GEMS: Be Genuine challenges campers with five days of personal growth and leadership development, plus plenty of outdoor adventures. Be Genuine campers use the survival, communication, leadership, and safety skills they’ve gained to plan outdoor adventures. Additionally, GEMS in Be Genuine will take trips away from camp to enjoy a starry night hike to McAfee Knob, dive deeper into kayaking and tubing on the Jackson River, hit the trails on bikes on the Jackson River Trail, and practice their confidence pose in mid-air while zip-lining at Buffalo Mountain Adventures! GEMS will grow to be GEMuinely authentic, adventurous advocates in GEMS: Be Genuine.

What to Expect

Day 1 is planning, packing, and then heading out to a private camping area on the Jackson River. While in the Jackson River area, GEMS will have the opportunity to tube, bike, and kayak. Day 4 brings GEMS back to Mountain Shepherd for a much-needed shower and a sunset hike to McAfee Knob. Finish off the week with ziplining with Buffalo Mountain Adventures.

Campers should plan to spend the majority of the day outside – rain or shine. We teach campers how to dress appropriately for the weather (see packing list for specifics), including how to stay safe while hiking, kayaking, tubing, biking, and ziplining. While onsite at Mountain Shepherd, we have parachute canopies set up on the property for rain and sun protection.

All GEMS campers are housed in Mountain Shepherd’s cozy bunk rooms with private bathrooms attached for a portion of the week. During GEMS: Be Genuine, we will camp together in tents and/or hammocks on our Jackson River expedition.

The adult to camper ratio is 3:10 or better depending on enrollment. Campers and adults move together between activities and during upper-level expeditions. There will be a female adult with your daughter throughout the day and quickly accessible at night. All staff are Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder trained.

Adventure Highlights

  •       5 days/5 nights
  •       Outdoor Fun!
  •       Hiking
  •       Camping
  •       Kayaking
  •       Tubing
  •        Biking
  •       Ziplining
  •       Team-building
  •       All meals included
  •       Memories to last a lifetime
  •       Small group environment (10 maximum)
  •       Hands-on learning

Ready to embark on the next stage of your GEMS journey? Check out our other GEMS courses. 

Dates to be determined.



What else should I know?

Who chooses this adventure? 

Outdoor experience levels do not matter. Campers with no experience, weekend day-hikers, and seasoned wilderness warriors are all welcome to partake in the Girls Empowered experience. No matter what experience you arrive with, we hope each girl leaves feeling empowered by the benefits of outdoor learning.

This program is designed for girls entering grades 8 and up. Each session is open to mixed age groups for a unique peer-to-peer experience. For example, GEMS: Shining Bright sessions are ideal for girls entering grades 6-8, while GEMS: Digging Deeper and GEMS: Rock On sessions may each have a combined group of girls entering grades 7 and up.

What’s Included?


The only required items are comfortable, weather and activity-appropriate clothing, a pair of walking/hiking shoes or hiking boots, and river-appropriate footwear. Closed-toe shoes are required; no flip flops, sandals, or other open-toe shoes. To avoid blisters and other injuries, we don’t recommend campers bring brand-new shoes or boots to wear during camp. Our packing list specifies required items and offers some suggestions for optional items. We provide basic toiletries, towels and linens, and all outdoor equipment (please review the Equipment and Property Care policy regarding all supplied outdoor equipment).


Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks are provided daily. Campers enjoy delicious, balanced home-cooked meals, and we can accommodate for allergies and dietary restrictions as needed. We prefer that campers do not keep their own food in bunkrooms.

Yes, campers will learn which bugs are edible and how to identify them – but eating them is optional!

Overnight accommodations

All GEMS campers are housed in Mountain Shepherd’s cozy bunk rooms with private bathrooms attached for a portion of the week. During GEMS: Be Genuine, we will camp together in tents and/or hammocks on our Jackson River expedition.

Travel Arrangements

Each session begins on Sunday afternoon between 5:00 and 6:00 pm and wraps up on a Friday afternoon at 4:00pm.  Airport pick-up and drop-off from Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) is also available with prior notice.

For directions to Mountain Shepherd, please visit our Contact page or check out the info sheet for this course.

What is the Activity Level of this camp? 


Your camper will spend the first part of the week exploring Mountain Shepherd’s 100-acre property, which borders the Jefferson National Forest. There will be lots of opportunities for hiking and learning around the property, which has varying terrain.

