Catawba Falls Trail In Old Fort (How To Reach a Beautiful Western NC Waterfall)

Last Updated on July 12, 2021

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Catawba Falls in Old Fort (near Asheville) is easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest. This waterfall is also very easy to reach as it is along I-40.

The 100-foot tall mossy falls require a steady climb along the Catawba River. Those gorgeous cascades are joined by multiple highlights along the way, making this one of our favorite hikes in North Carolina.

We’ll share info about the Catawba Falls Trail, including when to visit, safety info, and more. Here’s how we’ve organized this guide, in case you’re looking for something specific:

  • Leave No Trace Reminder
  • Catawba Falls Facts
  • Hiking the Catawba Falls Trail (from Start to Finish)
  • About Upper Falls (and Additional Safety Info)
  • When to Visit AND Avoid Crowds
  • Driving Directions
  • Where to Stay Nearby
  • Things to Do Near Catawba Falls

If you’re looking for a fun place to stay, some of the coolest Airbnbs in North Carolina are within a short drive of Catawba Falls.

This post is part of our series on our favorite waterfalls and all the awesome places to visit in Western North Carolina. It also ranks highly among the most popular hikes near Asheville, which is why we included it in our guide to day trips from there. We also mentioned Catawba Falls in our guide to waterfalls near Boone, Blowing Rock, and Banner Elk.

Leave No Trace

Before we share more about Catawba Falls, we want to remind you to leave nature as you found it. Pack out what you pack in and leave no trace. In fact, if you see some trash, give our waterways and planet a hug by taking it with you.

Catawba Falls Facts

Catawba Falls

Catawba Falls is a 100-foot waterfall that’s reachable after a 1.5-mile hike (3 miles roundtrip) that follows the Catawba River.

Because there are two distinct sections, Catawba Falls is typically referred to in terms of “Lower” and “Upper” Catawba Falls. The lower section is the many cascades that you’ll see at the base and the upper section is reachable via a dangerous climb on rocks and steeper sections.

We’ll share more info about both Lower and Upper Catawba Falls in our “Hike” section.

Hiking the Catawba Falls Trail

Catawba Falls Trail Start

As we mentioned earlier, the Catawba Falls Trail is a pleasant three miles round trip (Yellow Blaze) through a shady, moss-covered forest. When you arrive, you’ll find a pretty large parking lot and a restroom at the trailhead.

structure at Catawba Falls

You’ll spend the first half-mile on mostly flat terrain. There’s a footbridge at the start of the trail, which helps encourage visitors even after heavy rainfall.

Catawba Falls Trail Bridge

From there, the remainder of the Catawba Falls hike is a steady uphill and elevation will increase 465 feet from beginning to end.

Catawba Falls Trail NC

Most active people won’t face too much difficulty with this hike.

Catawba Falls Stone Dam

Highlights along the way include some interesting stone foundations. In addition, there’s a former power dam that now offers a waterfall on its own. It can be found approximately one mile into your hike, which means you’re almost there!

After passing the electric dam, the trail starts to become a little rocky. Climb over boulders as the water rushes through the creek and you’ll start to hear the falls roaring.

Depending on recent rainfall, the falls will either dribble over multiple tiers of rocks or they may be gushing. You can look up at Catawba Falls from the pool at is base or climb a short distance to get a closer look.

catawba falls north carolina

Please be careful on the rocks and on your way down from here, as its fairly steep and can be slippery. Proper footwear with a good tread is recommended if you decide to go up.

About Upper Falls (and Additional Safety Info)

There once was a rope you could climb to the upper falls, but that is no longer available. After heavy erosion, this more dangerous climb has been closed.

And as tempting as it might still be to go off-trail and hike to the upper falls, it is not recommended for your safety. It is difficult for emergency services to reach.

They may not come in time, so please stay on the path and take warning from the signs. Deaths have occurred at upper Catawba Falls and we want to prevent them by discouraging this part of the hike.

