I often receive inquiries about the best places to take a scout troop (both boy scouts and girl scouts) on an overnight backpacking trip. Below I have laid out my thinking on choosing the best location and given several alternatives.
For the purposes of this exercise, I am assuming a relatively inexperienced group. We usually assume an inexperienced group in the Fall, and then plan for a more experienced group in the Spring.
1. I stay out of Shenandoah NP because most folks in my troop don't have a park pass. (Of course, you can hike in from outside the park for free...)
6. I don't want to have to shuttle vehicles at the beginning or end of the hike, at least with the youngest scouts.
Two more caveats!
1. Every scout knows to take a map. What you may not know is that maps you download from online are limited in scope. A scout troop a couple of winters ago had to be rescued off of the A.T. after an overnight snowfall because the map they got off the internet did not show bug out routes to the north of their campsite. The absolute best and most accurate maps are Potomac Appalachian Trail Map 12 (covering the A.T. and nearby side trails from Rockfish Gap to the Tye River) and Map 13 (covering the Tye River to the James River Face Wilderness). Make sure you get versions that are clearly marked "2015" on the front cover. Older editions (2011 or 2010) are sometimes found in camping stores and are not nearly as accurate. Be Prepared! (Full disclosure: I coordinated the revisions of the PATC maps listed and my name and photos of my troop on the trail are on the maps. But I would not put my name on them if they weren't the best resource out there.)
2. Leaders need to know how to set up and need to use Bear Bags. At least 4 sections of the Appalachian Trail have been shut down to camping in 2016 because of aggressive bear activity - just in Virginia! This occurs because hikers and campers don't take proper precautions. Never cook near the tents. Never store the "smellables" near where you sleep. Keep them away from you. If you don't know how to set up a bear bag, or what should be in a bag, check Youtube for videos on how and why to set a bear bag up.