Catawba Falls Trail

Catawba Falls

Catawba Falls is relatively close to downtown Asheville (just 25 miles away) and offers stunning beauty thanks to a series of cascades that, together, are 100 feet tall. The U.S. Forest Service recently has made the easy-to-moderate trail even more enjoyable by adding two new footbridges so that you no longer have to rock hop across the river to enjoy the falls. The hike is just three miles round trip.

What To Expect

From the parking lot, take the nearly flat trail that follows what was once a wagon route from Old Fort to Asheville. There are several stone foundation ruins from the early 1900s along this trail, including the wall of a dam once constructed here in an attempt to create hydropower. Do not stand on the dam wall: it’s treacherous.

As you pass through the hardwood forest, the trail stays close to the water the whole way. The sound of the water varies from a light gurgling to a loud rush, but it’s always a nice accompaniment to the hike.

When you reach the base of the falls, there’s a relatively flat area from which to observe them. The lower portion of the falls consist of many small cascades.

While there is an upper portion of Catawba Falls, emergency management officials urge you not to attempt to reach the upper cascade. There is no trail maintained by the U.S. Forest Service that takes you to the upper falls. Given the upper falls can also be seen from below (especially during the winter months!), it’s not necessary to go any farther.

Because this hike is so close to Asheville, it's quite popular and you’ll have to share the trail with others on summer weekends. Visit in the fall for lovely foliage.

Hike Details

Difficulty: Easy, with just a few moderate spots

Distance from Asheville: About 25 miles; 30 minutes

Length: 1.5 miles each way; 3 miles round-trip

Region: Old Fort, McDowell County, Pisgah National Forest

Duration of Hike: About 3 hours total

Elevation Gain: 465 feet to the falls

Pet-Friendly? Leashed dogs welcome

Multiple Use? No

Blazes? No

Facilities & Parking: Parking lot and restrooms

Natural Features: wooded trail

Directions

From downtown Asheville, take I-240 to I- 40 East, Exit 73 (the second Old Fort exit). Before you get to the end of the exit ramp, turn right onto Catawba River Road. The road ends after three miles at the parking lot for the falls.

Location

N35.603858, W82.245154

Photo by Hugo Gutierrez.