Whether you're looking for a scenic relaxing get-away or an ass kicking hike and adventure, Western North Carolina's Catawba Falls are the perfect spot to set up camp and take a break from the mundane. Set up camp with just the essentials for a perfect weekend!
Catawba Falls is one of Western North Carolina's exceptional Blue Ridge waterfalls - one which is along the steep escarpment where the higher mountain lands drop off to the Piedmont areas below.
sections of the falls
It's located on an isolated tract of Pisgah National Forest property near Old Fort, NC, at the southern end of the Grandfather Ranger District, just south of I-40. A new parking area and trail culminates years of effort to provide public access to this special area, which required a variety of legislation to accomplish. Today, Catawba Falls is open to visitors and a highly recommended destination.
Catawba Falls itself is divided into two or three main sections (depending on who you ask), along a stretch of the Catawba River which drops around 600 feet in about a half mile. The main upper part is about 50 feet high and is a free-fall, while the lower (or middle) section is over 100 feet high across multiple falls and cascades. It's more of a rushing creek than a river at this point, and thus shares an attribute with most higher mountain falls: it looks best after wet weather. Still, there is enough area on the plateau above to gather water that it's worth visiting any time, even in periods of lower water. It never dries up completely.
At this point I only took things with me I really needed with me to the top. I packed some Elysium Adventure Bars, my camera gear, water, a compass, a flashlight, a small knife, matches, a lighter and some tinder. Also have to mention my Prana pants. I searched for hours to find a female outdoor pant. Water resistant, quick drying and lots of pockets.
The small cascade below the old dam may constitute a third "lower" part of Catawba falls. Much of this cascade - the part most people see - is man-made and will be eliminated when the dam is removed, making them even smaller. The prettiest part of this cascade is natural, but most people don't see it due to difficulty of accessing it.
Nick brought his Gerber Ghost Strike. It's a compact skeletal fixed blade. Super light-weight and perfect for a long hike. Can be worn concealed without printing.
Catawba Falls, or "Middle" Catawba Falls, if you include the cascade downstream near the dam as the "lower" falls. Opinions vary.
Right now, one trail is located within this trailhead area, and it leads to the falls. Starting at the new parking area, the trail heads upriver on old road beds, crossing the river once on stepping stones. You may have to get your feet wet here, and it may be an impossible crossing in very high water.
The trail technically continues up the right side of the lower falls, and then along a more level path to the base of the upper falls. However, before leveling out, the way is extremely steep and dangerous, and it's right next to the lower falls. It's almost to the point of being technical rock climbing, and sketchy ropes have been tied to trees to help people haul themselves up. It's not easy but it's worth it! Be CAREFUL it's very slippery! And you will most definitely get wet!
The area around Catawba Falls is designated as a Day Use Area, so no backcountry camping is allowed. However, there are private campgrounds in the vicinity.
We chose the Catawba Falls Campground. This place has a showerhouse walking distance from each spot, and a small general store. Completely quiet, relaxed mountain setting just walking distance from the falls.
After a long day of hiking it's awesome to soak your feet in the water along the grounds, have a good meal and refresh. I've never seen anything like the MPOWERD Luci Inflatable Solar powered lights. The blow up and last up to 12 hours on a single charge.
We don't go camping without the Jet Boil, or with out our Mountain House Meals. Those things are delicious. If you would rather cook over an open fire, each camp site has a fire pit. The JetBoil is perfect for camp coffee! We brought plenty of Black Rifle Coffee GFC.
I never knew such a treasure existed so close to home!