Catawba Falls 9-18-06
4-17-12 More great news about Catawba Falls! The Forest Service announced that a new parking area for visiting the waterfall has now opened and a restroom facility at the parking area will open some time in June. The parking area is on the 88 acres that the Foothills Conservancy acquired in 2 separate purchases (2005 and 2007) and were later sold to the US Forest Service as a permanent part of the Pisgah National Forest. Acquisition of this property is the result of the hard work of the Foothills Conservancy and other forward thinking people and the generous donations of other caring people. When you click on the Conservancy's link, please notice the other lands they are saving and have saved from development - almost 1,400 acres in the Catawba River area and nearly 30,000 acres so far in other Foothills areas! Please make a donation to show your appreciation!
Directions: The property is open to the public and getting to the trail head is easy. From west of Old Fort, take I-40 east down the Old Fort grade and get off at Exit 73. (The waterfalls are way down there to your right when you are coming down the grade.) This is the 2nd exit for Old Fort. Before the exit ramp ends, take the right hand turn onto Catawba Falls Rd. If you are coming from east of Old Fort, get on I-40 west and get off at the same Old Fort exit. Turn left and go under the interstate. Take the 1st right that looks like you are heading up the off ramp for I-40 east traffic. This is actually 2 way traffic for a very short distance up to Catawba Falls Rd where you have to turn left. You may see signs for Catawba Falls Campground which is on Catawba Falls Rd. Drive 3 miles to the end of Catawba Falls Rd and the parking area is across the bridge that was previously blocked off. You may be greeted by a black lab that lives nearby and sometimes follows people up to Catawba Falls. I've seen lots of families here - young and old alike - so take advantage and come visit this beautiful and unique area.
There is no camping or overnight parking allowed! The trail up to Catawba Falls is fairly easy with a little scrambling in a couple of places and about 1.5 miles one way. There are 3 stream crossings and you may have problems at the first one. Rocks have been positioned for a dry crossing, but if the river is up like it was on my October 2009 trip, you'll have to wade in the river. It's only maybe shin to calf deep, so be prepared. Wear shoes you don't mind getting soaked or bring a towel to dry your feet off if you have to take your shoes off. A hiking stick comes in handy for balance if you can get over on the rocks. A bridge across the river will eventually be constructed and along with further trail improvements.
There's actually more than 1 waterfall along this stretch of the river which looks more like a creek at this point because it's near the headwaters. This another reason why this land acquisition is so important. It could have been sold to developers! Follow the trail up the left side of the river for a short distance until it ends at the first crossing described above. The trail will soon begin to climb slightly and the river will be below you on the left side. After maybe 15 minutes the trail crosses Clover Patch Branch. This crossing is easier than the first and you shouldn't have a problem keeping your feet dry. Less than 5 minutes past the crossing is the first set of falls at an old concrete dam. I've read and have received emails saying it was built in 1923 and was part of a small hydro-electric facility. This set of falls is actually pretty nice! Stay off of the wall - you will die if you fall off. Just before the dam look for a small goat trail down to the base of the lower drop. No kids down here please!
A very few minutes past the dam is the third creek crossing at Chestnut Branch. This crossing can be a little tricky also. The trail goes up Chestnut Branch for a very short distance, then crosses where the big tree has fallen across the creek. Just try to pick a place to cross where you are least likely to get your feet wet. Catawba Falls is only a few more short minutes up the trail. You'll see some big rocks and the trail isn't really clear here, but stay to the right around the rocks and come out above them at a nice viewing area at the base of the falls. This beautiful waterfall cascades for more than 100'. With leaves on the trees you can't see the entire waterfall from the base because it makes a curve to the right towards the top. In the winter months you'll get a more complete view. It isn't safe to climb this or any other waterfall, so please don't!
Once at the base of Catawba Falls, you may notice a trail heading up the right side. It's very steep and heads up to a closer view of parts of the waterfall. It's fairly safe up here if you use common sense. Beyond this the trail gets very steep, gnarly and difficult. There are roots and rocks to hold on to, but if you slip you will be severely injured or killed. Beyond this it gets steeper. There's a rope part way up to assist in the really steep part, but on my last trip it was beginning to fray. Use it only for an assist and don't put your full weight on it if you must continue on. Coming down is trickier than going up, so keep that in mind. I'm hoping the forest service will eventually build a trail that swings around and up to make access to the upper waterfall safer. The next 2 shots are from the middle of Catawba Falls.
Beyond the top of the rope is more steep climbing with views of the top of the waterfall. Be sure to stay left and follow close to the river if you get to a place where you're not sure which way to go. There's a false trail to the right which looks like an easier way, but I'm not sure where it goes to. Why would you even want to climb up here?? Because the 3rd waterfall is maybe 5 minutes up the trail from the very top of Catawba Falls. I takes me 20-30 minutes to get from the base of Catawba Falls up to Upper Catawba Falls. This waterfall isn't really mentioned much, but I think it's the nicer (and more photogenic) than the other. The pictures on this page are a combination of 3 different trips.
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