mile will take us through meadows and traverse a small pine forest. Upon arriving at Thomas Knob Shelter, our shelter/camp area, we will set up camp and if energy allows will set off to 'bag' the highest peak in Virginia, Mount Rogers. The trip to the top will take about 1 hour and steadily climbs up with an elevation gain of about 500 feet in less than 1 mile. There are no views from the summit but the old growth forest we hike through is beautiful. Although the actual mileage today is only 5 miles (not including climbing Mt Rogers), it will feel much longer. 5 miles B, D
    DAY 7
    Our last day of hiking on the AT - and what a way to go out! Our trail today will begin by traversing through an open area from Thomas Knob with beautiful morning views to the east, then descending from the junction of the AT and the Mount Rogers trail and into another old growth forest with huge, beautiful trees and deep canopy. We continue under canopy for a couple of miles and arrive at a meadow with one of our last views north of us. Skirting the meadow on the AT we continue under canopy, taking our time on this last day to enjoy the forest and the good company in the wilderness. As we enter an old orchard we see before us the final climb of the trip, and the trail ascends and then descends to Elk Garden where our shuttle will be waiting for us. Thoroughly steeped in the lore of the Appalachian Trail and the art of wilderness backpacking, we'll return to Damascus before heading to Abingdon for hot showers, beds, and a final farewell dinner. 4.2 miles B, D
    DAY 8
    The last night of the trip is spent at a local hotel in Abingdon, VA approximately 45 minutes from the Tri-City (TRI) Airport. You are free to leave anytime today, Day 8. Transportation may be arranged through Mount Rogers Outfitters or local taxi. Specific details will be sent with the Pre-departure document. B


    (51 reviews)
    4.7 Food
    4.7 Lodging
    4.9 Safety

    *These are the unfiltered reviews of women who have been on this trip in answer to the question "What made this trip special for you?". We take reviews very seriously and often tweak itineraries based on feedback. Please feel free to contact us about any questions you have.

    Sort By:
    Most Recent

    Grace G.
    1 year ago

    I learned quite a bit about backpacking - what to pack, what to eat, and where to camp.

    Melanie R.
    1 year ago

    The guides, the other participants, the activity itself.

    Amy F.
    1 year ago

    Both guides were amazing. They worked well together, and taught us a lot at the beginning before the trip, and were great at teaching during the trip and overall leading of the whole trip. Everything about the trip was excellent, including the mileage covered per day, the beautiful and varied trails, and the wonderful companionship of the participants and guides.

    Linda O.
    1 year ago

    The beauty of the terrain we hiked, the camaraderie of the group, and the outstanding team of guides made this a fantastic trip. One of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my life. I am grateful to have spent a week with this group of women, in a stunning environment, while learning essential backpacking skills and building self-sufficiency.

    Brenda B.
    1 year ago

    Great guides and ideal location

    Kathrin L.
    1 year ago

    This trip was unique because it was all women, and I learned so many useful tools to apply as a beginner backpacker.

    Barb K.
    1 year ago

    Marianne P.
    1 year ago

    Andrea B.
    1 year ago

    The best part of the trip was sharing the week with 8 other incredible women. It was a joy to be with everyone on the trip, getting to know each person, learning something new from everyone, and especially working as a team to make sure the trip was enjoyed by all. It was hard to say goodbye to these very special women.

    Christine M.
    2 years ago

    to be able to spend 5 days physically active outdoors to reach beautiful vistas in a region I had never visited.

    Lynn M.
    2 years ago

    The support of the guides was the best for me. I struggled uphill and they were always encouraging and easy to talk to and nonjudgemental. The scenery was breathtaking, the weather...perfect.

    Bobbie K.
    2 years ago

    Backpacking and learning tips . The actual sleeping outdoors for 4 nights.

    Liz P.
    2 years ago

    Our guides, Karen and Emily were excellent! They had our safety in mind at all times, and the education piece was amazing. I feel empowered to use the light-weight backpacking skills I learned on this trip to hike portions of the AT on my own. Delicious food, great company, and a beautiful portion of the Appalachian Trail to learn on. I highly recommend this trip, thank you AGC.

    Rebecca U.
    2 years ago

    the opportunity to learn from such experienced guides while still being as independent as i want

    Noele C.
    2 years ago

    I learned sooooo much and really got a chance to unplug and experience nature.

    Sandra P.
    3 years ago

    I learned so much! This was a fantastic intro to backpacking, from the introductory info provided before the hike to the practical and hands on experience throughout the trip. T

    Deborah B.
    3 years ago

    The trip more than exceeded my expectations. And it was wonderful to learn all about the basics of backcountry survival and backpacking.

    E. S.
    3 years ago

    The AT had been calling to me for more than 40 years, but family circumstances kept it beyond my reach. While I'd done a few short backpacking trips 25 years ago, I knew I needed a refresher on gear, skills, safety (everything!), and I wanted the safe support of an all-women environment. This trip was the perfect choice. The guides were excellent -- experienced, personable, fun to be with. The trip was well planned -- challenging but within our capabilities. The variable weather was gave us a chance to test our rain gear, packing and camping skills. We were well prepared and in good spirits. All in all, a truly enjoyable experience in good company. Couldn't ask for more.

    Maria G.
    3 years ago

    The guides were wonderful and supportive. The new friends were cheerful and ready to give a hand when needed. The path was well chosen: beautiful and varied. Challenging but not overwhelming.

    Linda U.
    3 years ago

    Jackie G.
    3 years ago

    Brenda K.
    4 years ago

    And then some. My bag did not arrive with me and did not get to me till 24 hours later. I was so very happy we had our first day staying at the Hiker Inn learning about the trip and what to expect. I did a lot of praying that day.

