bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

One night in Erwin, TN (visit #2)–Five Days in the Mountains

We visited Erwin in September 2023, as part of our Five Days in the Mountains trip. Read about our first visit in late 2021 here.

sunset at our fire pit by the Nolichucky
sunset at our campsite!
rafting on the Nolichucky River
Rafting the Nolichucky with USA Raft

After a quick morning hike in the NC mountains near Blowing Rock, we busted a move to get to our next destination, Erwin, TN, in time for an afternoon rafting trip on the Nolichucky River!

Where we stayed and what we did

the Airstream parked at Nolichucky Gorge Campground
our campsite at Nolichucky Gorge Campground
Bugsy on her bed on our picnic table at Nolichucky Gorge Campground

Like last time in Erwin, we stayed at Nolichucky Gorge Campground, and didn’t really venture off the property, other than on the country road to the rafting put-in, and on the river itself. So we can’t report on anything about Erwin the town, sorry.

Bugsy at the river
the river view from our Airstream
the view of the Nolichucky from our campsite

We can, however, tell you that the Nolichucky Gorge is wonderfully scenic. It’s the deepest river gorge in the Eastern US, and the only way to see it is by boat. Due to the very limited road access, there are no houses or buildings mucking up the views along the 8-mile rafting stretch. It’s really beautiful.

rafting rapids on the Nolichucky
rafting on the Nolichucky River

We booked a half-day trip with USA Raft and spent a few hours enjoying the mix of serene flat water and fun Class III-IV rapids. (If you’re looking for bigger rapids, go to Fayetteville and raft the Gauley!)

the Nolichucky Gorge
photo of the gorge from the raft
rafting in the rain on the Nolichucky
It’s raining! But look at the blue sky!

Other than a brief but scary storm blowing through we had a fabulous adventure on the water. Our guide Loren was funny and full of river trivia–he’s been guiding on the Nolichucky for 24 years–and his compatriot Ashley took some great photos from his kayak. What a fun day!

paddling past the Airstream
the view of the Airstream from the river

Here are my two favorite tidbits Loren taught us as we paddled:

  1. The Summersville Dam near Fayetteville, which controls the flow of the Gauley, was almost called the Gad Dam. For real!!! (In our household, anytime we reference a dam we ask this question.) Supposedly, it was traditional for the US Army Corps of Engineers to name a new dam after the closest town, and the closest town to this particular new dam was the former farming village at the bottom of the new lake: Gad, WV. Poor Gad got skipped over for some reason and the next-closest town of Summersville won the naming contest.
  2. Loren talked about the volume and speed of the water in CFS, or cubic feet per second. I appreciated the way he suggested we visualize how much a cubic foot of water is: one cubic foot of water is about the size of a chicken, so if a river is moving at 1000 CFS, picture 1000 chickens flowing by per second.
Bugsy and hummus at Take Out Tavern

After warming up in the Airstream with a hot shower, we took Bugsy over to Take Out Tavern next door at USA Raft. It’s a super dog-friendly outdoor bar with beers and ciders and snacks and fire pits and hammocks, and a location that’s hard to beat: riverside, and a short walk from the campground. We love it.

Bugsy eating hotdogs at Take Out Tavern
Bugsy and her hot dog treat at Take Out Tavern

We walked home to the Airstream for dinner and a fire in the communal fire pit behind our campsite–which was all ours because we were the only campers in our section of the campground. The sunset over the river was incredible.

Bugsy posing at sunset

In the morning we had some relaxing time outside the trailer before pushing off for our last stop on the trip, Damascus. Nolichucky Gorge Campground is so beautiful and peaceful (outside high season) and the rafting trip was a delight–we highly recommend camping and rafting!


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