Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and we'll send you a FREE Printable NC Waterfalls Checklist!

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

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on August 22, 2023.

Disclaimer: This site uses demographic data, email opt-ins, display advertising, and affiliate links. Please visit our Disclosure and Privacy Policy pages for further explanation.

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.

Is Catawba Falls Open? – No, Catawba Falls NC is closed until Spring 2024. During this time the National Forest Service will be performing maintenance to ensure public safety and improvements on the trail to Catawba Falls. We will keep this article updated with information as we have it. For more details on the project, please visit the USDA website here.

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 to Catawba Falls Trailhead
  • Where to Stay Nearby
  • Things to Do Near Catawba Falls

Read More: 75+ Great Hikes near Asheville

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 the planet a hug by taking it with you.

Read More: 25+ Beautiful Waterfalls near Boone (within 2 Hours)

Catawba Falls Trail 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 Catawba falls 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.

Read More: Western North Carolina (100+ Awesome Places to Visit)

Catawba Falls Hiking 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 new parking area 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 it’s fairly steep and can be slippery. Proper footwear with good tread is recommended if you decide to go up.

Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)

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.

Read More: 25+ Wonderful Waterfalls Near Blowing Rock (within 2 Hours)

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 is 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 is 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.

Read More: 4 National Forests in NC (Things to Do + Why We Love Them!)

Driving Directions to Catawba Falls Trailhead

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

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

Read More: 25+ Amazing Waterfalls near Banner Elk (within 2 Hours’ Drive)

Where to Stay Near Catawba Falls NC

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.

Read More: Airbnbs in North Carolina

Things to Do Near Catawba Waterfalls

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

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

Read More: 10+ Great Things to Do in Chimney Rock Village (and Nearby)

Old Fort

9 minutes (4 miles)

Old Fort North Carolina

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!

Read More: Day Trips from Asheville

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.”


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), and hanging out at iconic spots like Biltmore Estate.

Read More: How to Enjoy Christmas at Biltmore

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 in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And while there are tons more to explore along the Blue Ridge Parkways, 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

1 thought on “Catawba Falls Trail In Old Fort (How To Reach a Beautiful Western NC Waterfall)”

Leave a Comment