Catawba Falls

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

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Catawba Falls

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  • An easy, mostly level path leads to the river crossing.- Catawba Falls
  • The river crossing at medium to low water.- Catawba Falls
  • Remnants from the hydroelectric company.- Catawba Falls
  • A small tributary crossing.- Catawba Falls
  • Trout fishing is encouraged.- Catawba Falls
  • The cascade below the dam.- Catawba Falls
  • Looking down at the dam and the cascade below from the powerhouse ruins.- Catawba Falls
  • Looking through the ruins.- Catawba Falls
  • The dam and the cascade below it.- Catawba Falls
  • Small rapids above the dam.- Catawba Falls
  • The trail becomes rougher beyond the dam.- Catawba Falls
  • A first glimpse at Catawba Falls.- Catawba Falls
  • Catawba Falls.- Catawba Falls
  • A closer look at Catawba Falls.- Catawba Falls
  • The incredibly steep and exposed unofficial trail.- Catawba Falls
  • The use of ropes is required to reach the upper falls.- Catawba Falls
  • Upper Catawba Falls.- Catawba Falls
  • Upper Catawba Falls from the pool below.- Catawba Falls
  • - Catawba Falls
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Close to Asheville. Clear swimming holes.
Cons: 
Big crowds. "Unofficial" trail to the upper falls.
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Alerts: 
The trailhead area is currently under construction. Parking on the side of the road and walking across the bridge adds approximately 500 yards to the hike.
Region:
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC
Congestion: 
High
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Net Elevation Gain: 
1,900.00 ft (579.12 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Total Distance: 
3.00 mi (4.83 km)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
1,593.00 ft (485.55 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

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Easy access and proximity to Asheville make this one of the best after-work getaways in the area. This also makes it a highly congested area, especially in the summer. This 1.5-mile trail is wide and well worn, climbing moderately to the base of a 100-foot cascade. For the adventurous, an unofficial trail leads up alongside the cascade to another, more secluded waterfall. Although these falls have attracted waterfall hunters since the late 1800s, official public access fluctuated until the Forest Service made a key land purchase in 2005 that ensured access for years to come.

Beginning at the trailhead, hikers will travel over a wide and level path until they reach a shallow stream crossing that is about 50 feet long. While it is relatively easy to keep your feet dry by rock hopping at low and moderate flows, it may be difficult or impossible to make the crossing without getting your feet wet when levels rise after rains.

Beyond the crossing, the ruins of an old hydroelectric power plant can be found on both sides of the trail. Built in 1920 to provide power for the town of Old Fort, the dam that diverted water to these buildings lies just upstream at the top of a small cascade. The remains of a smaller hydroelectric facility powered by water from the Chestnut Branch is located adjacent to the dam structure.

The trail becomes more rugged after the dam, but the massive cascade is just around the corner. Unlike many waterfalls, access to the base is unrestricted, and it is common to see people clambering around the boulder jumble just below. With this in mind, use caution because the rocks are often slick with mist and moss. Take a dip, drop a fishing line, and enjoy the cool spray.

An unofficial trail parallels the viewer's right side of the falls and leads to a more secluded waterfall and pool, but it is steep and perilous. It requires the use of ropes and has significant exposure, so it is not recommended. The Forest Service is seeking a sustainable trail route to access the upper falls, but it does not currently have an estimate on when trail construction will begin.

 

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