There are discussions about creating a new trail to the upper falls, but until the money becomes available, please be patient and enjoy the beautiful lower falls.

When to Visit AND Avoid Crowds

Catawba Falls yoga

Summer is a great time to visit all of North Carolina’s waterfalls, but you’ll especially love Catawba Falls during this time. That’s mainly because of the rhododendrons, but the cool air coming from these falls are also a wonderful way to escape the heat.

Of course, Catawba Falls is also an excellent winter hike. The viewing area at the base of the falls can sometimes be hidden by tree foliage. In winter- that is revealed.

Thanks to trail improvements courtesy of the US Forest Service, Catawba Falls is also impressive after a big rain.

Note that there a large parking lot, but this is an incredibly popular trail since it is easy to hike and reach the falls. We highly suggest you plan to arrive early (especially on weekends and during warmer months) or you may be waiting for a parking space.

Driving Directions

You can quickly reach Catawba Falls via I-40 and after hopping off at Exit 73 (Old Fort). Before the exit ramp ends, there will be a road to your right (Catawba River Rd).

Take this road for three miles until it ends at the Catawba Falls Trailhead parking lot.

Where to Stay Nearby

River Running Through Catawba Falls Campground NC
This river is just feet away from our Catawba Falls Campground tent.

And if you are interested in camping near the falls, we have stayed at Catawba Falls Campground. This was actually how we beat the crowds and got the waterfall all to ourselves one morning!

The campground is on the same road as the falls, which gives you easy access and a head start on people driving from further away.

Things to Do Nearby

There are quite a few places within an hour’s drive of Catawba Falls. From the trailhead, you can reach Mount Mitchell State Park, Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, and Linville Falls.

Here are some more, which we’ve organized by the time required to reach each from the trailhead.

Old Fort

9 minutes (4 miles)

Known for its pre-Revolutionary War history, Old Fort is a great mountain town with some hidden gems. In addition to Catawba Falls, Andrews Geyser brings people to the town.

The manmade geyser pulls its water supply from Mill Creek and sometimes shoots up as high as 80 feet. It’s a great place to rest, have a picnic, and cool off!

Black Mountain

12 miles | 19 minutes

Black Mountain near Catawba Falls NC

Black Mountain is one of the closest towns to Asheville on the east side of I-40. Lake Tomahawk Park and Town Square are a couple of awesome spots if you’re there for a day. Oak and Grist, one of our favorite North Carolina distilleries, also calls Black Mountain “home.”

Asheville

28 miles | 35 minutes

Wedge Brewing Asheville NC

We mentioned Catawba Falls was near Asheville and at just 26 miles east, you’ll find it a convenient drive from Western NC’s largest city. And if you haven’t visited Asheville yet, here’s a snapshot become you come and stay.

We’ve been exploring the best things to do in Asheville for years, including its breweries, amazing restaurants (including those from acclaimed chefs), hanging out at iconic spots like Biltmore Estate.

Our page dedicated to Asheville offers a collection of our latest posts, along with background info on this awesome place to visit.

Lake James State Park

30 miles | 37 minutes

Lake James State Park near Asheville NC

Lake James is one of the most popular places to get on the water in Western North Carolina. It’s fun for boating and fishing, but also for hiking and camping, too.

Of course, many folks come to this lake for a picnic or for a day hanging around its beaches!

Ready to Visit Catawba Falls?

Catawba Falls was one of the first waterfalls in North Carolina that we visited. And while there are tons more to explore in our state, we keep coming back for the easy hike and beautiful water rushing through the moss-covered rocks.

If you are looking for a new waterfall to visit or haven’t marked this one off your NC bucket list yet, please give Catawba Falls some thought. If you arrive early enough to beat the crowds and have this place to yourself for a minute (or longer), its beauty and relative isolation will blow you away.

More Western NC Waterfalls

More Things to Do in Western North Carolina

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