Looking for a relatively easy waterfall hike to do on a pretty weekend day??? Join the rest of western North Carolina at Catawba Falls! Located in the Pisgah National Forest around Old Fort, and only a 30 minute drive from Asheville, the easily accessible 1.5 mile hike to Catawba Falls offers something for just about every type of adventurer. Let’s take a tour and see exactly what it has to offer!
Catawba Falls features 100+ feet of cascades and drops over moss covered rock, and is a popular spot for weekend hikers, especially since the newly built parking area has made it even more accessible. Located on Catawba Falls Rd., it is very easy to find. The trail to the falls begins to the right of the restrooms and the information boards, and is wide and easy to follow. Before the recent renovations to the trail, there were several water crossings to maneuver over (during times of high water, this could prove almost impossible for most), but, as of 2016, there are now footbridges to make life much easier for eager waterfall goers.
The trail is still very much a work in progress, and it’s very easy to tell. Trees line the sides of the path, and if you visit on a weekday, you do run the risk of running into construction along the trail. But even with all of that going on, the current trail is a huge improvement over the trail of old.
Along the trail, you’ll run into a few old, decrepit looking buildings, as well as an old dam (which offers a nice waterfall of its own). The waters below the falls were once used as a hydroelectric generator to help supply power to the town of Old Fort. Duke Energy eventually acquired the small generating station and eventually shut it down.
During the 1980s, the forest service owned land around the falls, but direct access to the falls was still owned by a few private tracts…which meant trespassing for those who wanted to see it. Eventually, in the mid-2000s, a large tract of land that offered an easy access point to the falls went on the market…and luckily, a local land conservancy (Foothills Conservancy) was able to purchase it. Soon, limited public access was available, but with a lack of proper parking as well as a short trek through a small, still privately owned section. By 2009, the conservancy had enough funds to purchase the remaining tract of land, and in 2012 had completed the brand new parking lot. However, a flood damaged the old bridge that led to the parking lot, and finally in 2015, after repairs to the bridge were finished, full public access to the falls was finally open. Work is still ongoing, with plans to make a trail to the upper falls soon (currently, the only way to access the upper falls is to climb a “trail” that is directly beside the main falls…and unless you enjoy potentially being paralyzed, and in the most likely scenario death, I’d suggest just enjoying the main falls for now until a safer option is available).
There are ample opportunities to get close to the river as you embark towards the falls. And most places offer a great chance to get some fun cascade photographs. The trail also is flanked by rhododendron for a good portion of the way…I can see a hike in late May or early June to be especially beautiful. Just know, you won’t be alone. Catawba Falls is a very popular hike for locals…offering a large and easy path, it is a great hike to bring along all those kids and dogs.
After crossing the second footbridge, it’s just a short scramble over some rocks to the base of the falls. There’s a small pebble beach-like area at the base to help keep your feet dry, but during warmer months, that cool water is a very refreshing relief from the heat.
As is the case with most waterfalls, it is best to visit after a significant rainfall. Though the falls is never completely dry, a good rain can really do wonders for how the waterfall looks. These shots were taken during a fairly dry period.
And always remember to be cautious when visiting any waterfall. It only takes one misstep to end your adventure, and Catawba Falls is no different. It may look cool and fun to try and climb the waterfall, but you’re only putting yourself in danger, as well as ruining the delicate plants and ecosystem that live on and around the falls.
Catawba Falls is a perfect hike for those wanting a moderately easy walk with a decent payoff at the end. And if you’re having second thoughts about the hike as you’re approaching the trail, read what this excited customer had to say about it on the information board…..
*To learn more about Catawba Falls and the Catawba Falls area, click here. To learn more about the Foothills Conservancy, or to make a donation and to learn how you can help preserve the region’s natural resources, click here.*