Logging was a key industry in this region’s past and the trails are a reminder of that. Many of the hiking trails in this region used to be forestry roads originally built for the purpose of logging.
One trail located a little less than 40 miles from ETSU’s main campus leads to an abandoned logging community known as Lost Cove.
Lost Cove was constructed on a mountainside in the remote Nolichucky River gorge near Erwin.
Lost Cove is so close to the border between North Carolina and Tennessee that in the past there were disputes between the two states on which state had jurisdiction over the community.
Questions of jurisdiction and remoteness attracted moonshiners and earned Lost Cove a notorious reputation as being a bit lawless.
The community died away after the railway quit providing passenger services along the route. The last residents left town in the late ‘50s.
There are a few ways to get to Lost Cove but they basically can be divided into the high road and the low road.
The low road involves following the Nolichucky River from Unaka Springs by hiking along the railroad tracks.
Many fisherman access the Nolichucky River by walking these railroad tracks but technically the low road is on private property and qualifies as trespassing.
The low road is also the longest of the three routes I am familiar with.
The shortest route to Lost Cove is approximately 4 miles in length, roundtrip.
The Lost Cove Trail starts on an old forestry road that initially leads through dense forest before the trail switches back and leads to an open meadow.
The open meadow provides some pretty views of the Blue Ridge and the Nolichucky River Gorge.
The trail can be a bit tricky to spot as the path turns up the hill after coming out of the forest and into the meadow.
Initially, the trail is marked with blue blazes but as the trail leads down, back into the forest from the meadow, yellow blazes mark the trail.
As the trail descends down the mountain, navigation requires slightly more attention because of fallen leaves and spacing of the trees.
The Devil’s Creek Trail meets with the Lost Cove Trail not far from the remains of Lost Cove.
Stay on the Lost Cove Trail and eventually the trail will lead to what was most likely the main and only road through the community. To the right along this road, is one of the last standing structures at Lost Cove.
The building is in pretty rough shape and is well tagged with the names of many previous visitors to this site.
The way left leads to the bulk of what remains of Lost Cove. There is a small stream that can be crossed by hopping rocks.
Among the scattered remains are rusting tin roofing, two stone chimneys, a shed cluttered with trash and beer cans, and a slowly disintegrating ancient pickup truck. Past the shed, the route continues steeply down to the Nolichucky River.
Lost Cove Trail can be hard to spot after exploring Lost Cove. Just remember, Lost Cove Trail is close to the stream crossing not far from the rock wall that parallels the main road.
The way back is mostly uphill with some steep climbs.
To get to the trailhead from ETSU, from West Lake Street turn left onto Southwest Avenue and then make a right onto University Parkway.
Follow University Parkway toward Elizabethton and make a right onto Interstate 26 headed toward Erwin.
Take Exit 43 leading to Highway 19W, Highway 351, and Temple Hill Road.
Make a left turn onto Dewey Frye Road from the exit ramp and then make a right onto 19W.
Stay on 19W as it turns left toward Burnsville diverging from 351. Continue on 19W as it winds around the mountains and crosses over into North Carolina.
Not long after passing an area for Appalachian Trail pull-off parking at Spivey Gap, make a left onto White Oaks Flat Road.
Follow this road for 1.1 miles before making a left onto Flat Top Road.
Flat Top Road is unpaved but well maintained for the 2 miles leading up to the trailhead for Lost Cove.
The parking area is just a little past the trailhead. Both the trailhead and parking are located on the right side of the road.
Further information on this hike can be found in, “Highland Trails: A Guide to Scenic Trails in Northeast Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and Southwest Virginia” by Kenneth Murray.