Accessibility – Easy+
Height: Approx 120′
Distance – 2.2 (out and back)
Beauty – 9
Photo rating – 10 or 0 (see solitude)
Solitude – 10 or 0 (depending on when you visit. More than likely closer to 0 on most days)
GPS Info: LAT 35.6038 LONG -82.2456
Last updated – 07-17-2017
Catawba Falls. Where to begin? It’s one of the most amazing waterfalls I’ve seen. In excess of 120 feet high, the waterfalls tumbles down over countless ledges before collecting itself near the base, fanning out and sliding down a sloped rock. The rock of the falls is covered in moss and plants, adding to the tropical feel of the setting. When I saw it for the first time on Friday evening (July 14, 2017) around 8:00 p.m. I thought it was one of the prettiest sights I’d ever seen. It was a gloomy night and hours of heavy thunderstorms had cleansed the area of tourists so for 20 amazing minutes I had the falls to myself. Then two girls in bikinis showed up to take selfies and that was the end of that. After my second visit on Sunday, I have come to cherish those 20 minutes even more! More on my second visit in a moment.
Catawba Falls is located in Old Fort, Exit 73 off of I40. If you’re heading East, take the Old Fort Exit 73 but before getting to the end of the ramp, make a sharp right onto Catawba Falls Road. Follow this 3.1 miles until it ends in the parking area. Depending on when you visit you may be able to park in the lot or you may have to park on the side of the road. If you’re travelling West, take Exit 73 and at the bottom of the ramp make a left and pass under I40. Make a right after passing under the bridge. It will look like you’re about to get on I40 going against traffic. Halfway up the ramp, make a left onto Catawba Falls Rd and follow it to the end.
The trailhead is at the far end of the parking area near the bathrooms and info station. It enters the woods and follows a mostly flat course for 0.3 of a mile to a river crossing on a bridge. On the river right side of the bridge crossing is an old building that adds to the hike.
Once across the bridge the grade is going to pick up. The rest of the hike, about 0.8 of a mile is going to be uphill. The road is wide and east to follow. Along the way there are trails that head down to the creek and different cascades and swimming holes. Most of the paths are benign enough for family access. At 0.9 miles from the trailhead you will reach Lower Catawba Falls. It is on the left side of the trail and easy viewed from the trail. Just above the falls is an old dam, while across the trail are the remains of another old building. There are several steep trails down to the lower section of this falls but I didn’t go down so I can’t tell you what to expect.
Continuing up the trail will lead to another enormous metal bridge over the river. After this crossing the trail will narrow and become more rooted and steep. At this point you are very close to the falls. As you get to the falls there are some boulders to navigate over and around before you can get into the creek right at the base of the falls. Once you reach this vantage, what will you see? Well, that depends. When I stood at this spot on Friday evening, here’s what I saw. (A fraction of what I saw on Sunday is down below)
If those views don’t inspire you, nothing will. This will also convey the solitude of 10 and the photo rating of 10. Of course in this last shot you can see a purple shirt one of the girls left on the rock in center frame! This is the good Catawba Falls. Now the bad.
When we stopped by on Sunday on the way home, the parking area was packed and cars were overflowing down the street. Walking the trail was nice enough but when we got to the falls is looked like High Falls right before the dam release. There wasn’t a section of rock not covered in people. That didn’t bother me as much as some other things I witnessed. I have no expectation of privacy at a waterfall like this but at the same time to see people climbing on the falls and trampling the plants in the spray cliff, tossing their empty water bottles into the creek because they’re too lazy to carry out their trash and a guy carrying a 12 pack of bottled beer was a bit more than I could take. Sadly, Catawba Falls is an accident waiting to happen. One person has already died at the upper falls and judging by what I saw on Sunday, I fear he won’t be the last.