Catawba Falls (5-24-15)
Catawba Falls has long been known as one of the finest cascades in North Carolina. Up until around 2006, however, I was off limits to the public. At that time you either had to get permission from the landowner or embark on an extremely difficult roundabout bushwhack. Thankfully, about 10 years ago, the U.S. Forest Service was successful in purchasing a small piece of property surrounding the falls and it is once again open to the public. A large parking area, restrooms, and an excellent path now provide convenient and rather easy access to this magnificent waterfall.
Located just outside of the town of Old Fort, Catawba Falls is made up of two massive cascades where the Catawba River makes its final dramatic plunge off the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge. The Lower Falls, the larger of the two, is accessible by a wide and fairly easy path that leads 1.5 miles from the parking area to its base. The Lower Falls is over 100' high, with the river dropping in dozens of scenic cascades over numerous rock ledges. For a family hike the Lower Falls makes for a perfect afternoon hike. The hike to the Upper Falls is a completely different monster altogether. A literal goat path climbs the extremely steep cliffs above the Lower Falls, utilizing ropes to assist with the more rugged sections. Despite Forest Service warnings that this 'path' should only be attempted by expert seasoned hikers many people who probably shouldn't attempt the climb do so anyway and many times per year people are injured. I'm here to tell you the Forest Service warnings are well-founded...it was a difficult climb even for me. If you decide to undertake the climb, however, Upper Catawba Falls is truly a spectacular sight. In my opinion it outdoes even its larger brother downstream.
On this hike I'd be visiting both falls...waterfalls I had waited far too long to see. I'd be following the maintained trail to the Lower Falls and then undertaking the rugged climb to the Upper Falls. Catawba Falls certainly lived up to the hype and, despite the crowds on this early summer day, I found myself in awe once again of nature's majesty. Come on along with me and see what i found...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.613266, -82.230858
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE (Lower Falls only), HARD (incl. Upper Falls)
Hike Length: ~4.0 miles Hike Duration: 2:15
Trailhead Temp: 80'F Trail Traffic: 100+
Min. Elevation: 1,600' Max. Elevation: 2,400'
Total Vertical Gain: 800' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 400'
Trails Used (blaze color): Catawba Falls Trail (unblazed)