Catawba Falls

A MUST See North Carolina Waterfall Near Asheville!

10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go to Catawba Falls

North Carolina is known as the land of waterfalls and rightly so. There are over 250 waterfalls to discover. The majority spread out from western NC into the North Western Region. Click here for an interactive map of western North Carolina Waterfalls.

If you’re on the hunt for some spectacular waterfalls, it’s hard to know which one to tackle first. How do you choose from so many?

Catawba Falls

I personally suggest Catawba Falls Trail, an easy to moderate hike only 1.2 miles each way with a well-paved trail on a steady yet mild incline. This pet and family friendly trail is a perfect hike for solo hikers, beginners and/or those who need or want to take their time.

Despite the ease of the trail, the beauty and majesty of Catawba Falls will equally attract and please seasoned hikers. In addition to the prize of 100 ft. cascading waterfalls at the end, you’ll pass some mini-waterfalls, rivers, streams, historic ruins and moss-carpeted respites nestled in fairy-like coves along your journey.

Ruins of historic hydroelectric house

It’s always wise to be prepared before you go in order to make the most of your hike. I’ve compiled a list of 10 basic things you need to know before you go to Catawba Falls. Let’s not waist any time, let’s dig right on in!

#10. Location, location, location!

The address to plug into your GPS is 3074 Catawba Rd, Old Fort, NC.

Only a short distance off of I-40, at Old Fort Exit 73.

#9 Where to Stay?

The town of Old Fort is approx;

-4 miles from the Catawba trailhead

-12 miles from Black Mountain,

-28 miles from the artsy, foodtopia of Asheville. Here’s some great hotels to check out.

-and 35 miles from historic Morganton.

– Family owned, Catawba Falls Campground is 1/2 mile from the trailhead. They offer primitive tent sites, RV sites and cabin rentals, all available to book online. They also offer hammock sites for a reasonable rate on a first come, first serve basis.

If you’re looking for a place to stay, those are fabulous towns to look into.

Once you get off the exit, you’ll find the long (approx. 10 minutes) scenic road that leads directly to the trailhead parking lot by turning right at MC Donalds.

Although I’m sure you’ll be anxious to hit the trail, don’t forget to take time to enjoy the nature, quaint buildings, art, live-stock and more. On this route you’ll also find the family owned, Catawba Falls Campground

The Fairfield Inn, Downtown Morganton is a lovely place to stay

#8 Bathrooms

Speaking of the McDonald’s where you turn right . . . I highly suggest making a stop here for a bathroom break, or at one of the other establishments in Old Fort with public bathrooms, before arriving at the trailhead.

Trailhead bathrooms

While there is a public, outhouse-style restroom at the trailhead and it looks kind of cute, (How can I say this nicely . . .) it was, hands down, the most disgusting smelling bathroom I have ever encountered. Ever. Maybe I was there on an off day, but the stench nearly made me puke.

You must know that I’m NOT a delicate flower when it comes to bad smells. I’m nearly 50, a mom of 3, have cared for many pets, spent time with the animals on my Grandpa’s farm, used a countless number of primitive bathrooms and outhouses during my lifetime. Never ever have I encountered one that smelled this bad.

Hopefully they will have this fixed by the time you go. As for me, I’m not going to risk it. Next time I go I’ll grab a drink and a snack at a nearby restaurant then use their toilet before heading to the trail. If you don’t want to risk having your nose assaulted by the stench of a rotting sewer rat crawling up your nasal passages, I suggest you do the same. ‘Nuff said.

#7 Parking

The Catawba Falls Trail parking lot is a pretty decent size, however, this is an extremely popular hiking spot so it does fill up quickly on weekends and during peak season.

Obviously, if you’d like to avoid crowds it’s best to arrive as early in the day as possible, go on weekdays, or off season. Please note that if you choose to go on a rainy day to avoid crowds, or in the off season (which is winter) the trail can become very muddy and slippery. Caution is advised.

#6 Trail Length and Difficulty

The trail to Catawba Falls is fairly easy for the most part. There are some rocky and potentially slippery spots along the way that could cause some to view it as a moderate hike, especially when you arrive at the final falls where it is extremely rocky.

If you choose to climb up the side of the lower falls it can get a bit steep, muddy and slippery, especially after it rains. If you have mobility issues or concerns about climbing on rocks, it’s best to be content with the view from the base of the falls. In my opinion, it’s one of the best views anyway. You’re not missing much if you’re unable to get any closer.

The trail is predominately flat with a mild and steady incline. In my research I’ve found conflicting information on exactly how steep the incline is from start to finish, but it’s safe to say it’s somewhere between 341 ft. – 465 ft. It’s still mild no matter where that number falls.

