After years of being off limits, the 100-foot tall Catawba Falls is now open to the public - complete with two new trail bridges in 2016. It's located near Old Fort (26 miles east of Asheville, just three miles off I-40). In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service opened a parking lot and restrooms for the waterfall hiking trail in Pisgah National Forest. The 1.5-mile hike (3 miles roundtrip) is a steady but slight uphill walk, but not difficult. It follows the Catawba River with many smaller cascades along the way. It's a beautiful trail with sounds of rushing water and short side trails to see it. There are no campsites or access for mountain biking.
Great news for 2016: A footbridge was completed in July, so you don't have to rock hop across the river. It's located a little upstream from the old trail crossing. So now you can visit during higher water levels without getting your feet wet.
On the trail, 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."
There is a level viewing area at the base of the lower Catawba Falls, made up of dozens of small cascades. During the summer, the upper section is hidden some by trees. It's a great winter hike, since this area receives little snow! The above photo is after a heavy rain.
Upper Falls: 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 below). This section is technical and dangerous if you are not skilled at climbing rocks and steep mountainsides. The Forest Service plans to add a much safer trail in the near future. The trail takes you up 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 area 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.