Height: 200 feet
Trail Type: Gravel and dirt
Hike Distance: 2 miles round trip
I first tried to visit Catawba Falls in 2016 while the Forest Conservancy was doing some trail improvements. Before, this trail was difficult to follow and included three creek crossings, including one fairly deep one through the actual Catawba River. On my first visit, I lost the trail, which ascended a rock garden near Chestnut Branch. Now, two wonderful bridges have been installed, which leaves only one creek crossing that’s only a problem if water levels are high.
Catawba Falls is a 200-foot beauty. There are several unique sections, and because of the way the falls are situated, it can be difficult to see the entire thing, especially if it’s crowded (and if you go in the afternoon, it will be very crowded).
There is also an Upper Catawba Falls which, based on pictures, might be even prettier. However, the current trail, which ascends up the right side of Catawba Falls, is wildly dangerous. The Forest Conservancy has promised to design a safer trail to the Upper falls, but we’ll see how it goes.
From Exit 73 off I-40 in Old Fort, turn just before the McDonald’s onto the off ramp from I-40 West (if you’re coming from Asheville, turn right onto Catawba Falls Road just before you get to the McDonald’s). Take this road all the way to the end to the gravel parking area.
The trail starts at the end of the parking area and follows the Catawba River upstream. You’ll cross the new foot bridge and ascend the ridge. The trail is wide and easy to follow, but it does have a tendency to be very muddy in places. After about 3/4 of a mile, you’ll come to what’s referred to as Lower Catawba Falls, a 20-foot slide at the site of an old dam.
Beyond the lower falls, you’ll continue up the trail to a new foot bridge over Chestnut Branch. In the winter, you’ll be able to see Catawba Falls from here. Cross the bridge and go a few more yards to the base.