Are you a beginner and concerned about your stamina? Will you hike with small children or an older pet and concerned about the need to stop along the way? Maybe you’re a take-time-to-smell-the-roses kind of person and prefer to enjoy every inch of the trail. You’re in luck! There are plenty of great spots to sit down, rest, enjoy the sun and wind on your face and immerse yourself in the rushing melody of the nearby river.

Simply put, this trail is perfect for a varying degree of fitness levels and interests. The majority of healthy, active folks will have little difficulty on this trail.

#5 Prepare to Get Wet!


*Rain is common in this area

*At one point you will need to cross an ankle deep section of water to get to the end of the trail.

*You may want to wade in the water or splash around, especially on a hot day.

*Once you get to the main falls at the end, you’ll get the best view by wading out into the middle of the water. It’s not deep, but you will get wet.

Wading in the water to get the best view of Catawba Falls

With all of this in mind, I suggest bringing your preference of waterproof items and prepare to become one with the water.

Some things you may want to bring:

  1. Rain jacket
  2. Change of clothes/shoes/socks
  3. Water shoes
  4. Waterproof cover for your phone or other electronics,
  5. Waterproof boots with good traction
  6. Waterproof blanket
  7. A waterproof bag to store wet clothes/shoes/etc.
  8. Waterproof backpack
  9. Cleaning cloth if you wear glasses
  10. Bathing suit under your clothes
Waterproof blanket to keep from getting wet

Here’s a link to a video of some of my favorite travel gadgets, which include waterproof items.

#4 Kids and Safety

Catawba Falls trail is a family friendly trail, but I want to point out that there are sections with steep drop offs on the side with little to no protection to keep curious and adventurous youngsters from making a unintentional but dangerous error in judgment.

The main section of concern is around and near the remnants of the old river dam. The trail, in general, is relatively safe but you will need extra vigilance regarding your child’s safety in these areas.

#3 Allot at Least 1-3 Hours for Your Hike

If you’re short on time you can do the Catawba hike in an hour, less if you’re really fit.

This isn’t the type of trail that you’ll want to rush. With mini waterfalls along the route, rivers, streams and historic ruins, there are so many gems along this trail that you may kick yourself if you don’t allow time to explore and take it all in.

There are some smaller, worn trails off of the larger trail leading to mini waterfalls. For safety, it’s best to stick to the worn paths and not venture off.

#2 Take Time to Explore, Relax, Take in the Beauty & the History!

Catawba Falls Trail was once a Cherokee trail, and a wagon route to Asheville from Old Fort. In the early 1900’s it was the location of the hydroelectric house that supplied power to the town of Old Fort. You’ll find ruins from times past along the way.

As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of places to stop, rest and enjoy the scenery. Bring hydration, snacks or a whole picnic. Find a spot to call your own and sit for a spell.

In the Fall you can enjoy the vibrant foliage. Spring is the time to discover brilliant blooms. Search for wildlife. Wade and splash around in the river. Take your time. Make a day of it! You won’t regret it!

Pictures and video’s can’t do this waterfall justice. Take a look below. There is a woman in the waterfall. Can you spot her without the red markings?

#1 Enjoy Safely

This sounds like a no-brainer and right now you may be thinking, “Thanks for the tip, Captain Obvious!”

Sadly to say, emergency services are called in too many times each year and deaths have occurred due to unsafe choices. Enough so, that I feel it’s important to include this warning.

If you get caught up in the moment and think it’s a good time to channel your inner Indiana Jones by giving into the urge to go past the danger signs to attempt climbing to the upper falls, stand on the unstable dam or wander off the worn path . . . heed this word of warning and just don’t do it!

Just. Don’t.

There is plenty enjoy safely. If you want to get adventurous, try braving the parking lot bathroom. That right there is enough risky adventure for one day.

Thanks for reading this far! I’d love for you to hop on over and join my on on YouTube Channel for Travel tips, hacks, updates, reviews and deals!

Let me know if this article was useful! I’d love to hear your thoughts and thoughtful feedback.

Happy Trails!

Similar Posts


  1. Loving your blog and awesome videos, I really enjoy watching your reviews of places you visit especially the tips you provide ❤️

  2. Went to see these falls after you posted about them. It was gorgeous and a lot of fun.

  3. I love your blog. And Catawba Falls looks like a place I would love to visit – not too far away and a perfect place to explore at my own pace. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Beautiful falls!! Wish I lived closer so I could take advantage of all your great tips to enjoy and hike this area!

Leave a Reply