Last Updated on
Last Updated on
Affiliate links linking to products we love may be found within this article. For more info, please check our Disclosure page for more explanation of affiliates and sponsorships.
Catawba Falls in Old Fort is easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest. It also ranks highly among the most popular waterfall hikes near Asheville, which is why we included it in our guide to day trips from there.
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.
This post is part of our series on our favorite waterfalls and all the awesome places to visit in Western North Carolina.
When to Visit
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.
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.
And if you are interested in camping near the falls, we have stayed at Catawba Falls Campground. This place is on the same road as the falls, which gives you easy access and a head start on people driving from further away.
Hiking to Catawba Falls
When you arrive, you’ll find a pretty large parking lot and a restroom at the trailhead. The hike to Catawba Falls is a pleasant three miles round trip (Yellow Blaze) through a shady, moss-covered forest.
The footbridge at the start of the trail makes it easier for visitors to come, even after heavy rainfall. The majority of the Catawba Falls hike is a steady uphill and elevation will increase 465 feet from beginning to end. Most active people won’t face too much difficulty with this hike.
Highlights along the way include some interesting stone foundations. This was a former power dam that now has its own waterfall. 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.
Important Tips (Safety and Caretaking)
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 any more by discouraging this part of the hike.
There is discussion about creating a new trail to the upper falls, but until the money becomes available, please be patient and enjoy the beautiful lower falls.
Leave No Trace
Also, always remember 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.
Places Near Catawba Falls
There are quite a few places within a short drive of Catawba Falls. We organized them by the time required to reach each spot from the trailhead.
9 minutes (4 miles)
Known for its pre-Revolutionary War history, Old Fort is a small 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!
19 minutes (12 miles)
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.”
35 minutes (28 miles)
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. We’ve spent many weekends (and even longer) exploring its breweries, dining 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
37 minutes (30 miles)
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!
More Places Nearby
Keep driving and you’ll find even more places to visit near Catawba Falls, within an hour’s drive. From the trailhead, you can reach Mount Mitchell State Park, Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, and Linville Falls.
Why We’ll Keep Coming Back to 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, this one remains on our mind 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.