    Cynthia M.
    4 years ago

    It did but the pace of our hiking did not allow time to "smell the flowers". I would have liked to take more breaks to look around.

    Jennifer K.
    5 years ago

    As always the company of like minded women traveling. The guides were spectacular, so knowledgeable and helpful. I was wanting to relearn/learn backpacking skills since it has been years since I went last time. They did not disappoint. Learned so much. At first I thought I would be disappointed with the miles since I am used to the miles of the slackpacking trips. It was very well balance with the need for extra time in camp to learn and get chores done at the end of the day. I can't think of anything I didn't love. The itinerary is perfect for the idea of it being a learning trip.

    Bianca W.
    5 years ago

    Backpacking. Wonderful guides. Awesome hiking fellows. Hearing the birds, the river and the rain while lying in the tent. Wild ponies. Beautiful landscape.

    Bianca W.
    5 years ago

    Learning to backpack in the wilderness. Beautiful and breathtaking landscape. Wonderful comradery. Outstanding guides.

    Rachael S.
    5 years ago

    Support of the other women on the trip Finding out I COULD do it, if I tried hard enough. Being a wild baby pony popsicle. On our only sunny day, I found my happy place.

    Tara M.
    5 years ago

    Everything. I thoroughly enjoyed everything. My biggest highlight came day three when I was just walking along midday and realized I can do this. I am doing this!

    Susan C.
    5 years ago

    The ladies on the trip were amazing. I learned so much about backpacking. Karen was so supportive and helpful. The scenery was beautiful.

    Sara G.
    5 years ago

    Laura D.
    6 years ago

    Wonderful ladies as guides. Couldn’t have had better. Learning so much even the bears stealing our food was a great experience.

    Luann P.
    6 years ago

    Maureen M.
    6 years ago

    6 years ago

    the highlights of this trip were plentiful. The very best part of this trip were the guides and the ladies I got to share it with.

    Annmarie E.
    6 years ago

    The teamwork of this group of women. The many, many laughs shared as well. The many skills I learned. Oh, and the food.

    Claire D.
    6 years ago

    I learned SO much. Karen and Tali were knowledgeable, patient and full of information. Learning all kinds of new things from the other women was wonderful, too. And the fact that the whole group got along and worked well together was the bomb.

    R D.
    6 years ago

    Having injured my ankle last year that ended my thru hike, I was anxious to get back on trail to see if it was healed. Going on trail with AGC gave me the safety cushion that felt correct. Plus I always learn from the others as well as the guides.

    Genevieve C.
    6 years ago

    Alina L.
    6 years ago

    Challenge of hiking with backpack, instructions and tips, company and of course trail, nature and wildlife.

    Jessica B.
    7 years ago

    Learning about back packing (learned A LOT) and meeting/getting to know all the women on the trip

    Jean B.
    7 years ago

    Learning to hike the trail. The confidence in knowing that I can do this.

    Lynn W.
    7 years ago

    The hiking group was a good mix, varied terrains on the trail, scenery, being outside and away from civilization for 5 days! I added to my hiking skill set. I enjoyed it most when the group was spread out so that I had my quiet time on the trail.

    Debbie D.
    7 years ago

    I have a lot of backpacking experience, but little light weight experience. I learned a lot.

    Kristen B.
    7 years ago

    The entire experience was amazing. I did not want it to end. I felt like a "rock star" when I successfully completed each new skill. The experience was empowering. I walked up hill, in the pouring rain, carrying 30 pounds, and I LIKED IT!

    Anne M.
    7 years ago

    Mary U.
    7 years ago

    Denise D.
    8 years ago

    Many highlights, but the goals of learning about compass navigation, bear bag hanging, water filtration and fundamentals of lightweight backpacking were certainly met.

    Cynthia L.
    8 years ago

    Jan and Tali were wonderful guides…. I learned a great deal from them both and the hike was fun and rewarding. Great choice of location for a first time AT backpacking trip.

    Teresa R.
    8 years ago

    Learning the skills. Filtering water, cooking, tent, packing, bear bags ect were the highlights.

    Deborah H.
    8 years ago

    Seeing the ponies was great. The physical part was challenging at times (rocks, rocks and more rocks) but it was a big sense of accomplishment for me and I completely enjoyed my time and plan to do more trips. The whole experience with the company has been great and Jan and Tali were awesome!

    Cathy A.
    8 years ago

    I came on this trip to learn how to get my pack down to 30 lbs or less and I did. I also wanted to learn techniques for using trekking poles more effectively and I did. I also wanted to gain skills and confidence to do trips on my own or with a few other people and I did.

    1. Where do we eat?

      In town you will be eating in restaurants where you can order off the menu. You will be bringing your own food for lunches (we'll send you suggestions). Breakfasts and dinners will be cooked on a campstove- you'll be amazed at just how good backpacking food can be.
    2. What dietary preferences or restrictions can you accommodate on this trip?

      We can easily accommodate vegetarians on this trip. Other types of dietary needs can be more difficult and cannot be accommodated unless you bring supplemental food. Please call us if you have specific dietary issues before you register.
    3. I will be coming by myself. Do I need to pay a single supplement?

      You only need to pay a single supplement if you want to be guaranteed you have your own room at the hotels. Otherwise we'll pair you up with someone.
    4. Can I bring my own tent?

      If you have a single tent that you would like to bring, please let us know as not all campsites can accomodate unlimited numbers of tents. Your tent must weigh 2.5 pounds or less to qualify.