Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail:
Tranquil Ride Through Countryside



One of the longer trails in the area, the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail is a biking/pedestrian route converted from an abandoned rail line. In recent years, such rail lines have found new purpose in providing the surrounding communities with a place for recreational walking, running or cycling.

 The crushed gravel trail runs 5.6 miles from the Dunn trailhead to the Erwin terminus, located in the heart of the downtown area, splitting H Street in Erwin.  Years prior to it's more peaceful conversion to a pathway, freight trains would make the trek through the countryside to deliver materials to the Swift Denim factory, which manufactured denim for clothing.

The Essentials.

For this or any trail ride, a cell phone is encouraged in case of trouble. A helmet and gloves will offer some protection if a fall occurs. Properly oiling the chain along with other working parts and inflating the tires to the level indicated on the sidewall will help make the ride much smoother. A bottle of water will be a good thing to carry along to stay hydrated.  A water bottle holder can be another good accessory to think about purchasing.  A first aid kit might also be worthy for consideration when riding on a trail.

Picking A Starting Point.

There are three locations in which to enter onto the trail. Trail goers can start at either the Dunn or Erwin terminus or a small parking lot located at the corner of Powell Street and Ashe Avenue. Those that wish to start at either end can park in downtown Erwin on H Street or in Dunn, behind Harnett Primary School on Orange Avenue. From the Dunn terminus, the trail actually ends across Orange Avenue at Ellis Avenue. Three signs that describe the history of the old railway, the current trail and historic places nearby can be found at both the Dunn and Erwin trailheads and at the Powell Street parking lot.

Starting from behind Harnett Primary School at Orange Avenue, the trail begins by entering in between orange poles that keep motor vehicles from accessing the pathway. The width of the trail is the narrowest behind the school with very little room for a cyclist to pass a pedestrian. Pine needles (from tall short-leaf pines) line both sides of the trail. At dawn or dusk, this portion is the darkest of the entire trail. A headlight is a handy accessory if using this portion of the trail in low light conditions.

Trail users will cross numerous streets and roads along the way to the Erwin end with the orange poles being a repetitive sight at each crossing. The surface changes from fine, crushed gravel to larger gravel/rocks. Care at road crossings is encouraged for both motor vehicle traffic and elevated asphalt that could cause a fall from a bicycle if not careful.

Cyclists will find the trail easy to ride, with exception to a slight grade near the Powell Street intersection where pedaling back from Erwin proves to be a bit more strenuous for the leisure cyclist then any other segment along the way. A bicycle with multiple gears will help assist in this area.

Along the trail, a few wildflowers add a splash of color to the path and an occasional wildlife sighting is not uncommon. Terrapins crossing the path near the Black River, wild rabbits scurrying for the brush and even deer are often seen in the earlier morning hours as the sun rises and the skies are filled with pink and blue pastels.

One of the more enchanting areas of the trail runs parallel to Red Hill Church Road, leading into Erwin. Along this mostly straight stretch of trail, woods line both sides along with a pond and thicker brush. Two rural roads cross the section before arriving at the US 421 overpass nearing downtown Erwin.  A few homes nearby keep this section from seeming too desolate, yet one could easily find such a long stretch of old railway to be worthy of poetic prose penned in the mind as the pedals turn and the wheels crackle across the gravel to the end of the path.

After passing the overpass, the path becomes more sandy and the surface washed out with numerous ruts as the trail bends slightly right into the downtown Erwin area. Houses line each side of the trail and the old denim plant becomes visible, indicating the last stretch of the one-way 5.6-mile ride. Those wishing for a break can stop at a diner or pizza parlor on H Street before heading back.

The Dunn-Erwin Trail could have easily become just another abandoned, overgrown rail line. However, community support gave new life to this rail trail that now offers both a safe place to ride and a delightful place to connect with nature.

Stop and pause while on your ride of the Dunn-Erwin Trail. With the sound of the bicycle chain and tires silenced, the rider can enjoy serenity that seems to place them far away from the daily hustle and bustle. It's a therapeutic experience. 

Total ride time.

Without stopping along the way, riding the entire trail from one end to the other and back again will take approximately one hour on a bicycle ridden by the average cyclist.