The Catawba River Greenway in Morganton (a Gateway to Beautiful Views and More Things We Love!)

Last Updated on April 20, 2021

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If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

The Catawba River Greenway is a wonderful trail in Morganton stretching 3.8 miles from Greenlee Ford to Rocky Ford. It connects two of Morganton’s loveliest parks, Catawba Meadows and Freedom Park, and boasts beautiful scenery along the way.

This North Carolina greenway is one of our favorites for a walk or a bike ride, and we thought you should know about it, too.

Here’s how we’ve organized this guide to give you all the information about this greenway:

  • Catawba River Greenway at a Glance
  • From Start to Finish (Greenlee Ford to Rocky Ford)
  • Access Points
  • Things We Love About It!

The Catawba River Greenway is the first of our series on bike trails and greenways in North Carolina. Stay tuned for more as we pedal our way through the state!

Catawba River Greenway at a Glance

As we mentioned, the Catawba River Greenway runs for nearly 4 miles (3.8 miles one-way) along the Catawba River in Western North Carolina‘s Burke County.

It’s approximately 7.6 miles from start to finish. You can extend your ride to nearly 10 miles round trip by connecting to the Freedom Trail Greenway (0.6 miles one-way) and the Green Street Greenway (0.4 miles one-way).

In the 1990s, the city of Morganton acquired the land that the trail sits on today. Since completion, thousands of Morganton residents and visitors use the Catawba River Greenway each month, making it one of the most popular outdoor spots in and around this Burke County town.

From Start to Finish (Greenlee Ford to Rocky Ford)

Catawba River Greenway

If you want the full experience, you can begin at either the Greenlee Ford access (behind Ingles off US-70) or the Rocky Ford access (off US-64/NC-18).

For the purpose of this article, we’re declaring Greenlee Ford as the beginning and Rocky Ford as the end. You can let us know if you disagree in the comments or by email.

Round trip on the Catawba River Greenway is doable within an hour, though you might want to stop along the way and take in the sights if you’re unfamiliar with this trail. With a few yards of exceptions, there is minimal grade along this route.

Access Points

We mentioned Greenlee Ford and Rocky Ford, but there are a few more access points that await. If you find that one access parking lot is packed, you can always try another!

Here are the five Catawba River Greenway access points from beginning to end:

  • Greenlee Ford (near US-70)
  • Freedom Park (NC-126)
  • Catawba Meadows (Sanford Drive)
  • River Village (NC-181)
  • Rocky Ford (US-64/NC-18)

Things We Love About the Catawba River Greenway!

Now that you know the basic ins and outs, here are some things we love about the Catawba River Greenway.

Historic Significance

Catawba River Greenway Native American Village Morganton NC
The Native American River Village sits between Catawba Meadows and the Rocky Ford Access.

Any lover of history and facts will really appreciate this trail.

You’ll see Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail historical markers on bridges and signposts throughout the trail. They commemorate the Revolutionary War’s famous King’s Mountain March.

During the Civil War, a small battle also occurred here, noted by an informative display at the Rocky Ford Access.

At the River Village access, there’s a recreated 16th-century era Native American village. Here, you’ll find two Native American houses, a garden, and a palisade fence. Local students occasionally rebuild the fence when needed.

All of these artifacts, recreated and commemorative, are reminders of Burke County’s strong historical background.

A Short, Flat Road for Riding

Catawba River Greenway Bridge to Freedom Park Morganton NC

Compared to its lengthier neighbors like the growing Fonta Flora Trail, the 3.8-mile long Catawba River Greenway is a comparatively shorter trail. The 7.6-mile round trip is great for a morning or afternoon ride/run before or after exploring Morganton and the nearby surroundings.

Along with being a moderately short trail, the Catawba River Greenway is also relatively flat. It’s a welcome change from the steep trails of South Mountains State Park or famous Linville Gorge trails such as Table Rock Mountain or Hawksbill Mountain.

Or a Long Walk (or Jog!)

Catawba River Greenway Great Walking Trail in Morganton NC

Of course, you may not have brought your bike to town and simply want to find a nice patch of the Catawba River Greenway to walk, jog, or relax. On nice days, you will see lots of people out enjoying themselves on the trail.

If you’re riding a bike here, please stay to the right, call out “on your left” when passing, and be respectful of others. Also, remember that bikes yield to pedestrians and joggers.

Plenty of Beautiful River Views

Catawba River Greenway Photo Spots by Discover Burke County

You can enjoy beautiful river views throughout much of the Catawba River Greenway. After all, it is named after a river.

Plenty of benches and viewpoints await along the path, in case you want to sit down and relax along the greenway. Some sections of the trail are designated as “Photo Stops” by Discover Burke County.

The views are lovely throughout spring and summer. Fall foliage is fantastic here, but I think late winter/early spring also deserves a nod. The greens begin to return during this time, and you start to see lots of flowers pop up along the trail.

Recreational Stops

Catawba River Greenway Catawba Meadows Disc Golf Morganton NC

While on the greenway, take some time to kick back and enjoy the river!

For starters, the Catawba River Greenway has numerous fishing spots, offers workout equipment, and even has a guided gold panning stop. Don’t forget who told you about the gold panning when you strike it rich!

Catawba Meadows Playground Morganton NC

The active fun doesn’t stop there. We mentioned Catawba Meadows and Freedom Park are connected to the greenway as well.

Freedom Park has tennis and basketball courts, a walking trail, and a great playground structure. This park has something for everyone, from a massive Adventure Playground to an 18-hole disc golf course and a zip-line course. If not for Catawba Meadows, Freedom Park would truly be the best park around.

Catawba Meadows is an official launch as part of the 82-mile Upper Catawba River Trail. You can also rent tubes and canoes here and hop on the river for a ride. It runs from Black Bear Access on Lake James to Lookout Access on Lake Lookout Shoals.

Ready to Hop On the Catawba River Greenway?

With such a lovely mix of recreation, history, and scenery, the Catawba River Greenway really is one of our favorite paved trails to ride and walk. We love hopping on for a morning ride or afternoon stroll whenever we’re in Morganton.

Even if you’re not based in Morganton, we think this is a trail you’ll want to explore, especially considering all the outdoor options found in Burke County.

If you’ve traveled this trail before, we’d love to hear about your experiences here. What do you love about it? And why should others know about it, too?

More Things to Do in Morganton and Burke County (Guides and Mentions)

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