#14 of 15 Asheville Hikes

Catawba Falls

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Catawba Falls: Slow and Steady
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The hike to see Catawba Falls is worthwhile, although you should take caution as people have lost their lives in order to get a better view. Follow the advice of emergency management officials and play it smart. The three-mile round-trip hike should take around three hours.

- The SmokyMountains.com Local Expert Team

The stunning beauty of Catawba Falls is just 25 miles away from downtown Asheville. Rather than one large waterfall, the falls offer a series of flows create a spectacular cascade.

In 2016 the U.S. Forest Service added two new footbridges so you can cross the river without getting wet. A parking lot and restrooms were added at the same time. It is considered an easy-to-moderate trail with a slight uphill incline that can be challenging, but not difficult. Even beginners will enjoy the experience.

It all begins at the trailhead, a nearly flat section of ground that once served as a wagon route between Old Fort and Asheville. In fact, if you look closely you will see the ruins of stone foundations from the early 20th century all along the trial, including the remnants of a dam constructed to create hydropower. Tempting as the photo op may be, never stand on the wall. It is often wet, slimy and not at all secure.

That said, Catawba Falls is a special place, and one of the things that makes it so special is the fact that for many years it was off-limits to the public. Even on its busiest day, the hike feels private, almost like walking through a primeval forest. If you’re hiking with someone, stay together so that no one goes off on their own and gets lost.

The trail follows along the Catawba River and features many smaller cascades along the way up to the “big show,” making the entire hike a special event. If you’re not in a hurry, branch off on one of the shorter side trails to see where it will lead you. Stop and listen to the sounds of water cascading down to the rocks before flowing through a mossy riverbed. Let your dog explore an area of the forest he’s never explored before. In short, take your time your time to enjoy the natural beauty around you because you will thank yourself for the experience.

Depending upon whom you ask, the waterfall is made up of either two or three distinct sections. The primary upper drop, called Upper Catawba Falls, is a 50-foot tall free-falling cascade that disappears into a crystal-clear pool of water. The middle section, simply referred to as Catawba Falls, is more than 100-feet tall with multiple cascades falling in different directions. The small cascade at the bottom is man-made and scheduled to be eliminated when the dam is removed. Still, it’s a lovely element and adds to the overall experience.

Emergency management officials beseech visitors to stop hiking at the Catawba Falls (the middle section) and to stay away from the upper cascade. The area around the highest fall is surrounded by slippery rocks, with several serious injuries and at least one death reported involving hikers who made the trek up. Since you can easily view the falls from below, there is no real reason to take the risk!

Insider Tips:

  • Leashed dogs are welcome on the trails, but be sure to bring waste bags to pick up after your pet.
  • Leave your mountain bikes at home because there are no trails designed for biking. Catawba Falls is purely for hikers.
  • If you want the best views of the upper cascade, hike the trails in the wintertime when foliage is less thick and your views less obstructed.
  • Be prepared for a rough, muddy trail if you visit after a hard rainfall.