Car camping makes camping a lot easier than backpacking. First of all, you drive your car right up to the campsite, which means you can take everything including the kitchen sink, as the saying goes. In fact, we usually figure only two, or at most three, people per car because the cars get filled with so much stuff! Each camp site usually includes a level place to pitch your tent, a picnic table with benches and a fire ring, and maybe a large heavy duty grill. Most camp grounds have toilet facilities and running water, but there are more primitive group campsites in some, which may mean your water and your toilets might be a couple miles down the road! Very few, extremely few, have showers. Some campgrounds have electricity available, usually in the bath houses if there are any. In a nutshell, car camping is a great way to ease into backpacking; see how you like sleeping in a tent and doing without a lot of the niceties of life, and then decide whether you want to take that next step into backpacking. Following are some hints to ensure a successful car camping experience.
Obviously, to begin with, take your tent and ground cover. Practice setting up the tent ahead of time so you'll make sure you have everything you need.
You'll need a sleeping bag and maybe a blanket if it's really cold, and a pillow or some semblance thereof. To go under your sleeping bag, some kind of a foam mattress usually provides insulation against the cold ground. An inflatable mattress on top of that is especially nice for the comfort factor. And finally, a little sleep-aiding medication can make a big difference in how well you rest! Ear plugs may help as well.
Since it is quite often colder than here at home wherever you're going, especially in the Smokies, take something warm to sleep in - polypropylene underwear or sweat pants. The sweatpants are a great idea for wearing around the campfire at night, and a jacket or such. Camp shoes like Crocs, etc., are great for wearing around the campsite, as well as into and out of your tent; but make sure you've got warm socks.
Plan easy to prepare meals (and don't forget breakfast!); maybe try backpacking food, the freeze-dried stuff, etc., just to see how that works for you. And do provide for snacks, and maybe a little bit of evening desert. You'll be surprised at how hungry you can get after hiking all day, with no refrigerator to raid that evening. Take an ice chest (with ice) for those food and drink items requiring refrigeration. Look for nearby places to resupply with ice. Don't forget soft drinks, or other beverages (but do behave responsibly!).
If you don't plan on using a campfire for your cooking, you'll need some kind of stove. A backpacking stove, Coleman stove or small charcoal grill will suffice. Of course you'll need pots and pans. A pot holder comes in handy too!
You'll need containers for water; an empty milk jug will suffice. There's usually a central water supply, but you may have to carry water a short ways to your site. You may also need a pan or other container to wash dishes in, and don't forget the detergent and washcloth or sponge.
Paper plates and cups make cleanup easy, and paper towels are a must. Remember to take eating utensils, and don't forget garbage bags to use in cleaning up trash at your site.
Take salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, etc. needed to go with your food selections - smaller sizes are nice, maybe "borrowed" from your favorite fast food place.
A good camp chair is a must, preferably lightweight, but certainly comfy; built in cup holders are nice.
Don't forget a flashlight or preferably a headlamp; must-have items!
You'll need to be prepared for rain, so take rain gear and dry clothes. And of course, clean clothes for day two and day three, and for the drive home.
Be prepared to pack away in your car all the food and utensils at night. Leaving anything out will only invite bears or other night roaming animals. Having all your non-refrigerated food and all your cooking stuff in a cardboard box makes that easier to do.
Take a towel, washcloth, soap and other toilet articles you can't do without. Moist wipes and hand sanitizers are very useful. And don't forget toilet paper, just in case!
If you use it, insect spray may make life a little more enjoyable in case of mosquitos, ants, flies, etc., in the area.
Most places now don't allow you to bring your own firewood, but it's often available for sale (the big stuff) at the campsite office or whatever. Gathering kindling around the campsite is usually difficult because the nearby woods have been stripped clean! With an empty car trunk or two after you've initially set up camp, try foraging at the trailhead of your hike that first day; the pickings will be a lot better anywhere away from the campsite!
Things that only one person, or maybe two people, need to bring:
If you have a sizeable lantern, take it for light at your main camp site at night.
An oil cloth or plastic table cloth for the picnic table will add to the festivities and make it easier to clean. Take newspapers to go under the cloth in case the table top is messy and not easily cleaned.
A large tarp with twine/rope/bungee cord, or a canopy to go over your main picnic table will be invaluable if it does rain.
Fire starters, newspapers, etc., still come in handy for getting the fire going. It's also nice to have a good heavy duty pair of gloves for working around the fire. An ax or small hand saw is handy for cutting up the kindling you find.
And lastly, don't forget your hiking gear, including trail lunches!