During the middle of the week, the group will kayak and tube on the Jackson River, bike on the Jackson River Trail, and zipline. The Jackson River Trail is mostly flat, and composed of crushed gravel.

What should I pack for my daughter?

Provided by Mountain Shepherd:

  • Shampoo, conditioner, body wash
  • Towels, washcloths, sheets, blankets, pillow
  • Sunscreen, insect repellent
  • Feminine hygiene products (limited supply for “just in case”)
  • Basic over-the-counter medications & first aid products
  • Daypacks
  • Sleeping bags, sleeping pads
  • Tents, hammocks
  • Flashlights, headlamps, helmets
  • Camp field journals
  • A growing GEMS library of age-appropriate books to borrow!
  • All other necessary outdoor equipment for program
  • Yummy meals, snacks, and drinks
  • First Aid Kits
  • Educational fun and adventures!

Required Items for Campers to Bring For Camp:

  •  3 pairs of comfortable, outdoor-appropriate shorts (not too short, not too tight)
  •  5 short-sleeved t-shirts (non-cotton, quick-dry fabric is ideal for outdoors)
  • 1-2 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 1-2 pairs of jeans or long pants (not yoga pants, leggings, or sweatpants)
  • 1 sweatshirt, light sweater, or fleece jacket
  • 7 pairs of underwear (5 days + extra)
  • 2-3 sports bras, if needed
  • 7 pairs of socks (5 days + extra)
  • 2 sets of pajamas – 1 lightweight set, 1 warmer set
  • Rain jacket with taped seams – “Waterproof ”
  • 1 pair of comfortable, broken-in, closed-toe shoes (in addition to river shoes)
  • No sandals or flip flops; lace-up athletic sneakers or hiking boots are preferred over shoes like Vans, Keds, Converse, Toms, and other slip-ons.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Baby wipes, “Wilderness Wipes,” flushable wipes, or facial wipes
  • Hairbrush and hair accessories as needed
  • Feminine hygiene products, if necessary (we keep an emergency supply)
  • Deodorant, if necessary
  • Eyeglasses and/or contact lenses, contact lens solution
  • Refillable water bottle (32 oz. is ideal)
  • Prescription medications in original container with dosage information
  • An open mind, positive attitude, and sense of adventure!

For Wate-Based Activities: 

  • 1-2 pairs of quick-dry shorts or board-shorts (not too short, not too tight)
  • 1-2 lightweight, quick-dry shirts for sun protection
  • 1-2 swimsuits (one-piece or two-piece, comfortable, “function over fashion”)
  •  Sun hat or baseball cap, sunglasses
  • 1 pair of old sneakers or closed-toe sandals (KEEN brand-style) *in addition to pair above
  • 1 lightweight towel – microfiber or quick-dry camp towels are great!

Optional/Suggested Items (Remember: You only need enough for 5 days!):

  • Any personal toiletries, sunscreen, insect repellent (especially if you have sensitivities to general products)
  • Flip-flops for use as shower shoes only
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses and/or contact lenses
  • Bag for dirty laundry
  • Flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries
  • Disposable camera or basic point-and-shoot camera (waterproof or with a protective case/pouch)
  • Books, magazines, small crafts, instruments, coloring books, puzzles, card games – bring things to share with the group!
  • Stuffed animal or other comfort item such as photos from home
  • Cell phone – can be brought but will be stored by staff in safe space and given to campers for plenty of opportunities to call parents (Only Verizon-connected cell phones will operate at Mountain Shepherd.)

Equipment and Property Care Policy:

Campers are responsible for the equipment issued to them and should care for it like their own. Equipment is expected to be returned in the same condition in which it was issued. Campers should be proactive about contacting staff to fix damaged equipment. Issued equipment varies depending on the GEMS level, but may include: backpacks, tents, knives, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camping stoves, flashlights or headlamps, first aid kits, and other gear provided by Hollins University Outdoor Program (HOP) or Mountain Shepherd.

Campers are expected to respect Mountain Shepherd property, indoors and outdoors. Bunks and bathrooms should be kept tidy, trash should be put in garbage cans, and gear should be stored properly. While outdoors away from Mountain Shepherd, campers and staff will practice Leave No Trace ethics.