Traveling along I-26 (near the Tennessee-North Carolina border), visitors will notice a couple of exits for Erwin, Tennessee. It may be small, but for hiking, mountain biking, history, and sightseeing enthusiasts, it’s worth taking notice.
That’s because Erwin, which sits on the edge of the Cherokee National Forest (as well as the Appalachian Trail), has carved its own niche into Appalachian culture as a place where mile-high peaks, lush valleys, majestic waterfalls, and a fascinating history coexist in peaceful harmony.
Now, anyone who’s ever spent time outdoors in Erwin can probably tell you about Unaka Mountain, Beauty Spot, or Pleasant Garden, and their seemingly endless views of bordering mountain ranges. You’ll probably hear about how they can “stand in one spot and see into five states” or how the fall foliage drapes the mountainsides in brilliant hues of red, orange, and yellow. They’ll tell you about Laurel Falls, Red Fork Falls, Rock Creek Falls, Buckeye Falls, Spivey Falls, or any number of countless waterfalls that slither down the mountains creating unforgettable fishing spots and swimming holes.
But if you have trouble understanding the passion in their voice, or the elation in their eyes, then you probably ought to visit Erwin and see for yourself.
For anyone who loves fishing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, or simply enjoying a relaxing Sunday drive through the mountains, Erwin has a plethora of outdoor opportunities. There are small-town shops, main-street eateries, and all the southern hospitality you’d expect in a Northeast Tennessee town. But in Erwin, you’re wonderfully secluded by towering mountains in almost every direction.
But if you spend any time in Erwin, you’re guaranteed to meet some friendly folks, or as we call them around here, “good people.”
People who are no strangers to some good stories.
First off, the name “Erwin” comes from a spelling error. It was originally named “Ervin,” in honor of the fellow who donated 15 acres for the Unicoi County seat. But post office officials made an error in recording the name, and it was never corrected!
But the most famous story surrounding Erwin is about a crazed elephant whose life ended in 1916 at the local rail yard, in front of 2,500 people! Now, I’m not going to tell the whole story here (because there are conflicting reports of how and why it happened). But this much is true, even if some people aren’t proud of the story, it’s a fascinating part of the town’s legacy.
And just like the view from the top of Unaka Mountain, or the bottom of Red Fork Falls, it’s unforgettable.
And that’s what Erwin deserves.