7-22-16 I finally made it back to Catawba Falls back in April 2016. I hadn't been since the new parking area was added - they did a great job on it! The parking area is on the 88 acres that the Foothills Conservancy acquired in 2 separate purchases (2005 and 2007) and 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!
There's also a vault toilet and kiosk with info about the area and hiking in the Pisgah NF in general. Remember that there is no camping or overnight parking allowed here! I also just saw this on Facebook (July 22, 2016) this morning - a bridge over the Catawba River has been completed and you no longer have to wade the river! That's really great news as is the second bridge and a safe route to the upper waterfall. Here's a quote from their post -
"In partnership with McDowell County, North Carolina State Parks, and a federal Recreational Trails Program grant, we rerouted the Catawba Falls trail and installed a trail bridge crossing the Catawba River. A similar bridge across Chestnut Branch will be installed. And we'll be designing a safer route to the upper falls!"
Directions: 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. I've seen lots of families here - young and old alike - so take advantage and come visit this beautiful and unique area.
The trail to the 100'+ Catawba Falls is 1.2 miles and is fairly easy for most, moderate for others. The trail begins at the kiosk and follows the left side of the river up to the new foot bridge. I haven't been since this was put in, but I'm sure it's very easy to find. Once across the river, follow the trail up river for about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile where the trail crosses Clover Patch Branch. This crossing is easy and you shouldn't have a problem keeping your feet dry. There's a very small waterfall on the up creek side of the crossing and an interesting small waterfall below the trail that you can scramble down to. Less than 5 minutes past the crossing is Lower Catawba 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! Before reaching the wall, look for a couple of steep goat trails down for a better view. Stay off of the wall - you could die or be seriously injured if you fall off.
A very few minutes past the dam is another creek crossing at Chestnut Branch. This crossing can be a little tricky, but according to the above forest service statement, a bridge is in the works. 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. Photographers will want to keep their eyes open for scenic spots all along the trail, but especially from the lower falls all the way up to Catawba Falls.
along the Catawba River
Catawba Falls is only a few more short minutes up the trail. It gets quite rocky in this area, but it's obvious where you need to go to come out at a nice viewing area at the base of the falls. 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. Compare the picture below with the one at the top of the page. It's a good spot for isolation shots of the falls if you have a longer lens. 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 continuing up the right side of the river. 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 to Upper Catawba Falls 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. There's often a rope to assist in the really steep part, but use it only for an assist and don't put your full weight on it. It could snap at any time. Coming down is trickier than going up, so keep that in mind. Once you get to the very top of Catawba Falls, the trail levels out and it's less than 1/4 mile to Upper Catawba. You may have to get your feet wet to get in position for a decent shot of the falls. It looks like a safe trail up to this area is in the planning stage, but I would expect it to be completed any time soon. Stay safe out there!
isolation shots of Catawba Falls
Upper Catawba Falls
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