April 2022 UPDATE: Catawba Falls will be closed long-term starting May 2 for improvements between the lower and upper falls. Improvements are expected to last 9-12 months. Check back for updates!
The 100-ft. tall Catawba Falls is 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 round-trip) is a steady and slightly uphill walk but it is 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 accesses for mountain biking.
Thanks to this new footbridge, you don't have to rock hop across the river. 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 adventure with a strenuous and difficult climb to the very beautiful, 50-ft. Upper Falls (photo above). This section is 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-ft. 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.
Check out this 360 video of Catawba Falls by our friends at Namaste in Nature:
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 McDonald's (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.
See our Old Fort Guide for more things to do in the area. The town of Marion is nearby. Tom's Creek Falls is about 20 miles away.
Blue Ridge Travelers: Small Towns & Outdoors
Explore McDowell County east of Asheville, with the small towns of Marion, Little Switzerland, Old Fort and Linville Falls. Includes Pisgah Forest, with hiking, waterfalls, fishing, Lake James and… read more