Lower Catawba Falls
Stepping stones across the river
After years of being off limits, Catawba Falls opened to the public just a few years ago near Old Fort (26 miles east of Asheville, just three miles off I-40). In Spring 2012, the U.S. Forest Service opened a new parking lot and restrooms for the waterfall hiking trail in Pisgah National Forest. The 1.5-mile hike (3 miles roundtrip) is a steady climb, but not difficult. The most difficult part is crossing the river on the rocks (see photo at right). The first crossing will get your feet wet if there is higher water. Be careful, since rocks can be slippery. A bridge is planned for that crossing.
There are several smaller waterfalls along the hike to the 100-foot cascade, since this section of the Catawba River drops 600 feet in elevation. There are no campsites or access for mountain biking.
On the hike, you will pass by stone foundations and a dam used for power generation in the early 1900s. Do not cross the dam, it is very dangerous. From the trail, you can look down at a waterfall by the dam. The beautiful woodland walk continues to a big rock "garden." The trail is not as obvious here, but keep to the right and head toward the sound of the waterfall. There is a level viewing area at the base of the 100-foot lower Catawba Falls. During the summer, the upper section is hidden by trees. So try to see it in the winter months also.
If you are a seasoned and skilled hiker, you can extend your hike with a strenuous and difficult hike to the very beautiful, 50-foot Upper Falls (photo at top). This section is technical and dangerous if you are not skilled at climbing rocks and steep mountainsides. One section has a rope to help you climb. The trail takes you beside the 100-foot Lower Falls, so there are some spots to rest and enjoy the close-up view of the cascades. The super strenuous trail is only 1/2 mile, but it will kick your butt! Stay on the trail nearest the river as you climb. Do not hike this section alone. If you fall and get injured, you will have a difficult time getting help.
Recent History: The new parking lot is constructed on a small piece of an 88-acre tract, which was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in 2010 from the Foothills Conservancy. Funding for the land purchase came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Foothills Conservancy has saved 1,000+ acres in this area from development!
Directions: From Asheville, take I-40 east to Exit 73 at Old Fort. Before the exit ramp ends, take the right hand turn onto Catawba River Rd. If you are coming from east of Old Fort on I-40 west, take Exit 73, turn left and take the first right before McDonalds (on ramp to get back onto I-40). Turn left onto Catawba River Rd. Drive three miles to the end of the road to the parking lot.