Catawba Falls Trail
At A Glance
1.5 mi one-way
Steepness: Climbs Moderately
Tread Condition: Moderately Rough
Blaze Color: None
Currently undergoing improvements, the trail follows an old road from a huge new parking area, built in spring 2012. The first part is an easy walk on an old road bed through level woods. The river is far to the right, and an old pine plantation is on the left. The old road veers right to cross the river at the trail's old ford, but the trail goes left, slightly uphill, to a new, impressive footbridge over the Catawba River, installed in July 2016.
The river has a history as a power source for the town of Old Fort. Just to the left of the the footbridge is the remains of the old powerhouse. Other infrastructure for the power generator can be seen upstream.
On the other side of the bridge, the trail continues uphill on the old road through some nice forests. The Catawba River begins picking up gradient and you'll hear it cascading down to the left, until you pass just above a larger cascade. Be cautious of the sheer drop to the left of the trail at this point.
The cascade is just below the old dam which once supplied water to the powerhouse via a big wood-stave pipe that exited on the river right side of the dam. Look for a big hole there now.
Past the dam, look for another building foundation on the right. The Forest Service plans to remove the dam and this building at some point in the future.
Beyond the dam, the trail crosses Clover Patch Branch, an easy rock-hop, and then continues an easy ascent to Chestnut Branch. Right now the trail is a real mess at Chestnut Branch, but the Forest Service has plans to install another bridge there to aid the crossing. Just work your way up between the two channels of Chestnut Branch and pick up the trail heading upstream on the other side. A gigantic hemlock log dam marks the spot (and may make a good way across, if it's not wet and slippery).
Currently, the trail ends a short distance (and rocky climb) past the Chestnut Branch crossing at Lower Catawba Falls. An unofficial scramble path continues up the right side of the lower falls to the base of the upper falls. However, this path is just plain unsafe - parts of it are so steep you need rock climbing skills, and a fall would send you tumbling over the lower falls (which has actually happened here, and recently).
The Forest Service plans improvements to the trail to Upper Falls as well. Until that's done, it is signed as closed and dangerous.
This is one of the finest waterfalls in the region, but the lower falls isn't particularly photogenic except in just-right conditions. It's really something to look at, however, and a shallow pool at the flat base makes a great spot for wading (when the water is low).
All Photos from the Trail
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