Located in Old Fort just off I-40 lies a peaceful, shady hike to the rushing Catawba Falls. It's a popular trail for many people, and particularly beautiful in the fall or after a heavy rain. The hike down to this amazing waterfall is only 3 miles roundtrip, and easy to moderate in difficulty.
Catawba Falls is very photogenic, and makes the hike well worth it. If you're ever visiting the Pisgah National Forest, this is a trail that is perfect for families and friends alike. Keep reading to learn more about the hike, the falls and see photos!
Cover photo by: Sergiy Galyonkin
Please Note: Catawba Falls will be closed until the Spring 2023 for improvements. More information can be found here.
What you need to know
Location: Catawba Falls is located near Old Fort, NC.
Difficulty: Easy - Moderate
Roundtrip Distance: 3 miles
Handicap Accessible: No
Dog Friendly: Yes
Features: Lower + upper waterfalls, riverside hiking, footbridges, old historic sites
Directions: From Asheville, take Exit 73 on I-40 east. Before the ramp ends, go right on Catawba River Rd. The road will go on for three miles before it reaches the parking lot.
Recommended Gear: Standard Day Gear
Hiking to Catawba Falls
Once you arrive at the parking lot, you’ll take the trail following the yellow blazes. There are restrooms near the trailhead for anyone to access. The trail itself is covered by trees and ferns, so it’ll be a bit easier walking in the shade.
It’s a three mile hike round trip, and what used to be creek crossings have now been accompanied by two footbridges, so no need to worry about getting your feet wet anymore. The Catawba River will follow your side, and the rushing water can be heard all the way up.
For the first half a mile or so, the walk will be mostly flat. After that, a steady, but moderate incline will be present the rest of the way to Catawba Falls.
Along the way you’ll see several different sites from the past. Smaller side trails will lead to these stone foundations, and a dam from the 1900’s will also be there to view. We encourage you to explore these if you're comfortable.
The waterfall itself can also be seen from the dam. It is not advisable to attempt to climb, as it is dangerous and you could be hurt or killed.
From there on out is where you need to watch your step. The trail gets a little more rocky along the way, so be careful as to not slip, especially if it is icy or rainy. The rocks near the base of the waterfall are slippery as well, and have been the cause of several deaths at the falls.
The base of the falls itself has a flat area where you can relax and enjoy your surroundings. You’ll notice a trail that goes up along the right side of the river. This is the trail to the Upper Falls. However, it has been strongly advised to remain at the Lower Falls.
The path upwards is about a half a mile, but extremely taxing and dangerous. If you do decide to go up the trail anyways, do not go alone. If you happen to get injured, it will be much harder to get help without anyone beside you.
Together, both cascades are 100 ft. tall. Lower Catawba Falls consists of several smaller cascades, with lush areas of moss covering the rocks. The flow is heaviest after a hard rain, giving it a more scenic look. There is no clear swimming hole at the base, but as long as you’re careful, you can approach the base of the falls.
Upper Catawba Falls is a single downpour that splits at the base, running into a clear, deep swimming hole. It’s around 50 feet tall, and the water is a bit chilly, so enter with caution.
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